We have been walking out here
For a very long time. The dark
Colored glass of this valley
Was making us sick. It might
Have been the smell that roiled
Through, dressed like a five-year
Yearning for blind angels to
Minister to us about the great
God, she looked
So beautiful as the ornaments
Of sleep crept into her face.
We couldn’t stay here any longer
Let alone wait for the great
Wings to show us what was
Really meant by those circles
Beaten into the stones telling
Us to love all things. There was
Unrest in the weather.
Coming over the edge of the slope
We headed toward the shore. The
Sea was an exquisite blue-green,
Roiling, filled with floating ice.
From all sides the waterfalls boiled
Over the cliff edges. Thin veils
Of ice formed curtains in front
Of the waterfalls. They were everywhere.
Amazingly, it was warm with snow
Everywhere. Here is where my studio
Would be, in this pulsating land
Separated from the world by my skin.
I watched the boats toss in the waves.
These would be my ideas today.
I would stand on the edge and move
My mind toward the deepest waters.
When I looked to find you,
You were gone. It was like
You were never there at all,
Then I could hear you singing.
I began to write these words.
(first pub. in Medusa’s Kitchen, 2010)
You were thrashing in your sleep.
I kept seeing impossible moments.
Entire wrapped shapes filled with
Momentary miracles, an exposed breast,
a leg extended fully yet covered with
Sheets that could remember heavy weather.
A hand, seriously reaching, but for nothing
In particular. I could barely move yet the light
Kept crashing through the window as if lightning
Were doing the talking. I never saw your face.
Animals made gestures like this but they were not
As memorable. Maybe it would have been different
If you’d used any words, but they had been abandoned.
I had no idea what you were and I could not see you.
Every move was a searchlight stabbing into the ragged
Edge of some dream I may have had as a teenager.
I was glad no one could see you so incomparable.
A haiku that went on forever and carried a gun.
I jumped from the bed to chair and hoped for something
Beautiful I could tell you. A deep well of sheets with you
Inside, because it seemed like a dream. You could have been
Devouring a unicorn. A random madness, birthed in sleep
When no one should have been attending. I never tried
To touch you. You were your own umbrella just as you
Were your own rain. In the morning, I said nothing.
You had a bruise on your right forearm.
It resembled a history ripped from the mind of an owl.
(Amices and cassocks are vestments worn by a priest celebrating Mass.)
WEARING AN AMICE
I am your rider who comes with tears,
Torn from the blindness of night,
Jammed into the breech with gunpowder,
Shot and thick wadding to cut some path
Into the world. One that could barely
Be described to the soldier who comes to guard
As one would a precious text ripped from chains
That were thought to remain forever, and then suddenly
Drained from an unknown sleep and made to perform
As perfect a dance as might be imagined of a slave,
Still innocent enough to believe that a single dance
Could set it free.
Dressed in letters long ago of a sweetness
That still dares touch memory to transform
It into a food desired by such memory.
There are dancers collected in its stories
And I am a sea to such stories, crushed
Into the cold sands where transformations
Are collected, echoes that were once owned,
Countries long asleep and still full of a purity
That can draw blood to the skin and even
Burst the skin to blood, hoping yesterdays of blood
Might be written in praise of a darkness
Without a center, a bell believing in fear but ever
Reluctant to have its name as any part of any ship.
We will walk together, speaking each word
As the gold of the poets, symbols of old
Earths known only to a few who can call it family.
I reach to touch your skin, thinking it dew but
Shielded by songs always sung but never learned.
We assemble in white amices and cassocks,
Extinguishing candle after candle, the ritual
Long forgotten. I touch the night with devotion.
It turns to broken syllables in a late forgotten language.
Peace be with you. And with your spirit.
THE KING OF BIRDS
The celestial forest.
A pine wind.
Storms in the mountains.
The stars have little place to sleep.
Always unraveling, a dumb mouth
Sits in the center of all birds.
The mute swan flapping its wings
Furiously. I know your name.
I know the king of birds.
I have to ask you this
Before it gets too late
And you can’t find a way
Out of this poem.
Did you guess this was going
To happen? That you might
Find yourself crying over nothing?
That you truly have been abandoned
In the forest and that the king of birds
Was going to turn out to be a lie
You told just so someone would
Even if you knew the names of your children
And could see the sacred heart hanging
Across a street, bold as a lie, blood dripping
From the crown of thorns as you fell to your knees?
I am afraid I understand all of this too well.
That you will take my hand, or I will take
Your hand and we will set out to find an altar,
But will wind up going to dinner and will have
Too much wine and the tablecloth with catch
On fire. We will see the flocks of birds, so many
Different kinds, flee before us and you will ask
If I would like dessert and I will want you naked
And go stumbling across the floor, trying to dance.
We have guests in the house and you had asked
Me to tell the story of how I met the king of birds,
But no one is listening. I can’t forget that time.
You light a cigarette. I can see you standing
On the island just across the harbor. You are
Wearing that yellow dress. I am standing
On the edge of the pier, still talking, while they
Are untying the boat, starting the motor.
But I still am not done talking and the transmission
Is breaking up and who gives a shit anyway.
The night is so beautiful and not too cool.
The moon is on the lake. We are going out
Now, before it is too late, to see the king of birds.
My heart is full of toucans
With their light and hollow beaks
Clacking like empty typewriters
Capable of saying anything but
Unwilling to bow to allowing
Words unchained and delirious,
That such a world might be even possible.
I am undone in a tide of green midnights
Laced with silver salts and memories,
Near ashes, homeless, scratched by sand
Until whatever might be seen has been reduced
To a series of small, still spaces, too full of mystery
To be recalled as anything but press or cenotaphs
Erected by heartache and, barely able to reflect
Any sky at all, rears back on what once were legs,
Fills itself with arcs of prayer and stumbles forward
Claiming to be a lost son or daughter, once made of fire.
The loins twitch, snakes on rocks too hot to touch
Without a wash of waves clocking themselves
To the breath, insisting that it lives, but hung round
With the stench of time clipped to it, green-billed
With a shot of orange stolen from the forest canopy.
Why do such birds replace any real life, dragging
Themselves line after line, feeding on the fruits and berries,
Still so much a part of dreaming that they need a jungle
For their garden and build themselves of rainbows
And flocks of masks to have much meaning beyond
Feather-like tongues, bursts of color flashing through
The very tops of trees, a flapping of wings that in truth
Are stories full of winds, the hissing of steam in a rain forest?
Filling the mouth with gems so no one will notice.
Clap hands when the sea bursts above wakeful dreams.
Tear the yesterdays from the wounds lifted by the wind.
I will catch your heart in my hands and rejoice
In the quarrels of the eyes with the waking world.
What song is this? The melon still locked inside the seed.
The quince has barely made its announcement and already
Spring crouches in the ends of the branches, a surprise
For the children already caught in the swollen plum buds.
Already, the mornings are hazy through the early hours,
Colors of California February insisting upon a thousand
Greens, urging the trees to recall how the year might go.
When I was a child, I bet every dream against the new day.
I still laugh to watch Winter stumble over a run of warm days.
We wait for the moon to return. Watch the smaller flocks of birds
Still hurry across the town to find kind company before the rains
Return, drunk on the quarrels of the winds busy at their flying weather.
Here, there is always the edge of the sea, the banks of the river,
The confused decisions of currents through the sloughs.
How precious each day becomes beneath birdsong and alfalfa,
Reaching as quickly as it might to rouse itself toward a lingering
Light, now left past five o’clock, clouds for hair, the sun, a secret child.
It is still cold enough in the dark to build a fire in the garden,
If only to stand about it and discuss what crops might be
The chosen ones in the beds not yet broken for seed.
We cook a soup from what grows near the fenceposts.
Sweet and bitter, soft with floating temples of green.
Even a cricket notices the loneliness of spindrift
Easing the heart away from cold and colder nights.
We choose the journey, then the journey chooses us.
Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.
—Medusa, with many thanks to Master Chef D.R. Wagner for our fine breakfast this morning!