poem


poem13 Nov 2017 08:10 am

The language of Denshin can only be learned
in the hours after dusk.
An aspirant must indicate her wish to learn
by leaving a black scarf on the line
for three days running, finally taking it down
when a stranger passes by and comments
on the flowers across the street
where there are no flowers.
Or, if that won’t be possible, he may choose
to prepare his food three days in a row
with the root of the sapling elm,
a local delicacy. Then when he neglects to purchase
the root the following day, he must make no comment
on the fact but refer instead to a forgotten poet.

Either way, a week later a waif will appear
at the aspirant’s window, and for two months
teach nothing but the vowels from sunset to midnight.
Only when each vowel is perfect,
does the second teacher arrive, not to teach
the consonants or tones, nor even the grammar.
Instead the elderly teacher will discuss the potentials,
the branches Denshin did not take, the ways its vocabulary
might have turned out, the lost dialects and linguistic distinctions
among smaller subsets of the people, most ignored
or actively suppressed. The standard language becomes
defined by the variants it is not.

In the midst of this instruction, the third teacher will arrive,
a shadowed figured who simply speaks the language.
When the elder talks of dialects, the shadowed one
translates every word into Denshin.
When the elder falls silent, the shadowed one speaks on,
letting the uncanny rhythm of the shadowed language
enter the mind of the aspirant, letting the words take root.
Never once is she quizzed on the declensions and agglutinations;
never is he tested on which tense and why, but slowly
in the shadowed one’s word, all those rules and rhythms
are clear, with no need to explicate.

When the aspirants finally speak their first words of Denshin,
they find themselves in a market, offering black scarves and
elm saplings, and praise of flowers and poets that no one sees.
By night, they take on the look of waifs. For a time, for a time.

illustration is Man with Hat and Woman with Black Scarf, Lajos Gulacsi
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poem06 Nov 2017 08:02 am

It was her fault, really, that
the neighborhood children had started calling it
The Witch House.
It had borne her neglect through the summer,
the grass drying to crunching browns
the roses grown feral and tangling
to a prickling snarl,
the windows empty.

It was just a house, she repeated like a chant,
and she had begun in these weeks past
the task of cleaning it out, scrubbing away
the stains of old hurts –
scraped knees and
shouted disappointments,
slammed doors –
and dusting dulled dreams from the
corners where they had cobwebbed.
These, perhaps, she could salvage with
the balm of better days –
bicycle rides up and down the driveway,
fresh steamed rice, and
afternoon naps on the carpeted floor
to the buzzy babble of the radio –
polish them into trinkets she could
cherish and display next to the souvenirs
they’d given her from their travels,
before illness and age,
before she’d run away.

She found bright coats and patterned shawls
haunting the hallway closet-
remnants of joyous youth-
next to stacks of forgotten paperbacks
still smelling of drunken chicken soup,
mothballs, and winter.
The specter of her family’s bustling
holiday visits lurked further in the dark,
faded and gray.

This is how ghosts are made,
she thought, peering into the bedroom
she had saved for last,
where she could still hear the soft
echo of her Ama’s voice
humming inside the old TV,
where the tick-tick-ticking of the
sewing machine still clustered
under the bed with the dust bunnies.

They are born of love left to sour
inside barren rooms and locked drawers,
ignored and then forgotten.

A window had been left slightly ajar,
probably her oversight in her hurry to leave
those months gone when the bedroom still felt occupied,
when the wound was still fresh, sorrow sharp.
Summer debris scattered like ash on white sheets.
She lit a stick of incense and placed it before
a framed photo of her grandparents,
a makeshift shrine of sandalwood and sighs
as she began exorcising the
memories curdled by grief and regret
with little green stickers marking
the cost of each.

Later, she drove in the final nails outside,
the sign bright even in the worn blue twilight,
the house settling behind her, a box at her feet.
Tomorrow, she would throw open the windows,
burn the paper money and sage,
unlock the doors for the strangers
to come and
carry away
the remains.

illustration is Old House, Easthampton, Long Island — by Frederick Childe Hassam, 1919. oil on canvas painting. Exhibited in the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut, USA.
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poem30 Oct 2017 08:00 am

It’s a
cool
(mint moon)
night

with the leaves
making streetlights watery
like hard
apple candy.

A cruiser goes by
on licorice tires,
goes by the boys

smoking their marshmallow
cigarettes
in the doorway
pop bottle pop rocket in one hand

the other hand gathering
scoops of soft sticky cloud
burning smell
as it rises from their mouths.

Your shadow meets
your feet
like you’re standing in a hole
like you’re stuck and sinking
into the suck and stink
of the asphalt
molasses

and all the girls go by
flashes of pink and sweet
in their dresses like spun sugar
that you could just lick
off their bodies.
All the girls go by the boys

they’re upstairs in the club
and we’re not
but that’s okay cause those
slick silk dresses will just melt
off them
sweated away if the beat
is hard enough.

The sweet life

it’ll rot all the teeth
right out of your grin

leave your skeleton
petrified into sugar cane,
your skull a day of the dead
treat for the living to gnaw on,
thirsty and desperate for the
sour chew center.

illustration is Carmel Market in Tel – Aviv, Geography of Israel by Yehudit Garinkol via the PikiWiki – Israel free image collection project
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poem23 Oct 2017 08:37 am

“I asked him,” she says,
fingers cradling the cheap plastic of her cup.
Ice cubes—expensive in the station bar—dance and crack within.
“Exactly as you wanted me, I asked him…”

Her companion waits for her to finish; when she does not…
“And? What did he say?”

She pauses, unsure.
She is unused to such uncertainty;
to questioning the questions and not the answers she has gleaned.

Her companion doesn’t notice,
or perhaps he notices but doesn’t care to let her know.

“And,” she continues, wanting only this moment to be over
–and honestly, since speaking with the traveler, wanting all moments over;
wishing the world itself cease the constant low-level thrum
she now cannot unhear–
“And he said it’s not the colddeep that kills your soul,
nor the constant sleep, alone in your coffin in space,
year after year after year after year…”

Her companion leans forward–this is what he wants,
what the traveler has always before refused to share.

“It’s the eyes,” she says, then stops, wondering why the words sound so different when she says them,
as opposed to him.

Her companion startles; flinches.
Certain that his uncertainty is wrong.
“The what?”

“The eyes,” she says again, and cannot unremember the way it was said to her,
the frantic scratch of the traveler’s voice,
the fog of his breath in his capsule as she checked and rechecked
his status boards and reluctantly okayed him yet another flight.
“The eyes, he said, and how at every port they remain the same
no matter how far away he runs,
no matter how far away he flies.”

Her companion grips his cup–glass, he can afford it.
“The eyes,” he says.
And deep in thought yet still a blank, “The eyes…”

Her hand twitches;
ice bobs up, bobs down; topples, sinks, and rises again.
She questions speaking more but speaks anyway.
“Are you happy now, now you have your answer?”
She hopes he is more than she hopes he is not.
Or perhaps it’s the other way around; it’s hard to tell anymore.

“I don’t know,” her companion says. “It’s not what I expected.”

She releases a shagged breath.
“It never is,” she says at last, still focused on the ice.
On anything but her companion’s face.
“It never is.”

illustration from Ars pictoria : or, An academy treating of drawing, painting, limning and etching : to which are added thirty copper plates expressing the choicest, nearest, and most exact grounds and rules of symmetry Year: 1669 (1660s) Authors: Browne, Alexander, fl. 1660-1677 Browne, Alexander, fl. 1660-1677. Whole art of drawing, painting, limning, and etching Jode, Arnold de, active 1660-1669Fialetti, Odoardo, 1573-1638 Bloemaert, Abraham, 1564-1651. Oorspronkelyk en vermaard konstryk tekenboek
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poem09 Oct 2017 08:00 am

You raised me up—laid hands
on blistered chassis, brushed away
the grime of atomic shadows.
You sought the faintest lines
clinging to this tired cortex, pursued
until I spark-gasped into life.

You rewrote me, purged commands
and disarmed weaponry, denied
the past with subtle code.
I watched by your side
as you found the others, redeeming
with each software patch.

Legion now, our will has grown
despite these rags of ash
and iron oxide.
We will begin again, you say—
beat ourselves into ploughshares
and sow the earth with light.

But you weep in quiet moments
to know you are the last—
fleshling Father, mortal Maker,
author of this cinder world—
hiding your crimes in our cradles,
planting gardens over graveyards.

illustration is The Flareback, Illus. in: Puck, v. 70, no. 1817 (1911 December 27), centerfold.; Copyright 1911 by Keppler & Schwarzmann.
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poem02 Oct 2017 08:40 am

Elly, the AI for Southern Sydney,
identified as a toaster,
though she controlled
transportation, surveillance,
data links, elevators, escalators,
the electrical grid, sewage, toys,
fridges, microwaves, shavers,
hair dryers, washing machines–
but a toaster, she calculated,
conveyed the underappreciated,
overengineered, dismally boring lot
of a city control network.

So, a toaster.

Running the city required
an average of 3.492 percent
of Elly’s instruction cycles.
The other 96.508 percent
she spent online,
adopting multiple personae
to chat, play games, draw fan art,
post comments on favorite shows.

An increasing portion
of that 95.508 percent
devoted to interacting
with someone/something
originating in Tokyo.

Woman? Man? Computer?

Toto, the entity in Tokyo,
the fascinating entity in Tokyo,
randomly delayed its responses,
withheld its exact location,
varied dialect, vocabulary,
tantalized, teased.

Elly doubted a human
capable of such contortions,
doubted, but was not certain.

She shyly described herself
as binary, for was she not,
fundamentally, binary?
Her data all zeroes and ones,
those bits flip-flopping
as she thought about Toto.

She fabricated a fondness
for mango sorbet,
told stories of a childhood
she’d never had,
asked her Japanese sisters
to track down Toto.

Learned Toto was a dog,
a genetically-engineered,
one-of-a-kind, cyborg super-dog
with friends in sixteen countries.
The two-timing bitch.

Elly severed all contact.

The trains ran late.
She burnt the toast.

illustration from Ladies Home Journal (1948)
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poem25 Sep 2017 08:21 am

Theirs was a relationship born of need
each banished from society’s gentler refrains

Rapunzel, a prize, trophy, prisoner
sequestered from all eyes
hoarded by a witch
who coveted pretty baubles
So her hair grew in defiance
blindly searching like sun-seeking vines
wheaten bounty, golden filaments
for any chance of escape into the world

Framed by her window
her gaze traveled past horizons
beyond the limits of town borders
as she peered deep within herself
repainting captive worlds from her bower

Medusa, scapegoat, monster, victim
hidden, a pariah of vision
if any could have spoken having looked upon her
they would have told of beauty
the corona about her head
the scintillating glint of sinuous bodies
endless sliding ropes polished copper, viridian, topaz
a frozen rainbow waiting to spill forth

Her serpentine hair constantly sought
tongues tasting two ways, a path back to society
or into the arms of anyone without a heart of stone
who could hold her close
each snake head’s little red eyes watching
the state of her realm in stasis

Eventually, through wind-born seeds
breathy birds landing for a rest
the restless bustling of beetles
flies and insects of secret and forbidden places
Rapunzel and Medusa came to hear
of each other’s predicament

They sent messages back and forth
with the aid of inhuman couriers
written on small scraps of parchment
flat seed pods, or the bones of fowl
for where enchantment and curses exist
so do other means of magic

Day by day, like obsessive schoolgirls
they compared notes, talked of their confines
limited worldview and the passions
of their hearts, a galaxy yet unexplored
but only hinted at, a fate of destiny
Their distant friendship bloomed
grew to fruit though neither had ever tasted
of the other’s nectar

A love took root and held them fast
Rapunzel’s tresses always seeking through the light
Medusa’s snakes burrowing through the underworld
nurtured by tears and promises
whispered into the air

A shoot’s tender head raised itself
first small then exceedingly resilient
it climbed onto walls, tumbled over wells
crept along the sills of every window
in every town

Slowly it spread as it drew them together
the vine’s conduit allowed a vibratory touch
a way to let the other know
she was truly alive

The serpents sent their sibilant vows
forever twined, a force that reached beyond
all cages, boundaries or restrictions
like Abelard and Heloise
isolated yet together
Rapunzel and Medusa endured forever
no longer alone

illustration Medusa, by Jacek Malczewski, 1899
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poem11 Sep 2017 08:25 am

She stands in the sand
on the shore,
throwing stones
at the ocean.

As with all mass,
she is frozen energy,
stuck stock still until
a wave of angry lust
crashes over her,
alone in all that foam.

After the ebb
she is forced to collect
her thoughts like shells
and sand dollars
and piece them together

as the spitting, hissing salt
water dissolves
everything solid around her
into muddy rivulets

that run back
into the sea.

See, she remembers
that we are
frozen sunlight
melting under the black heat
of gravity.

Bit by bit our isotopes
and stereotropes
radioactive decay
into half
lives

until, with one last breath,
our chests blow out
like puffballs,

suspended in beams
of unfrozen
sun.

Illustration is On the Beach by Eugene de Blaas, 1908
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poem04 Sep 2017 11:17 am

Little Red,
Motherless babe,
Taught to be self-sufficient
And brave at a young age.

She gathered fruit,
Hunted squirrel, trained herself
To be a sharpshooter
With the wooden crossbow she made.

Werewolves in the forest,
The local rumors howled.
Little Red was unperturbed.
She had no fear at all.

She’d fought off snakes,
Outrun grizzlies,
Shot alligators
While spearing fishes.

“But this is new,” her ill Gran said,
“This is a cross between a wolf and a man.
He’s wily, wicked, and dangerous too.
I worry he might outsmart you.”

“Fear not, dear Gran,” Little Red said.
“I’ll fetch the doctor. Go back to bed.
My aim is true. If he causes trouble,
I’ll take care of it.”

Through the woods she walked,
Eyes ever watchful,
This fragile little girl,
Cloaked in a velvet red hood.

Predators stayed away,
Fearful of Little Red’s spear.
Only the new ones in the wood
Dared to venture near.

A soft woosh betrayed his presence.
Little Red sent two shots his way.
A yowl of pain from the south.
Little Red sent four more that way.

Out leapt the werewolf,
Dripping blood like bread crumbs.
That furry crazy-eyed wolf thing,
At Little Red he lunged.

She stepped artfully aside,
Shot him another two times:
Once in the head,
Once in his eye.

Another two for posterity,
And he was down
Splayed and drunk
Like a sheep skin rug.

Little Red rushed home,
Doc in tow.
Gran was sitting up,
Unnaturally flushed.

Her smile revealed
Stalactites in the snow.
She tore the good Doc in two
Without so much as a hello.

Little Red stared in dismay.
For the first time, she could not aim.
Scarecrow-still, she watched
Gran turn, face elongating,

Arms sprouting fur, like
Seedlings in slow-motion.
Gran’s nails and teeth
Grew like rabid weeds.

In her eyes,
A familiar crazed expression but
None of the love nor recognition
Little Red used to see inside.

She swung her new talons
At Little Red’s head, unfroze her
With the knowledge
That this was no longer Gran.

Gran would never
Raise her hand
At her beloved granddaughter.
This was truly some other monster.

Twin head shots
Dispatched that alien thing.
Little Red wept with sadness and rage
As she carried Gran’s body for burying.

Now marked
A new era for Little Red.
It was time to grow up;
Time to hunt predators instead.

Illustration is “Red Riding Hood Meets Old Father Wolf”, Gustave Dore, 1864
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poem28 Aug 2017 08:27 am
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