Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Private Mirrors

—Poems and Photos by Joyce Odam, Sacramento, CA


Woman sitting in the garden
in stippled light
in artist pose.

The abstract light
plays with her face,
her thoughts, her clothes.

Nothing matters but the day
that turns the hours

The garden whispers,
spreads its shadows,



Two voices haunting against each other
sing all night.

One voice follows the other,
line by echoed line.

Their white guitars shine between them
in the bright moonlight.

Their shirt sleeves gleam.
They don’t quite harmonize—then

they pluck the strings in
an elaborate duet.

We leave them, finally—
late,    late,

many anguishes

They may be there


All right.
Off with you.
You are a bird.

I shall shut the door
and pick up the clothes.

I shall redecorate myself
like an extra room.
I cannot bear it if I cry.

I shall drink wine instead.
I shall fill up my head
with anything but you.

I shall not say stay.
I have forgotten that sad word.

I shall say go
like a gift.
Whoever you must become
will know what I mean.

(first pub. in Writer’s Showcase, 1971)



I’ll bet his name was Grief.  He wore white spats
in summer, and carried a cane, and moved cat-like
and slim. And all this became him. We would see him

at the poetry readings—centering—in his urbane,
remote demeanor—his eyes dark as slats. He just sat
in his chair, and leaned forward, or back, at the right

moments—permitting a small, superior smile when
he knew you looked at him. He never read his poems,
but we remember him—sidling in like his own ghost.

A rather handsome man, for a ghost—out of his time
—too young to be so fancifully attired—in spats,
and cane, and narrow mustache . . . and he seemed
to like himself, though I think his name was Grief.


You’ve hung there for years.
You have become my favorite design,
the way you drape across the corner,
like an awning;
the way your spider has abandoned you.

Too much elegance for this room,
this bedroom of stuffed closet
and insomnia;
this room with its piles of clothes
and a blanket that drags
one corner to the floor.

How often I have watched you
with concentration;
at just the right angle
when I lean my head back
against the wall.

You are like a shadow drawn
as an interesting detail in a painting.
I wonder why no moth has found you.



She dreams that she is a bride, holding a
     bouquet of dead flowers.

She dreams that she is standing naked in a
     vast gray room and that a cold gray light
     keeps sifting down from distant windows.

She dreams that she tries to throw the flowers,
     but they will not leave her hand.

She dreams that she is supposed to be dancing,
     but the music is so heavy she cannot move,
     that her feet are stuck to the floor.

She dreams that she has amnesia and that she
      is accountable for her amnesia.

She dreams that her nakedness is an accusation
     and that her amnesia is made of sleep.

She dreams that she is offering the dead bouquet
     to herself in the mirror of chagrin.

She dreams that the mirror is her amnesia,
     but she cannot look away from it, and her
     mirror hand will not reach for the flowers.

She dreams that she is a block of gray clay,
     that she is slowly hardening on a small
     gray pedestal of resistance.

She dreams that the heavy music is pulling her
     toward the altar where her self in the mirror
     stands, holding the bouquet of dead flowers.

She dreams that it is raining sorrows, and that she
     must stand there, with no clothes on, until her
     dead mother, who is in the mirror now and holding
     the bouquet of dead flowers, can stop weeping.


The way we love ourselves in our own mirrors,
friendly to us, liking how we look—
a kind of compromise—safe with each other,

no harsh distortion—no glaring truth
as public mirrors give.
I need to take my mirrors with me when I shop,

stand them around me when I try on clothes,
place random ones here and there for when
I catch myself passing.

Public mirrors, with their shock of recognition,
chide all vanity.
My private mirrors are quite used to me.



Who is going to love you now,
you old fool, out there in the
rain, pulling off your clothes
and cursing at yourself for
all your failures?

Who is going to drag you in
and hold you to a weather-beaten heart,
be strong as an old tree full of dry music
to make you warm again,
and never blame you for your pain?

Who is going to love you
when you grow quiet as a stone
and no longer exclaim
that there is nothing left
of you now to save—

that you are in a floating room
inside yourself
where you complain
that after all the rain and weeping
there is only drought?


He is doing pratfalls.
He is wriggling his mustache and
walking like Charlie Chaplin.
He is googling his eyes.

His clothes are baggy and
he pulls his pockets out
to show his emptiness.
He’ll be anything to make you laugh:

the butt of every joke;
a sad drunk; a wishful lover;
a hungry person—
pantomiming his real life.

He close-ups toward
the camera,
looks in
and acts surprised to see you there,

grows shy
and hobbles away,
falling again,
this time into a pie.

He pulls the meringue away from his eye
with an index finger, tasting it,
so glad to be fed.  He grins.
You laugh at him.



The Poet and his entourage finally enter the stuffed hall.
Advancing with private glances, they saunter with impor-
tance—a row of blackboards behind them, a length
of sunny windows to the right. The room rustles, hums,

waits, with separate glancings. Chairs scrape silent.
Latecomers stand against the bright back wall. The
Poet—tall, grim, and gray of hair—stands in the door-
way a moment longer. His brow wrinkles. Soon he will

sweep his words around and over us; but for now he just
looks out at the room—his face sun-struck, his big-rim
glasses glinting, his white shirt standing out against
the cold flat distance of the partially-erased blackboard.



she stands in the sharp wind-light
amid the cold white flapping of clothes
on the clothesline     perhaps she

should have removed her dress
for it wants to tear
into a rag to fit such a ragged day as this

her whipping hair is a mess    
and the ground holds something
that compels her stare     she is literal

she wrings her hands as the day
expands into something more than it is     
frozen there among

the tugging shapes of the bright clothes
flailing against
the taut lines of resistance

she is losing detail     her face disappears
then her whole definition
until just her dress

remains     hanging in a limp
and exhausted stillness
in the violent, harsh seduction of the air


It is no longer true that
I am direct descendent of goodness.
I am old nude in shadow attire.
Light falls upon me in
apologetic appreciation.

I hold my pose for the artist
who is nearly blind,
all of my rages cast down
under my eyes which are
closed in sympathy.

I ache for the gods to hold me
as when I was among them.
I am good. I am good.
I am perfect.

See how others like to look at me,
holding here so still
so I can be patient and
faithful to my artist
who tries so hard.

“Once more,” he sighs,
though we both
are weary of the attempts.
“This time,” he promises.
And once more I believe him.



Now go the length of sorrow
and turn around.

See how far you’ve come and say it.
Begin and end with the same cry.

Be finished at last.
Claim the prize and die.

Release the bird you carry under your shirt.
Feel your heart follow . . .

and your emptying eye.
Note how the colors blend more slowly

now that winter has arrived
with its thought of snow.

Where will you go to be born of light—
that promise you believe.

Ahead of you,
the road of sorrow thickens into dusk.


Hearty thanks to Joyce Odam for today’s fine poems and pix!

From now until June 30, Shawn Aveningo’s journal, The Poeming Pigeon, is accepting submissions for its fourth issue on the subject of Music. See www.thepoetrybox.com/ThePoemingPigeon.html for info and guidelines.

Our new Seed of the Week is Sorcery. Send your poems, photos and artwork about this (or any other subject) to kathykieth@hotmail.com/. No deadline on SOWs; for some topics of the past, click on Calliope’s Closet in the links above this column.


Today’s LittleNip:

—Joyce Odam

Paris is a generic place to be. I’ve never been there,
and I’ll never go. But I can wear this tee shirt without
guilt.  Paris is like some ‘conjured’ place—not real—
like Reno, or Mt. Shasta, or Niagara Falls, or some
café or nightclub—famed and popular—where you
buy tee shirts to prove you’ve been. But Paris! Paris
is generic—a place made up— romantically afar—
a place I’ll never go.



 Celebrate area poetry today and tonight 
by attending the Big DOG (Day of Giving) party 
at Sac. Poetry Center, 5:30-8:30pm, and/or making 
donations to this regional fundraiser for nonprofits 

Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back
to Medusa.