For my first friend in America

Your hand covers mine

we clasp for the camera and smile a 100 watt smile

The American Way

I have learned

how to park a truck

that pale legs are not

as anathema in Texas as in Cannes

I understand, ordering drinks you size up

trying clothes, you size down

topsy-turvy world for a foreigner

lost in her baggage claim.

You made me feel

easy and comfortable like an adirondack chair

smooth wood, deep grain, eccentric shape

this became my town and in so many ways

it was thanks to you taking the time

to show me the way to fit in

the candles dim in the windows of the bar

as if they know you are now gone

where the bird died and we buried it

flowers grow up and a little crepe myrtle

as if forever our steps, will be marked here

mountain laurel blooms wildly

across splayed streets replete with thin cats

seeking their breakfast at Taco huts, the color of watermelon

where I ate among the gladioli without fear.

In the beginning

you were like Tiger Balm

rubbed over my fear, I was no longer shivering

could make my way through the throng

as good as anyone

your watchful eyes on my narrow back

seeing how I did, urging me onward

how will I continue with you gone?

Family, you said, comes from the heart

you may find someone you love in the strangest places

I found you in a Chinese buffet eating Won Tong soup

in my skinny jeans and piss and vinegar

you asked me if I used to be a dancer

I said yes, and now I unravel for a living

you took under your wing, that juniper girl who

didn’t know how to fit in to her new clothes

taught her the measure of her adopted land

like the time we planted trees and you warned

never forget to be merciful, to those less fortunate

the sky was pure blue that day, on the wind

the smell of honeysuckle and river lily

white cranes flew languidly overhead

we shared Limeade and Tortas, our feet dipping in hot puddles

I recall

the first time you were sick

I said, you reminded me of my grandmother

and you frowned; I’m not old enough!

But what I meant was

she had a strength, nobody else could see

every time I went to school she’d wait

in her high-waisted pants of crepe or wool

tight curled hair, wearing oversized sunglasses

below the stairs, nodding with a wink

mouthing the words; You got this

and I’d go into my classroom with a 100 watt smile

not fearful anymore

nobody saw that side of her, just as

people dismissed you as a Jesus Freak

seeing past the strength of your resolve

to live with love

I admire those; who have mercy and compassion

I look to those; who are loyal and unafraid to love

it is the weave of this girl, to follow in those footsteps

bring kindness, do good, lend yourself to gentleness

when I grew sick I saw, how many live with

anger and resentment, undoing their humanity

until they are unrecognizable and only breathe

the exhaust of their bitterness.

To the rose

opening this day

after your passing

I say, O glory, O beauty

live in the sun

as radiant and perfect as anything I have known

and I hear your voice, see your face nodding

you got this

I want to run backward and say

please don’t leave me, don’t go

but I know you have to

and I have to go on

alone but holding your wisdom

your mercy

in those lessons you left

imprinted upon my heart.

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The wounded eyed girl

15Before I knew myself, uttered out loud the words

labeling me a this or a that or a who knows?

I developed feelings for a wounded eye girl

we were kids really, dressing up as Japanese geisha in my room

all festooned in asian print and a little tea set I got for cheap

from china town

we wore chopsticks in our hair and bowed ceremoniously

singing the only song we knew in Japanese

with The Mikado playing in the background

I liked her thin arms and her prominent nose

her knock knee urchin look and bandaged soul

I liked how strong she was even as she looked like she’d fly away

most of all I was attracted to her wounded eyes

for there is something heady and bewitching in

pain

and its infinite manifestations

we’d dress up, I would paint her lips scarlet, we’d put on

funny accents and roll on the floor looking up at glow stars

I still had stuck there with movie posters of vampires

she would fling her arm out across my chest,  tell me of herself

pouring out the suffering of her short life

and it was an awful life before she was

brought to this city we lived in, both from somewhere else

transplants, orphans, ghosts of ourselves with missing DNA

she would tell me of her homeland, how

her father beat her black and blue for

being a girl

why as she got older he took

each of her sisters one by one

and they didn’t come back

whole or even

well repaired

I wanted to lick the pain from her cheeks and hold her to me

until the wound healed

but nothing I could ever do would assuage

the wounds behind her dark brown eyes

so we played as little girls do

building camps and tepees and western saloons

once I played a prostitute and she a cowboy

I cocked my head, snapped a red garter and asked her;

want to have some fun soldier?

she laughed, such a lovely laugh

her black hair and coffee skin, shining with fantasy

she didn’t like being herself anymore than me

we got into our pretend saloon bed

I served her a pretend shot of whiskey

acted ‘saucy’ the way I had learned from TV

she rolled her eyes laboriously like a comedian winking

pulled up my petticoats which were real

and at one point had been my mother’s wedding dress

when she married my father, bare foot and broke

with a velvet ribbon tied around her neck

and our fingers explored each other

as we giggled and changed our voices to all the favorite

TV characters we knew

I think I even tried to be Sue Ellen

I wanted to tell her then, not to stop

to press my mouth to her pomegranate lips

touch her swelling breasts with my own lack of

run myself like a cat across her saffron skin

but even then I knew

damage makes bad bed fellows

we soon changed the game, to cops and robbers

climbing out of the window, swinging from trees

though in every story

there was an element of romance

I thought of the old shows I loved

where the actors were always

dancing around the circumference

of each others heart

how in real life sometimes they married

I told my father; Oh see! Oh see! pretend things can come real!

but some cannot

and she and I grew up

once she told me she had always known I felt like that

I blushed dark red because of course

thinking I’d been subtle when watching her changing clothes

she married a blonde haired man and moved to Australia

had a little boy and hopefully

a ceasing of her alotment of pain

because more than anything I wanted that for her

even more than the beautiful moment

of two girls

laying in sunlight

laughing at imagined things

for the rest and peace and escape

of anything real

 

She said to me this is why

img_7163

She said to me, this is why

you start the ignition and drive

never far enough

the feeling of mud stuck in your wheels

when you find you’ve been stopped

a god-awfully long time at crossroads

watching emptiness

hypnotized by blink in and out of hooded light

amber in raptured darkness

a welcome, a warning, a half-moon or pecked ball of cheese

the days you used to eat diary and wear

push-up bras and frilly skirts with Wellington’s

climb the clouds

invest in heavy coats and lace up boots, the end of the world is nigh

where did your combat go?

as you sat watching life blink and slow

what year, what day? what hour ceased your climb?

did you know? Or was it something stealthy and unobserved?

crawling up your corseted will and into your slack mouth

waiting to be re-charged

finding power in the notion

nobody’s listening

 

other cars go past

some race, some idle, there are sunday drivers and seekers

church goers, drive-in’s, back-seaters

there are race-cars and old vintage trucks with their bellies full of stories

home paint jobs and clean-cut straight from the shop

the latter go to the Wash Tub nearly every week to ensure

their interiors are spotless

and you? Are your insides up to par? inspection? White glove test?

how much dust and debris have you collected and stored beneath your wings?

now coiled in retreat like parts of an engine without spark

do your chairs sag from too much sitting?

has your key grown rust and your feet lost their motion?

as you lull yourself with colors against soaping dark

go, consider, stop, go, consider, stop, go, consider, stop

you idled

engine running a purr into long painted lines

thin women without succor holding their empty bellies up against moonlight

did you consider?

this is your only time

no more is left after the bowl is licked and scraped and washed

set to dry and be re-used by someone with more gumption

in their sunday shoes

 

when did you remove the will, the effort, the urge

replacing it as you would a hub cap with something less polished

so you would not be noticed, fall in with leaves collected in plastic bags

collected at curb side

 

would you recognize

your own self ten years ago?

arms filled with bangles of silver

hair braided to kink and denote

fire in your belly, longing in your chest

here is the shimmer of the undimmed

climbing trees in their favorite

church dress getting branches in their hair

 

you and I ate cherries and plums

the sweet from the marrow of Jamaican sugar cane

baked by a fitful city left to burgeon

music from a dozen sources, the resin and hum

you hennaed my fingers and I shared my belief

this moment could be stretched to eternity

lying with my head in your patchouli lap

feeling the move and sway of need in us both

to uncover the secret

to living

 

then you were gone

I mended myself imperfectly

with mincemeat and old Christmas crackers

that had not struck their gun powder

nor cracked in explosive alchemy of two people pulling from either end

a wish bone sucked clean

what do you wish for?

I wished for a map

draw my direction in red

like the tongue of your hair caught under spotlight

I learned to drive

you learned to walk

with each determining we split, like dried corn will

after being soaked and then left to burn

 

lights blink

lost and found

a mitten on tarmac

a bag of garbage

one lens from a pair of glasses

adverb and pronoun

we each saw correction differently

you still dance

when the brass band strikes a tune

you merge into the crowd

lifting your arms above your head

my silver still slipping on your wrists

your disapproval branding

the center of my forehead

you sold out” you mouth

losing your way deliberately

you thought by cutting the string, tying it to a tree in a wood, you’d forget where you came from

all you did was create another way to suffer all your own

you were once part of a tribe

daubed in blue and saffron women of islands and sea skirmish

fearing nothing but rocks, jagged and monstrous

and even as we hesitated

we urged ourselves forward

now you sit

idling in a warm car on a tepid night with windows down

listening to a station play unfamiliar discordant tunes

and the headlights of other cars

passing you by on the outside lane

are the faces of those you gave away

when you emigrated in reduction

like the sauce of ourselves

left too long on the high flame

will burn and stick

unable to be

poured

Thursday’s child

costume-cute-dinosaur-funny-girl-inspiration-Favim.com-48812They said Texas was more friendly than the East Coast

but she’d lived in New York and that wasn’t true

not for queers and people who didn’t attend church

the year she arrived they put up picket signs on every corner

marriage equals a man and a woman

with a red X marking the hate

obliteration of alternatives

a dirty word it was

not to be homogenous and touch your

four corners to the cross

the year she arrived they said

if you don’t like BBQ, if you don’t eat meat, if you don’t go to Dairy Queen

get the fuck out of our state

you wear too much black we’re certain

you prefer Satan

she became a shut-in who didn’t

believe in mythical devils but had

met a few who walked the earth in the flesh

not leaving the house an irony

for a Thursday’s child

who has far to go

 

You may ask – girl why did you stick around?

but we don’t all of us have the luxury

of choice

the saying

you made your bed / now lie in it

can often apply

so you suck all the oxygen out of the room

hold your breath

hoping they won’t notice you are still there

but they did

pinching and pulling

you’re far too thin

you’re far too white

you’re a spoil sport who doesn’t like to go on team building exercises

she began to drink in the afternoons

wanted to swear the way she used to do

in Europe

where every other word was an expletive

but swearing is crude in Texas

they like you to sweeten your words like your tea

and drink it ice-cold

 

It isn’t really their fault

if you move somewhere you’d better try

to fit in

even ghosts can see the purpose

in choosing where you haunt, wisely

it’s not enough to think you can carry on liking the same things

she cannot wear tights in Texas

even in December it’s too hot

you have to mow your lawn A LOT

though she would plant weeds and watch

them enclose her from disapproval

in time, she learned it’s a state of mind

sometimes when you stop realizing you don’t fit in

you just might

and if that doesn’t work there’s always

four walls and closed eyes

growing wild flowers in her mind

swearing a little less often

in time everything works differently

you look back and see

what was once strange

feels like home

 

 

Except smell

I did not speak your language

until I learned in the dust of play

communicating with shapes and funny faces

then I understood more until

giving away who I was 

I embraced your world

step by step accents relent

we pawn our histories

to fit in better like the crayon

is never quite the right hue

coughing scarlet consumptive 

we want to be unseen unnoticed

to fly at night when all are sleeping

do not point us out in a crowd

or remind us of who we once were

the immigration of battleworn hearts

denies who we were before we marooned ourselves

in other tongues, other culture

they say you never forget your childhood

what do they know? sitting in the same

room as when they were knee high

the truth is you forget almost anything

except smell

and when you come to hold me close

you ask me why do you cry?

and the cumin of your hair is

something I can never explain

except with hands making

feelings out of air

Who built the ark?

0000_nativityplay16_8It’s your turn to make the second pot of coffee

let’s take the day off, close the computer, shut our doors

silence the voices who sound awfully like 12 and 13-year-old teens

complaining about losing their homework and pointing fingers

when did we learn not to grow up?

I always thought Huck had a point when he tied his handkerchief on a stick and took to the wild

this is not the Peter Pan kind of childish fantasy

when we talk of growing up and growing down we forget

like Picasso once said in order to render abstract we first need to know the techniques of how to paint

then we choose like the 90-year-old who says screw it I will eat what I want, that’s informed consent

childish however, is the absence of reason and consequence splayed like tired kids exhausted from pass-the-parcel

fluttering like a torn flag over a battle field of this and that

the news isn’t objective the screech of complaints sounding like a hen-house on fire

nobody listens nobody really knows it’s not about fact it’s about opinion and who gargles loudest

I think back to the playground of my youth where twice a flasher showed his bits to the girls and they all screamed

ew it looks like a sausage! I never want to eat meat again! and ran off laughing

it is true, me and Donna plugged the girls outside loos with toilet paper

so Mrs Slug would come and tell us off, mushy peas staining her apron

detention is better when it’s freezing out

we had reason behind our madness

and whilst we didn’t see the folly of flooding the loos back then

or how long it would take with stinking mop and bucket to dry off

we learned our consequence and next time feigned illness to stay by the radiator

oh nurse it’s my head it’s pounding! You do look a little green, here read a book

there is a learning curve

lost to generations who think answers are found in the oracle of computers

and those older folk who try vainly to stay relevant and forget their lessons

we would benefit from observing consequence and seeing it through

rather than a sound bite on TV as we spoon feed ourselves snippets of news

nothing stays long enough to take it in, we’re attention-deficit spinning tops

straining to think

would the chilly air of our playground and the closed doors until after lunch is over

wake us to reality? and if we stepped inside, would we attempt to take with us the lessons

we internalized?

or like the hippies of the sixties do we grow out of phases and give away our flares for business suit to rule the world

is death so onerous that we fear anything but power?

is inconsequence so fearsome we’ll make a splash at any cost?

what of all those we know nothing of? they say history is written by the victor, I think often

of all those who didn’t traditionally ‘win’ anything and what they would write

it is said you are bound to repeat history if you do not know it

but what if the very truth we revere, didn’t get it right?

When I was a kid in the playground I used to wish to grow up so I could

avoid being told when to play and when to learn

not knowing then nothing changes as much as you think

I envied the teachers their staff room where they thought we did not know

they smoked and ate hot cross buns and talked of rumors of the headmaster and

his male deputy

who both wore open toe shoes in Winter and I once asked him when ushered into his office for winning a poetry prize

don’t your toes get cold?

and he said

I do this in remembrance of christ I want to feel what he felt

and that Xmas we put on Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat

the drama teacher said candy you can do backflips can’t you? You can be the queen of the Egyptians

and I never felt so good as that day I wore an old wig I once dressed up and played Kate Bush in

with sequins and blankets stitched into approximation I shook my belly and pretended it contained jewels

the headmaster’s eyes teared up and he stole a look at the young junior who

sang along with our ‘who built the ark?’ louder than us all, dabbing his small eyes with the back of his hand

afterward Clement and I climbed up to the roof playground and on the wire we swung upside down

daring each other to fall knowing we couldn’t

maybe that’s a metaphor for the fear we need to feel

the safety net

of all endeavor

how holding hands with a boy in the dark

briefly I was the queen of egypt and everything seemed so real

in a way it never does now

because not once did I need a search engine to tell me

what I believed was true