For Paul

016_imogen-cunningham_theredlistIn the other place of keeping

afterward when door is softly closed

and light extinguished

where flowers bloom without need of sun

perfuming air with unseen stamen

at last you are unburdened, free of torment

we sit at oiled wood table

eating buttered toast with fingertips

you tell me of  real things

that time you fell into a river as

you reached for tires swinging overhead

just one more inch and you’d have been saved

from submerging with oily fish

and yet you say, it taught you

the value of sinking and how quiet

beneath the world can be

where creatures with opaque eyes glide past

watching you try to breathe

they called it a near drowning

you claimed second-sight

we shuffle our checkers, mindful

it’s your turn to win tonight

 

for Paul

you were a brother of sorts

sprinting ahead of jostling crowd

lean and bronzed by effort

your heart a flutter of machination

once you said, now I am old

and I laughed and reminded you

there’s so much time left

except you knew

and I did not

time can collapse upon itself

just as it begins so it can end

all the days we spent waiting for the next

better to live now and climb

that tree to sling rope and dangle seat

children long after us

will come to the river and watch

each others fear and then wonder

jumping into the void

and as you are gone

I clear away the plates and ready for the next day

not sure it will be free of rain

I hear you outside among the trees

you are laughing at me

for my fear of things I cannot know

remember, you say, it’s not about control

it’s about having the courage to try

I watch you walk toward the river

you are straight and lean again

no scars, no pain cross your way

I want to go with you but you have told me

it is not yet time

we’ll play again, be patient

master this moment

live now in the warm rush of water

watching overhead

moving clouds turning from blue to white

and then to grey

 

For Paul. You counted, and you mattered.

 

Shards

dscn1772-2There is an edge

ever-changing, indescribable

and as you turn your shoulder

thinking the sun has only burnt

one side

the other is latticed

in marks of your exposure

as things of darkness will crawl

deep inside you like a well without end

and build with whitened fingers

their hungry descent

until you are changed

even as you taste the salt of your tears

staining your face like damage

blackening light into rotten parts

tearing your wings to pieces

it’s been so long you forgot

once you were able to climb

high into sky and feel something

unknown now like a lover

who has turned to enemy and stranger

instead without warning

the edge presents itself

in terrible hour like a sharp knife

one moment you are clinking glasses

smiling into the camera

and others remark

goodness she’s aged well

look how happy she looks

the next you are ripping the lies

from your arms, all that glitters

tearing into shreds artifice

tying together knots in hope

they can end

the sudden terror inhabiting you

always cruelest when it shows

just as you believe you might

have escaped

yoking you back

get on your knees

here you are, here you are

your toes grip the edge

you see the emptiness below

much like what lies inside

untethered, unnamed

for who can put a word

to terror? to hopelessness?

who can place a finger on the place

the rot set in and began

to devour the person you once were?

leaving a scarecrow

others do not see inside

the stuffing ready to ignite

they only see the perfect smile

accoutrements without truth

glittering like shards of glass

scattered in the night

Less

165549735_cd2d7777b5The future will not decide, I decide

if I find myself alone in possession of these feelings

at an age when the cliffs stand a little deeper in the water

the sea will recede and return the next day

less me

for it is my belief

we can make choices

based upon empty doorways

standing between the weft of things

knowing, our time

though it goes blurred into fathomless future

need not defy sense

and us born with less

we don’t want trinkets and rooms of wrinkled souls

talking about the caucus of the world

we want to live and burn

in that bright solitary

and when those we love

are no more

our place is not to wait for natural means

but take to surging waves

walk through a mirror of water

regaining in emptying out

those painful places we hold

dear and near to us

all these years we inhabit life

like a nervous electricity

will wait to strike

just once

and leave the deed

blackening the tree

long it stands marked

for future generations to remark

I wonder how

I wonder what

caused this burn

she lays her hands against her pulse

such a little flicker of life

and then

one blow

one determining

and it is snuffed out

to join the star dust of our might

you think me cowardly or without insight?

I hear nothing now

but the swell and call of shells

hypnotized by the whorl

of their ever decreasing

circle

returning to

sand

The last

250px-Scared_Child_at_NighttimeNothing is always a hard and fast rule or outcome

we cannot predict as well as we might think

divining over two sticks to find the source

I know this as I know my own heartbeat

for myself and many others

not having children makes you hold onto yourself too much

you value the debris and memories and fixtures of your past

with emotional microscope, unable to grow beyond reflection

as if they were your child’s blanket, your child’s first tooth

you look at self portraits

feeling the emotion a little less of love approximating love

self-love isn’t always narcissism

it reduces however like a sauce

until there is less than more

while loving another expands

until it lifts us off our feet and sends us into the air

that kind of love frees us from preoccupation

obsessing and writing ourselves over and over

this is my life, this is my dog, this is how I am, look at me!

your gaze shifts to another, you learn how little you matter

how to open yourself up, love someone else without end

suddenly you are not important and unconditional is

 

it is funny to imagine my mother knowing this more than I

it is sad to think she was a mother and we do not have that in common

she has walked where I will never walk

and though it was hard for her to accept

she knows more from having been than I ever will

I who still hold onto, my own memories of me

the only child who wasn’t meant to thrive

living up to her proportion

not obsession or self-love but a lack of other

diminishment in legacy

there will be no follow-up

no future after I am dust

the line will simply close

like it was cauterised and sealed, never having existed

 

at times I feel I owe those in the past

something more than quiet death

or history forgotten and emptied

dressing corpses with semblance

but I have nothing more to offer

no search for fame or history

I am simply myself

who at the close of day will inherit the sum

all who came before, all who will not carry on

an envelope licked and sealed

sent away to the dead letter depot

 

I look at my hands they are empty and long

I think they look wistful as the feeling inside of me does

if I could stop considering myself

hording small memories in tight boxes

holding on because if I let go

there is just an empty glass

neither half full nor half emptied

gone is the liquid of the future

I am it … this is all

now

and it feels disquieting

wrong at times

to be the last of my kind

I think of how it will only grow stronger

as they die and I remain

watching memories like old films damaged by time

 

this may seem bleak but if you stand solitary

watching the entire world play out their multiplication

like a concert with different scenes and costumes

you feel yourself evaporating knowing there is nothing more

no heaven for the empty. no hell for the sinner

and purgatory

is here on earth surely

I suppose that’s why I do what I can

now

sometimes that is not possible because

my heart is wrapped in butchers paper and thick with sorrow

a doom perhaps, just a shadow of future

when I am strong enough I stir and reach

when I am weak I stay so still air is louder than me

at times I do not exist though I live

I am just a poor transfer

a smudge of a fingerprint left on glass in an empty house

vanquished of plan

 

what will I do when they depart?

how will I cope being the last?

it was my intention to gather other lives around me

a blanket of DNA my home-grown spun family

nature didn’t permit such outcome, possibly

with our inheritance this was less cruel

than leaving children to grow into

miniature versions of disease’s burden

the curse and the lightning of uncertainty

mental illness heating mercury

like fevered flag

 

some would say, abuse ends

when there are no more left to collect

it is a relief to think of sleeping undisturbed

unaware of beginning and end

but at night I admit

sometimes that terrible fear curls around my neck

and I remember being a child

alone in the dark

knowing one day

it will be

permanent

as I am

the last

In the heat of the night

they told her

hot-flashes are bad

she couldn’t see how

feeling hot was an infuriation

she was always cold

when the first hot flash came

unbidden and sudden

like a white burning sword

the night she had sinned

by eating a little pizza

she believed at first it was retribution

for her transgression or

the heat of the night

but even the cicadas didn’t agree

the night was balmy and smooth

not on fire

and she

before her time

being too young

osteoporosis and heart disease a danger

for the youthful who inherit menopause early

the bed drenched

her arms feeling like wires of fire

inhabited them

throat sore and dry, wild eyed

she paced the cool floor

shaking and changing

hot to cold

this is too soon

her calcium levels complained

this is too early

her rapid heart beat whispered

not yet, surely not yet

the elasticity in her breasts and neck prayed

we do not

we are not

ready

for rapid ageing

she had noticed

the parchment quality of her hands

dried up like no rain had touched the sand

she had noticed her lack of desire and anxious thrum

thinking it was life

doing its worst as usual

when you experience what you read about

it’s always different in person

now it was her turn

to look back on a life

not yet nearly finished

as if she were further down

the endless conveyer belt already

skip love, marriage, pregnancy, first child

first lost tooth, baby puke

go straight to crone-hood

she told herself

this doesn’t mean your hair will thin

this doens’t mean your genitals will dim

this doesn’t mean your breasts will plunge

this doesn’t mean your waist will swell

this doesn’t mean you’ll never sleep well

this doesn’t mean you’ll catch fire

walking past sulpher

but deep down she knew

yes this is the precipise of all those things

wish I had a robust career to make up for

losing too soon

the other boons of life

wish I had a child in my arms

to comfort me when

I feel it’s over already before I found motherhood

this is the torch of an end

maybe a beginning but

of what?

she didn’t know

anymore than realizing

how a hot flash is not just two words

easily dismissed

but a raging foaming sea of fire

she stood

in the quiet bedroom

burning mute

a novel odd feeling for one

accustomed to saying

please turn down the air conditioning I’m frozen!

she had an sudden desire

to stand beneath a huge fan

to dive into ice

to peal off her skin

and in so doing lose

the disapointment of this too soon

I’m not ready

who is?

who is ready to say goodbye

to hopeful youth and dreams?

and they who are older than her

will say tomorrow when she confides

her bad luck

oh it’s not forever and

there’s a lot to look forward to

yes

she knows that

and still

there is a girl behind her

the shell from whom she has molted

a crysalis girl

dried out and sillouetted

against the fire

she is sad that she is not

still waiting for the moment

she will inherit herself

and must instead find a way to quench

this new

and terrible

desire

for

ice

with

her morning

coffee

Iris Chang (part of the #unsung heroes series)

Iris-Chang-264x400

Why must the insightful carry the greatest weight?

in their teeth like a bit crunching down until they break

teeth all over the place, white against the dark

enamel lasts long after we are gone

your words are never broken Iris

the love others held for you cannot be undone

by spectacle or ire, you are immune now

as beautiful as you were in life your memory not forgotten

eulogized in statues and prophecy, courage in bronze

such is the legacy of those who live to help others

you shone a light where no light had been shone

perhaps it invited unbidden demons and the silk worm

perhaps it made you mad and rageful in Louisville

who can say what fuse is lit, how long it burns or

whether others haunt us to our fatal choice?

but who would not feel horror when unveiled

the gruesome atrocity of what humans are capable

your Nanking chronicles, bravely revealed

blowing your silver whistle over lies

whether secret hands held you down

commanding, speak not, no more truth released

or you became absorbed in the tragedy you wrote

my hope is you gaze down, aware of the love held

your beautiful face gracing the cover of your mom’s book

a legacy unfurling, one step, two, ever more

you will always rise higher than you thought

such is the way of the guide

needing sometimes to turn from her gift back to the world

to see the beauty held in their own

reflection

 

“The woman who could not forget: Iris Chang before and beyond The Rape of Nanking by Ying-Ying Chang (mom) and The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang.”

part of the hash-tag #unsung (heroes) series.