poem22 Feb 2016 08:00 am



O Cormorant Queen,
long-necked Lady of black plumage,
can you hear me,
so far from the isle of river reeds
and cormorant-crowded estuaries?

Can prayer ascend without voice,
rhythm shriven of melody,
on heartbeat’s punctuation?

Cobalt-glass lamps swing their twilight
beneath silk-tented ceilings,
transforming the tenants of the room
into dreams.
They are shadows, only shadows.
I shift upon my satin couch,
peering at them with a hawk’s regard.

Those puny pink- or brown-skinned men
who visit seeking ecstasy,
quake at my height,
deem the blues of my flesh
—like spillage of tattoos’ ink
without the blanched page underneath—
unholy, alien, animal.

Some worship me
in the way of precious things.
These deposit sapphires at my feet,
carved beads of lapis lazuli,
as if to say without the aid of speech
(believing I can’t comprehend)
we, we are unlike the rest,
we know your worth,
would chart the rivers, gulfs, the seas
of your amazing skin.

Indigo Mystery,
they call me,
the Blue Odalisque.

Seven years ago I washed ashore
with all the other jetsam,
wreck’s relic wreathed in wrack
and my dead captain’s arms.

Loss still tendrils me,
tender as a lover.
When you give yourself to a man
for the spice of his lips,
for wave-green eyes, sand-gold hair,
heaven-blue arms,
you get what you deserve.

I lie.
It was not just for this that I followed him.
He seduced me with his ship,
blue maiden at the prow,
red sails, strong timbers
that creaked with the jolt of the sea
like a bed of pleasures.

Sister of Sorrows,
Daughter of Thorns,
some have called me in their tongues,
believing I still mourn a lover
drowned now seven years.

It’s not his loss that brims my eyes,
leaves me shuddering,

Nor is it merely homeland I pine for,
who traversed mountains just to heed
their winds’ secret dialects.

Not even freedom’s loss
drags my lips into their purple frown,
no matter how I long to trade
the stale stench of gardenias for
shores’ brine or hay-sweet meadowlands.

No, it is language I mourn.

Not inarticulate,
merely untranslatable, I—

I could sing the song of the smoke,
recite the epics of the moths of the moon,
chant the ballad of the wine
till my listeners sweated from the sun
that once fell on the vine.

How can I tell my tales?
How can I let my heart be known?
These foreigners lack the grace to make
the subtle shifts of note and vowel,
gesture’s aid to naked speech,
that give Jenaharese its eloquence.

How many secret mornings have I
grunted and stuttered
in a hundred un-blue tongues,
finding their words veinless,
old parchment rubbed dry and torn,
maps on which the lines of
rivers, roads, have vanished.

So I recline,
cloaked in kingfisher feathers
and mute misery.

O Cormorant Queen,
hear these prayers that flutter
to you on frayed wings.
Let my voice dive deep
into my listeners’ hearts.
See me home.

Meanwhile, the waters of Jenahar
still flow in me,
blood’s blue currents
sing the ancient tales for me alone.
I sway, listening inwards.

Understanding dawns in the eyes
of the little sister at the lute.
Her sure, swift fingers
echo the unsung songs
that rise from the prison
of my dusty throat,
from my damp blue body which,
clasped daily by a multitude of foreign arms,
also gives itself to no one.


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