Tempera

Query feels like a brand though it comes with veil

the doctors say, phantom pain becomes step mother

to fragile veins

first one to freeze come a cold snap

ready for tindering a bristling fire

at noon I want to eat warm eggs from your palm

touch your vermillion paint brush to my own face

feel the render of tempera against parchment

without any contempt for you, I wish you gone

but ink dries fast in the cold, it’s a myth it takes a warm day

to run a bath and slit your wrists

they never ask why, only how

the fire trucks blink like fallen damsons on melting streets

it was your enemy knocked on the door, broke it down, carried you out

not laughing at your slack form, the way your hair when wet

thins into dismal life line

the bequeath of surprise leaves us wordless

I with my bandages, you with your newly found soul

the sweetness of sharing this clementine center almost makes us forget our mutual hatred

to burn in respective votive, prayed to by sinners, also cherishing the role of loathing

dying is a slow storm, coming in squall, lost to its own menace

we leave the phone off the hook and become masks affixed to unpainted wall

maybe the next inhabitants will lift them gently from their nail

and remark before painting

that they left no shadow

Walk over

Walk over

on those long satin legs

with ankles crossing

like idle thoughts saturated

in honey

Skin on skin

when it matters most

don’t push away

move nearer

touch until it hurts to touch

remedy that disappointment we carry

in little cherry pink pill boxes

find in me, the answer to the puzzle

if we’re alone let’s make the most

of being able to move close

the rest of the world is spinning

obsessing about varied concerns and things

that don’t matter just as much as

those that do

take this second

to put aside your walk

and dance in my arms

inhaling the intensity

that is us

immutabilité

In the afterlife

There is always something to do

pick up the leaning umbrella before it hits the window,  leaving

a tell tale smudge

clutter. Le désordre

le bruit, le fatras,

a maniac for the mind seeking calm

in Upton’s Jungle where only heat bakes

rocks inedible

cushions flattened by visitations, last nights vestige

reminds me of when the bad boy dropped me off at my house and I ran

whippet thin and full of bile through tall yellow grass before sun was up

thinking if I could get inside, wash every molecule off, it wouldn’t be real

for what is real? Who is alive and who is not?

Was it real that you gave birth to me? Or did I come out from your forehead

like Athena without guile, just seeking, the end of the puzzle

wet with embryonic writhe

a dot representing the center, a square we are lost in, a triangular shape of a woman

scything herself of humanity

yoga mat lying on the floor, when no one is looking, legions roam across

their sticky melange leaving detritus and DNA – filthy castings of a viral world

and we think there’s a purpose to cleaning? When our minds are so

filled with dirt, the stain of then, the need for order, no end in sight

you died before I could recall my own conscience

still playing in the sandbox with Pavlov’s dog

salivating at lunch time when the ice cream truck sounded

turning the corner into our 1970’s neighborhood

all the kids who grew up to be wrecked, all the kids with abuse

shuttered behind their sleep-filled-eyes, what we knew and did not know

before we lived, before we were fully conceptualized

clambering out of robot heads into uniforms with starched collars

and itchy labels. Derrida scolds me for forgetting

the metaphysics of presence, how the hair startles before

we are aware of the interloper.

My mother, without me would have been

the same, oppositions casting wide circles around the other

in extravagant orbit,

her elegance like a chill shadow

against ivory, casting divine repetitions

she may once have wondered what it would be like to

behold a daughter and then, cleaning the smudge

the umbrella made on the glass, moved on to watering

the thirsty plants, who never receive enough

sustaining in this infernal heat. Montaigne’s grotesques

filling empty space with coherence, as monsters dressed in provocation

attempt to mediate man’s presumption, for our limit is sifted clear of

lasting knowledge in the face of holy entreaty.

I am and I am not

here and there, once and before, dancing to the last song

of the evening in your arms, unable to

tear myself away from the grand illusion

that life could be smooth like a record with

little grooves created from their undulate

music to move the water inside our soul

carried far until we grow

weary somehow of the weight

and set it down beneath a tall tree

where we shall never move from.

(First published in Free Verse Revolution, 2020). 

Je suis désolé de n’avoir pas été comme tu

For

what seemed like forever

and was perhaps

some lost sand

sifting through light

slower when observed

turning like eager sun dial

face capturing shape and shadow

as the moon faced women

blue in Picasso’s rough brush

your edges sleek impossibly

by Masters deft curve, mimicking

nature readily, surely as time will

erode the fullness of our cheeks

your high bones hold you up

that half smile imperceptable

through memory shaking her

coat free of rain drops

as we drift further into long night.

I recall being good at Tug of War

in school with my artex white shirt rolled up

the thin fabric of my skirt flapping

dangerously high, leaning in for the pull

boys on the other end heaving, purposing

(this was always about more than a rope you know)

their extraordinary need to dominate and

our quiet, tugging urgency to defy

even then I might have upset the historical balance

made you proud, if you’d been watching

the length of rope dipping into glassy water

with the weight of decades, days spent

trying to form words of consolation where none

seem worthy enough.

You have slim bones that cannot pull heavy

rope from weighted oceans and even if

your arms were strong, I wonder if you would

gather me to you, within the eye of rushing storm

our fragile satellites eclipsing, resolving

sorrow with gentle grace, unleavened bread

yet to rise

to feel your perfumed palm on my forehead

the beneficence of your gaze, or hear

your voice, its sonorous depths, call for

me and gladly, I would present myself

for any time in your light is time lived

well and good and whole.

in your absence there is only

shadow and cold

reminding me, estrangement is unnatural

when it pares two segments of the same orange

apart, with no mend, balm or eulogy

great enough to salve the hurt

building within us, mountains of

dried salt from spent regret grown

dry.

I long and shall always long

to return to you

in that hour where memory

tells me

we laughed and

in your eyes I saw

my center

verdant and blooming

with the tender cobalt nectar

reserved for what can never

be replaced.

December 2020

Twilight

there in the last glimmer

I see a girl run barefoot across the field

I see an old woman, hunched and bent, look up

and briefly, as the smile crosses her face

resemble that girl again

I see the cruelty of passing cars who

do not slow to permit the old woman crossing

their fierce lipped drivers dripping with venom

at the vulnerability of the ancient

I see the disinterest of those behind closed doors

watching their Twitter feeds like stock markets

of gossip and futility, forgetful of

the song bird who used to sing outside

and now does not

the sky has broken open like an orange feast

light pours out into darkness and indigo colored

clouds hasten to rush against the backdrop like

tired dancers exiting stage right

far away a man chops wood for his first fire of the season

a woman might be giving birth in a nearby hospital

couples squabble and make up, over dinner

the TV is muted, the street is awash with festive tinsel

and the occasional inflatable polar bear

one day we will be that girl rushing to gather her urge

against tall grass

we will also be that old woman, returning home

to an empty house with tall staircase

when they pass, we keep them alive through our memories

the old and the new

shining like new stars in a Winters sky

I see my grandmother’s there now

I remember their voices, mindfully reminding me

be kind

be kind

be kind

Le repas

The way she cleans

puts away the day

into lopsided drawers that do not shut

well even on easy days

their contents lost in shuffle and exploit

planes over head, mornful drone, a whine

of grief as they attain height

her hands chapped from slapping herself

back to life

rivets run like zippers down her nails

a light somewhere is extinquished

another turned on, sudden furnace, shadows

vanquished, she has not drunk

all day, for the trembling in her hands

betrays the wait.

Dusk smears sky, oranges hang like

tired bosoms pressed in a woman’s dress

amidst plump leaves, blue-black birds

caw their hunger into the cavernous pitch, cats

with arched tails, disappear potently, eternally

her ankles swell with want, her thyroid

a box of treasure, alight with waiting in chocolate dusk

she dozes in her reverie, business put away

the calm of darkening, a hot bath scalding

dry air with its promise, oils filling her nostrils

pungent and wistful, infusion of sorrow

she remembers when

they lay together without fault

or breakage

the outline of their union

a mandala, with complicated lines leading back to circles

drawn in henna, indigo, cheap car paint, permanent in bare footed sprint

poured into a tattoo gun in the wild hinterlands of Canada

stabbed in little sticcatto for her eternal, sea sick

pleasure.

She lay then, thinking of

burning up

like fireworks

set alight to bloom and bloom till dry of pollen

in empty skies void of furtherment

she wanted to melt

the snow as she walked back

alone and hurting, wounded by her own loathing

a cigarette in her mouth

pressed against clenched, chipped teeth

and you? You were far off like winking lights in sea storm

and you were so far then… gone
without being gone

As is so much of life. Waiting. Closing curtains. Wrapping away disappointed hours

to bed, to claim, to screaming beneath wedged pillows

till the thankless clock in the downstairs anteroom chimes not

and without putting our heads in the oven even once

we are done
Done
Done.

Not written down in history

The lonely heart

of a girl

who liked her own

kind

is not written down in history

there are few

stories of this

quiet, often eclipsed, furtive, secret

kind of longing

less even spoke aloud or transcribed

for what could be said? Admitted?

Instead, there are, no doubt

trees growing exceptionally redolent

nourished with the grieving, private hearts

of girls throughout history

who buried their flesh

beneath tender roots of a sapling

when it became abundantly clear

their tongues served them no purpose

in speaking of a love

no-one wanted.

These girls … I wonder

about them, sometimes as I tramp

red cheeked and furious

up hill side, when sitting still and

desiring felt like cold bars of a jail cell

seeing above me the wielding kite and her

long expanse, mocking almost with her freedom

for fierce she is, unable to

be anything but predator

time lapses into a series of vignettes

childhood (unknowing/confused) adolescence (odd/ill-fitting)

youth (empty bed/scolded faces of young men who do not understand

why no matter what they do, they endear

not)

older (disappointment/scrolled dating sites, dark bars with groping

strangers, you wouldn’t share a car ride with)

a wish always

for the girl over the moors

her long black hair tumbling like a question mark

the iridescence of her eyes, startling, bold

quit of falseness, a truth enveloping us both

without need of pretense, shyness left in fog

to hold the hand of someone who understands

and wishes to pull you through

where magic still resides in ellipsis and mist.

They do not invite single women of a certain age

to celebrate. When everyone would feel

uneasy, no children to talk about

flourishing career to brag of, she is not anything more than

everything to one person, outside that

sphere, she feels lost, disjointed, unable to fit closely

the pieces of irregularity, between her own wishes

and that of everyone else. They stare at her

over coffee cups, watching as if she were

a different species, something odd and inexplicable

cut at irregular angles, spilling out of bondage

saffron infused thoughts, plastered to her wet head

like a seal exploring depths, her stockings uneven

ragged with snares, mimicking internal

conflict, why she couldn’t pose for the camera

lips pursed in obliging, skirt wrinkle free,

hands hidden beneath cardigan, their

eternal fidget repressed with the incalculable

strength of effort it takes women to remind silent

say nothing, speak not with their roaming eyes

the magnificence of their private entreaty.

Oh to reveal, peal off layers, ransack propriety

and launch, full mast, happy crew, into the ocean

where loving was loving anyone, invited equally

to christenings, thanksgiving, birthday’s

not whispered about; behind fans, fingers, computer

screens, the lascivious imagination of mild mannered

disgust, spread liberally on morning toast.

“What do they DO?” (behind closed doors)

“was she like THAT with you?” (you should be so lucky)

“are they man-haters?” (only if you join in the cacophony)

“her mother must be so disappointed” (eternally).

I’m not disappointed

with you, us, swimming upstream, lily pads, green light

breaking up mosaic thought

bring it on

bring it on

we urge in our confident hour, no longer strange in shadow

by fire, by tokens in dark, wagging their tongues

and then, weary, tired of the fight, we stop

holding hands in public, the glare, a sunburn on

our fragile necks we stay modest, interior

house plants straining for sufficient light

when they don’t invite us, when I remain

alone waiting for you, weeks upon weeks

when stigma is a brand without physical body

it stings as deep, stays as long, heals too slow

it is hard to imagine the words ‘equality’

leaving our lips, and joining the world

in red shoes and jaunty hat, tipped merrily

to the left-hand side, running for a bus

knowing you’ll just make it

if the ground isn’t slippery

if you don’t fall before you’ve got

a firm hold.

It can kill

Almost sun up

the tinder box within my chest

is scratched free of ignition

I have nothing left to light

against encroaching darkness

for so long, it was only you

who kept me burning, fed the diminished

flame within

now, cold weather comes hunchbacked

like a visiting relation who has

no regard,

streets are emptied, as ducklings for feasting are

short-lived in their joy, for we live in a climate

spoilt with her bounty

the people proclaim Winter their enemy

hiding inside, till blessed sun returns

to bake streets into their usual direct lines.

I have always loved the cold

for it is somber, serious, it does not apologize

for not laughing or smiling toothily for a photo

the cold is an adult, a survivor

and my warmth is now swept out

into the street to nourish next years

growth.

You have left me ransacked, weighed with grief

or rather, I permitted it

with my need to divest you with

my self keeping

it was you see, a way to continue

waking up in the morning

brushing hair, scrubbing feet

clean of their midnight chase into darkness

where if I stayed long enough

I might find no way out.

I used instead, the succor of your regard

for me, a diminished thing in a shiny coat

of false expectation, as hibiscus bloom

just before frost, as if daring it to

kill

knowing, one day, the flint

would no longer strike alight

the flame no more catch

and we’d be without fire, without warmth

without familiarity or loyalty.

As those who feel and then feel nothing

ransacked void with wilted affection

the chill of their galloping regard

worse than any Winter storm

for knowing your hater is surely

a greater pain than strangers who harm

just for the merriment of it.

I know you. I see the emptiness in your eyes

these years have rinsed out slowly like a series

of rogued pinches and double-exposures

I understand, too well, just as

I see my own senseless defeat

lain on unflinching wet ground, not moving

for the cold has washed over and she is

frozen in her private grimace.

Some of us can carry on

without the light of another

I have long existed without harmony

safety, even sanity, but I cannot lose, no

I cannot bear to, the surround of you.

If it comes then, you will find me

a memory in a long story, a footnote to something

larger than us all, lost in yellowed paper and indistinct

photos of past, growing longer with each yawn

and outside of us, that tree will still stand

in 200 years, we will have children born and

die here on this land, where the dead are

forgotten to we who roamed once, through the ravages of

time and her pitiless relinquishment of mercy.

It is the way, of mortality, even love may be mortal

in how she closes up sacrosanct and inviolable like a flower

denied light

refusing to bloom again. You say

nothing because your mouth is

filled with ashen excuses, and moving on and

what you’ll do next; it is a tempest, a fever

beneath your skin, lending you the fugue-state to

live again, for you are from your mercurial ancestors

a kind of people who always find ways to

endure, as if doing so, will make you more

memorable.

I then, I am not like you, nor ever have

possessed, the penchant for survival you tout, it doesn’t

matter much, we are all going to be

soot and lost words before long

the race, the belief we matter, is just

grime on our sleeves as we pass

through. I have seen a world

without me, as I have witnessed a life without

you, they are all echoes of each other

betraying the faith I had never quite built

knowing you would leave

observing in your eyes before you were aware

the emptiness of regard, how softly we skim

life’s abundant surface, like we hardly land

at all. At times it does not feel like it can

be real, this ache, this movement toward

self-destruction, surely this is not how it ends

and yet, years become decades and still

we find ourselves, curled into a ball, waiting

out the cold, a frigid breeze coming in

beneath the door, reminding us, no matter

how much we may like the Winter

it can surely kill.

The magic fairground

I scratch my head, the mixture of henna and indigo dyeing my

finger nails black

thinking of the red pill and the blue

Alice and her little vial

Drink Me

Pandora’s Box

Athena’s head exploding, a rebuttal to Zeus

yellowing wallpaper closing women’s mouths

Radcliffe shouts in her lesbian manifest

those following her down the well of loneliness

high waisted and limber of spine.

I want to nibble upon you morning, noon and night

but I do what is right and keep my fantasies in check

behind the lines of notepads and in the ink of pens

I suck till my tongue turns blue-black

your lips remind me of a pomegranate even without rouge

they look edible, lush, full like an excuse never to apologize

we are girls of violet, our pin in the concentration camps was

a pink V

last night I watched When Hitler Stole White Rabbit

at the Jewish Film Festival, chewed the inside of my mouth

in frustration at the abhorrence of others

when I was a child I did not have a pink rabbit

you left your hair brush and your rose water and your

tattered lace-edged simple night gown

I don’t think you ever wore one again, in the 1970s

nude was in vogue

women coming and going

from my father’s room

with dimpled bottoms and breasts like Claire Bretécher 

I learned my likings on photography books, under the section

‘erotica’ and other arts, believing archly

pornography an expression, when now, thinking back

they had such sorrowful eyes

like deer who stare into

the lights of an oncoming truck

is it bravery or hypnosis? Perhaps

it is fatalism, the French, myself

moving to countries who do not condone

indolence, expecting different results

when escape has no good set of keys

just jangles from your pocket like a taunt.

It’s not cute when you’re over thirty, to

long for the purple balloon in the supermarket

or lie, cat-like on the carpet and me-ow when your lover

is mad

it is not seemly, to be childish when you have

your first crows-feet, or need a push-up bra

unless you leave your glasses to the side

dive in, deep and thick

the molasses of not giving a fuck

where 80 year olds, excel and laugh

like they did at eight without front teeth

much the same, much the same.

The magic fairground, everyone remembers names,

I recall songs and colors of girls eyes

how they look sleeping, with their hands flung

like emotions above their heads, bent at the wrist

bangles on the floor, hidden beneath cascading sheets

elegance in angles, the way eyebrows furrow

in thought, how that line shapes over time into

a question mark, the parchment of skin, in

darkness, tracing braille, for the day none of us

will see, more than the outline of certainty.

You said: “Maybe you won’t love me when my

breasts sag, when I stop working out and the

lines of years begin to encroach. Don’t you like my

firm arms, they do not hang like bats, my mother’s did

I am mortally afraid of skin that hisses when you look

at it.”

Perhaps men had done this to you, torn down

your childhood gauze, made you feel the need to

apologize for things to come. I have read

Dreams Of Young Girls, I know how the photographer

can project a fantasy upon a real girl, even

when she is young, begin to pick her apart

as she unfurls like a Christmas amaryllis, not

caring the pickpockets of their distain

leave her in rags. Or maybe it was another

woman and her cruelty or her hatred? Tight

in an ill-fitting jar, straining to propagate.

“After all, you are so perfect,” you said,

smiling at my narrow hips (like a boy)

my unmarked skin (sun-screen)

the thickness of my hair (good shampoo)

how taut my calves look in leggings (optical illusion)

girls with girls tend to compare

it is not always favorable

though we find in our mixing bowl of humility

a little easement

the tasty wick of joy

burning low into auburn night

going over

those fears

with soft fingertips

and gentle reproaching …

Oh softening

Motioning

Nightfall

In whisper find blessed felicity

A body untouched, lain emptied of worth

brought to life, my Lazarus, spinning moon beneath our chins

rounding music fluting her velvet want to stay beautiful physically

for you to hold your breath as you touch, yes I understand

and still, beauty retains a deeper chord

dancing on raw feet to Erik Sate, trying to impress.

No, love, no, age is wine

spreading in the roof of your oval mouth

each place it has visited will transport you back, among the

grapes, tanned beneath reliable sun till just ripe, rolling in barrels

aged over centuries, buried with

secrets, the taste of fruit and toil, lustily on its wood

roots reaching deeply into history, for every year lived

another branch uncoils, the leaves, a brilliant green, bearing fruit

then flowers, finally sheltering, those beneath

such is a woman, such as you are

lying in my arms, the sweat of sleep, hot on your neck

cheeks pushed against my shoulder blades

causing you to look like you are pursing your lips

in effort to dream

finding ways always

to hold you closer,

closer

closer

closer.