January 2018

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

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.

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
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.
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.