November 2017


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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