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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poem08 Jan 2018 08:00 am

The secrets of the forge come with a price.
The power of flame, the mastery of metal,
who can resist the bellow-blown mesmerism
of flames? Reds so intense they sublimate white,
that purifying danger, beckoning, haunting.

A tricky power, though, a sinister one.
Who can trust those who’ve delved into
the flames? Surely the bellows possess
an evil spirit, the horseshoes leak bad luck,
the blades already reek of the lives they will take.

A useful skill, but why take a chance? Keep those flames
outside, away from the homes of upright folk,
far from our vulnerable ones. Sickness spreads
from those flames, an evil breath, don’t you smell it
in the smoke that oozes out of the chimney?
And those who speak the tongue of flame and anvil too.
Pay them and flee back to the safety of our homes,
and let them come no nearer.

 

Image: English: Joseph Wright of Derby. An Iron Forge Viewed from Without. 1773. Oil on canvas 105 x 140 cm. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.
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poem01 Jan 2018 08:33 am

When we were kids,
no one wanted to be the zombie boy
from The Nightmare Before Christmas,
the fat kid flanked by zombie parents
and guided through each day.
Even when he’s not attached to Mom
by a leash or held on Dad’s shoulders,
you know he’s never been by himself
to the park, or what passes for a park
in that Gothic Podunk.

No, everyone wanted to be the three feral kids,
the Huck Finn Lost Boy kids,
wolf pup pack,
stylish street gang of three:
devil kid, witch kid, dead kid.
Bonds stronger than summer camp lanyards.
Running wherever by themselves with each other.
Adventures beyond gray hills, candy for dinner,
never flinching at the Louise Bourgeois spiders.

We wanted to be kids like that,
mouths and feet free.
Parents are missing in stories for a reason.

But stories are stories,
and in stories you know
Jim the freedman or James the pirate or Jack the skeleton
is ready to step in. And look:
here comes the car driven by adults,
the three kids riding small-town-cool on top,
their tricks wordlessly forgiven
as they return to the safety of the square.

As children we knew we were not in a story,
and that refusing the leash meant refusing the shoulders.
That “lost” would mean something different to us,
something with sidewalks and broken glass
and stale smells we did not recognize.

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poem26 Dec 2017 08:27 am

It’s not what you know; it’s what you do with it.

Slunk: the skin of an unborn calf;
there is another word for the skin
of an unborn snow leopard.

Alembic: a vessel or flask, but anything
can be a vessel and serve to contain
fluids, liquid or gaseous. Some fluids
cannot be contained.

Caul: the translucent membrane enclosing
a fetus; it must be quickly retrieved
following a carnivore birth, before
the mother eats it. Its flavor is best
not described.

Glory: the halo of light formed around a shadow
cast upon mist; this light can be refined
and forged into a weapon.

Oculus: an opening for seeing through,
sometimes found, sometimes deliberate.
What can be seen through a naturally
formed hole in a small stone depends
on where the stone came from
and what left it behind.

Ecliptic: a great circle in the cosmos
representing the sun’s path over the course
of a year. Eclipses occur when the moon
crosses this path. What happens
when the moon crosses your path?

Cistern: an underground reservoir
for rainwater or other liquids. Dry,
it may serve to sequester a living
subject for a considerable time.

Soras: the length of an eclipse cycle
on the terrestrial plane. There are
other planes, glistening and golden.

Albedo: the measure of reflected light.
But you wished to measure
the reflection of darkness.

There are words for the precise stretching
of shadows, for the semen of a murderer,
for the eyelashes of a strangled faun,
for the foreskin of a demon, in languages
extinct for millennia in this universe.
The inflection changes depending on
whether it is an albino demon. After
memorizing the lexicon and syntax,
it’s only a matter of intention.

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editorial26 Dec 2017 08:14 am

I had not intended to take the month of December off! I took a freelance job with a tight deadline and found myself working weekends. I found myself not thinking about anything else. But it’s turned in now and I can devote my attention to other things.

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poem27 Nov 2017 08:03 am

For sale: one chest of drawers
(slightly used) of corpses
some drawers stick
some full of hands,
full of heads empty of thought
some chest of drawers

of chests

For sale: the buttons
once kept in that chest emptied to make room
now used by surgeons
to button your plastic together
(mint condition) action figure
posed to attract buyers
who pass hurriedly assuming
that you’re another mannequin

for sale,

more interested in the clothes
on your frame
than in your frame itself

For sale. Dolls, many varieties;
life-like screaming excreting,
IV marionette, paper
with nurse outfit,
CPR dummy, mouths agape.

For sale: used books,
used up. Words no longer function.
Cheap.

For sale: one music box
Gears in good working order (see)
as one turns over in gurney
the beeps and blips change tempo
the song box rings out its finale
with bells of mourning

For sale: bells
For sale: bells
For sale: bells

illustration is the Spice Shop by Paulo Barbieri, 1637
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poem20 Nov 2017 11:21 am

“The Masque of the Red Death” is short—
a story in seven pages—
and so much of it
is Poe’s description of the rooms,
the twisting ballrooms of the castle
where Prince Prospero has locked himself away
from the plague.

Blue                Green               White              Black & Red
        Purple              Orange             Violet

Seven rooms, each a different color,
as in Bartók’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle,
where Judith begs her murderous bridegroom
for seven keys to seven doors
that lead to rooms of various intent.

Blood-Red: the torture chamber
Yellow-Red: the armory
Golden: the treasury
Blue-Green: the garden
White: the veranda
Black: the lake of tears
Silver: the previous wives

Judith opens doors to pain and flowers,
neither frightened nor wooed enough to stop.
Prospero runs through rooms of music and tapestries,
chasing that figure in the mask.

If they could forget what they’re looking for,
would anything
end differently?

Nevertheless,
they continue
to the final room,
to that truth
they can’t refuse.

illustration By Harry Clarke – Printed in Edgar Allan Poe’sTales of Mystery and Imagination, 1919., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2348546
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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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