A Journey Pictures Poetry Music
I do not hear
I sense it
The coffin empty
As I see nothing
Nothing sees me
An answer shaping
Turns my wings
Does stone become
Sound that freezes
In daytime blue
How sun is danger
(How to return)
(how to depart)
Into accordion dreams
Weaving feather song
Into turquoise flight
Real and not
On earth there is no death. … No need to be afraid of death at seventeen nor yet at seventy. Reality and light exist, but neither death nor darkness. All of us are on the sea-shore now. And I am one of those who haul the nets when a shoal of immortality comes in. ~ Arseny Tarkovsky
1. To Bring Forth the Yew
The thought of jellied sperm, like a splash of egg whites
now hardened, now brushed with light, the Great
Cakemaker commands us but when does the soul
enter the body? Whitman said Sex contains all, bodies, souls,
meanings, proofs, purities. Impossible. I wandered
the stars until the call to return was so distant I forgot
its sound. In time I left the country of Silence
and opened the door. Desire drew me back
or was it loneliness? Isn’t birth the soul creating
the body into its mirror – its pains manifest
in the mangled hand, in the eyes that carry its caverns?
And beauty – that seducer of all Things, I wish
it be born in me. I bring forth the yew, the rivers
I was, trails I walked barefoot in the rain.
Now that I am, in body, some body, somehow
known again, I must stop cursing what brought me here.
Look, someone has turned the world upside down for me.
Stars are beneath my feet, a canopy of trees above.
Even the ocean is a migrating bird. Someone decided
which way was up before we knew that gravity is relative.
The grave I eschew because I no longer want the earth to hold me.
These hours always ask for our forgiveness. O’ what can we tell them? …
The hours that dress you each day in iron. The end times will end.
I see the drowned child and ask “how long does suffering last?” God oh
god, or gods or woman, creator, beast. If man was made
in Your image did you look for pain to feel alive?
The soul entered and the eyes opened. Skin shifted
like a daytime moon, pitted in its afterthoughts but alive
all the same. The eyes were made of robin-eggs, shaped
of water, both sinking and afloat. Lashes were thin brushes
of cobalt and the legs wiggled wide in their bow. A woman
gave her breast to it and it drank and drank. Lifetimes waiting
for a mother’s pool it could reflect in without drowning.
It touches its cheek to her sternum to feel the last of stone.
4. Photograph – Third Eye Recalls its Lives
A boy leans on a stump
of granite, holds a branch
in his hand.
It is a Hebraic candle,
a devil’s foot,
two smoking fingers
and an opposable thumb.
Temponaut, he is the one
who left them
slumbering near the lilacs.
Left them rainless.
He returns to the same field
where he died.
Memories he is unsure are his.
The wooden door
he squatted behind
when father came home.
A bisque ribbon beneath
the bureau from a deceased wife.
He wonders if his third eye
can be closed.
5. The Child In You Goes On
You were golden this time. A woman sings
Fais dodo, Colas, mon petit frère.
Fais dodo, t’auras du lolo.
Maman est en haut
Qui fait du gâteau.
Papa est en bas
Qui fait du chocolat.
Fais dodo, Colas, mon petit frère.
Fais dodo, t’auras du lolo.
Go to sleep, Colas my little brother
Go to sleep, you will have your milk
Mommy is upstairs
Making some cakes
Daddy is downstairs
Making hot cocoa
Go to sleep, Colas my little brother
Go to sleep, you will have your milk.
And the sunflowers fill your room
with their slow honey and dark eyes.
You peak through the crib bars
and see the last of the day setting
on the mountain. What you were
takes its shape in the clenching
of your small fist, the opening.
* Fais dodo, Colas, Cajun folk song.
My Parents Dying in the Rain
They wait for the rain —
Not for its wetness
But its dark grayness
It covers their flight,
I would go out
And try to stop them,
Bring them back
To where I think
Here in this house,
Sitting, old before the TV,
Watching Wheel of Fortune,
Vanna’s blue gown
A whirl of skies —
Or sitting there
On the patio
Their coffee growing cold
They leave in the rain,
So I can’t see them leaving
I will understand
That this is right
After they leave me
Like the sea
On a moonless night
Growing away from me,
Its waves moving first toward me
And then away, toward me
And then away
I’m In Love
I’m in love with a plate,
a thing of beauty,
a plate made of gelatine.
It contains within
the sum of all possibility.
An everlasting plate.
Yet I must let it go,
in order to create
After Many a Summer
After many a summer dies the swan
The maiden too, and then the fawn
You have no choice
Sing it now, in a high clear voice
Long past midnight comes the dawn
When all the stars and the moon have gone
The clouds creep in
And paint the sky
Yet no one thought
To wonder why
And the gleam has left
The maiden’s eye
The fawn to doe
The swan to die
The old maid’s left
To wonder why
Youth and love
Have passed her by
And all her dreams are laced within
A single sigh
Sing it now in a high clear voice
Your First Birthday
We share our visit
with red carnations,
and white roses, dad
filling pots with water,
and talking, always talking.
Manna and me arranging.
to place his heart.
Photographs to share
with absent family.
Today was your birthday,
the first here,
the grave turf still healing.
Agapanthus, or Lily of the Nile
This is a meditation on death.
It starts with the agapanthus, a short
agapanthus tucked under a tall agapanthus:
perhaps cousins of the same color,
perhaps a different species. Both a tropical
Wait, death will come, but first the one flower
of the short agapanthus hatches like a robin chick,
pecking at its green pod, which hangs on
like a shard of eggshell or the egg tooth. I can
almost hear it chirping.
We saw doves lay eggs in a basket on the porch,
the mother and father sitting on them
and hatching them. None of the hatchlings survived.
The individual spikes of flowers of the tall agapanthus
at first almost glow, but in only a few weeks
they droop and fade; and the same
with the short agapanthus.
And a butterfly sits in the tall agapanthus,
let’s say it’s a Monarch although it could be
the smaller, duller Viceroy.
But let’s say it’s a Monarch, king of butterflies.
It twitches its wings, then folds them so that the butterfly
is just a line barely seen while it sips agapanthus nectar.
Then it opens its showy wings and lifts high
into the realm of the sky.
I have seen crowds of migrating Monarchs cling to eucalyptus,
a brilliant orange and black display in Monterey,
and some drop laconically to the ground for a sip of dew.
And some haven’t enough energy to rise back up.
This is a meditation on death.
There are four stages to the butterfly’s development
and each one is a new life, a resurrection of sorts.
And each life is very short, as all life is short.
Even ours. It is all relative.
And then, if the butterfly makes it through its four lives
it mates and dies. And the eggs hatch. And the cycle
skeleton with skin
i gladly forfeit towards a new adventure
landing on cities all over the universe
i have seen the crystal cathedrals you dream of
silver cord holds fast
will snap you back to base camp
another life does beckon
i have loved your human kind
this garden path a wrinkle in time
i am not afraid to leave it behind
my spirit yearns to fly with more of its own.
what will be buried under the rootless
stagger of stars? Not you or I. That
sticky dust was just a one time home.
I still live there but you are gone,
except for the night shadow memories
gnawing at my dreams, delivered
of y( )our pain.
YOU MAY NOT WANT TO READ THIS, BUT
whoever said, nothing is carved in stone,
never visited the graveyard full of flowering
rock newly carved, and old granite—petals
faded and leaning—ready to fall to the ground.
After thirty days we check that the clouds
of mourning read out loud have not stained
the setting stone, that the dead remain dead,
held down by geological history and time, rocks
torn from the ground weighing them, keeping
them from rising up again to claim the messiah
and all the ancestors and descendants.
They scream their names out loud for those
who forgot and whisper soft condolences to
those who remember when blood pumped,
breath laughed, and eyes sparked—
shades of joy for each of us, in our turn.
EIGHT BREVES OF NOTHING
Silence. Silencio. Keep schtum.
Chit chat verboten.
Let all noise be gone.
The great bronze gong made still with trembling fingers
All I have an ear for is the mermen grieving-
silence beyond belief; the diamond sort:
that old reported quiet of our carbon grief,
those vast blubbery creatures blubbing mutely
seem not so far removed from us and our
At the seaside. Our birth canal. Our hour.
no-one’s been emboldened yet
to laugh, to barf, to chuck-up prayers,
to dance, by chance, with the ghosts of the gothic
choral noises in five parts.
I would. I should, drop a pebble in this pond
of desperately gilt despond
to paint what lies beyond beyond in ripples, stippled
saints. No Pointillist complaints from them save
for horrendous martyrdoms that drum da drum.
The Pontiff’s at Christ’s stained glass feet
too overawed to confess- their unfair muteness complete.
The melted sand beyond all understanding.
Women from the corvidae clan- high heels, high hats,
taller than a man; their veils a way of disguising deceit.
Defeat and embittered beaks cleaned of road-kill.
And roses red as deep as blood. The blood line
quivering. Ill from the scissoring.
You- or is it me- in the elaborate barque of ebony
or just a mere bark canoe
being lowered into one perversion of eternity.
Read me- this profoundly tutting me- utterly powerless.
A bead of death commingling with my passion’s sweat.
Alive and dead I am.
what dead man could survive this arch pretense?
I find a paddle and start to paddle. Glad. Glad. Glad
to be going on the orbit of souls.
The river fast flowing to where it kisses the sky
high above Karnak.
This new comet was once tested for age deafness-
sealed into a soundproofed booth.
No sound to be heard
other than the absurdity of being me.
In there- much like in here, I listened to
my first experience of sheer bliss-
thinking immediately of death and afterdeath.
How final breathlessness
delivers us to an absolute silence.
Eight breves of nothing being played by instruments.
Even the heart staves being evenly quiet.
Death is this riot of nothingness
still, unfortunately, light years distant from a home.
Hush little baby don’t you cry
mummy and daddy are going to try.
Of course. Of course. Oaths have been sworn.
The lies all ritualised.
Divorce a distant phenomenon you both scorn.
Make The Old Masters Modern
Left foot gone. Ten days left. *
What was that painting?
Ferdinand and Eugéne
such poor models.
Ah! There was a beauty.
Weren’t you Victorine.
Do I have you to thank?
Was Tabes dorsalis your canvas
for my desire?
Those bathers, how they inspired
Antonin and I, that day.
Cotton clung to wet skin,
light absorbed, refracted
in soaked frivolity.
Where is poor Antonin now?
Ah! Giorgione was the one.
He lived skin. Ate light and
allegory. A picnic?
Yes, lunch or something related.
She looked out of the light
at me. Directly. Serenly.
Innocence painted her pose
those days. All I saw
were possibilities. And paint.
Make the old masters modern.
Take them out of the studio
into the open air. This was it,
this was my vision.
How I loved the trees, their shade
and green rapture. Nature
calling through the centuries.
I listened. I saw mid tones
disappear. I disrobed our beloved
Salon and they rejected me, but I,
Edouard Manet, pursued my Muse.
Look at me now. No left foot.
Thin as a paint brush and
sight, fading. Life fading. Memory
fading like the light at the end
of a days painting.
So much more I hoped
for; just one more evening
What barmaids they have.
I am dying.
I know this. I can barely hold
this pen. This thought. This life.
My paintings tell what?
That I lived, painted, felt Nature
as a bird feels flight,
or a basket feels its weave?
I dressed my young brother, my brother-
in-law, but not Victorine. Her nakedness
was a joy to mix colours to. The brushes
loved her. I loved her.
Was it worth it? This pain says no,
but something beyond pain,
above doubt, takes me back
to that Luncheon on the grass;
and I feel their looks
still. Her gaze, his suggestion,
her wet cold cotton and
my little brother’s concern.
We must all die.
Through our art we endure.
* Manet’s gangrous left foot was amputated eleven days before his death from Tabes dorsalis.
Part 4 – old age
Starquakes on the Sun
I don’t know anything about old age.
So they talked to me in metaphors.
They had taken the few poor acres and made them fruitful,
filled them with the buzzing of bees.
The mountain had served them well.
I don’t know anything about old age.
I hope to find out.
I knew the old lady over the road.
Dad became old. I didn’t want him to. His hand
started shaking when he was opening the fridge. He started leaving his food at meals.
Then Mum became old.
My husband became very old.
I don’t know what it’s like to be old.
Many people I know
would have liked to have found out
but never did.
And they looked up at the mountain.
Every morning they had looked up at the grey
knuckles on the horizon
changing colour from moment to moment.
I don’t know anything about old age.
So they told me a story.
It is not in the folds of the skin: forget about those.
It is not in the weakness of bones or muscles: you
have inner strength.
It is not in a fading of mind: for better is wisdom.
It is like the children playing on the banks of the river:
one said to another
‘Let’s throw our toys in the water.’
The other did so, then looked at her friend,
who smirked, held on to her toys and ran away.
She stood on the bank, her cheeks wet with tears.
A voice said ‘Child why do you cry?’
It was an old woman.
‘Don’t be afraid, child,’ she said. ‘Here,
let me dry your tears. Tell me
what’s the matter.’
And so she told her. ‘Child,’ she replied, ‘it doesn’t matter about that girl,
or what you have lost. What matters
is you have been true.
Tell the river what happened. Tell
the river you are happy for her to have your toys.
What I can tell you is that I who speak to you am your self
as you will be. You will reach a ripe age. You
will see that your truth
has protected you.
And then, you will understand.’
Why Do We Age?
Is it the moon, the sun,
the pull of Mars or Jupiter,
the movement of the great whales
as they migrate beneath the waves?
Not even Walt Whitman could tell us
although he could tell us more
about youth and living and loving
than anyone else with just a couplet.
Remember “Unscrew the locks from the doors,
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs”?
And what can I tell you about growing old?
That I’ve been to the circus and I’ve seen
the big top from the inside and know
that the sky of stars inside the tent is the circus?
That there are things I am giving up
as I move toward my 67th birthday:
things like worrying about silence and flatulence,
the reworking of old puzzles,
the problems God sets before all of us?
That once in an alley the word “fuck”
hung in the air between me and three men
and echoed like a woman’s scream in the dark,
repeating itself over and over in pain?
That once I had pneumonia and I started
coughing, and the coughing rolled through me,
and lifted me first and then dropped me
like a slow jack-in-the-box?
That my mother loved to hold my hand
when we were walking to the park
and it broke her heart when I told her
I was too old to do that?
That you can smell the human gases
coming off of dead bodies: hydrogen sulfide,
methane, and cadaverine,
yes, sweet cadaverine?
That my father loved to listen to me
talk to him in English even though
he didn’t understand a word?
That once I sat next to a dying friend
who kept weeping and whispering something
about sand and water that didn’t make sense?
That all I could do for him was sing a song
that I hoped he remembered, something
about hoping that all his rambling
had brought him love and joy?
These are the things I can tell you about,
but these aren’t the things
anyone has questions about,
and I’m not sure what they have
to do with aging.
My young hands held in his.
Soft. Moss on a worn sofa
left in the garden. A blanket
once white, now grey.
Wrinkles and veins. This
bureau was his,
where he marked his football coupon
and watched the aging fire
fold and drape, each match
chosen with dotage. Here,
he wrote letters to family
back in Ireland,
kept clean hankies
in the top drawer and
apologised for crying.
That old soft music
Cold morning mists envelop the world
An old woman, alone in my room,
I shell walnuts
as the wounded moments tick away.
Your words like shadows hang from branches
With every cell inside of me I listen for the wind.
My naked heart full of metaphor
hears the slow rhythm of raindrops.
That old soft music beckons,
past wounds are reopened.
I count the days on a wooden abacas
until the sun shines upon us in the same bed.
I gather up empty walnut shells
crushed and broken–
The rain on window panes
will soon be rivers to the sea.
Napping in a chair
Yesterday seagulls laughed
under the storm clouds caught
in mountains behind the sea.
As I ambled through a plaza,
I heard someone playing piano
stop and start the music over.
People ate lunch, drank coffee.
The rain did not fall on them or
anyone. The ships slid slowly by.
I noticed these things. I did not
notice other things. I thought of
you, I am not sure why. I walked.
I heard sea gulls, a piano, the sea.
I listened for echoes of your voice.
I remembered something you said.
In the water next to me, fish swam.
Only faint shadows revealed them.
Two lovers sat under trees conversing.
I thought of someone. I don’t recall who.
The Winter Greys
With age you become
a Buddhist, just watching
the panoply of life go by––
which it does so quickly.
The spring flowers, the autumn
trees, the winter greys.
The piles of leaves gone, then
the bare leaves, the open sky.
You cease to wonder, or care
if you will see the next season.
And there is joy in this.
Or you become consumed
with anger, your life, your
every mistake rolling
through your memory.
Memory can be a curse.
Those you loved die
and die, and die, and die.
And you think, “Who of us
will be next? And almost hope
it will be you.
An old man recounts
The cracks in the pavement youth
He never lived through
Yet never left
A tug boat pulls out memories
Of Gdansk’s palimpsest harbour
Across choppy waves
In his faltering thoughts
Chopin’s waltz in A Minor
Dances with seagulls
Wings displace wind
Sunlight sneaks through
Cover of cloud
Catching the eye
Of one seagull’s intent on more
On more than feathers
Or departure or arrival
His mother once told him
Without dreams his soup
Would taste bitter
Without love his life
The old man retires to bed
With his tugboat and a glint
In his eyes
For his beloved Gdansk
The waltz of a youth
That haunts him
Part 3 – early adulthood & middle-age
Frankenstein’s Monster Looks Back
We are always seeing, always
how deceitful memory
mutates into fiction.
When I was a child, I believed
if I had the key I could walk
into a painting
and disappear there.
Big aromatic leaves of nasturtiums
encircled the house and I would
fling open the casements,
lean out and inhale the fragrance.
I never was really young
but I was innocent.
Memory is circular.
You began to call me “Fiend,”
my handsome maker.
I was no longer
what you intended.
I searched and searched
for that child I remembered.
All the way out here
in the howling winds
and the icy wastes.
Where have you taken me?
Twas once I was your fair -haired child
Now it seems I’m out of style
Oh life be gentle yet
There are things I can’t forget
Like autumn love without regret
When autumn turned to winter
Mottled leaves in circles twirl
Inside the spirits of the girl
Whose arms were once around you
Love where have you gone
Just when I thought I’d found you
Snowflakes dance like feathers round my head
I cannot dream my dreams
In an empty bed
Life is for lovers
That’s what you said
Then placed your soul inside me
But now that winter’s taken you from sleep
It seems there’s nothing left to keep
You here beside me
There are many ways
As there are many ways
Many ways to give
And many ways
In a crowd
Praying to a God
There are many routes
Mysteries to unravel
Roots to follow
Both full and hollow
When I was a child
Rhyme was a comfort
A wild sense of yes
To a dream and a longing
Tales of the impossible
Lulled me into fullness
Everything was possible
Life was blessed
Nothing has changed
And safety nets
Are not welcome
The lungs need for air
As my reflections stare
Into a void
Life is a comedy a tragedy
A drama a cliché a mix
Of all the above
And bottom line
Fan hits shit
The narrative is
Give give live
An Old Man Listening to a Young Man Listening to Whitman
He spoke to me in the desert
Outside of Elko, Nevada,
Back forty-some years ago.
Maybe I was asleep
Or maybe I was dreaming.
I don’t remember now.
I was lying on the hard sand,
The billion names of God shining
Above me in the darkest sky.
I was alone there. Not even
A book of poems with me,
When Whitman whispered,
Arise and sing naked
And dance naked
And visit your mother naked
And be funny and tragic
and plugged in, and embrace
the silent and scream for them
And look for me beneath
the concrete streets beneath
your shoeless feet in Chicago
And ask somebody to dance
The bossa nova and hear him or her say
Sorry I left my carrots at home
And be a mind-blistered astronaut
With nothing to say to the sun
But — Honey I’m yours.
That’s the kind of stuff
Whitman was always whispering,
On and on, stuff like that.
And I got up and searched
In my backpack for a candy bar,
Chewed it ‘til there was nothing left
And then I hitched up the road
Out of that silence
Back to the city I grew up in,
Its blocks of blocks of bricks
And its old people in their factories
Who went to Church and got drunk
Who hurt the ones they loved,
Who wondered who made them,
Who lived and died in due time.
Who taught me the world is sand
And drifting dreams and clouds
That speak no English.
Careful On The Stairs
Heroes age as we all must.
I was shocked when I saw the most recent photograph of you.
Your poems belie your condition.
They still carry the sweet essence of youth and those things we have always fought for.
The power of vision as sharp as ever, perhaps more fierce given the influence of much-lived wisdom?
These children of today, how they laugh as they pass us by, hurrying to some frivolous meeting we once attended.
All we can do now is bless them and bolster their hopes for a better future.
It is the echo I hear and cherish.
I see myself, captured in their searching eyes.
I reminisce of times that were filled with surprises, the thrill of discovery, oh! and what we learned!
Go for the good things, my young ones.
They have been left for you to find.
Stealth and a true heart are all that you require.
Burn brightly, as we did, saving a little for tomorrow.
You never know how many tomorrows you may get.
As for us, my friend, we are far from dead!
I wish you well in these twilight years.
Please be careful on the stairs.
QUARTET FOR AGING
The seasons are confused.
Dandelions peer from the eyes
of snowmen and see wooly worms
shivering for want of coats.
Tornadoes visit in January
to shake the town
like a snow globe.
My goals have lost their shoes.
They wander, homeless,
nerve damage in their arms.
There is nothing left
to feed them.
Night sits on my ribs
and stirs a breeze,
makes the curtains sway
but steals my breath.
He laughs at his irony
through diamond-capped teeth.
The shadow of a black dove
trembles over my heart.
This mirror speaks
in its silver voice of spoons
and pocket change. It sees
that I have become a map,
tells me to follow the lines
and find my way.
I hope my eldest sister dies soon, fails to meet her home baker in the sky.
A few will cry- her son and daughters she so neatly propagandised.
As a child- [one who had thwarted her attempts at infanticide]
way old enough to be my mother, she would get within one yard,
that near to me,
and I would smell my piss pants fear and a rank
perfume covering her malignant
or it could have been her post menstrual flood of oestrogen, her femme
femme femme swathe of a Venus of Nursing.
She was the one who set me on the road to cursing women.
My career within Catholicism was not to be. I loathed blood red.
Yet I let one woman close
because her string of boyfriends were the most handsome.
She manipulated me into a lavender marriage-
the very worst miscarriage of justice that ever came
dressed in the costume of a port in a storm.
And whilst I found her cunt both moist and warm
being there made my mind swarm with the bees of boys.
She knew, had always known my predilection
for all of the poetic diction hidden by blow flies. She knew
I’d often fantasize of being fucked by something sizeable,
some sweet thing sucked with my sweet tooth
for men and their sweet need to penetrate their brothers.
they were all of them married to women they had made mothers.
Anything else was fraught with danger.
I ached long in a monogamy of faith that brought forth
where I did actually believe that I deserved a stab at happiness.
Back then all my infidelities consisted of just wanking my self.
My tamed hopes invested in three girls who finally fractured
this most unpoetical of poetic worlds.
I’d spent the hot day oiling my work muscled body in sweat-
farming, the best exercise a man can get. A wide brim straw hat,
holed jeans, boots, a sleeveless shift-shirt rich with the seventies’
fashion for brights. I was brown and shone among the grey hay,
arms full of rogue wild oats. That ancient root of bread and beer
now just as much an abomination as it still was to be queer.
I waved to Krishnamurti on that day. He waved back- his whites
wetted by his stroll along what once was a river bed in Roman times.
Tractored home for lunch and a shower, factoring in the serendipity
of meeting a world changer that the villagers spat at for the brown
of his skin- the husk whose soul they’d not perceived lay heavily within.
His tribe of dreamers were the jungle bunnies squatting in The White House
on the village edge- adepts in the language of nature eschewing banal sin.
Got in the aching door. No-one.
Just the tread of four feet on the hidden stairs.
My wife, ever the actress, playing being utterly unawares.
Her arab fuck, a jeweller, trying to fool me with his sunny disposition.
I had hardly unlaced one boot.
This is harmless she said, would you mind awfully if we had an affair,
would it suit.
I shut the cubicle and drowned in false rain way more cold than hot.
Harmless was beautiful. I would have had him at a shot.
I could have shot jizz between his almond eyes, her pregnant and all.
She’d always find a time to be unusually dishevelled- drugs and sherry,
feeling very sorry for herself and how she willy-nilly shopped for cock
but often, eventually, stopped by me, as if I were that easily forgot,
to say, darling deceptively.
We are still close aren’t we? [Scant reference to me really.]
Darling- you always are my best, your cock and balls are such the best;
you always make love to me like a well endowed male lesbian
and you always give me the best of orgasms.
You’ve shaded all the others into no bodies. Just dicks on sticks.
I gave you children. And yes they are all yours.
What ever was expected of me? To break out into applause.
I always paid the mounting bills. Counting the pills and forgetting.
That is before I got visited by becoming seriously long term ill.
Unsurprising in this petri dish of multiplying viruses.
Madness born of sadness and infants constantly bed wetting.
Then the burden of it hit her slack fanny as if I’d punched her senseless
when all the time it had been me- victimized;
being raped by her, aped by her, bitten, hit and indelibly hurt by her.
The lot of it unbought, unseen, hidden, unaddressed.
Human violations passed off as some bent but tender togetherness.
There has never been one shred of redress.
Women have always worn the trousers softened by fascist blouses,
they have always torn stripped skin from men
and visited the flagellation of a stronger weaker-sex upon them.
They choose the sperm that worms its way to prick their egg
and men still beg to slaver over offal at their behest.
Their power has always melted thrones even when they age
into those wintry crones who pace the corridors of power
blaming men for everything that men have landed on them.
When you seek to have it all, that elevation is so high,
the winds of time so strong, it is inevitable you’ll fall.
And your sly habituation is to cry foul, murder and mayhem: but
this is the cauldron that the witches set to brewing feminism in.
In the sand that reflects, each morning
I measure the flow. Molecules move through
aging veins. Hair, once soft and dark, now
becomes hard. Like a black night filling up
with stars, silver creeps in. Dissolution whispers,
and pauses for breath, between lips that suckle scars,
not borne in the womb. Skin loosens bones,
years of lines and blemishes carry on
I reflect on how deep the memories course. It is a puddle
I think I can enter, without meeting wetness; I mis-judge
depth and register water pouring in, the accumulation,
the piling up of moments, worn and transformed,
by remembering and not remembering, experiencing and not.
Echoes of all ages slip between my wrinkles and the baby
I once was. I recall scenes from times out of sync
with memories I have forgotten. Searching in mirrors, I see
Once Upon a Baby Time
(for all the refugee children
who came to America after the war)
I pretend I am a baby,
walk on all fours, see things
I don’t understand, a couch,
a lamp, a new refrigerator.
Later, my hassock seat
is a blue boat in a white ocean,
the waves higher than
the trees in the front yard,
and I think about the lost girl
in the story my father told me:
Why was she in the wrong forest?
Was the girl dark like the children
who live next door in the red house?
Why did the witch spin in her rags,
dance a polka and then fall down?
Later, I look out the window
and see a penny in the grass.
When I go outside to get the penny
it is not there, but when I stand
again at the window, there it is.
I wonder who I will be
in the story my father will tell
when he comes home from the factory
where he makes white string
like the string in my shirt.
Will I be the sister
who runs away, or King Sobieski
riding a blind horse
searching for her
in the yellow mountains?
Later, I bake bread in the TV set
and kiss everything in the house.
The dirt in the flower pot
tastes like chocolate,
the carpet hurts my lips.
Later, I am a rabbit
and a father afraid of stealers,
and I grow wings and fly
to the ceiling above my head.
Follow me, God of the Dogwood
wind howled the rain sideways, horizontal
when I was young. My father
was gone. I walked, head bowed
into the wind.
Oh the elements when you are a child!
How you love them.
Follow me, god of the dogwood
and god of the rose.
pulled aside the homespun curtains
and showed me the Milky Way
like a storm against the sky.
Follow me, God of the dogwood
and God of the rose.
Poetry Of Lies
You filled my childhood
With your poetry of lies
But did not let me hear
Your soft good-byes
I was a ragamuffin, a changeling
A gypsy, orphan child
Sweet and shy running wild
The wind and sun they were my song
I did not stay a child for long
My cheeks were roses plucked from stem
My eyes vast pools or dark green gems
I did not stay a child for long
I miss the days you gave me
I can count them one by one
Yet in the web of childhood
I do not regret the things that we have done
You showed me how to brave the world
And not be hurt by sticks and stones
That other people hurled
You taught me lessons
I learned them well
Now I live my life inside a shell
Crack the egg the chicken dies
You filled my childhood
With your poetry of lies
And now there’s no one near to hear
The woman in me cry
Waving goodbye to our virginity
was the best of partings, all be it
a fumble, an awkward cuddle
and my mother catching us
half naked on my bed. With it
went those priestly confessions;
face-to-face lies and penance.
There, among smooth hard rocks
and soft curved dunes, we were free
to sin. Our tidal skin erect not hidden,
sprite in our bones not spite – not yet.
We didn’t spit feathers, we held them
between our teeth and smiled; oozing
with ‘O’, our love for stuffed olives,
cream and white horses. A photograph
keeps you close. Still, when playing
myself, I can bring you closer.
Easter, Child and The Forest
Only a child could see
the spring coloured forest
in an Easter egg and enter.
Only a child could walk
through its darkest murmurings
and rain of shivery shadows.
And when the night would end,
only a child could gently exit it,
possibility-reshaped and whole.
In the sketch, we were four brothers with eleven years stretching between us from eldest to
youngest. We are four brothers. However, the years seem now to have gone slack, compared to
during our broad span of youth. They don’t so much stretch as loosely hold us together. They are
less like distance and more like walls that define a room. Back then, when my oldest brother held
me in his lap, tail-finned cars thrummed through the streets, old Chevys, Fords, Dodges—which
people collect these days, if they can find one. I remember the bricks in the Midwestern walls
radiated newness with their red cast. Their lambency reflected our youth as we sat for the
camera—possibly held by dad, who photographed weddings and Bar Mitzvahs as well as stringing
for the papers. Time shifts though—bricks blacken, promises perish and boys gray. Not then,
though—we still sparkled with the idea of the world. Or, perhaps, I still did, while cringing my eyes
against the sun or the future. That brother’s lap was like a parent’s, protective and warm. That
brother looked out for me, although shade already hooded his eyes when he thought no one saw.
The years between us pulled tight across our family, trying to tie down the bulging, angry secrets
and fallen stairs, ghosts creeping up from the basement and children quietly crying in bed. The
artist friend of my father who drew from the photo hints at the lack of innocence in that brother’s
youth, our youth. Inked lines in place of the photographic silver merge into dark shadows, faces
part night—unromantic youth at its fullest. Almost eleven years later, no, let’s say eleven years
later to the day, dad shot himself, but not with a camera. Mom set her mouth, as though the stone
mason had carved her frown along with the gravestone. And youth, which had never been a
cloudless day, stopped forever. It had already ended for my brothers, who by then lived on their
own. The idea of youth—the idea stopped. The years had always girdled us. The cars had always
been second hand, rust showing in the rocker panels, rumbles foreshadowing holes in the mufflers.
The bricks had always looked dirty. And we were only four brothers with eleven years from
youngest to eldest.
the children will illustrate
the immortals held between
the material and the future
are not willing to negotiate
the children in the color rainbow
the ones with big egos
the ones who remain children
in grown bodies like planets
of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn
try to turn the latch-key
but it is Pierre
the one that said, “I don’t care”
has no idea what he’s saying
but he can be saved with caring
I don’t care, but
have no where to go only
off into this city full of rats
and newspapers, full of second
class services that lead no where
the children that you celebrate
the ones muted
in Jasper John gray
tangled by alphabets
creating a new diction of
I should but I don’t care
the children that celebrate
hopefully it’s not too late for them
try on diversity
try with uncertainty
read Heinrich Hoffmann’s prolific
Stuwwelpeter, where the children
want to suck their thumbs
they still want to be coddled
and coaxed and taught,
becomes a joke, the children
that illustrate with crowds
dreams and strange birds
are leading this destruction
they are being cut off
their fingers are being cut off
they are marginal
The Way We Remember Forgetting
is to keep the carousel in the distance.
Walk toward its mirage of missed youth
until something lifts from the path –
reflections of lamps you leaned into,
mother’s face and a pair of blinking lights –
patching holes in the big top.
And summer would comprehend its long days
flickering between the slats. Clouds disappearing
like memory on the tongue. The wind flaps
the tent mouth and shares a glimpse of snow
leopards making love. No cages for the cats, why?
This is a dream after all and what goes on
in your youth may never repeat.
Sometimes the monster grabs your ankles
from under the theater seat and you’re the only one
left in the dark. But there are times when the corn
bursts from its seed, covered in butter and salt as fine
as moon dust and your hand never reaches
the bottom of the bag. You walk outside in time
to see the milky way is a chalky haze you sketched
once in the park. And that elephant you placed
in the sky, stays put.
You step sure-footed as a carny after the calliope
has played and the streets are washed clean with rain.
Within pulsating heart of molten red
Within vibrating mind of frozen red
A fading joy fades amid smiles shed
Weary shivering tendrils of thoughts black
Weary ravaged roots of a motion black
Dampen the path in this tear trail shack
Absence of colour nurtures hungry grey
Absence of light buries dry shoddy grey
Muddy Waters lightens this desolate day
A purity polishes balanced white
A purity seeks truth in wild white
Infinite azure floats on sad respite
Oh sapphire sorrow challenged to cope
New beginnings in blue embrace lost Hope
She Wears a Nest of Eggs
The loose twigs from her headnest are a netted veil.
They do not conceal one eye cocked to the left
and her other, ochreous and runny as it tries to contain
a secret. He is careful not to touch the eggs
nor look through them. Their shells less chalcedonic
than the half dozen he acquired from market last Sunday –
the most expensive purchase he’d ever made. Even as he tapped
at the edge of the blue bowl, how easily they relented –
cracked like ice on an October puddle, releasing
their enigmas. So different from the hard casts
he’d known which need a course hand to break them
as if some mothers must layer their eggs for what will never
be born. He wishes she could see the young hen
who laid them hustling past the barn’s square portal,
feet touching the new grass still fresh with rain. All
in a moment the hen’s breath of hay and the sky blue caul
surrounding the fowl as it scratched the earth for worms
in the warm summer light. He watches mother balance carefully
on her good unicycle limb. She says God gave her
a pair of paper wings to keep her from flying away.
A Nib’s Thirst
A figure approaches the problem
Shielded from the blocks
By a stack of white paper
A hardening determination
A single bucket of ink
A stainless steel nib
Has already engraved the letters
S T O R Y
Upon the whiteness
The battle has begun
She spent many hide-and-seek hours
Attempting to steer clear
Of the delicate barbed alphabet
Then a picture – straight and un-translated
Bruised the surface of her eyes
Stroked her brain
A single and seemingly innocent set of marks
Cut through the blankness
Slashed out with wild blindness
Seeing has to start somewhere
She wanted subtlety and ambiguity
But the arrow must still fly straight
Plot must not be choked by pretension
An assortment of characters
Creep out through the gaps
They slyly step aside from her efforts
To pin-point and tie-down
A bit like in real life
Where we wriggle around in the spaces
Between ourselves and each other
And some see us
And some take us in
With and without the lies
She throws chains around her creations’ necks
Gives them names and Chinese star signs
A past in the hope of finding their future
All the debris that is sometimes run away from
Sentences are set into motion
She calls it speech
Listening and being takes place
Sometimes the line between character
And real person becomes blurred
The borders are gradually rubbed away
A certain form of madness takes over
Or something like it
Illusion and delusion deepen
She eats and she drinks
Sleeps and wakes up
She continues the development
Of structure and dialogue
She looks for the second act
Then the third and plots the plot
Or tries to
At last She steps back
Feels the months and counts
The burnt moths` wings
It is over
The pile of whiteness is no longer blank
The bucket is empty
The nib’s thirst has been quenched
She has the script and it has her
Coming and Going
Invisible life, arriving and floating
inside fleshy walled berth.
Time delivers bigger life, pulled
by muscles and tightness.
It takes a journey
down a passage, emerging
into a new world.
Between two possibilities a code,
smuggled into creation,
ruminates inside a common red running;
Encased by one-off optics.
That it begins small
and ends in death (always);
This is the rub, erasing dusty ends,
in coming and going.
Sunny morning – bees are busy.
So far seven or eight stings, mostly
the first day. Mumu had one in the leg,
middle of the night, the night
of the swarm. The bees had followed
me upstairs to bed.
The hive in the tree had broken open.
She was a child in love with a plate,
bone-china bare of leaves and up all night,
silent of speech, tugging a kite
in season of ice, the Per-Sone,
the hand from the soil.
I sought her for her singing chakra,
her writing spiraling in the air,
her starburst crown,
her wind-view eye,
the eggs hatched in the laurel,
the triple pair,
and only later for her antennae,
her no-limits vision, sat in a chair,
the queen coiled up in her secret bedroom
to see how far (and the quote from Carlyle:
was it she? or had she already flown?)
six poems could soar.
If There is Light It Will Find You
But what if there’s only darkness?
Memories scored in black ink
and scattered paper— the mother
folded into herself weeping
with a letter in her hand?
The father receiving the blows
that won’t kill him, only blind him?
The violin doesn’t play for everyone.
Caravaggio killed a man in a tennis court
but he was still a painter.
The curtain rises, the dance begins
in our heads and in our skin. Innocent,
we know nothing of bright lights or stage
presence. We scream so we can breathe.
One universally inspired shoe-in fitted
fiddling while its mating mates dissolved inside
that fluid tomb of genocidal suicide.
The early hay was made, the sun shining late in April.
The fast dividing cells rang bells-
were they celebrant of goodwill or some deep seated regret?
I care to forget
because my own experience was one of carelessness-
the kind you find when grown,
a thing you never can disown,
the invisibility of it and an abandonment within the home.
To her I had arrived
but to the rest I was always seen as birthless. So it began.
White walls. White painted floors. All white-
stark contrast to red, in ancient ceremony.
For some long beginning I’d been swimming, learning,
listening, gathering facts, fats and now was squirming:
crying from inner space to be given more space
amongst what I already feared- the murderous, jealous kin,
nine months plus between the pus of an abortion discussed
versus the living with another portion to be found-
a poverty pie with thinner slices.
If it’s a boy no hand-me-downs.
Then the storms, the earthquakes on my ocean floor
and every global voice I heard was pleading anxiously for more.
Was this the world where they hurled babies at the walls,
stripped the sweet meat from the brittle bones
and saved for their Shamen both cheeks in ignorant atonement?
Shit. I could smell her shit.
I nearly strangled myself in the birth canal, complicit
with my own umbilical because I saw my life flashing before me-
stepping stones of disappointments, misconceptions and rejections
but my mind of miracles,
a small universe afloat inside my moulded skull,
called a truce to all hostilities. It was because of my abilities
that I breathed the white air and sought
I had to wait to sixty-five to find the truth of why
I’m still alive-
and, now I know, I daily fight off my masochistic bids for suicide.
I can make things matter when I’m blood spattered-
given the means to save you, I always would, before myself.
I slide the stainless knives away. Tidy. Hide me.
Like some insane jerk I sometimes pray [Uselessly and ruthlessly]
for advanced Alien humanoids to more than chance upon us,
their space bus, as planned, bringing evolved life to the real empaths,
re-location and incarceration for the psychopaths that I was born to show thanks
to for the wooden bowls of scraps that, now and then, came my way.
I made three babies with a psychopathic bitch and, friend or foe,
I will know swiftly which. So pay heed and watch me.
Swallowing our Tale
An inhalation of breath, hold—
exhale a flash, light, a rocket
tearing chaos to shreds as—
breathe in, hold, breathe out
the contraction, pulling back from
while tightening around a space—
light, dark, expand into, contract
from—and timing is everything:
first divide light and dark
then sky and sea and send
sparks—fusing the Big Bang
or the Creator’s sparklers
spraying souls out into
something where there was
nothing. Then progress from
land to plants to animals.
Then progress to human
life, born of women’s
sacred bodies, a division
into two lives, a universe in
seven days, the sexual
explosion of random energy
or the sensual development
of genetic reasoning—we are
here, and here, and there,
revealed in the haze-filtered
in a rim of orange light
pouring through the film
of the world—sunset and
entropy seeded with the
first breath and mature
with the last we take,
when we swallow our tale.
The Day I Was Born
My mother washed her face in cold water, tied her hair back, and put on an old dress. She said she knew my birth would be hard, that she had given birth before, to my sister, and that then the dirt had flushed out of her body like a rabid dog that had finally snapped its chain. She said as well there had been storms the day before I was born, and the creeks near the refugee camp were running high, and some of the barracks near the river were evacuated.
She said she was alone that day I was born. My father had seen my sister Donna being born two years earlier, and he wept and said to my mother that he couldn’t go through that again. So she told him he should just leave, take the money they had and go buy himself some vodka or whiskey, find a barn he could crawl up into and drown himself in the drink, until he couldn’t hear her screams or see the mess that was coming.
There was no hospital, no doctor, no nurse, no midwife, no one with her to help her with the darkness and the screaming when I started to come. There was just me and the tearing in her stomach and her bones breaking apart like God had decided to squeeze her until she was nothing but blood exploding through her useless skin in His dirty hand.
And feeling it, feeling the river of shit and squeezing and bones breaking, she remembered the road that brought her there to that refugee camp in Germany and that darkness.
She remembered the Germans who killed her mother and raped her sister and kicked her sister’s baby to death, and the years in the slave labor camp when the guards would promise her a potato if she would suck them, or a piece of meat if she would fuck them, and she remembered being thankful for the food.
She remembered too the time after the war when the other women in the refugee camp struggled to hold on to their babies because they knew that giving birth to them would kill them because their wombs were still in the war, still weak and tortured and beaten, still kicked and stabbed and wounded, still bleeding and crying and hoping, still falling and slipping and starving, still kneeling and begging and weeping, still everything that had happened since the day the Germans put her and the girls from her village on the train to bring them to this Germany where every birth was a struggle in the mud for a breath.
And she screamed then and knew that screaming was useless, and so she screamed again and kept screaming until the flood came and my bones poured from her flesh like tomatoes exploding in the hands of a dirty God who didn’t care about what she remembered or feared or wept over.
She knew that all He wanted was to hold another life in His hand, and that nothing she could beg for could change the way He turned the baby, regarded it, and let it live and not.
the trips west follow the journals
of Thor Heyerdahl, a place I did not know
only read about, an isolated dot in a chaotic
an environment left untouched until the sighting
of the Europeans beneath the world
is another world, below the Equator,
the people left after the conquistadors
the people Cesaire, Guillan and Fanon called
wretched of the earth, the people of rugged-
rock jutting into the color of archipelago
calling themselves native, inhabit Paradise
and Guraguay Huallamarca and Huaca Padlana
and Huaca Mateo Salado and Pachacamae
calling themselves Inca; calling themselves
Arawak; calling them Taino and Mestizo
calling them maroon and Mayan and Polynesian
the people leaving Lima Millenia
with King Tiki, the white face left in rock.
and the mother has taken me
like a kangaroo does her pouch
the blue atmosphere becomes amniotic
the floor becomes skeletal; becomes
and her umbilical reaches me before
discharge, then she breaths
her trade wind; then I become lung
without name, never seen before, zoo-
plankton as edible enough as salt
the ancient variety of Galapagos,
the grunt and gruel and hoarse baying
of the shark whale, we live alone
she is mother; she disciplines me
as she did Berlanga and Pizarro
without her fertility, the plastic
bags and garbage left without receptacle
we start nine million league
mother, her maternal instinct wants
to make clean of her cesspool inhabitant
forgetting she is available for our use
once the way we travel either by Titanic
or Lusitania she becomes frantic
she has antennae and receptors
she has photosynthesis, the moon
watches as she combs her hair, then waves
her ability to pull down and pull under
like a nautical abortion.
After Stanley Plumly
A new pillow throws feathers through the house
like a trail of ducklings, or goslings, or more likely
a hen’s chicks, the plucked down white as snow
turning yellow being trod on, like snow. Somehow
they remind me of birth, the blank slate of it.
Some say they have been born again in the Lord,
the past wiped away. What if we all could be born anew?
Memories become crystallized and then you remember
the line said about it, or a photograph, sepia, that you
tint with your brain. Some say they can remember
that rush into the world, the escape from the womb.
I was told, “You slipped out like a watermelon seed,”
the second twin, the smaller, the one who often
does not survive, lonely in the incubator (I’m sure
I remember the loneliness) where the other was not.
Our mother, depleted, exhausted, could not nurse.
The other’s formula richer, yet she bawled and bawled
with hunger, greedily emptying her bottle. Our mother
snatched mine, half full, and plunged it into the other’s
gaping mouth. I happily, sleepily, relinquished it.
Our mother felt guilty, but I did not. We were so
close in the womb, at first they said we were
identical, yet there were eight minutes between us
and two placentas. This is what we were told. And
I slipped out while my mother slept, and my sister wept.
The Collector Of Colours & Celebration
Once upon a time there was a place
That was brown
Everything in it was every possible degree of that colour
The trees were brown and their leaves too daffodils tulips
Bees canaries robin red breasts and blue whales
Were all brown the oceans the sky the clouds the earth
In this place brown was everything and everything was brown
Mother Nature was starting to become unsettled
There was something missing something needed to happen
But she didn’t know what
She looked down into the valleys and saw the brown sighed
Wondered what she was waiting for what unknown change
Did she long for?
Millions and billions of years of waiting had made her tired
And one day she was so tired she fell into a deep sleep
Deeper than any she had ever known
She slept and slept dreaming of the brown
And of something that was absent
Then it happened then the first drop of rain woke her up
And she asked herself
What was this this thing that had woken her she did not know rain
She did not know wetness but she did know this was the change
She had been waiting for as the rain increased
One drop became many and the many drops
Again Mother Nature grew tired
The more she resisted the more tired she became
Then she slept
She could not say for how long but one day she stirred
And opened her eyes
She saw things she had never seen before she looked down
Into the valley and saw trees their brown trunks and branches
But now she saw the first leaf that was not brown
She saw something she could not explain and she said green
And a single green leaf was part of thousands of green leaves
All green and all different and she looked
Into the sky the clouds were no longer brown
They were something else now
She said white and grey
The sky’s brown had disappeared
Mother nature squinted her thoughts
As she said blue she saw the tulips and sighed red
Her eyes filled with daffodils and she sang yellow
Yellow poured from the round sun in the blue sky framed
By white clouds
From the clouds fell arcs of colours red orange yellow green
Blue indigo and violet the rain stopped the brown was joined
By a family of colors
Mother nature smiled and busied herself
Her nose erupted with smells she did not know
A feeling she had waited patiently to celebrate
One day we came to a mountain.
It stood hard-edged and black
over the grey expanse, the twisted
heather, the burnt wastes,
the sphagnum marshes. Slowly,
the sky drifted over it.
We stood and watched.
It was magic.
We could not move.
Though we wanted to reach
the flowery meadows
of the river valley,
we were drawn in closer
to the mountain’s shadows.
There was a hole in its side.
We sat in the darkness,
listened to water dripping
from far above into a cacophonous
space, where great steel vessels
clashed and rebounded,
aimless and lost.
We heard voices:
chanting choirs, mass
upon mass, solos moving
in and out of the foreground,
over orchestras, strings
and guitars. Under it all,
an organ whose great
ultrasound crumbled the rocks,
shook our bones to the marrow.
How we came out I don’t know.
I will never forget those voices.
The next time I looked at the mountain
I let out a cry.
It had turned around, was now facing
the other way.
I didn’t know then if I was held
by or holding it, or if I was
mother and newborn in one.
Air still on my lips,
I don’t know what it is.
Is it I? Is it you?
Does it float
like my heart feathers?
Voice, a dark shimmering thing
at the edge of my head. Something sweet too.
I want to swallow the world outside, it’s all new,
is it this black or
is it this sticky red crushing?
I will spit it with my first breath: oldening.
Picture by Katerina Dramitinou
Poem by Petra Whiteley
Music by Cornelia Pasch
creation myth (obatala)
slinking down the long chain as the vapors gathered
something forming in the mind in the sky a rumble
vibrations mounting as that mind’s magic began to bring forth vision
manifesting a timeless scenario
a fiercely beautiful cataclysm
from the dust, the clay of creation molded by sure hands
shaping life as it shifted winds and sculpted fire
My mother wove me
from the darkness
the black of night
She took the
And sprinkled them
into the strands of
my corn silk hair
Alone I drifted
I was the pearl inside
The smile upon her
The daydream in her
far away gaze
The cessation of longing
in her heart of hearts
The lullaby of her
The poem threaded
into her soul
Who am I now without her?
What is my destiny
The gravity of some old discontent had dragged you back to measurable time.
~Rainer Maria Rilke
Who would create a world
where a god could keep us
from knowing beyond the blood
of a Winesap? Ignorance is an orchard
waiting to tear through the soles
of our feet. A flood to drown
sin and save the animal. We search
for Eden along the Euphrates to find
the cradle of gold, but there are no
flaming swords guarding the gate,
there’s only a truth buried so well
we forget who carried the spade.
So much of us left like lodestone
in the earth. It comes down to this:
I asked to be hungry,
you consented to be tasted.