Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Formless Dance of Shadows

—Poems and Photos by Joyce Odam, Sacramento, CA


A lament can be made of this—the expectation
out of all we did not love as we should.
For instance: the way pencils hate erasers.
What if we click erase by mistake;
what if we click undo;
what if we click play back—what then?
When did we lose value,
become these props to each other,
lose the sheen and the intention?
Now we are here for another quarrel.
Words. And more words.
Nothing but words.
Anniversaries sadden us.
We are caught in their ritual—
like the rule of dark we inherited,
offering candles that waver
and somehow maintain their flame.

The ritual of longing—
this too is a lament.
Nothing satisfies as much as sorrow.

Pity lies against the heart
like a stone. Oh trite pity—useless pity—
wasted pity. Like a stone.

What do we carve but initials on regret—
to mark some time and place with their
significance—and feel the cutting.

I dreamed I had the answer
at the acute moment of waking up
to a rude sound and the pain of losing.

Oh lamentation—time-dragger, time-speeder,
time, the abstract measurement,
time, the shadow.



Superstitious, I cross my shadow with words
giving it a taste of sentience,
exchanging myself with its non-texture.

Shadow, I say, teach me not to feel.
And Shadow does a formless dance on the wall,
which I emulate.

And Shadow says,
teach me how
to feel

and we writhe together in shuddering candlelight.
Tonight I become my shadow.
My shadow does the weeping this time.


She prefers dim candlelight
in a flower-heady room
—a dark glass of bitter wine

with its shimmer—the night still
young.  She will play some old tune
over and over—resign

herself to night’s yearning wait,
all her tried-on dresses strewn
about, as if to define

her changing moods.  She’ll invite
the ghosts back in to resume
their place at her mood’s old shrine

—comfort her there in the blur
of all that’s tormenting her—
candles to soften her tears
—wine, her face in the mirror.



In the red mirror she glows. Candles burn 
around her. The whole room flickers
as her image takes on life and mocks her.

The red glass holds her eyes—
draws her in—wavers with warning.
The room seems to burn. The glass melts.

The red cat wakens from its indolence,
sleeps again in its circle on the red chair,
has not seen or felt the shadows move.

She preens to the glass—likes how the
shadows move beyond her—how
when she moves they move, like a dance.


she danced for you
          you thought she loved you
she loved her dancing

she praised the candlelight
          of the room—she praised
your eyes as audience

she took the crystal
          from between her breasts
and offered it to you

it fit your empty hand
          you kept it—forever
which was not long


After Teaching The Ape To Write—James Tate

Give him a small suggestion. Hint at love. Be patient
over his shoulder lest he move away from himself and
find you in exchange. Set him a mood as carefully as
a setting of such persuasion—as a seduction of music
and room scent and candlelight. Tell him what you
want from him: his thoughts—his words—which will
come from somewhere you have prepared under his
consciousness. Tell him love, tell him love, tell him love . . .

(first pub. in Parting Gifts, 2004)


The birds fly over this disconnected world.   
There is a map in the air
but no candles for the windows.

Time represents our confusion :
how can the birds save us?
Symbols are failing to be truth.

Still, we watch with hope and fear;
we are ever at the mercy of . . .
what will become of us . . .


oh, what will become of us :
time represents our confusion
that we are ever at the mercy of.

Still, we watch—with hope—and fear,
with no candles for the windows.
There is a map in the air

and birds fly over this disconnected world,
but how can the birds save us
when symbols are failing to be truth—


symbols—failing to be truth—
yet we watch, with hope and fear.
Time represents our confusion :

how can the birds save us?
There is a map in the air,
but no candles for the windows.

We are ever ‘at-the-mercy-of’ . . .
and birds fly over this disconnected world.
What will become of us?



Leaning in black dresses against black chairs,
the smell of candles in the parlor.

A black and white depiction
of grief and grief’s despair.

A priest with a long face and a black robe,
staring.  A pocket watch

in the hand of someone—who is not clear,
but may be death.

However grim this appears, there is
respect for the ritual for the one who is not there.


The snow covers the windows in a dance so white
the children laugh and whirl about in the room.

Whenever time is lost we make up a place for it.
Some frozen clock gone digital.

There were only three deaths last year. No one you
cared about. We wove them into stories.

Our snowmen have become the local tourist
attraction. A few slow cars drive by to see.

But we love the view, the sky so near it
crushes swiftly down into the night.

How will you find us? We burn candles for you
in the roadside window, so lovely in the snow light.

We write backwards on the glass. Your name,
our name. Summer is just far away, just down the hill.



in the pretense of myself
i am made honest:

coming back from my last escape
i find

i am put among the candles and the figs

like a note left by someone
who loved me when i was not there

i came back when the wind
was blowing the curtains in

and found a smile
hanging in the room

and a small death
made of damp perfume

for purple candles
and for music
for some lazy time of

for light that falls in a
certain way

where you like to look
there light the candles
play the music

let your thoughts be tranquil
close away
whatever needs closing

in a place of private storage
under purple tassels
and embossed shadow

leave open what you love
life is yours
give it your happiness


Today’s LittleNip:

—Joyce Odam

Sad music filled night’s rain-charged air
and faded there—
blue sound
that seemed to make the candled-brim
of light go dim
around our mood

And then it rained.
The light
flared once and sputtered out. We wept
awhile. Then slept.
All night.


Many thanks to Joyce Odam for her fine riffs on our recent Seed of the Week, Candlelight. Our new Seed of the Week is—you guessed it—Love. Send your poems, photos and artwork about this (or any other) subject to kathykieth@hotmail.com. 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 to choose from.

Cosumnes River Journal from Cosumnes River College is seeking submissions for its May 2017 issue. Deadline is February 15! For details about non-fiction, essays, short stories, poetry, photos and other art, go to www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=cosumnes%20river%20journal/.

Brave the weather tonight and drive up to Placerville for the El Dorado County Poetry Out Loud Poetry Competition for high school recitation finalists for the national Poetry Out Loud Contest. That’s at the ED County Fairgrounds in Placerville, 7-9pm. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about this and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.


 "I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees."
Celebrate love—and poetry!

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