The Peregrine Muse
 

At Once


What does a woman hope for
from her heart like a grave?
The city, a labyrinth of pavement,
flood of voices and footfalls,
the black streets groan.
The people ride elevators and escalators.
Drive cars, smoke cigarettes,
crow into cell phones while the promise
of shade dissipates.
Like a monkey I follow suit.

All the cities of the world
at once.  The burden of everything
at once.  Politics at once, war at once,
hunger at once, death all day long-
at once we must consult the past.
At once we must bargain on a future
and forget our losses.
In darkness, I return to my small room
where everything has its place, its reason.
Its carefully coded presence.
I lie in my bed until morning.





Transitions


Night and day I miss you.
Exclusively, from within.
The crystal morning glistens-
your eyes become the quietest
they've been in weeks.
Sunlight tiers over sunlight
and the birds are glad.
They sing and flit while I stammer
at your wordless tongue,
wondering what sentiments you are keeping
from my ears.  Startled when the evening
comes you leave me like a bed.
The question of how to make it
from one second to the next
when there is so much time in between.
Whole breaths I'll have trouble breathing.
Whole reflexes I will not be able to control.
Static in the sheets when I turn to find you gone.





Opium


The men of my heart
are not religious men,
they gnaw away instead
at the growing reality,
that what you see is what
you get, and that death is all
there is in the end.

The men of my heart
do not send flowers
or pretend in futuristic
picture perfect romance,
they believe that what they give
is what they might receive but
not necessarily and not in that order.

The men of my heart
do not take out what they have not
put in, wonderful creatures really
if you stop and think about it.
The men of my heart, this word
I call men which could mean meat
or asp or hero, a combination
of the three, with a roar
I might hear them coming.

Okay, so they mount my surge
and play tender with their paws
against my umbilical stump and perhaps
their geography is a bit rough
and untended but I know how to mend
them, I know how to smoke the voodoo
out of their souls even if they act
like they don't have one.

The men of my heart
are dogs, just dogs on a dusty day,
tails wagging into who knows where.





Discretion


The dark, the splash of mud.
Love honors its heroes, buries
its victims.  I don't know how
to love.  I used to know, but
I've forgotten.

Lemon trees bloom, the scent reminds
me of childhood, of a painting my father
kept in a closet, of a little girl
my brother knew before she drowned
in a back yard pool.

Morning is somehow like entering
a cemetery, one day closer to death.
Every morning I see it this way.
Perhaps life has made me pessimistic.
Even when there is no love, there is
the thought of love, though I can't
really be sure.  I'm only guessing.





A Drinking Song


Sofa-mouthed, my words come out in rows
of cotton and fiber glass.  Whole fistfuls
of thought lost somewhere in the internal
structure of my mind, like a frenzy.

Bored by everything alive I pour a glass
of wine, sit back and ponder the ceiling.
It's liberating to be drunk, the day’s events
pass so easily, mournful looks from loved ones
do not faze me.

I settle down in my faithful chair as the light
of evening diminishes, as the slush of drink
surrounds me, as my heart of stone knocks freely
against my breastbone.  Ah, after a long day
of life's arcade, there's nothing better than this.





Arithmetic
~for kiah & kirsten


That's how things are for mothers.
When they are alone, when their sons
and daughters have moved beyond
the decades of her touch, braided hair
and braces, lunch sacks and her ever-
present shadow, inseparable from their
own.  Everywhere they go, only a mother
must learn to weave her way back home
and stay put and not interfere.

And yet everything is perfect because
doesn't just a mother feel by chance
and know by heart the half-movement
of every inconceivable thought her child
has?  And so she does.  And often
when she feels sad and perhaps a bit lonely
all she has to do is look at her own hands,
mark her own reflection and smile knowing

how those beautiful children have grown,
became themselves, and though the habits
of touch of waned, the serenity of love remains.





To Be Determined


My father died when he was fifty seven.
Not long considering the nine ways
men can die, notwithstanding, by non-heroic
means.  Those being:  cancer, heart attack,
choking on a spit of beef, love sickness,
alcoholism, anxiety, suicide, unnecessary
risk to life & limb or capitalism.

To kill a mockingbird, indeed.
What remains for me is a gray, empty world,
a naked palm, less: one warm lap, two green
eyes, oodles of words that fall like
braids down my memory. 

To die, my father quit breathing.
Just like that.  Settling himself quite comfortably
into myth.  Meanwhile, I, who have no destiny
I can determine, must settle for the functionality
of chance.  The laws of fate escape me.




Descent

Like houses, at our touch, the heart opens

its door. Windows brighten with breakthrough

and in come all the lives

like troops in an assembly line down a wild path,
the scent of berries and possibility, crushed bees
beneath their feet

moving into the yard, toward the door in a manner
of great significance, such beauty in those that
come empty handed, willing only to give

and not receive, bleak with love I take them in.




The Unnameable

drifts in and out of my consciousness
as I take an easy walk through town square,
watching as others toss coins in the fountain,
the wish-want on their faces so clear, I put
down my head and look to the sidewalk,
as each dark toe of my shoe comes forward.
How dangerously we all arrive to that strange
party called depression, with liquid smiles on,
ready to mingle, feeling the room with our eyes,
searching for someone like us, checking
the corners, the bedroom, the dark fracture
under the stairs.



Intrusions

Last night I cast the demons
from my dreams.
It was not easy, especially
those with silver speech.
How they tried to woo me
out of my self.
They split my side open,
created a sanctuary between
my lungs, fed off my heart's
nocturnal wanderings, pinned
pictures of themselves
to the bones of my ribcage.
Memories, the one with the stoney
voice said, as he hung a mirror
from my sternum and looked
at himself.

The demons are not unkind.
On the contrary, they believe
to be of service, as the sun finishes
baking and closes the oven door
until tomorrow, they think I need
company. As I lay my head down
to sleep, they begin walking, talking,
thinking aloud, ruminating, considering
our past which is still their present.
I realize it's up to me to set them straight,
to clear their cloudy heads from thinking
that any damaged love is better off
left lingering and so I show them.

This is the door to the outside world,
here through the cut in my side,
between the fifth and sixth rib, go
and be free. Some totter with worry,
others simply leave. A few are very
afraid and stare through the opening.
Some are so tiny I find it humiliating,
others are so large it's like giving birth,
my body is the grave from which they
are born. A herd of black horses waits
to carry them off.

The one with the stoney voice is the last
to leave. A cord of maternal nature
binds him. From the light coming in from
the cut in my side I can see he is young
like a glass child and is refusing to go.
So I break him, poor boy.
Send his shattered pieces flying.
There is no room for adolescence here,
I say as I remove the glass from the carpet
of my lungs. First loves nor any of those
that have come after. From now on
I do not need to know what day it is,
nor what hour. I'm starting over.



God

God keeps me alive.
God constantly.
God a piece of moonlight
piercing through the pastel
bellies of clouds.
God is bigger than the sky
but fits inside of my shoe.
God a colorless motion
surrounding a diagonal arm
of sunlight.
God's head resting in my lap.
God's hair fanning out like a flame
across my thighs.
God doesn't smile, knowing if He did,
I might go blind.
God's grief a soft cyanosis,
a blue expanse of bundled light.
God feeding me serpents
cleaning the juice running down my chin
with His tongue.
God smoking a cigarette
while I plant kiss after kiss, pale as teardrops
upon his forehead.



The Lost Part of Self

                    for my mother, Joan

People get deserted.
It happens every day.
People are abandoned,
daughters by their mothers,
women by their lovers,
you by your last hope.

It's best not to dwell on it.
Memory can not serve you
any better than it can salve
your wounds, stitch your scrapes
together, or cast your fractured
heart.

The abandoned part-of-self is lost.
A stray, deep in uncertainty.
Leave it there. To find
its own way, to dig through garbage pails
for something to eat,
to howl into the frozen night
for company,
to scratch with dirty nails
on bolt-locked doors.

However your true self decides to make it,
she'll make it.

I promise.



Without You

I am lost.
Meaning does not unfold
but stays clasped up tight
as a newborn fist.

Days become microscopic.
Hours can not be seen
by the human eye.
Courage breaks its wing.



Instinct Blues

Right away men come
to shuffle me places
I do not want to go.

First, as an infant,
into my mothers arms.
Second, as a child,
into the classroom.
Third, as a young woman,
into a young man's clutches.
Fourth, as a mother,
into old age.
Fifth, as a grandmother,
into my grave.

Right away men come.
Right away men go.




Grief

He died in January, the smell of winter
will always remind me of him.
The teeming scent of rain on asphalt,
nevertheless I have learned ways
of stepping in and out of myself.

The back door I created leads out
of my head and into Greenfield park.
I am an example of self-pity as I flop
myself down on the grassy hill
that overlooks the playground.

Even children are more sophisticated
than I am. Sociable animals, they
fight and play, always forgetting
from one moment to the next why
they were just crying, if they were sad.

The groundskeeper in his earth brown
jumpsuit blows leaves off the walking path.
The janitor rolls a cart of cleaning supplies
into each toilet stall. Father and son fish
in a man-made pond.

The park for me is not a workable piece
of escape, I can't live here, I keep finding
things wrong. The children are too exceptional,
the sunlight too bright as it lays a shining
highway over the water, which pushes me

to return, taking one last glimpse before I go
back into the profound sorrow of myself.
The minute I am in, the sky heaves a dark
sigh. My heart beats in a sequence of rain
drops, I stare down the street at the shapes
of wet trees.

Grief is like a woman in church,
finding no sign of life from the preachers
rousing sermon, she leaves.
The road ahead is long and narrow,
no end in sight.



Fate

This is my heartlessness.
Like snow flurries, my attitude
opens its gate, rains cold and wet-white.

Sometimes I'm able
to control myself, the emotional stuff
I keep gagged and sealed in the closet
of my head.

All it takes is a key
to open the door.
Why you have a copy for every locked corridor,
I'm not sure.

Did I give them to you?
I did? I must have trusted you then.
Before you began donning an executioners mask,
a switchman's ill concerned face.



Memphis

I lost my heart to a man wearing black,
stars tacked to his shoulders, white roses
of smoke drifting, almost patiently, from
his mouth.

I walked into his arms like the sunlight
walks into a room, bright and eager.
He was there for me in ways my father
was not.

With the aroma of rye liquor, that manly
medicine, circumventing the air between
our lips, the sun and it, his stars,
we kissed.

I could snap my fingers and he'd be there,
a love song with bruised edges, a glimpse
into his boyhood dishevelment, a poem
impossible to put into words.



Fractions

        for Dede


Years after your brother died,
and your mother, who always drank,
started drinking at 6 a.m. to dull
the pain. The accident hadn't
happened yet. You were not
yet a shadow of your former self,
addicted to pain pills, so thin
I could see your shoulder blades
through your tee shirt.

Would it have made a difference
if I told you then what I know now?
How our lives are being orchestrated
by a God we can not see or touch.
That we must have faith.
Faith in blank space, and trust,
that awesome word shaped
like a fist.

How many years would you say
you spent reciprocating a love
you never felt? Your father gone
to live in another State, remarried,
new kids. Your mother passed out
by noon everyday.

At the hospital, the place
we always swore never to end up,
your right leg strapped to a device
the nurse called a medical limb
support assembly. Your boyfriend
dead, thrown 30 feet after breaking
through the windshield.

Five years, ten, maybe forever?
It was great to hear from you
after so long. Yes, I'm still married
to that guy I told you about
the last time we talked on the phone,
each of us with a receiver cupped
to our ear, music in the background.

Just like old times, huh, Dee?
Hey, remember that time in Delbert's
jeep, Bono singing, where the streets
have no name, and we agreeing,
as we tossed our spent cloves
into traffic, drank our southern comfort
and didn't think about trust or faith
or God, only knew that we'd make it.




Guadalupe

Every evening
mothers gather their youngest children
and bring them indoors.

This happens just
as the sun begins to fade like a dying
flower, purplish on the horizon,
curled at the edges.

Old men watch
from their porches as young men
cut through the shadows with their wiry,
sinewy forms, smoke from their cigarettes
hangs in the air.

A backlash of heat rises from the asphalt.
Women of insufficient means stand around
under streetlights, tossing their manes of curly,
dark hair and flashing disaffectionate smiles.
The night is a wound on their souls.

Summer threads through the tiny town.
Moonlight crawls across Saint Anthony's church lawn.
The Virgin Mary hangs her head out front.
Men fill the bars.



Hope

So many things are open with love. It illuminates you....

~Darren Tattersall

The sunrise over the slopes of the Superstition
mountains, changing from jagged to surreal
like hope in a bottle. We should figure out
a way to market this, you say. I agree
because I find you so easy to agree with.

The totality of life in an instant, how
the morning casts away the evening before.
How everything can change, alter its expression
in a moment. Hope rises than settles,
sets fire to the desert floor, like the sunlight
on this January morning, new year, new sun.

Everything sparkles.



Virginity

I haven't been touched
that way since I was five,
the long grasp of unfamiliar
fingers, the child in me
cracking to life.
The taste of regret
in my mothers tears
as the neighbor is hauled
off in handcuffs.
My fathers dry
relinquishment, his
foliated disappointment.
He didn't speak to me again
for years.



Dreams

I wake this morning
to the sound of rain,
measure the darkness
against the hour.
Beyond memory
my dreams wane
and dissipate.
Leaves scatter like pleas
across the yard.



Premise

All night love leads me away from my home.
Into the world, past the places I thought I loved
but barely knew.

I search for you, my eyes skimming past
the rush of midnight, its unavoidable moon,
the texture of starlight and the inevitable crease

the mountain makes on a brusque horizon.
I imagine myself finding you, a sillouette of raven
blue, the lyrics for your next song spinning

like starlight all around your head. I fear
stumbling into your silence, interrupting
the thoughtful contemplation in which you write.

Nightly my prowling inadequacy,
I hunt for your face, afraid of losing you
before I've had a chance to discover you.



And Then There Are Those

In childhood all the sunflowers are tall.
The seasons are bright, the road is long.
Every afternoon can seem an eternity.
Learning to whistle is an all out feat edging
ever closer to success.

Then there are the babies born unheard of.
The corked bodies and floppy heads without
a hand to support them, no breast, no crib,
no morning stroll in the park.

How many of these make it to the place we are.
Adulthood. Sure we have troubles, annoyances,
grievances with our neighbors, the principle of commerce,
the government, but at least we are here to discover
a new way to make amends, or rediscover an old idea.

In childhood bedtime is eight o'clock, stories are read
from Grimm's Fairytales, the television exhumes its
white noise news and all the little ones fall asleep.
Each dream a new chapter, every milestone an ideal.

And then there are those whose mealtime is a stab
in the dark, whose bodies are broken with hunger,
whose hearts are broken too. They are visible
throughout the world, so why doesn't anyone see them?
Myself included and so I hide my fullness behind walls.

In childhood the stars are worth counting, bliss crosses
the paths of those who believe. The air is always
marginally clean. Bubbles are blown, boxes drawn
with chalk are hopscotched, teachers are always available
for extra help after school.

And then there are those unable to evaporate, and so
they exist. How much easier would it be if they could just manage
to die, rather than live in a world without choices, left out
in the cold like an animal without a coat, whose voices
become more silent like ghosts only bluer, unfixated, and totally alone.

In childhood all the sunflowers are tall.
The seasons bright, the road long,
but so are the probabilities, the terrible commotions,
the list of names, those we never heard of,
as we contain all the falconry of luck for ourselves.
I mean, it's our goddamn birthright isn't it?
Isn't it?



Faith

if i placed my desire before God
with time removed as my dead
father bore witness as if I were
some cast-off from the sixties
with my lengthy skirt and welcome
eyes, as matters of great concern
fell by the wayside and if i tried
to think what to say about my life,
something impressive, though
i grew up quiet and afraid, knowing
God knows already but wanting
still my sense of place, carrying
a mysterious mark of abundance
on my forehead yet stunned silent
by what I hadn't done when I had
the chance like love more, take less.
looking deeper i wonder whether
or not there is such a thing as
a proper way to live. we each
have our barefoot jesus, the one
we so carefully avoid yet claim
him as our own when trouble or pain
approaches. with all this in mind,
if i placed my desire before God
and his all-seeing eye, the autobiography
of my life indelibly stamped sealed
and delivered, in both my narrow mind
and obese heart i believe He would grant it.



Visibility

In the mood of winter
I refrain from telephoning
my lover, afraid to swallow
him in a sheet of darkness.

Perhaps, he once said to me,
you are happiest when you're
miserable.

And I am, for the moment,
miserable though not quite happy.
So as usual, my lover was wrong.

I take a walk beneath the starlight.
I follow the moon like I follow my lover,
with my heart at my heels.
I have no illusions.



Partings

It should be noted that
despite the beauty and array
of our indestructible love,
you are so young like the dawn
and I have seen the stars come out
more than once.  Hours we spend together become

hours we've spent outside
our natural lives.  Still, we
venture forth and are polite
as the little house that god gave
crumbles in my absence.  As the children
I have tried to raise under a radiant psyche
of love and promise, moor their souls
to the floor of distress.

Tomorrow a new day.  And heartache, where
language has no words.  The first day
into my distant and mysterious life.



Eclipse

if desire had a pattern
some bar in the universe
to guide me through my
implacable days and endless
nights, to rule my heart
rather than torture me with
thirst, to mold me a metropolis
of want that i could enter in
and out of at will.

it is the heartache i don't deserve
the breaking point of discipline
to love another so much it hurts
a promise that aches like torment
bleeds like sunlight behind the moon.

wherever i go it is there.


Persimmon

         Listen.

          For one thing, there is no you.

          - Lynn Emanuel

As I drive past the old house, I feel no nostalgia.
Not for the too small front yard or the mesquite
that drove us crazy with its constant overgrowth.

I look but I do not care.  I remember but memories
are sweet and nothing more.  You in your khaki
shorts and tshirt trying to get a handle on it.

Life, my once true love, is treacherous at best.
Particularly for a girl who's loved and lost
many times over.  From this trench grief still rises.

I push apart the past from the present.  I push
them apart, keep wistful behind me.  The future
does not speak, still I am drawn to it.



Amid the Proclamations of Doubt

1.

wake to silence,
the uncomfortable gap between
his and mine, to the sensation
of a forgotten kiss.

A looking-back past the diagram
of unexpected flowers, I stand
in the corner of the room, shaking.
I'm not afraid.

2.

or do people fall in love only because
they are scared to be alone and is love
not a form of madness like a trap
door one can fall through.

3.

but suddenly dismissal comes.
I want to open my eyes, hear
myself think.  What was it you said
seventeen years ago when we first met?

one of these days you're going to leave me.

4.

and has the road not been long,
at times bumpy, at others so smooth
and straight it lulled us to sleep,
made us forget the reason we were here.

both shadow and light, every emotion
costing us something, perhaps
not a body part but why not,
it would have been easier.

5.

you want to show me our history.
With an accusing finger you point
to old words I once said.

I watch you unravel, pale as a birch
under the moonlight, your eyes full
of intensity.

Your voice so harsh I can't breathe.

6.

What can remain in the finished heart
to fool it into thinking anything is possible,
anything could happen,
the lingering scent of love?

driving away, i see the house in the rearview
mirror, its two front windows like eyes asking

why are you doing this?

7.

It's not the ending I'm afraid of
or the closing of a door.
It is the product of my own imagination,
the what-if's.

  

Solitude

Ours is a story of instances.
Fleeting, as if an hour grew wings
and left us apart.

In your absence, I don't know
what to do with my hands.
I don't know what to tell myself

or how to act.  I drink wine
to numb my mind.  I listen
to the sad echo of my own heartbeat.

Away from you, I am sorrow
sitting on a chair, staring at the sky.
As the evening takes shape

I notice the devotion to details.
The stars shining with necessity.
Ample moon.  Immeasurable dark
which has no beginning, no end.



Promise

In spite of this quiet room
which constitutes my loneliness
and occupies the bulk of my time,
I don't feel like hurting myself.

Although I have in the past,
felt the desire to let myself go,
and probably will again, sooner
than later, at this very moment

I have no wish to wound
myself anymore than I have been wounded.
Nor do I harbor any thought
of hurting you.

Because really, if I think about it,
we're both already hurt.
We're both like a calamity at midnight.
Okay, so me more than you,

but so long as there are birds chirping
outside the window, high up in the ficus's
knobby branches and bees swarming
the bottlebrush and the spit of automobiles
passing, so long as there is you

keeping to your own constitutions
in the other room, your golden cave,
we will be okay.  Perhaps tomorrow
we will get the hang of each other.
In your honor, I won't complicate today.




Apology

Forgive me
but I am not myself.
You cannot imagine
the little things
that typhoon me
every evening.
Were it not my duty
to greet the day
with industry
and a good attitude,
I might never leave
my bed again.

Forgive me
for fooling you.
For saying all is fine
when nothing is
and for some other viscera
as well, this heart mostly,
something I'm supposed
to be satisfied with
but really only causes
me sudden knots of pain
and fear.

Forgive me
for confining myself
to the dark wonder
of my mind and wondering
why all the words and numbers
combine in such a way
to seize me
in a state of desperation
rather than release me
into a world of roses
and occupancy.

For you are in that world.
You are the rose of my life
but night after night
rather than join you
in sonorous light
of moon and star,
philosophy and mirrored
reflection, with its bubbling
gestures of love, I find
my self retreating
back into its disillusionment,
something I'm familiar with.

Forgive me.
By the grace of God
let life look me once again
straight in the eye.
Let a great flutter of hope
take place in my heart
rather than this horrible
imprisonment of once knowing
flight, these now useless wings.



Weather

Yesterday so many things!
The sunlight marching over the mountain
like a proud soldier returning home.
The two of us conveniently getting along,
smiling even at the sprinkle of birds
floating high in the western sky.
The two of us being in love, laughing.
Acting out our natural wills, valuing
each others skin and heart and mind.
Talking, our mouths like two seas.
Kissing, the two of us.  Knowing nothing
but the cadence of our passion,
caring less for what others thought
or said or did, whether they carried on them
a head of harmony or a sack of haze.
Nothing mattered to the two of us
but us and the sun and the atmosphere
that spun like a gentle breeze all about
and through our hopes and dreams.
Yesterday we were the us of envy,
the type of us that makes other couples
yawn with irritation.  Of course, then time
came along and bit our hands.
I don't know what more to say.
It has been raining ever since you left.




Loneliness

What is left
if that heart
of birds is all there is?

If all the known steps
lead into a stunted vault
of darkness

where no light falls
and nothing is given.
In my mind, all things.

But in my heart
suicide.



Goodbye

In honor of the last word
where reconciliation is not
an option.

Some of us are slaves of love
shouldering the mean and impetuous
tongues of our lovers.

The power of their words
absorbing through all the dense
regions of our mind

and sinking like stone
to the bottom of the pit
in our hearts.

After a night of unrest,
the future opens on a face.
It is not yours.



Occupancy

Mother, stop the train.
It's moving too fast.
The scenery is all a blur,
an ocean of colors I cannot
decipher.

The hours are dropping like flies.
There was a surburbia on my shoulder
but now even it is gone, wisped away
by the wind and motion.

Mother, there are cities
I have never seen with noises
I have never heard and people
I have never touched.

It's all gone by too quickly.



Accordingly

         my heart is too small
         or too big
         and my life is brief

                         ~Phillippe Soupault

I am walking past the courthouse.
A thousand pigeons, cooing.
A thousand pedestrians milling about.
The scent of street vendors, cab exhaust, prayers.
Men in monkey suits, lawyers perhaps.
Ladies in reptile shoes.  Strangers whose faces
are lost as soon as I pass them by.
There stand the accused, I think, though it hardly matters.
Little nuances ten-fold, a sneeze, a cough, every other lung
in the midst of drowning a cigarette.
A statue of Saint Anthony outside a church
across the street with arms outstretched, beckoning.
He stands on a pillar of cement.  He wears an iron robe.
His smile is benevolent.  I count my footsteps.
The corner waits for me to arrive.



Suicide Night

When I died, the rain shook the orchids
of my soul loose.  My body was a bare
plank beneath the stars.  The violent blossom
of my breath lifted from my lips
and oh, but the sky looked sorrowful.

I'd rather have died in a boiler room
than here beneath the moon's damp face.
I'd rather have died a long way from here,
what will my father do when his spirit is sent
to fetch mine?

Daughter, he will chime from a long forgotten place,
his voice like an echo inside the gray of my
last thought, why?  And what will I say
in return?  Why was I born if all my life I ached
and wished that I were dead?



The World is Round and Broken

Watching, I lose myself
in an epiphany of stars,
though their actions mean little to me.
I can't help it.  They are there while I am here.
I imagine them closer than my fingers are,
those farther away are my ankles, toes.

Pessoa sits inside of one looking out as if it
were just another cafe window, dripping ashes
on the earth, a steady ghost wrapped in
a calamity of light and trickling gases.
Ursa Major his new home to despond upon.

Dear father, I wonder, which one are you?
Fifteen days I've gone without smiling.
Can you believe that?  And you always used to say
how pretty my face was when I smiled,
how straight my teeth were.

You'd be disappointed to know
the clock has piled wrinkles now,
under my eyes and even starting to grow
at each corner of my mouth.  My smile lines
have multiplied.  I've acquired love handles as well.
Though the rest of me is placemat thin,
it isn't as attractive as it used to be.

I still think with my heart, that pendant
on a chain.  No wonder my dizzy spells.
The wine helps.  So do the cigarettes.
Father, it's okay that I'm killing myself.
I do it without thinking.
Like you used to say:
It's one of those inevitable things.

Of course at the time, you were referring
to falling in love, not collapsing against death.
But, really, what's the difference but a small,
dark pout.

Which is how my face really is.



There are Destinies Which do not Exist

Starlight.  Lust overhead.
Flexibility is important.  Measuring seconds as they pass.
The standard of comparing oneself against the incomparable.
Namely:  the tender white spread of a figurative life, the lighthouse
with its tiny grain of manic bright, while the sea is considered the norm.
The average dark appointment we must keep in order to keep alive.

Say it was morning.  Sunlight clinging to the skin of every constitution.
The bud undone.  Birch strong, wrens circling an empty nest.  Say,
nothing new.  It's all been heard before.  After months of quarrel, love
carefully disguised as responsibility, I was born.  Late in September.
Destiny's child.



Atomic

In the beginning the right hand penned its first poem.
And who is to say things didn't happen this way
because who did not exist until the right hand wrote
it a mouth and filled that mouth with words, which
the right hand invented with part silence, part boredom.

This afternoon the white sun beats on the rooftop
and the television blares war and drums across the universe.
I question their authority, but who am I to say they have none.
The continual ache I feel in my chest says I am no more dead tonight
than a graveyard, upon whose every route the dead have traveled.

In the magic step of evening, the right hand continued to write,
describing a moon and stars and the light they caused on oblivion -
until even oblivion became something.  Mechanics took place,
teeth were made, a heart which could weave for itself a tongue
and a face that carried the look of intelligence.

A sea discovered a shore.  Birds took flight.  An apple fell from a tree
because it didn't know its place until the right hand explained it.
Beasts came to life on a thin thread of yellow milk.  Bracelets were flung
as a sound for rivers to follow.  Time was written with acrobatic finesse.
The green scent of tears climbed out of the soil, crying obscenities.

Calculations were done in order to pass beyond the husk of reason
until the right hand could sense in its grip a left hand, humor ensued,
illusion became black and white.  A great fluttering occured as the right
hand looked the left straight in the eye.  The world became impregnated.
Life as we know it came and keeps coming of age.




The Carpenter Teaches His Daughter to Breathe

Stardust.  Flanked by steel blade.  Bully-saw
and there goes the grain.  Breeze buffered
by a closed garage door.  My father's hands
drowned in sawdust pushes plank under teeth.
Whirrrr!  And I'm stoned cupid again
watching him work.  No one thing tends
to the sweet smell of freshly cut wood like
I do, young girl straddling a sawhorse.
His hands moving as birds do, swift
and steady as his fingers take flight carving
cross-hatch with the grain.  One man's blade
is another man's hunger.

Like a child I lived above the twisted cork
of death.  How a toe bone's connected to a hand
bone, a hand bone's connected to an arm bone.
The sweet scent of sawdust.  The sunlight filtering
through the dusty window.  My father's deep
norwegian whistle ringing through the spaciousness
of tin roof, cement floor.  You'd think I'd have
a consciousness for danger.  No, but not even
a brushstroke of minwax could warn me.

The woodchips lashed like solvent
in his lungs.  Graceful though
they flew through the air before
finding his mouth
open with explanation as he leaned
down, showing me a singular artistic curve
of craftmanship.
See this edge, he'd point, touching the bevel
with the tip of one finger.
And I would nod in delight,
kissing the very words he spoke.
The greater wisdom in him,
covering his mouth to cough.

           

Lisa Zaran is an American poet, essayist and the author of seven collections including If It We, The Blondes Lay Content and  the sometimes girl, the latter of which was the focus of a year-long translation course in Germany. Selections from her other books have been translated to Bangla, Hindi, Arabic, Chinese and Greek.  She is founder and editor of Contemporary American Voices, an online journal of poetry.  More samples of her work can be found by visiting her website.




Poetry of Lisa Zaran