After Man and Bird Watercolor 1963 by Henry Miller
The woe-bird sits on my shoulder to tell me its
secrets, and I know I am privileged to be of such
trust. I love the bird for its candor and feel it
clutch deeper into my sleeve and become even more
earnest as it grows and grows, becoming heavy with
the burden of its secrets. I move to brush its feathers,
but the woe-bird shudders back as if to deny my
gesture. It tells me more . . . it tells me more . . .
until I know everything . . . makes me promise
not to tell a soul and fastens its claws even deeper.
Shifting under its weight, I swear I will not tell and
put my hand to my aching shoulder and feel its claws
tighten there. The woe-bird gives me a mute, deep look
and goes back to itself. And now I know I cannot
get rid of it. It stares back at me with an unresponsive
silence and preens and preens its feathers in the mirror.
A STUDY IN DOMESTICITY
After The Dessert: Harmony in Red, 1908 by Henri Matisse
A plain woman, doing
nothing more ordinary here
than pouring tea,
her act of tranquility,
her mission of completed self—
that the things of the room
float around her,
that the table merges into the wall—
fill the room
with their tangibilities
to become the cloth of her apron—
that her hands sort and rearrange
bowl after bowl of levitated fruit,
that curving designs become
effects other than themselves,
blue like the blue edges of sky
outside the narrow window.
All her life
she has smiled with her one secret :
that she can do these things
for someone who always says
"do these things"
then leans back in admiration.
(prev. pub. in Poetry Now, 1995)
You swore you would stay mysterious,
let the rooms hide you, train the windows
not to see when you looked out of them.
You would retreat into one of the shadows.
You would not answer the disguised voice
with the edge in it.
You would use light for deflection;
silence for absorption,
you would drift out of yourself.
You would adapt to everything,
shed and layer yourself with each evasion.
Your scream would stay in your throat.
Your breath would become shallow
with listening. You would perfect your
surface, practice normalcy for its disguise.
Who would know you like this,
who would want to find you, even now,
for all your antiquated secrets.
THE JEWEL BOX
The jewel box is as old as any valued jewel.
Or it is not.
It was empty then, and then
Its history is limited,
at least unknown.
We give it that.
What does it hold of value,
or of love:
long-kept things, half-forgotten now,
or emptied, for a gift—
a treasure passed along
that’s full of strangeness,
as a keeper of secrets—what it knows
if one could ask,
almost sacred for its private worth,
a place one should not pry.
Its tiny drawers hold only as much,
as they hold, whatever was worth keeping.
We are solitude. We are public with mercy. We will never
tell lies unless you ask for truth. We are full
of ourselves. You better believe us. We are everything to
everything—born perfect—fading from
our own memory. Believe us when we tell you what we
know. We have secrets. Never probe. You may
love us when we’re young, desirable as innocence, easy as
traps. We save words for spells. For intona-
tions. For comfort. When we are old and you are bewil-
dered by us, we will let you go. Or stay. Be care-
ful how you use the word love. We will examine it like a
street too wide to cross,
in a slow-motion dream with no end to any story.
(prev. pub. in Mobius, 2003, and A Sense of Melancholy [chapbook]
In the wet and shining world where summer rain
falls through the light and spatters to the ground,
droplets splashing on the thirsty day,
and they’re in love—in love—in love,
as they go slowly walking, side by each,
their faces happy and their sorrows told—
those first confessions lovers have to tell
when sharing secrets—bonding—bonding, and
the light rain falls between them, and they know
that they can trust each other all their lives.
And then the rain falls harder and the clouds
grow thick above them, and they start to run—
they laugh and start to run toward a shelter.
The shelter takes them in. They watch the rain,
and one goes moody, and the other grow uneasy.
The rain falls harder. A bolt of lightning
flashes all around them like a warning. They
laugh and count the seconds toward the thunder
that breaks the air—and breaks the tension—
the rain a downpour now. They hold each other.
Rain puddles form. It is the last of summer.
THE INNOCENCE OF ART
After Triptych: Shadows by Ken Kiff, 1983-6
First, there is the flapping, wingless figure trying to fly,
a writhing blue tree, and a yapping dog. They are fleeing—
one from the gravity, one from the elaborate blue difference,
and one to a triptych fold where another scene is opening…
Here, a yellow cat peers over a blue sea, set in the sky—
or in the mind of a frightened figure about to be,
possessed by a primitive green delusion that keeps
blurring in and out of whatever anguish thought it up…
In the third panel an original orange nude steps through
a profusion of flowers that try to keep her among them.
She is touching lovingly through the flowers toward
the struggling figures who are so desperate to reach her…
This is not a scene out of childhood, though childhood
holds the secret. Soon, the children—with their crayons
and life-sized canvas and skills of their imagination—
will tell us what this means, if nobody interrupts them.
What I know that I must not tell—
some secret given me to guard,
and I with my memory off-center
cannot rephrase or remember
the least importance.
How am I to solve the dilemma
be trust-worthy to a vow,
honor such a trust,
demanded after telling,
Alas, I stare into night
search the stars with all their wishes,
and find the one I sent in early trust
and just now need an answer.
Strange to remember something
when something so daunting
troubles my conscience now.
She buries the secret like some forgotten toy,
or one discarded in her mind—under
the busy thoughts that surface.
The secret sinks and sinks to the bottom
and settles there in the mud
of her existence.
It burrows deeper.
But there is no deeper,
so it nudges there—remembering itself.
But she will not
let it rise; it is her prisoner.
She’s afraid of it. She knows it can tell.
Our thanks to Joyce Odam for her evocative poems and original art about secrets today, our Seed of the Week being Keepers of Secrets.
For more about Man and Bird by Henry Miller, go to www.artbrokerage.com/Henry-Miller/Man-And-Bird-Watercolor-1963-18x21-84915/.
For more about The Dessert: Harmony in Red, 1908 by Henri Matisse, see www.henrimatisse.org/the-dessert-harmony-in-red.jsp/.
For more about Ken Kiff, see www.studiointernational.com/index.php/ken-kiff-obituary/.
Our new Seed of the Week is, for no particular reason, Celebration! Send your poems, photos & artwork about this (or any other) subject to firstname.lastname@example.org. No deadline on SOWs, though, and for a peek at our past ones, click on “Calliope’s Closet”, the link at the top of this column, for plenty of others to choose from.
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