Poems from my youth


I was rooting around in some old files and found quite a lot of old poems, most of them written between 2009 and 2011.  If I date my conversion to early 2010, then these poems literally surround the days that I stumbled and fought my way back into the faith of my childhood. I’d like to share some of these with you. They’re roughly dated by year, and not in order. But there is a bit of a progression to the ones I’ve chosen to share.

 

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

Right, 2009

Shove your fingers through your coat

and comb distraction through your hair

stand there blinking in the light

And question, never, what is right

 

We will stroll downtown at dusk

and strip convictions from each man

Roll and smoke them for tonight

and laugh; they’re never what is right

 

The ladies at these clubs are chums

with dry-clean-only hair and hands

They scorn suggestions of a fight

and mention–never!–what is right

 

The strains of music pin me down

and lines you stenciled truss me up

Your skin is thin; your frame is slight

you do me–never–what is right

 

I beg the gods who hint at me

I beg the sidewalks, seize your shirt

“What do you mean?” your eyes are bright,

“there never was a what-is-right.”

 

On the Rocks, 2010

She would stand there in the darkness with a petal for a skirt

and prop herself on backs of crowds and drape herself in strobe

And while her clackers teetered, throw her weight from toe to heel

Her hair would catch and complicate the earring in her lobe

 

She used to find tonight’s conviction in a stranger’s conversation

–used to love this darkness and this spicy, hopeless air–

she used to warm her hands on every hothead’s flirting rhetoric, and

used to find a poem in the bottles by the bar

 

She stands there at the door tonight and cannot quite go in

The clanging glasses ring defeat; they keep a hollow time

and panic wrings her hands–tonight has happened (so) before

She steps inside and orders sorrow on the rocks with lime

 

Let us Eat Cake, 2009

Do not ask now, little one

Don’t stare your eyes into the sun

Don’t wonder why the whispers call

through every room and down the hall

and if they hint it, smile and run.

 

Run and run now, little sis.

I would not wish it on my kin

to know the word porneia or

to know that daddies sometimes bore

when mommies age and nag and grin.

 

Let it please you, sweet my child

that ignorance (and cake) are bliss

I’ll cut you some and we will dance

and don’t pay them another glance.

Pretend as if they flirt and kiss.

 

I do not know, I cannot say

But let us look the other way

as eggshells polish up our floor

with Papa’s suitcase by the door.

Tomorrow we’ll forget today.

 

And when our childhood lets go

our thoats–when we can gasp and grow–

we’ll not forget the muffled shout

or how mum’s soul fell round about

or all the things we do not know.

 

We’ll go and have a baker’s shop

a rolling pin, a puffy top

I’ll bake until my hands are warm

for sweet is good and does no harm

and darling, we must never stop.

 

Can You Sit So Serene?, 2009

And can this very you sit across the very aisle so serene? Illumined in the stain of colored light? I could take three steps and sit upon your lap, to the sounds of my mother’s swoons and the outrage of congregated eyes and ears, and laps.

Could the hand now clasped upon the oaken beams have once skied from breast-crest to valley, grasped and stolen it, unpaid, as fruitstand oranges by a starving man?

Unpaid–the man would boom from this pulpit–could he know; as it is he moans admonition in the same key that I did with the floor upon my back–does he not look at us?

Can you sit, so serene? We had not been to church! You knelt me upon an alter of down and carpet, instead–too soon, too soon–pried confessions from my mouth with a spirit unholy. Now can you to church again?

Can they not see that the bruise upon thy neck is the liquid sign of sin itself and has a twin beneath my chin? Could they suppose it was a thoughtless child of accident–a wheel-tossed stone, a branch assailing from horseback height–not the son of forceful, laborious deliberation tendered by the verbal-est muscles of another face? Could they be so foolish?

Can you sit so serene, before the Ghost that we could not shut out with mere key and door and whispered ‘hush’? And could they be so blind? No; methinks now they are not blind, but hiding–the elder there I now see in a midnight haystack, and this rolling wife here still has her suckling babe, but why does he not possess her husband’s washboard forehead? –No; I am blinded by the muddy browns in my own pupil–he is standing and his trousers are pressed; she is wiping her baby’s washboard head.

Can you sit so serene? They see us–and your lips move in song–but they see us!–and your brow wrinkles in prayer–but they see us!–and your buttocks are still and submissive upon the pew–but they see us!

Can you sit so serene?

 

Bathing, 2010

Once

I was taking a bath in the arts.

I wallowed in music–opera, folk, moody, soggy blues–dipped into the fluid emotions of a vivid alternative sound. I rolled in the glory of Impressionism’s wake, and in the followers and rebels of all her daughters. I drank Keats, I slurped Wodehouse, I gulped a great mouthfuls of Shakespearian commentary.

I scrubbed my arms with a soupcon of post-war New Age abstracts and sudsed my thighs with the pseudo-poetry that was shaken and pieced together into frothy 50s hopelessness.

I was making myself clean, I thought, with the rough surfaces of the philosophy living on the bottom of these bottomless lakes

 

Until–one day–I noticed

It:

That not every truth is equal.

 

That beauty does not equate with honesty

And abruptness is not synonymous with transparency

That the most open-armed (and highest) kites are still capable of self-deception.

I stood up quickly; the moist beauty slid off of me in rivulets

And when I turned around and knelt to look…

I could see them. They still shouted to me in chorus.

 

I stirred them around with a finger

and began

to ask them questions about themselves.

 

I pulled the answers out, dripping

and set them on a scale.

 

Dreams/Children, 2010

But how could I forget the ambition of my youth?

The glory of an ivy-clad blood-brick profession?

The romance of a life that doesn’t exist, that has never existed, not for anyone?

(See, a horizon was never something you can approach and straddle)

Let these dreams die hard as a triple-armored warrior

 

For how could I forget the children of my mind?

They have danced and sung and I have watched them grow,

in the terrifying pallor of the doomed young.

My kids and I never spoke the word among ourselves, never once;

I glanced askance of truth and simpered little false sentiments to them instead:

“I love; I will make you grow; you will make me alive.”

 

I laid in love with the love and art and beauty and industry of this age,

and these offspring were born for a sickeningly insignificant death

 

not even punctuated

not capitalized

not articulated

 

Like an afternoon comment from a teenage girl to a friend’s wall:)

Lol.

 

Surely someone could pull out a hankerchief and set up an exclamation point as a memorial pillar–

but no, the children of mine simply whimpered and fell silent,

and I never explained to them why it had to be.

 

One year I was to be someone, to have someone,

to make something with my hands that dazzled,

mature, supple grown versions of my children-dreams.

The next year I doubted; they were pale even in sunlight.

The next year they began to cough, and there was blood.

Then they were gone.

 

My heart, in shock, is beginning to understand–

I will sit behind this desk for forty years, married to an accountant from the south.

This, I know,

 

this is how one forgets the ambition of one’s youth.

 

[note: the poem below was during our early days of dating, when I was concerned that Justin was too polite.]

Salt and Pepper, 2011

Let your speeches be peppered, my salt-of-Earth man
Let your Temperance be tempered by spots of Too Much
For the length of our days will stretch out like a road
And the scenes of some scenic parts must come from us

We must dare to delight, and to giggle like kids
We must sometimes say “damn” in a wry sort of way
And the hiccups of reason, mistakes of mere months
We will use years ahead to convert into play

They aren’t joking, my dear, when they say “oh, tomorrow
we’ll laugh about all that has happened today”
But if all they can sprinkle is white–only salt–
If they aren’t using pepper–who cares what they say?

 

I didn’t notice you for a beauty, 2012

“I didn’t notice you for a beauty, the first time we met,” you said.

“Hush!” said your friends. “Don’t you know,

you are talking to a woman??”

 

Ought I to be offended?

Ought I to prefer that you were the sort of man to fall in before the girl has opened her mouth to speak, has put her hand to any nearby plow, has echoed reason or love or worth of any kind?

Ought I wish that my face overwhelmed you,

 

knocked you over,

 

the first

instant

you encountered it?

 

(ought I imagine there aren’t thousands of better faces to knock you again and again in the years ahead– long after my…. elasticity… has lost the battle with time?)

Goodness, no.

 

I am as far from wishing that you had loved me on sight as I am from wishing I had loved you on sight… for I cherish those months of my indifference.

I prefer hearts that are earned,

 

(and I like to think

that we will make up

the time.)

 

Death in Life’s Shadow, 2011

I wish, I wish, I live for Life

How strange that death was once my heart’s desire

I used to long for nature’s axe

For burden (life) to fly in flood or fire

 

A car, just carried off a bridge

A grown intruder to my brain or breast

The skin upon my wrists is thin

The whole of me–in fact–is built for rest

 

The spine could snap and free me quick

As cripples lose their braces and can run

The head, the belly, back and chest

Could all have yielded me escape from snow and sun

 

For that is how I looked at it

The neverending living was for pain

The sin upon my hands was strong

Like sap or tar– it does not wash with rain

 

And love was empty, work was vain

The bones around my heart would fracture, creak

I wracked my discontent with work

while thoughts of years on paychecks ground my teeth

 

But this is why the Life is strange

It’s strange like beauty, mead and sex can be

These wonders touch at Truly-Life

At conquered death, at blindness turned “I See”

 

The God with 700 Names, 2011

My hands are red; my hands are dark

My hands are dirty, black, and blue

They’re anything but lily-white

They’re full of anything but you

 

Oh God, my God, please watch my back

This crooked back of polio

These crooked feet on paths of mud

These legs that are diseased and slow

 

Oh Father, Papa, Servant-King

I am the Princess of the Shunned

So wash my inside and my out

And straighten me till I can run

 

Your cross, it is a gurney wide

An intravenous saving thing

You word, it is a wheeling chair

Your grace, it is a mineral spring

 

CHORUS

You are the antidote to me

You are the antidote to me

My eyes, my mouth, my heart are free

You are the antidote to me

 

 

 

 

 

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