poem


poem26 Mar 2018 08:31 am

His hands work, flaying the hide from the deer,
parting the sinews that bind it to flesh
with a stone-flake knife; murmuring apologies
and gratitude for the gift of its life.

Dripping, he drapes it over his shoulders;
feels the still-warm blood course down his spine,
feels the weight of the antlered skull upon his brow,
feels the wet sinews bind to his flesh.

His hands clench to fists, become hooves, his spine
contorts—and then he races away through
the woods, fleeing pursuers more deadly
than any mere wolf.

When he comes to rest in a cold camp,
fireless, he strips off the borrowed skin,
but leaves the head in place—a mask with
sightless eyes, carved from flesh, and hard as bone.

Wolves come, having scented wounded deer,
but whine and press bellies to earth when they
meet his lifeless eyes; they know he is no prey.
They gather close and warm him until dawn.

When his pursuers come too close, the wolves
begin to howl, and the man puts back on his skin—
flees as the wolves harass the men who pursue him.
At sunset he returns to find their bodies, fletched.

Weeping, he thanks them for their kindness,
and then his hands work once more,
separating supple skin and soft fur,
settling it over his shoulders once more.

His nose touches earth; he catches the scent
of those who pursue him—and this time
when he leaps from the brambles it is he
who hunts for them.

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poem19 Mar 2018 08:11 am

As if it was merely a matter of wine and parchment,
polished glass and hammered copper, the condensation
resounds against the pulse ticking in your throat.
If you pierce the eyes of crows, lace them together
with crimson silk, they still summon the darkest nights.

That swelling in your belly will be milkweed,
swallow wort, goldenrod. Your lips
will give shape the way mares give milk. Syllables, strung
like abalone on a thread of sunlight, will scatter
like so much rice. They will sting like fresh cream
on a sliced tongue. The frost tightens its noose,
but your words are betrothed to the ripe sun,
and your ululations crepe the branches heavy.

Your body gives the soil its permission
as the light nestles in your palm like fur
and bone, and you kneel in the green confusion and weep.

illustration is American weeds and useful plants: being a second and illustrated edition of Agricultural botany by William Darlington
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poem05 Mar 2018 08:00 am

The desolation and terror of, for the first time,
realizing that the mother can lose you, or you
her, and your own abysmal loneliness…
~Francis Thompson

If I were you, and part of me is you of
Course, conceived as I was, not quite in love
But in spite of love for your fellow man
Who didn’t fit the reproductive plan
Outlined by the geneticists who ran
The robotic grafting units, I’d scan
The contracts more closely, looking for stuff,
If I were you,
That granted you parental rights you can
Keep. Like getting to see me; I began
As a numerical code, a bit rough
If I were you,
To identify me — not a person’s
Name by any means, but a type, a brand,
A factory where your DNA strand
Became a building code to merge with an
Other building code, like a hand in glove…
And here I am. I couldn’t search enough
If I were you.

illustration is Hope, II by Gustav Klimt
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poem26 Feb 2018 08:08 am

Even though when rebottled for sale,
the insanely-expensive draughts are small,
the original container is said to have
been huge, magnifying, behind the moat
of glass, scales the size of platters,
a cold Palomar-like eye, and fire-blackened
teeth.

As for the properties it is alleged to confer?
Like most folk medicine that involves
the consumption of animal parts, even
in this age of germline editing and born-again
dragons, the effect is rumored to be largely
psychosomatic:

the inner wings that sprout may still allow
you to believe you can fly, but any knights
you attempt to ingest are far more likely
to induce heartburn than gastronomic
satiety — there still being no evidence
at this point (or so saith our procurer,
flashing unicorn inlays) that drinking
dragon wine is suspected to be the cause
in at least three investigations
of spontaneous human combustion.

Chinese snuff bottle, 19th century, glass bottle with jadeite stopper, Honolulu Museum of Art
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poem19 Feb 2018 08:36 am

She is sister to all
citizens of the sea.
She has kept the selchies’ secrets,
danced with them at moonrise,
carpet of discarded pelts
beneath her feet.
The mermaids permit her earthbound voice
to join their chorus;
although she’s neither terrible nor tragic,
her songs still taste of salt.
 
She travels each day
to hear the holy rock struck
like a drum by ocean’s swells,
her own heart hammering
answer near as loud.
This is prayer and preparation.
 
The last of her kind to have the gift,
the last whose knowing fingers
harvest and weave,
she must wait
till infant granddaughter grows
before she can pass on the ancient craft;
her only child, a son, lacks
blood’s inheritance
or woman’s patience.
 
No mollusk delivers up its thread to her.
Byssus cloth, shimmering with memories of nacre,
never sold but saved for special gifts of love,
is far less precious than her work.
Hers is true sea-silk,
woven from wave and wind.
 
It needs no lemon-juice to coax its gold.
Her silk catches the glint of sun,
star-silver, moon-shadow,
the undergleam of deeps shaded
by coral forests
and the dreams of whales.
 
Woven into armor,
its shark-strong links
make the warrior invincible.
Suppleness learned from
the dance of kelp beneath the waves,
its robes grant undine-gracefulness
to any wearer.
A sail of her stuff,
so fine it may fold into a tea-cup,
will carry your ship
through all the seven worlds.
 
—That is, for those few
who win the wave-weaver’s favor,
convince her of a righteous cause.—
 
But for herself,
she sometimes knits a net
and, passing the pearl-laden oysters by,
trawls the waters for the tales
the sea tells no one but itself.

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poem12 Feb 2018 09:25 am
Michael and Satan:
forever among the homeless and the pigeons.
And the tourists—
every moment
someone is photographing them
with cameras that change year by year.
But they are only focused on each other.
Supposedly they are locked in battle:
Michael, triumphant with his sword;
Satan, defeated on the ground.
But from the side—
that isn’t fear in Satan’s eyes.
Mild annoyance perhaps,
familiarity certainly.
As if Satan has been lying in the sand,
reading a book or looking at the sea,
and Michael, bored, is jesting,
and will soon settle down
and sit beside him,
watching the water.
Photo by Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15905060
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poem05 Feb 2018 08:00 am

It’s a day that smells of sulfur,
semi-cooled lava and odd vegetation
that will grow just about anywhere.
It’s a chiseling-rock day.
A collecting-samples day.
A day of wandering through
metals cast off by the deep interior.
I start it with a yawn,
a stumble across the bedroom floor.
I can hear my co-workers, already up.
filling the corridors with coughing and complaining.
It isn’t what I signed up for
but I own my situation just like I do my chin bristle.
Only the job doesn’t come clean
at the edge of a razor.

Wedge a fist open, find a coffee cup
stained the color of a molting rat,
poke gook out from under eyelids,
then slump in chair, suck caffeine into
every vein in my body
to waken all that blood sludge –
those are my body’s orders.
And reach for a cigarette of course –
like a mime because there are no cigarettes
between here and Epimetheus.
NASA don’t want me breathing in nicotine.
But they have no problem
with the fumes of Mount Copernicus.

The guy in the room next door flushes a toilet.
The woman on the other side
has brought her family along for the duration.
They argue like scientists with contradictory theories.
Over nothing really. It’s just how they are –
doomed to bring the ‘f’ word
to the far reaches of the galaxy.
A snarled “Don’t you talk that way to me”
is like an alarm clock around here.

Must be time for my second coffee.
Or my second phony cigarette.
The day’s instructions spill out of my bedside
multi-function unit.
The agenda is the same as yesterday and the day before.
And always, in bold lettering.
a brusque, “Don’t forget to turn in your reports
by the end of the day.”

So here I am.
More light years from home
then there is light.
I was out of university
and Big Space was hiring.
They stuck a helmet on my head,
equipped me with the latest in rock hammers,
and let me loose in the universe.
I’ve been sealing and labeling pebbles ever since.

I could have been a doctor like my old man.
Or even a musician like my grandfather.
They’ve never been beyond the stratosphere
and their imaginations haven’t complained.
By the time I see Earth again, I’ll be middle aged
And half the people I know will be dead.
Yes, with all that back pay, I’ll be Croesus rich.
But there’ll be no one for me to spend it on,
least of all myself.

The team meet in the mess hall for breakfast.
The conversation is muted and without eye contact.
Then it’s suit up, wave goodbye to oxygen,
and do your best to ape
exactly what you did yesterday.
Yes, I’ve witnessed much that others haven’t.
So wake me up when it’s time for me to testify.

illustration is 
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poem29 Jan 2018 08:00 am
We had reservations,
luckily made months in advance;
even our inferior hostelry was filled.
Everyone wanted to visit the place
before it was too late. Some tourists
who expected lodging to be available
had meltdowns right there in the dank
lobby. We spent the debased currency
as if it were water, but icy native eyes
followed us with hostility, even though
we learned a common local greeting
(which translated roughly as Repent—
the end is near). Their famed arcades
appeared smaller than the guidebooks’
gushing descriptions, and the details
oddly rounded, compared to earlier
photos. Uncooperative guards would
not let us climb gleaming staircases
(Slippery When Wet signs impeded us
everywhere), nor allow us to set foot on
translucent bridges, even when offered
lavish bribes. Ancient statues of crystal
seemed to have shrunk and smoothed
further each time we passed by them.
Everywhere, deepening puddles lapped
at our ankles, and we shivered despite
the crowds in whose warmth we nestled.
We complained loudly about the dearth
of portable heaters, the dampness, plus
the lack of authentic restorations, and
asked them why they could not simply
move their planet further from its sun.
Illustration is By Giovanni Boldini – Dorotheum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18993859
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poem22 Jan 2018 08:00 am


My clinging love,
I would move one moon
Around the other to have
But one more tesseract
Of your unignited breath,
One more contravening twist
Of your moribund compound eye, another
Sharing of crossed lecherous forelimbs.

Ours is a gradient of love outside of gravity,
And I know your many erotically enveloping shapes
By the bulbous singing of near crystals alone.

We make a triptych so elastically refined
That our peers at times see us at once solid and liquid,
And grievously spend the last of their minerals
To similarly evolve. Come with me:
Let us be the volcano, let us evenly
Salt the underside of the gaseous rocks.
Let us again spill dark matter wondrously arisen.
Craft gossamer with me yet another slithery dimension.

illustration By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12472781
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poem15 Jan 2018 08:00 am

 

Find a hummingbird whose emerald wings
thrum like your lost lover’s heartbeat.
Wait three springs, or four, or eight,
till she hatches an egg the color of the sky
on your last happy day.

Break it in two
with a ruby-hilted sword.
Suck and savor
what would have been a bird;
this makes you stronger,
able to give up
what you’ve cradled and coddled all your life.
You no longer need it, not really.
You’re better off keeping it hidden,
and it’s better off, too;
you tell it that as it resists your
ministrations.

Insert the precious quivering thing
safe inside the egg.
Ignore the wild fluttering as it struggles
to break free.

Seal the egg with a locking spell
till the seam is invisible
and looks for all the world
like something that might still become.

Thrust the egg inside a ring-dove’s throat.
Force a fox to swallow the dove whole.
Never mind its pleading eyes.
Shove the fox into a silver casket
locked with a golden lock
whose key you down with a goblet of burgundy.

Round and round the casket wrap iron chains
insistent as seaweed wreathing a drowned man’s legs.
The fox in its prison may cry and yelp
but you will pretend
not to hear.
You don’t mean to be cruel;
it’s just the way things are.

Journey north to where the maps
say the world ends
or south to where all tales began,
it makes no difference;
it’s the distance that counts.
When you find a ship, take it;
it knows where to go.

Once you are far from the seven continents,
beyond the isles of pestilence,
where the sails die for want of wind,
you’ll know you have arrived.

Dive
seven leagues down,
ocean above you weighty as eternity,
to darkness so black
the whales fear it.
There in the sand,
where even the sharks won’t see,
bury the casket.

Swim back up.
Sail the world,
build a fortress,
destroy a city,
as you wish.

Now, you’ll think,
you will be safe forever,
nothing will ever hurt you again.

But someday you’ll hear chains burst,
a fox cresting the waves,
the beating of a ring-dove’s wings,
the crack of an egg.

Illustration is Orchids and Spray Orchids with Hummingbird by MJ Head
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