Two opposite ends of the same breakage

I a child

asked her, an adult

what does it take? To be merciful?

How much effort? Will it hurt much? Why

doesn’t the whole world

try?

And she, an adult

fiddling with her rings, two on each finger,

because she had run out of places

to exhibit her finery, her sophistication,

she, thought of where she would go

when she left our run-down, poky house

and did not return for supper

and what she would do

when she wasn’t weighed down

with runny nosed children and yellowed aprons.

She, who has the mind of three bright men

and a heart that did not really hold space

for people who could not spell, or those who were

slow, ones who did not impress, their light not bright

but stuck in amber, she said naught,

for she liked fine things

over much

and that did not include

wellington boots and children’s well played with toys

dragged through muddy pathway, leading to small houses

where there is life, oh laughing, gainful life, but raw with

the knuckles of everyday, up to their elbows in greese

and the machinations of surviving.

I, a child

asked her, an adult

what does it take? To be merciful?

watching the baby bird, turn to bone and feather

beneath the great conker tree, its crimson roots

like great yawns beneath moss, reaching through

heavy clouds with the hands of imploring worship

and life

so harsh and unwilling, to include ‘fairness’

would steal away humanities belief in kind deeds with its

brutal parsing

which is why , my grandmother, sitting on our stoop, paring apples,

with a sharp knife inherited from her father

told me once

(and she could never spell, for she left

school early to work in poorly paid factories

only once managing to get through

The Communist Manifesto).

Child, we must be good, we must be kind.

For nothing else knows how to be, they simply

act upon their instinct to survive. Like

the lambing season, when a new lamb is

born and the mother dies, we turn our eyes

heavenward but there is no tenderness, only

the brutal knot of nature, felling her herd

till balance is restored. Our human hearts

with our aching over suffering, fit poorly

with the callous hand of nature, she must

cull with her sythe irrespective of who deservse,

there is no mercy as we know it, in this

whittling of life. Only those who survive

and those who do not, dying in bleached

bones by the thoroughfare of our journey.

I thought then of you, with your

fine clothes and your well trained mind

and empty rooms filled with piano playing ghosts

how you were

much like the nature I saw around me

beautiful, wild, out for your own gain,

surviving at any cost

and I

the strange flux of humanity and terror

seeking to be merciful

among the debris of our eternal battle

with light and dark.

I knew then, why you despised me

why I loved you

it is like the fable of the scorpion and the frog

it is your nature

to sink deep into the foaming earth

showing only your glacial tip

as it is mine

to seek mercy, in unyielding hearts,

two opposite ends of the same breakage.

If we always run from being stung, in Summertime

sometimes we miss out on dawn

thus we must permit

the risk to gain, a possible reward

high in silvering trees

where the sleepy bears

hide their honey.

Thrive

For some

Can inhabit and thrive without the dark

I am not one

It is my wont to roam

Feel the tickling urge of excitement

Trained out of obedience, dark crystal inside maze

Blister unused tongue on your soft edges as we blaze

However old I grow, the longing unquenched, as linen will wrinkle in the instant of wearing

a woman holding herself in cupped hand as she turns in twilight

To brave the sultry lights, bangled, hennaed arms above my head

Sate the drums pounding in my chest, find trance in your musk

Lie in perfumed beds with long female limbs

Some would say it’s hedonism

Others simply wouldn’t understand

Why a 9/5 existence I cannot swallow whole

Surely there are prices to be paid

A reckoning when the time comes

I’ve seen it in all children of the night

When their fast urgency catches up with them

Such terrors I do more desire, than you

So harness me, make me obey your rule

For nothing I do stops the scald

Consumes my sanity and sets me running

Toward music and the gloom of the periphery

Where we who are cursed must sup, to sate longing

Our blood is not content with daily ritual

We live close to death, in the fury of passion

Short our lives be, they are magnificent

Relics of a time before without constraint

Wild and thirsting for motion we spun the world

Off its bloodied axis

The sum of us

Good Girls don’t write about sex

Overtly

They disguise their want in paralipsis

And allegory

Hoping the one they wrote it for

Reads in between watery lines

Just as we think we know and we don’t know

How to play a violin to life

What specific string to rub dulce, with bow and how?

To produce the exact sound

Of heaven

For we rely on machines purchased

In stores that wrap them in paper and

Blush behind their make-up

To soften the blow of loneliness

They even offer them in pink with ears.

I decided long ago to

Forgo batteries and think of you instead

With my flesh and my bones

Nothing more but those images in my head

Of you lying back unclothed

Ready for feasting

I’m long past apologizing

For my need at midday to think

About sex

Women do it too

Maybe not in the office bathroom with a magazine

Or tiny screen zooming in

But quieter, and softer, lying in the bath

Lights out, candles giving off waxy

Myth

The world is changed outside and we

No longer obey fluorescent lights

I dim ours and the moon in turn

Shies from long curtains

In dusk I see the curves of you

Reminding me, as if I needed reminder

Of why I think of you all the long day

And how and in what ways

For I don’t believe there will be a time

I’ll stop boiling my blood in imagining

And the moment we come together

Is ever more for waiting

It seems at times I wait, more than I actually find

Perhaps the rejoinder of fantasy is

We can inhabit it more, than what lies real

Yet as you undress, I know

Nothing I can conjure up, can compete

With the real feel of your skin against mine

The human touch of our hands enjoined

I may be called creative, but I could never

Describe those pleasured hours well

We are it seems, beyond all living illustration

For beauty when it is actual

Is not the plastic doll on the shelf

Nor her vibrating friend, who promises

To get you off so easily.

Some things are worth waiting for

Some people are necessary, chasing eternal

For even one night with you, would suffice

Against a hundred with someone else

I cannot replace what you do to my heart

Every time I see you turn a corner

And smile that crooked smile of yours

Eyes glinting, a little cocked half walk, half run

We meet in our dreams

We stay together when apart

It is the sum of us

We add up

Even as everything else

Does not

Letter to a dead friend at 5am

Natalie my friend.

Because you are you know. A real friend.

Though you lie beneath your roses now and I

feel as if I lie beneath them, with you.

For I am not as alive, once, twice, three times

as you ever were

you, who were beloved in life, you, who passed too soon, too well

into the light, beyond to your garden

where those who loved you and there were many

sat cross-legged waiting for you to tell a story

make us laugh, make us smile, radiate with your old world charm

for you were one of the last ones, the best generation

reminding me of my grandmother, those fine ladies of yester year

who did not have our mistakes and our errors, the Booming Boomers, befuddled Gen X kids, lost Millennial’s who

never quite learned, how to wake up early and brush their hair, until

it gleamed.

I keep your photo, I retain your last message to me, I have a quote on my

desk you wrote

and mindful always, you told me; Listen, don’t give a shit

don’t!

People will hate you, especially if you are good

it’s the way of the world, you told me, smell the roses, don’t give a damn

and don’t forget to swear copiously …

I have forgotten many things, my rule book is sabotaged, I keep making

the same mistakes, *stop it!* (say nothing, it’s safer!) I blunder as if I were a child sometimes, unsure

of the etiquette, not able to read minds and plunge my hands into

the mass of wriggling thought, to harness something tangible

I never understood humans ever so well (why are they so cold?)

their mascinations, their secret selves, it were as if being

an only-child I watched from the outside with bemusement

(or horror) (or incomprehension) why do they survive without needing

something? Someone? More than ego? Self-satisfaction? What

urges them to action? If not something meaningful?

One minute they would be saying, they loved me and the next

turning a cold shoulder, the variations, the deceptions, the quiet

subtext I did not relate to, what ever did they mean when

they went silent and I dropped like a dying star (autism is

more honest than what we deem normal, i’m certain)

out of their orbit? How to tell? What to care about? (I am

afraid of not mattering to anyone, and everything I do being futile, I don’t

want to go my entire life as lonely as now, with that hollow

fear inside my mouth, unable to come out, lodged deep

like a burrowing moth will press itself like unbidden velvet).

Natalie – – you said; Child, don’t care so much

for nobody cares as much as they say they do

unless God is watching and even then, they would be loved

without putting forth effort, they would have worship without

knowing the feel of ground skinned beneath their knees

few will truly care, this idea you will have a devotional

following, is only for the wicked and the vain, if you are lucky

I mean — really lucky

you may have friends you can count on one hand

who truly, when the chips are down, and before dawn has come

will turn to you and rise you up

from sickness, in health, in death, who will come and pay their respects?

I recall your funeral, how we passed down the long line

many were your contemporaries, women you said used to

criticize you for swearing overly, even accused you of making it up

about your mother, (surely her life wasn’t that hard!) but that’s why I love you, you said

for you believed me straight away and with the innocence

of children we came together, I had my first seventy year old friend

staying long at the coffin, flowers on top, clouds filled with rain as

if God were waiting until we passed, to let loose his tears

I didn’t believe in God, as you did, I did believe in you and you

were faithful and hypocritical like the best of us

a flawed, imperfect, relic of a human being with

magnificent hair and a dirty laugh.

I should have come visit more often, I said,

as we all say when someone meets their grave and the

smell of dirt is in our nostrils, time being as it is, so fickle

and short, and we, who are still young, think we are far

from this hour, not so far, not so far.

You told me, listen, forget what you’ve learned about

piety and mortality, people are beasts, the world is cruel

but if you can find someone who loves you, then hold on

for dear life, and do your best to help them through

for there is nothing sadder than loneliness in a room

full of people and there is nothing better than one hand

reaching for you in a crowd

pulling you out

into fresh air, where if we were the same age

I suspect I would have stood up to those who bullied you in

your thirties and told your mother to go hang when she

said she found you a disappointment

I know how that feels Natalie, we shared the same stories

forty years apart, when you were born I was not

still feel I am not, I miss you because

you were a riddle in a lesson in a riddle in a lesson and I

don’t meet people like you very often, nor have I in a long while

stood in your garden and smelt the roses, they bloom just

before the light you said, just before it begins to dawn and

that is when I would most like to close my eyes for the last time

and sleep forever.

On that day you died, I watched out of my window

for surely there would be a sign, something of you

gathering into the ether, if I took my glasses off and squinted

maybe I could see in the unyielding darkness a little of what

you spoke about, that stirring of Gods and tempests and

humans lost on their own gloat, people who exist without

giving a damn about, each other, or the basics of care, I never

understood, even if I were well versed as you, on parents who

didn’t really want (me) (us) (you) (I) (anything).

Last night I dreamed of going braless to the store and seeing

an old lover who stared at my chest the entire time, I dreamed

of boarding a plane with nobody on it, except waving oxygen masks

I dreamed of you and I dreamed of my mother

in the dream of you, you were walking through the rose

bushes and in time you were out of sight, and music I liked was

playing through an open window and I saw you take flight

and soon you were high in the sky and my eyes could no

longer follow your trajectory and I thought – – maybe I should

let go, but I don’t want to, I never have wanted to, I can’t

it isn’t in me to let go – – – (God I wish it were!) and the dream was about my mother

and she had always been gone and wasn’t there and

I was (holding her hair brush)

and I was (stepping into a lake)

and I was (still)

left behind to take these memories of people and sustain them

as if a bomb had obliterated everything but my recollection

be it real or wrong or scattered like pollen, I don’t know

I don’t know what to do Natalie, to be loved? Be glad of shrugging

them all and living in a cabin in the woods? Or to matter, to

be of consequence, like I felt with you. Was it because you were

old or just kind or just hurt or just battered by your own mother who

you said told you she had wished she had

a boy and not a girl and not you and not you and not you.

Why do the good ones die? Why will one day I watch them

throw flowers for my mother and long then, to have had her

tightly woven around me like clay

but untouchable is untouchable and yearning is for children

(she won’t have a funeral anyway, she doesn’t believe in God

either, and she won’t invite you, no she won’t invite you least of

all to a wake without a wake).

So grow up and put your shoes on child, your feet will get muddy if

you continue to walk bare foot when it rains and the thorns

will always sting even if you are pricked countless times

there is a sharp edge to beauty you said, did you know, I was once beautiful?

I know I replied, I can tell, you still are, because a woman with

wrinkles like ships on her cheeks can smile just once and

a room is devoured by her radiance

if others can’t see that, it’s all right

I think of you now, and then and in the future

alongside my day as I work beneath the fan, it is still hot

in September, yes you said, it always was in bloody infernal Texas.

People remain alive in our memories or they are forgotten

as I am, before they die

it’s all about how much they exist and what magical

recipe keeps them real and how much glue they possess

and whether they hold on, out of sheer bloody mindedness

or just for the hell of it

or perhaps they swear a lot and eat three over-easy eggs for breakfast

when the sun rises and the day is golden

and we begin over

like fools

like humans

like lovers of people who are warm and good

Natalie, like you.

just out of reach

Even as I tie my shoes,

the distraction in my chest feels like you

has your taste on my lips, wetted with

unspoken remonstration

time can pass so fast, until years are bundled into telegraphs

yellowing with their swollen journey

still so few stand out, make themselves remarkable

just by their bloodied being

those who shine, one in a thousand, more, tops of heads

in a crowd, who gets the crown?

With everyone chiming for attention, I give it to you

even as you do not ask , such is my cinema of devotion

watching the replay in my mind, every turn

lifted wrists, precious movement, chiseled in memory

if you asked me I’d know exactly how you felt

even without touching, the xylophone of your small ribs

for I have spent hours sculpting your shape

these silhouettes and textures known by one

who watches ever observant, silent in her study of years

the first time, then now

landscapes apart, still, as if time has

claimed you a piece of her, nobody else

has a part, they are forgotten on periphery

ordinary to your owning

as long as I continue not to speak aloud

I can pretend it’s real

observing you, as you might a

longed for thing, just out

of reach

blinded to all else

a rapture without

name

Don’t go home tonight

Don’t go home tonight

don’t leave this warm circle we built with our skin and bones

I killed an ant earlier and I felt badly

as I had watched it climb up a book and grab on to a little morsel

it has always made me feel remorseful for killing even the smallest creature

I don’t eat flesh for that reason

aside, you, I eat you, feast upon, alive and laughing your deep throated mirth

it never occurred to me one day I would have in my arms

the vibrating surround of a whole woman

the majesty of her glory, how she shifts like light

from somber to ejubilent in the fracture of a moment

women are not easy creatures, to tame a little, or keep satisfied

their minds, their bodies, are compartments of mystery

open the same drawer twice, out comes a different response

I will never understand or fathom, your maze of contradictions

that may be half the pleasure, for we who are simple clay

love the complexity and madness that is your fire

your dimpled skin and reddened throat leaning backward to my entreaty

the sounds you make, when I bring you close

a high keening like joy is just out of focus, a mayfly touching surface

I hold those memories inside me like water

crossing the empty desert of a day without you

night comes and goes as fast as pleasure

resisting my petition to remain static and eternal

if it would just slow and stay, I’d render you speechless in slow movement

the stirring of cream into coffee, languorous and ancient in ritual

until you flung yourself back into enervated ocean

where together we met beneath water and the whole world

was lit from beneath us

my love, asseyez-vous à côté de moi. faire battre mon cœur

stay

stay with me tonight

let us both be lulled into believing

morning does not need to dawn

The night I went out without shoes on

Wasn’t it a miracle?

Neither of us died trying to get to the meeting place

all the lights in the world seemed out that night

I had only known how to drive a few months

you were an old hat who routinely broke laws

with bottles wedged between your legs, a

cigarette burning ash down your fingers

there had always been a desire in me

for brokenness, as if I recognized in those

souls, something in myself

or a freedom in people who abandoned ettiquette

and discarding it, became suddenly free

I liked the wild, I liked women with untamed eyes

and dirty minds

the moon was full that night and we watched owls

gather themselves in flight and swoop

cloudy restaurant lights flickering in and out on the side

of the empty high way

I had watched films about a life like this

I said to you, films like Gas Food Lodgings or Paris Texas

where the greatest landscape was the tarmac

and the wide abundant merciless sky

where people sheltered in shadow and night creatures

crawled unseen and women met by closed restaurants

the flicker of their 24 hour advertising, sizzling against blackness

you were strange looking as if you had

deliberately tried to destroy yourself and I

forgot to wear shoes, my feet hot against still baked

soil, biting fiends flying in humid air, thick with ‘unspoken

entreaties

I wanted you to slam me there and then against

the unresisting brake of my car

leaving a bruise the size of texas clouds

I wanted to break apart like rocks with gem stones

inside, find something in both of us

bigger than the sky, deeper than weary darkness

but I was too young then and fear wrapped herself

like a blanket of stars and pulled me back

into the world, into doing what is right, into being careful

and sitting up straight when you eat at the table

all these years later, I still think

if we had set the car on automatic and just ridden

away

down that empty highway, into hushed, blooming night

we might have found the part of us

still lacking

every day we wake up

wash our face, comb our hair

and look too long in the mirror

searching for the lost parts

of our dark dreams

Stand in radiance

I think of you as I might

the collected soil outline of a beloved plant, died in Wintered frost

slow the creep toward perish, I hold back, I do not want to enter that room

with its antiseptic smell, lolling tongues of linoleum stretching like vast desert

here nothing thrives

not you, in your beige iron bed with metallic purr of machines overhead

nor the sucking out of sight sound of life being apportioned and gentle knock and brush of clutter off stage

I have learned to manage my desires, like labeled things put away and forgotten

they seem inconsequential in the gravity of this moment, elongated into a maw, disabusing itself in perpetuate howl

the green eyed girl who sat astride you devouring your skin with the hunger of the famished, is just a filament of memory, drowsy with being taken out and examined many times

what is real feels false, we fall apart with rules, we are well behaved in chaos

as rain falls, drowning response, we are free briefly, to call for Gods who are sleeping against their fatigue of us

I look down at my fingers entwined in memory, carving the halls of you with journeys taken to your very core

wish I could write like a girl who didn’t need to rinse her eyes of salt and her mouth of violence

there are no mirages in this sterile land, only the abundant hygiene of fear, roasting itself on impotence

here even you, are forgotten to yourself. I wonder if you recall how we were or if

this eclipsed reality, so suffocating and tightly arranged, is your only memory

occasionally I want to do something vulgar and wrong, to break the dreadful count-down

call an old lover, meet them in the broom closet for some rearranging of clothes, we don’t know how to handle things, so we explode quietly inside ourselves

just to feel I am not plummeting alongside you

faithless for sure, my brand of lusting for life and wellness, anything but encroaching perishment, we fear dying even as we seek it

apparently I am not alone in this

strangers will swap bodily fluids in desperate snatching, on top of folded doctors overalls. That strange, nameless brand of green we all loathe

I was a false girl before we met, learning to reign in her impulses against a backdrop of damage
thriving under the rental of youth with no care for those far-off dates waiting in distant wings

life was already its own brand of unbearable, it felt yet, too searing to imagine decrepitude or bad luck

instead, thrive on the daydream, liquor up the inside of your nightmares and send them galloping and sweaty into the abyss

rest in the drowsy arms of indifference, for everyone wants something and nothing is as it seems

stop caring

until blinded or crippled, you crawl to your date with the inevitable

hearing your ancestors crow their dissatisfaction at your cliched rejection of fate

compassion doesn’t cost, but as I stare at the vacancy in your eyes I know

i’d say yes to the proffered ease of escape

yes to anonymous lovers and things to someday regret

but not now whilst we stand under the radiance

when life still reigns and I know how to squeeze from it, that ounce of pleasure

not hedonist but survivor. Some survive in the calm shallows

I want to wade waist deep in warm water, feel your touch bringing me back to life

not forget what it was to circle the varied heavens and their demands

nor the feeling of my heart in my throat, birthing color and chaos in equal order

I imagine you as you were, impossibly alive, bright in ways that hurt my eyes

our dance around the mandala of us, ever decreasing, unawares of our own diminishment

your last words lingering in pre-storm humid air, like fruit left a little long in sun

sticky and soft we meld together and break apart with the astringent sting of broken clay

turning again to earth, as if it had never, not once, not even in dream

held water.

Outcome

lungs of hte worldShe came into town

breathless with excitement

they were dying around her

but she wanted to go for coffee

to get her nails done, her hair, wax the city

burn the little temples of obedience

she didn’t think a swath of fabric

let alone standing apart like courting

birds

could slow the spread of something

fictional

she was young, though not as young as others thought

Botox took care of that

and a little filler

her heart was set on

kicking up her heals and the virus

was just a news cycle

nothing to take seriously.

Waking in hospital she

momentarily forgot to

smooth her hair down until

she felt her fingers brittle and cracked

her beautiful face marred with fever

“at least I survived” she smiled

with yellowed teeth, hot with flux

half joking at the scared nurse who

was working her second double shift.

They decided not to tell her yet

until she was out of danger, if indeed she ever

was

that her father, mother and little sister

were not going

to wake up again

and join in her

merriment.

The true price of things

underwater photography of woman
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

The pool reflects deep with shallows, an opaque pearl

she has always been beautiful, even now, even then,

she dives without concern, because, what else can happen?

When people die, that’s how you feel, invulnerable in the face

of dreads previously unimagined

and also, terribly, terribly aware of pain.

Some hide the rest of their lives, others drive fast cars at night

not wearing their glasses

she is one of those who stands somewhere in-between

the grief of injury lies heavy on her dark shoulders

still, she plunges into water, imagining other realities

one where she never knew horror and horror never knew her

where babies were born perfect and whole

husbands did not get crushed in half and

soured settlements buys them luxury

they’d trade it all in, to have him whole

less angry, more able to be, swimming underwater with her.

not lost, broken even after healing, crushed despite being repaired

holding the welt of injury in his throat like a choking bird.

She has moved on from who she was

ten years ago in Africa

under the sun, hiding from herself, hiding from kaleidoscopic future

it has come, blooming wild and spreading its green fingers

into her oval mouth

she has no time for passion anymore

she has no patience for imagination

she can only swim

cutting through the reluctant weight of water

like a blunt knife will eventually carve

the true price of things.

 

for Em.