(After a painting)
who knows who behind the mask
in a dance so primitive—
a dance so menacing…
toward you… away from you…
small dancers… stomping…
primal… the masks unrelenting
through the silence of the eyes—
meant to frighten
you throw coins at them
and they go away….
Let’s dance away, daughter.
Let’s dance away.
I’ll be a child with you—
race with the yellow bird
and the yellow flower.
I will hold your hand—
into the shady hollow
where a little stream runs and carries
tiny golden fish
into a magic river,
and we will rest and bathe our feet,
and you will fall asleep
with your head on my lap,
and I will cry and cry for this forever.
CHANT FOR ROPE JUMPERS
catch in a pony tail
tangle the curl
twist in the fingers
rope trip a girl
rope be a measure
rope be the lie
jump to a thousand
and we’ll never die
slap on the sidewalk
snag in the grass
here comes a cripple
don’t let him pass
we never stumble
we never cheat
death fears the rhythm
of our feet
jump into moonlight
night is a hole
rope is a circle
that hands unroll
ninety nine hundred
jump till we drop
here come the mothers
to make us stop.
(first pub. in Yankee, 1964)
HER EYES IN THE MIRROR
Now she will praise the child for its eyes upon
her eyes in the mirror, their faces identically
serious, her eyes controlling their eyes in the glass.
Her hands stroke the air—blending their auras.
The child is soothed by the sensuous movement
of her hands. A warm glow suffuses the room.
The mirror grows envious—feigns dimension . . .
pulls her . . . pulls her . . . but the grave child
holds to her lap and stares through her eyes
to the pulling eyes of the mirror. The mother
admires the child for its attention. Their eyes
burn together in the glass. The mirror pretends
to love them too. It softens its surface—forgets
it is glass, suffers the warm perfusion to alter its
depth. It, too, is under the power of the mother.
(first pub. in Tiger’s Eye: A Journal of Poetry, 2003)
(After Chen Yen Ning, 1945, a painting)
When I began, I was a child.
I loved my mirror. It was my mother.
She proved my profile with her own.
Our eyes always gazed at each other with love.
My hands were untrained.
My way was not made.
I wore a beaded kerchief over my hair
which was never combed—
which grew long in the glass.
I watched it grow.
I would not guess at anything I knew.
Life was my own. I would catch up.
My mirror never broke,
even when my mother broke hers.
We look at each other through shards.
We multiply and learn how to be broken and live.
Love is the memory.
Love in the minds of each other.
We are loyal. Love is umbilical.
No knife will cut.
My eyes hold my own eyes, true to self,
as mirror self is true to me.
MOTHER; A CHILD’S DRAWING
She takes up the whole stage.
Her ridiculous heart
huge upon her breast.
Her eyes as large as plates
in her heart-shaped face…
She stands at the center
prepared to dance
or just be beautiful…
She stands in flowers
prepared to sing
or just be beautiful…
All things good surround her:
The balloon on the end of a stem…
The bright window with its path of light…
All good things surround her:
The dancing dog…
The round spiked sun…
The mystic stairway to the mountain…
She is attended by all symbolic things
loved by the artist-child…
Oh, her child has drawn her happy, alright.
(first pub. in Blind Man's Rainbow, 1997)
CHILD IN RED DRESS
(After "Child in Red": Soutine)
What she knows
is the defiance of color:
the long red dress,
the clomping of red high heels,
the dangling purse of her mother—
and her—in the power of the mirror.
THE STOLEN CHILD
like the old tune of cruel nursery rhyme
its music rocking the child to sleep into the
dream water where it flails and finds
all the slow fishes who follow and stare
whose great motion fills the slow night
until the child becomes its new inhabitant
surfacing only to return again and again
in curious repetition, each time
winding ever deeper into the dream water
which has mysteries and collections
the child returns with wet shells and stones
to put on the dresser, sand-gold clinging to the air
which will shine softly in the morning sunbeams
and in the stolen child’s wet hair
(first pub. in Stone Country, 1989)
THE UNBORN CHILD OF ANNA JAY
I am the unborn child of Anna Jay.
I am left vague. I am but a soft echo
of memory with no future and no place.
I was not flawed. I was perfect.
I was on my way to my life when she
gave up, out of her body, all my
blood and mass. I felt her rage when
she could not comprehend the message
and the sign of that cessation.
I felt her guilt and her fear when
she screamed at my father in blame
and disbelief. I felt her love when she
thrashed in that blood-swollen room,
when she felt me cease to be.
I felt myself break away from her.
I had a secret that I could have told her:
I knew her soul. I could have worn
her thoughts forever as my own—
I would have promised her that much—
to have been born, full term, complete,
alive, and named. I felt the shock
of her grief, and I could not help her.
I think I must be Thursday’s child
if I remember the calendar
of my birth that well.
And I have come far since then,
and still have far to go.
(I think I’ve stolen that).
But I look back
and think ahead to far,
and I am yet a child,
somewhere in me, with childhood
history that serves me still.
And I like the sound of Thursday,
which is somewhat in-between
the rest of time—the way I am.
(first pub. in Poets' Forum Magazine)
OH, WHAT AN OLD, OLD
It is dark.
It is so large and black in my room.
I am afraid.
Oh, what an old, old child
I have become.