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.
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?
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
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
to ask them questions about themselves.
I pulled the answers out, dripping
and set them on a scale.
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
Like an afternoon comment from a teenage girl to a friend’s wall:)
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,
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?)
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
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
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