reminding themselves they can still fly

Only so much can be said of birds, or landscapes

yet grief? Grief is a world incapsulated in a tear

held to the sun and magnified, its kaleidoscope of color

without end

and while you may see me sitting at this table

with dried flowers catching wan Winter sun

my face a careful study of emotion beneath surface

I am actually at this very moment

lying on the unwashed floor

feeling cold tile invade my pores

just like the virus who crept into my stomach

changing everything like zealous house cleaner

see, on the floor I can curl up like I did as a child

pretend I am a dragon again, where ageing and its horrors

or just the spite of unbidden sickness

will not come for me, because I am no longer real.

The sun light will fade and with it, shadows come

reminders of our ephemerality

a dance with what is and what is no longer

the ghosts of my grandparents waltz beneath pear trees

their necks bent to dark skies, mouths slack with amusement

I thought then, nothing could disturb the fabric of the world

because youth told me so

and lies were easy to sew

delusion, such a merry friend

now it is not as easy and like them, my mask grows weary

often wishing to climb into bed and read

stories of others who have lived and died

sitting at tables, lying on floors, looking upward, open mouthed

finding ways to express the horror and brief respite

of coping with pain

I so admire those souls who laugh

though I suspect sometimes they simply do not think

of how things really sit

and that’s all right

because there’s no one way

of getting through this

the birds, maybe they know other means

perhaps that is why they migrate and it is has

less to do with warmth and more to do with

reminding themselves

they can still fly

(Expecting To Fly, by Buffalo Springfield, one of the best songs of the era https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzMl0-bhNcM&t=25s)

eventually even the hypochondriac will be right

odd for the child

to fear drowning

when his life now is so long

stretching like taut ribbon in sun

he imagines like plain moths who drown themselves

in light emanating from dark

his own lifeless body buoyant on chlorinated pool

why he thinks of his death is anyone’s guess

perhaps the morbid humor of an intelligent mind

or the broken mosaic of life, beginning its downward cycle

once he asked his father, if the river levies bust

will I know I am dead before I am drowned or

will I wake in heaven first?

His father, a man who only worried about

whether his mistress was going to leave him for a younger man

did not spend time assuaging the boys fears

and he grew into a frightened soul who possessed

no mistress to sooth his night terrors

eventually even the hypochondriac will be right

maybe not this year

as she palpitates her breast for the forth time

crossing nervous fingers over heart, half prayer half search

malignancy her code red, flashing with every terrorizing headline

who invented social media? she mumbles beneath her breath

it was so much easier when we didn’t have access to all the maladies, we’ll one day die from!

Her hands cramp in late Winter cold, immediately she thinks

MS, MD, Fibromyalgia, the beginnings of CJD, maybe Parkinson’s

isn’t that a tremor? Or just too much coffee?

Her jittering nerves remind her, we are unable to compute

the exact day, hour, minute of expiry

all we know is our eventual death is an assured event

it’s the torment of those who are self-aware yet still ignorant

spinning in place, every migraine a brain tumor, every

sudden sharp pain a sign of pancreatic cancer, when a friend

discovers he has Multiple Myeloma (and he never touched asbestos his wife decries!)

she flicks through medical journals online searching for similarity

it’s not her wish to die, but a desire to live, control fate

keeping her on false tender hooks like owl without prey.

His life has been one of quiet dread, each day he inspects

the parts of him most likely to give out, checking his irregular heartbeat

the soft pounding of worry causing it to skip, feeling for swollen glands

skin cancers, lumps and bumps different from the day before

he knows his is an obsessive ritual, even as it soothes imagined

terrors, he sees the absurdity of living in fear bound to a wheel

perpetuated by hours spent researching ways of expiring

did you know you can develop throat cancer from invisible HPV

who knew love was such a sentence? He tells his eye-rolling neighbor.

If he counted the hours he took from his life

contemplating how he will die, when, what it will resemble

it’s quite mad

yet when he is lying in his childhood bed alone

impending dread crawling up his flannel spine

all he can hear are the waves calling

and then, a strange longing in him occurs

urging him to be done with bloody charades

join the onslaught and be carried out to sea

along with every child’s nightmare

and the stifled hiss of adults pressing their knuckles

closely to anguished mouths

for the pale mint waiting room seems

entirely too silent

an earie unsettled fog about it

waiting …

Below zero

Snow I have always

been thankful for your expunging

whiteout

how you take dirt

and suffocate it

beneath insistent layers

the wild and untame methods of your

settling, blown like befuddled

birds in all direction, swirling in

lost echo, falling eventually to

sugar-coat the dim world brighter

as pipes fail, their fragile egg shells

bloated with trapped water

a parallel I think

to our own shuttered lives

When I was a child I would

be told

do not go out in the snow for long

you will catch your death

and I hoped

very much

that were true

for to sleep

a red rose in bosom of white

I could fancy in my child’s mind

no greater perishment

though fancy and its

myriad ways of suggesting

death

grow less appealing

the older we get

Now I avoid slipping on ice

for fear of crushing my elbow into

shards like my father did

I see in the distance

my grandmother’s dog

he is trying to eat snow flakes

and puzzled when they melt

barks into whiskering storm

I think he speaks for us all

in this grand illusion

half wanting to be

taken off by encompassing whorls

carried to ice palace

where surely the meaning of

everything can be found

along with my mittens I lost

in tenth grade

stooping down to place

the cherry in

my snow robins

breast

Not a lot

Some of the forgotten towns

circling big cities, lone wolves

warming fur against bright lights

wear their bleakness like a flag

the emptied streets at night where

no merriment is found, kids have

climbed aboard their bikes and motored

through snow if necessary, to escape

into the cold clutches of wine and euro-pop.

The touring people who do not live in these towns

glamorize by proxy

their little steeples, the preserve of history

how charming graffiti looks in a foreign language

they do not see behind the doors

into a teen world of preparedness

all who will flee when time comes

somehow, make their empty pocketed way

to bigger cities, offering the solace of

24 hour misery

surely it beats

sleeping in your childhood cot

listening to your parents snore

inching closer to a local grave plot

they put their heads in bags of glue

just to feel like they are from somewhere else

finding it a marvelous irony

when their frigid mountain town is named

‘best hidden tourist spot’

by those who are also in their own ways

trying to escape

their stifled lot

Urging to be loosed

Before generic

we toiled

with well made heavy tools

to survive

thinking less, I suspect

of the quality of that living

whether we were ‘happy’

nor having time for slight or scold

to injure us

sheer brevity of our toil

overwhelming higher thought

which at times I believe

may be as fitful and ill-fitting

as apple eaten from forbidden tree

it is that knowledge of ourselves

sends us into quiet turmoil

perpetuated by hours to muse

on the fix and drip of life

we taste despair in our abundant imaginings

for all we learn, we grow further

from that seat of quiet peace found

in hard labor and less thought

for every Sunday where I get to lie in

watching snow fall outside my safe insulated house

I wonder at the wisdom of this progress

whether

like the man I know who

lives in the woods

gathering water by stream

keeping warm at fireplace

his rough shod life is

that much gladder

than mine, able to turn

thoughts around in my head

like blue flies

urging to be loosed

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

The woman in the moon

and we said

try with all your might

to hold yourself up in this world

should you fall, do so quietly, lest

you disturb this delicate status-quo

do not be loud, do not make a fuss

these are things only rude people do

like those who talk on phones loudly

in confined spaces

penguins with plastic attached to their beaks

yak yak yak they go

but nobody seems to tell them to

shut it

and the propriety of life

misses a stitch

a heart beat

a compassionate rinse

through the annals of time

thinking of how we have always

stifled valuable voices

in favor of noise

putting up with the yak and not

the desperate drum beat of a woman

unraveling

she has spun her loom

throughout the city and its artifices

with alacrity and the sweat of female

labor, she has borne her children and

created a field of poppies, that threaten

to dazzle the very sun

she has grown her hair long and matted, until

it is thick enough to reach the moon

where she sits

howling

at the ravages of life

permitted at last

to possess

a voice

blue black hours

you exhaust me

with your perpetual need

you who is I, I who is me

this hungering for solace

rubbed like frankincense

on pulse points

used to be said, a woman’s evocation

was found in the thread of her blood

tasting her, found, a salt and an admonishment

for knowing mystery is not permitted

you exhaust me

with your perpetual need

you who is I, I who is me

attempting free fall, finding balance in

tender pretend, the chime and rounding of days

a music without orchestra, still she sings

heal me from the want

expunge that holy desire for more

give me a reflecting glass

that I might climb through

touch my limbs as they break into fire sticks

combusting in torrent, the woman, the girl

the crone

she sits with sun on her face

careless of time

she has put aside her duty

listening instead

to the song of a bird

whose feathers remind her

of blue black hours

Absence bound in absentia

I’m fading, lover

day old bread thrown to wild birds

their wink gleaning

our false rise

lover … I’m fading

in and out

washed by time and exposure

old camera, old film

new development

the blink of an eye and we’re

gathering hats for our funeral

see, there’s a swatch within

me

wild and unfettered

the brush of red in the hedgerow

uncatchable

redolent with longing

to be more than yours

greater than this

dusty shelf

empty bed

absence bound in absentia

The rhyme of girls who skin their knees

She always knew she was a girl

by the way older women treated her

their higher standards expected

than if she were a boy

for boys … could climb trees and expose their underwear

while she was scolded and told not to be ‘a little harlot’

boys came barreling in full of spunk and fury

exhibiting their mirth with muddy feet

to ladies who smiled indulgently and patted their

ruffled heads

glancing over at her, with disapproving eyes

and a tut of the chin which said; “I hope you are not

going to track that mud into the kitchen and if you do

be prepared to clean it up. What kind of girl climbs

trees and gets herself full of dirt?

The unspoken and the spoken

those days she sought sympathy when her heart

felt like bursting

responses varying from; “maybe you didn’t ‘try hard

enough, you should apply yourself next time” to “don’t

go on about your problems so much, we all have problems

you are not the only one!” While they fretted and discussed

the poor boy whose horrible girlfriend left him

how grief stricken he was afterward, they could do nothing

it was so hard to watch

not difficult at all to watch her fall

almost amusing

almost delightful

female expectations a bar far too high

even for a gymnast

whilst boys ran beneath it

in spastic freedom

from the quiet exceptionalism of their gender

through the eyes of a woman

she learned early on

to keep her thoughts and wishes to herself

for each vulnerability would be handled roughly

turned against her like a shard of glass

piercing deep

she learned, to do for herself as the boys

were fed, dressed, coveted, admired, flattered

and grew fat and indulgent on it

rather like farm yard pigs

she grew strong in that way pain lends

a thin weed

trying to survive by the side of a busy road

filled with fumes and cars belching their poison

yet she knew if she wanted to survive

she could not walk along that road

by herself, taking short cut

through fields, because that’s where

women were raped

among thorny bushes, hands reaching out

grasping for them, hungry and snarling

she was told it was her fault if she

succumbed and her fault if she died from

fighting them off and her fault if she was

there when she shouldn’t have been

but nobody said it was their fault

or asked them to explain

why after being fed, clothed, petted and cossetted

by women

they chose

to make women their victim

no, that nobody had an answer for

maybe if they did, they would say

women did this to them, poor dears

it’s not the fault of a man! He was spoilt

and that’s a woman’s fault! She didn’t

teach him correctly, he had no choice!

And all the women who gave her

cross looks when she came in with her knees

scuffed from climbing a wall or when she ran

ungainly across the lawn and they chided her

for being ‘unladylike’

smiled at the fattened calf and said

oh my daughter would be so lucky

to marry a man like him! If only she

tried, a little harder.”