Gilt


The icons

Their gilted, leafed, gold

Vibrant vermillion

Watch with watery eyes

Dried on stone

As old as memory

They shift

Imperceptably

Less than the fierce jackknifing

Of human need

As hot as birth

Waiting for rain

The saints

Painted with care

Remain vivid

As those who bleed

Live too fast and bruise

As dragonflies tussle

Enmeshed in each other’s flicker 

For a shortness that seems

Long

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Nightshade

Oh mama

There are days

I am bent double

The stuffing of me kicked quite free

One side is fear that feels like unyielding felt, thick in my dry, slack mouth

Making me the puppet I never was, when good and whole

So is sickness for the soul

A sour well with brackish water and no yield

I long to be your child and retrace in time to your arms

Fantasies that never were, become, our lullaby

A palpable longing for comfort

Nourishment

To be saved against invisible foe

No

I did not invite you, fever dream

No

I did not beckon you visit me and stay, pinning my anxiety as colinder

Cast as we are, sluggish on fortunes wheel

Like chance, we ebb and flow

Moths without hardy wings

I desired wellness 

and while the summer river ran 

I believed it would never turn

Against me in undertow

Disease is a glutted wretch

A terrible betrayal

A war

You stand in rags fighting until your last

We all do 

But when the bees come and honey is glitter in the trees 

We forget our fear of unseen things

Believe ourselves immortal or at least

The sleek otter who can hold his breath

Longer than sense and her confine

For such a time I rested

Against this calm

Taking for granted what I did not own

And as winter will

Reveal herself bare and merciless

Soon those hours of peace lay behind me

Damp with regret and burned yet

To leave plumes of green smoke

Evoking Gods 

Who may be senseless to our call

For the comfort of our childhood

Curled inside a place

As yet unborn

Do not

Let me stay in this cold fear

Or stand alone 

With its frozen clasp about my heart

Squeezing hope til nothing pumps

But the ice of terror 

I am 

Just born

To this strange chill

The waking before dawn of prescient worry

Will I be well? Will I ever be without pain?

Oh mercy and her ink, clouding fortelling

The whine of our need to know, what Fates only jest

My gut is silent and 

Nothing but the fast snare of my pulse

Can be heard over lamment

I am

A statue of fear

Thinking back

To the Happy Prince

He felt pain

Of others

Taking the jewels that were his eyes

Sacrifice I do not have

A lesson

To think and care as we suffer

Of others and their

Equal walk 

In nightshade

Forever

The day had begun before I opened my eyes. Dawn was spread thin out of darkness, running in lines of glimmering color like firebranded children, their woolen fingers gingerly clutching sparklers.

Cold floor, warm sheets, where I lay curled unconscious to the emptiness of waking. Waking without you there, to murmur and move naturally, as if in-utero against me, filling me with wholeness.

Often it is said, we should learn to subsist alone. Need less, want less. Others can only risk hurting us in the long run, be it through death, loss, departure, choice.

I chose you despite this. I chose to make that hurdle from the crumbling edge of the river bank to the other side, thinking it impossible. Still I jumped, sailing through the air, seeing my legs missing my mark, reaching further, beyond what was possible. Catching the other side in my fingertips and pulling up, out of failure.

They all said, all those who become ‘they,’ the disapproving, the know-it-alls, the omnipotence, they all said, you shouldn’t take the risk.

It was a bare insult. They all done it, and survived, but the rules were different when it came to me. It was as if I were a child, a child incapable of her own making, bound to their divinity board, with the scalpel sharp against my pieces.

For all who were ‘they’ it was clear, ‘they’ didn’t know me. I was never a child who listened well enough, I was too high up in the tree limbs to hear when they scolded and found my mud stained shoes thrown off.

For the girl with different rules, without rule, there was only the instinct followed by the outcome. I leapt across and I watched myself, clear the jump and claim you. Inspite of it all.

Now you are gone, and I can fit into their net of told-you-so’s at long last. I am the emptied woman. The one who sleeps until the very last moment in a vain attempt to quench consciousness.

You will not return. It is not your way to change your mind. As it was not my way to alter my trajectory, coming like a star out of darkness, pinned on you.

What a fool, they will say. What a mistake, they will cluck. And I will spin my hair into clouds and ruise, above the words, the noise.

I am reminded of the saying, better to have tried than not at all. It doesn’t apply in this world I live. It does apply to me because I only know how to try, not how to win.

I am not a good American girl. I stood in the sidelines, I did not have the competition burning in my throat. I did not want to cheer.

But I am a good American traveler. At night I reach as far as my celestial body will carry me, into the caves of others, searching for you.

Yes I have not given up. I know you will be there eventually and I will witness it. The moment you discover, I didn’t stop looking.

When two lie so close the heartbeat of one becomes the other and beneath them both stirs, a symphony, how can they separate?

Do you think death will have the claim to take you far away and never again let me beside you? This is false. I am stronger than death. I have love.

You may be cold now, you may be afraid, but I am on my way, I will travel no matter the cost, it will take time, but I will find you.

Breathing

It’s just a story we tell ourselves

We will be well

And even Gods forged of longing, cannot always save our plea for preservation

And please, some peace

For the weary, are not the old

They are the ones who know the sear of unwanted pain

An ache rising like wave again, merciless in return

The loss of dreams comes softly as snow

We dream ourselves complete

Waking unable to breathe

This sheltering land sometimes permits tornadoes

When all around shakes, we are battered and bruised

And because we still stand, others never witness, the deep sink of our soul

Or indeed, that dark place we go

When night only burdens with unseen fear

A temperature, a loss of balance, this unknowing doctors touch, with gloved hand

As we find ourselves, subject to midnight

We, who have never been this person

Arising, as if we could separate and escape, inevitable places

Was it really me? Who gasped for breath and cried out to spirits never tested?

As has always been for each life line

Thinking invulnerable, tugged back to truth

All of us wear a harness, all of us hold an allotment

It is the wicked mirth of terror when first we gaze into our future and see the end

No amount of protest will stave

But maybe, maybe with light and courage

With nothing more than salved persistence

We can hold back that day and spend one more

Breathing

Inherit their voice

2012610_1809dSat facing away from the sun

an old man wipes years from his eyes

drawn over with cataract like milky bath water

he strains to see the outline of motion

 

where are all the old men? He thinks

once so barrel chested and neatly trimmed

with mustaches and shiny hair like Cover Girl teens

where are all the eighties queers who painted beaches

with tight abs and tiny shorts in tropical shades?

 

now half empty, the beach longs for color

only rotund women with bristly chins

unkempt hair chopped without thought

some with children or children’s children

placing sensible shades and thick UV factor 50

on slow-moving parts of themselves

 

in previous years you could

reach out and paint a rainbow

in their courage of being twenty

though lesbians and gay men do not

always a palate make

such contrasts in their expression

these women without restraint

mopping the brows of dying beautiful boys

unwilling nurses drawn to duty

by suffering ignored

 

some judged, as is human’s wont

even those judged themselves

learning in pious pews the curses afflicted upon

the sinner

their ingrained prejudices wondered;

Why so many striken did not stop frequenting steam rooms

smelling of bleach and pleasure and illness

looking for strangers with no way to tell

if death stood beside them?

 

perhaps; time old division of the sexes

rather than, one bad, one good

men will find a hole, stick it in without regard

this is not a homosexual thing but

the nature of a penis

gay men acted upon that unrestrained impulse

all men share, save those who learn greater depth

than the hand, the orifice, the gag reflex

then disease clasped them in a death grip

chewing away at fragile worn tendencies

soon no beautiful boys remained

hot in steam rooms to blink their doe eyes

fringed with fear

 

some divisions are economic

lesbians with babies, lesbians without brawn

unable to act upon their natural instinct

remained married, starched at home, dying in place

whilst young men, fed on corn and barley, took good

California jobs and soon the boom grew teats

 

educated baby dykes today do not know loss of freedom

or the true price of salt

they can rack up bed notches in reckless abandon

imitation not always the greatest flattery

but back then …

all so new and unsanctioned

people didn’t have road maps or internet

to gauge behavior by

and in the dirty rim of a third glass of whiskey

courage and terror would sometimes blind

best intention

 

girls today repeat the worst inventions

of boys without purpose

those early days of the movement

can a life be a movement?

they died weekly and by the hour

in shabby rooms without succor or sense

strangled by disease, shamed by the ‘told you so’s’

just coming out

only to climb into a coffin and be carried

jeers and spit and hate to their graves

where few wept, for they too shared death

mottled with kaposi’s sarcoma

some haters slinging mud shouted;

you depraved souls! You reap what you sow!

is this the word of Mohamed & Jesus?

or cruelty with nothing more than hate to grow?

 

now gays think they are safe

over the hump, socially acceptable

on TV, in your face, sitting next to you, earning more

painting their rooms mauve, their wallets thick

HIV can be lived past, no more automatic death sentence

adoption is legal, and marriage, a thriving business

do they even remember how many fell?

before they could inherit this tenuous hour?

 

the old man was one of fifty

the last survivor of his generation

depleted by silent war

struck down by AIDS and her harpies

over time even medication failing hope

or bodies, tired from their walk

collapsing on scalding streets without

the kindness of stranger

 

the old man, he cannot say to today’s youth

this is how it was, learn from the past

because they do not care, it is their time now

and if they knew it would not matter

only the hour of their immediacy

compelling them forward to their own history

one day past them and in reverse

they may share his loneliness then

too late

 

the old man

who used to be a beautiful boy

with golden skin and hazel eyes

a thick swath of black hair hanging like a wave

he looks at his gnarled hands and sagging arms

with their scars and their ragged hurt

and he wants to be as loud as the young

and shout out;

 

where have they gone?

the beautiful boys of my time?

why must I outlive them all and see in my decline

the loss of their right, to be recalled!

for whom among us, shall pick up the mantle

and say their names, once we are all

beneath earth?

an entire generation cut down

and smoothed over like asphalt

 

do we ever think of that?

in our perpetual urge to be present, in the moment?

those who have gone before

stand now like ghosts around him

an entire era

strangled before they ever could

inherit their voice

 

(This is my contribution to Pride Month. I want to remember those who are not here with us, because they died when they could have lived, if they had not been forgotten and repulsed. During and afterward, Africa was equally rejected, neglected, ignored, and millions died. Worldwide HIV/AIDS is still a death-sentence, make no mistake. Those with power decide who lives and dies, whose life has worth, whose does not, decisions are not made out of mercy they are made coldly with calculation and lack of compassion. All the rest is froth on a daydream. Our memories are sometimes the only thing keeping us from repeating history). #neverforget

 

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.