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.”

ecstasy is the iris and the onyx

Oh no

don’t

dare write it

honestly, I’m warning you

don’t do it.

Haven’t you been listening?

People (that’s the noise you hear outside your cardboard box)

don’t (that’s a definite by the way)

want . to . hear. about. you.

Frankly? They’ve had it up to here

(or even higher, if you stand on a chair, but mind you don’t tip over)

with the words of women who possess

white skin, light colored eyes, a middle class background

or something approximating (after all, the middle class are dying, they are

collapsing under the weight of holding up a false fabric and you can see

the lie of it, peaking from underneath a pretend sky, yellowed with time)

you are not

in the trenches anymore, you safe, safe feminist

you are yesterday’s news wrapping up cold fish n’ chips

we read your forebearers already (sometimes I too found them depressing and self-involved)

the ones who (drowned themselves with stones in their felt pockets)

the ones who (put their heads in the oven, miraculously keeping their stockings from running and their lipstick without a smudge

the ones who (had privilege even as they thought they were dispossessed and impoverished by the stern buckle of man)

the ones who (could get a university degree, were not turned away from being served at a restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts only last year, with #BLM on the brick wall a few streets down, what a fucking irony that was)

So until you are (a person of color on the OUTSIDE where people can decide to treat you with respect or shit on you from their delusion of superiority)

until you are (condemned, mocked, belittled, ignored, rejected, for that skin)

until you know (what it’s like to grow up without any money, security, education, safety, prospects)

we’ve heard you and we’re bored of you and we don’t want to hear anymore

click

dial tone

letter unopened

goodbye sender.

It is 2021. The worn shellac from the withering year before has

begun to buckle, we don’t know what to expect, we only know

what we can no longer tolerate, even as our ivory towers

continue to hum with the incessant, nascent buzz of egos

bathing in each other’s radiance (but they are too far away to really count)

(aren’t they?)

those left in the shadow, carrying mixed-genes in multicolor packages

drugs on the tongue, under strobes, nobody can tell where you’re from

ecstasy is the iris and the onyx

pick up their belongings and leave town for good

they are done with Pushcart trollies of people

bartering and bantering, blinkers full on

creating a better world out of the same blunt tools

we used last time to ill effect (putting people in jars, saying who is and isn’t worthy, over compensating and then rejecting those who were and now are not)

it makes them laugh and then cry, if they think on it

but they do not think on it often, they are focused instead

on walking without shoes and how, by doing so,

they feel everything

maybe even the smooth stones in Sylvia’s pocket (was it really felt? Or fur? Is fur allowed?)

as they eat their Vegan treat and rub their foreheads clean

of Athena’s damning pinprick.

Against the unknown world

They move together like quicksilver

indisipherable in pursuit

there is such a love in his eyes

her smooth hands cup his mouth

drinking the words he would gush

if they were not pressed tightly, one to the other

locked in an embrace

that gives life

quickening as signature is fluid

when she finds out, she imagines telling her daughter twenty years hence

the story of her conception;

your father and I loved you very much

we lay down by the fireplace, he took me in his arms

from this passion you were forged into life

clay breathed upon, bearing breath and soul

you were wanted, even before you chose

to fill us with yourself

my stomach grew and grew until

it was a tight drum on which to paint

the symbols of your dream

**

He moved in her, his eyes tightly shut

he thought of other women, he thought of touching himself

in the office toilet at lunch with folded magazine

and why such things happened when he had all he could ever want

here in his arms, still he betrayed with desires, ill-tuned to eternal love

when she grew fat and round he did not

wish to hold her quite so tightly, or touch her hot flushed pressing flesh

he thought of others, he got up early, and jogged his frustration into sweat

**

Don’t worry the doctor smiled, with a savage wink

as she labored and her face grew red and her hands sought his

and he wanted to run from the room and shove well fed nurse

against the wall and pour his horror of birth and future into her lipsticked sighs

don’t worry the doctor smiled, with a savage wink

i’m going to sew her up even tighter, it will be like

Christmas day when you unwrap her again

the quintisential “husband’s stitch”

and over his starched cloak and gown, the doctors grey eyebrows

went up and down and he, who was lost

lurched and threw up at the violence and the shame

of men and of women and of life and death, inequality and lust

**

then his daughter was born

fat and round and squalling loudly

if he could have interpreted those words, he felt they spoke to him a repromand

for his cowardice and his fears, imagining being a father

of growing up and settling down, of love and impossible challenges and joys

he saw his wife’s face, wet with sweat and hair plastered down

he felt more than he had ever felt, the emptiness of the past replaced

no longing to empty himself in the coldness of pornography as she slept

a lifetime from the day he first took her to bed and

stripped her of choice with impregnated seed

and now he knew

the fear of men is the strength of women

his daughter fixed him with swollen red eyes

watching him with a stearness that seemed to say

you can do this, you got this, you are not your worst thought

you can be who you want to be, you can be my father, you can love these women

you can direct our future, reshaping mountains

or fall into the arms of least resistance, worship the emptiness of hollow gestures

she seemed to be saying with her tiny fists and pursed lips

turn away from your shallow sport, take this road with us

he who once was weak, grew with love

those things that once were, no more

his resilience, their armor

against the unknown world

Equality

The day I came out … all my girlfriends took one step apart

it can’t be they collectively agreed

she’s too pretty, she’s too feminine, she’s not a dyke she’s one of us

didn’t she enjoy sex with that boy in the garden? you know that party the one where

they turned the lights on and saw them straddled in tall grass?

What happened? Did you get raped? Was it because you grew up without a mom?

What happened? Did you get bewitched? Is she a sorceress? A genie? A devil?

Soon after the invites to go out on the girls-nights

dwindled

the newly minted lesbian sat alone with her shadows and her eye make up

growing stale in their plastic boxes

virile boys wondered why they hadn’t kept her straight

cleavage girls wondered if she had looked at them in the shower the wrong way

why didn’t you try it on with me? her bi-curious mates inquired, offended

as if loving a girl was loving the entirety of the species and jumping

from trees on the first female she sees, du rigor

sparkly gay boys annoyed her with their primping and their bitching

clique gay girls alienated her with their cold eyes and their own brand of judgement

you can’t be one of us you’re too long-haired, too shiny, too voluminous

they played pool and ground the chalk into the cue with the ire of exclusive groups

who don’t want those ill-fitting and new

soon she began smoking things in glass tubes because

only the druggies the desperate and the dead would let

her be

and on occasion when she was really crushed into ice and fire she’d try to cure herself

with someone unknown and faceless, grinding down with fervor and lust

neither of which she ever felt

like a poison the awakening was not Kate Chopin but

a black box with no lock and no key and still no way out

her family said …  well we always knew you were obtuse

liked to stand out, be different, not fit in, it started with

left-handedness in the cot

we just hope you won’t try to give us grandchildren

think of the shame, think of their difficult lives and step away

she didn’t even have love so how was she going to fill her womb?

at a club a gay man pushed her against a greasy wall and said

there’s something molten about you girl, you’re not gay you’re a hot bitch

and his erection pressed into her dress like a knife

you’re not supposed to want me, she whispered as he pushed harder

you like boys not girls

boys will like anything given a chance, he replied, staining her with ammonia and denial

walking home one night a homeless man grabs her from the bushes

holding a blade to her neck he tries to impregnate her

she thinks

careful what you wish for

as the slice of him burns her empty

the officer at the hospital while they gather the rape kit

all the swabs like brushes with unwilling paint

told her; try wearing pants not skirts

you’re too beautiful it is like a flower

the bees will come if you let them

and she wondered, how is walking down the street permission?

well it’s your life style you see, it causes problems

how would anyone choose a life style of alienation?

you’re good-looking enough to get a lawyer, he winks

before leaving her naked beneath paper gown

blood on her thighs, horror in her throat

to consider and condemn

herself

this is the life line of a girl who wasn’t linear

or bold or normal

or able to run with the swarm

she almost

tried to set herself on fire

to become one of those paper lanterns

lifting off the water into inky night

there were no hands to press her back to earth

they had been crossed and turned away

she didn’t fit into what they expected

what they needed her to be

were it not for you

with your wings and your fearlessness

on the day you told her

it’s okay not to be a stereotype

not every heterosexual woman will treat you like

you’re going to molest her

nor every straight man try to

put his hands beneath your panties

not every gay woman will

scorn your existence and push you to the corner

nor every queer boy loathe you

for being prettier than he

there are among us you said

people without definition or binary

who exist on the periphery of distinction

and we

will not

let you down

she wished she could tell

the pretty girl she tried to befriend who

always treated her different because she thought

you want me don’t you? you desperate lesbian

if you think you are free of bias and you believe yourself unjudging

stop and think about what you do unconsciously

with every favor to others over me, reminding

I have less worth

that is what happens without words without governance

the mistreatment almost invisible

like a paper cut

hurting more than it should

for the side-ways slice of discrimination is

often deeply sewn

wake up

wake up

she could be

your daughter

your best friend

careful how you step on this earth

without much you can

crush the fragile who only need

your equality

And burn their house down

938185112_tp

Her legs were her best feature

so they told her

pinching her bum as she climbed shag carpeted stairs

hauling more baggage than they’d ever have

oh and your throat of course

chuckle, chuckle isn’t that funny?

deep throat, get it?

no … not really

too polite to declare (curtsy)

but what if you did? Respond as you would if

truth led you by the mouth, clip, clop

neigh brey shake your tail paw the ground with hoof

sore and gaping and verbose in mauve and yellow

like a gypsy sacked from her tent

runs like a red brand through black and white trees

will she end up raped by the side of the road?

eventually selling herself by the truck-load

with eyes glazed over from too many mouthfuls

there’s only so much you can take

a tipping point lives inside everyone

like a secret metronome

ticking away, ticking down, ticking sideways, an itch never relieved

until earth and sod and mud and weeds land heavy and wet

on wood (four coffin bearers, bow their heads)

she hears them making a fuss downstairs

(the sound track is The Moody Blues)

who will go first?

me! first is best! the little one says

he’s got a big mouth that one and a small …

well no surprise there (audience laugh)

yeah but you can warm her up for me!

the one who enjoys pain reveals

when do I get a turn? says the last one

who is always too fast too soon too distracted to …

see her staring at the ceiling counting down

tick toc tick toc goes her life blood

here the vein here the slice here the fall

blue is the marigold dipped in the ocean

why does she bled so? When did she stop being closed?

She was never really shut, she was open all hours

flung wide by the longing of the sky to see her enact a star

spread white and glowing she longed for black skies to swallow whole

every last molecule

there’s blood in the bathroom! they all cry (exit stage left)

where could she have gone?

how did she survive the loss of so much blood? The little one said

roll over roll over so they all rolled over and one fell out

there were two in the bed and the next one said …

you see her now

she’s that motion in the corner of your eye, a cataract in full bloom

dropping by the highway like a midnight flower

speeding cars track her fade but they cannot see for their faces are made

of metal and plastic and rubber and gasoline

and she is made of earth

and she is gone to earth

and she is in the earth

away from the three little pigs

who kindle themselves into a fury

and burn their house

down though it is made

of brick

Take the high road

piedpiperI was a child once

perhaps we played together

were you the friend I helped climb the pear tree?

were you the friend who said jump over the puddle and we both missed and came home all muddy in time for trouble?

were you the one who got to the top of the hay bale first and said ‘I can see all the world’ from here and in that moment we really thought we could

or did you grow up in a nice apartment on the Upper East Side, sent to the best schools and expected to do well

which you did in that idle and coveted way of those who have purchase of a velvet lining

did you ever wonder what it was like for the rest?

did you ever wonder why so many famous people are the children of?

did you ever stop and question if ‘life is what you make it’ still stands true?

did you drink dirty water like the kids in Flint?

did you get poisoned by copper like the babies of El Paso?

if you went to a demonstration did you go so you could make change or to show off your $400 Free People outfit?

when you got your first job was it from hard-graft or the friends of your parents?

I went to university with you, I was the one who had a bicycle whilst you drove a Jeep

I wasn’t jealous except when I was hungry and that suited me because I couldn’t afford to grow

when you sat like King on your throne and your acolytes bowed, you crowned yourself head of our year and published the first zine

did it reflect truth or the diamond shanty of your ideals?

good for you that you had a pretty life and long vacations

many of us worked for a living and got up at 5am to empty kitchen tables

parents who stared through the rain at yet another long day

ground down by platitudes that didn’t apply

I’m not bitter it’s just that when we sit in the same room and you tell me

‘I’m sure you can understand Candy, as an owner of a small printing press I have to make ends meet’

I can’t help thinking how fake things that are meant to be real are becoming

we lost art to the debutante, we gave away our souls for front covers with dazzling lies

we have an election that denies the people and computers who act like surrogates

jobs if you’re in China and expensive degrees that promise nothing but loan re-payments

it is said there is no better time than now, and the past was harder when ancestors danced in death in ditches and were blown up

it is said there is no better time than now, we are the proverbial fatted calf, glutted on luxury, we don’t know how bad it used to be

for our grandparents who broke their backs and discolored their lungs in coal pits and the basements of rich homes

back in time we didn’t have flat screen TV and cell phones and fancy jeans but it’s swings-and-roundabouts

now we’re in time where not being online 24/7 can lose your job to someone who didn’t mind being beholden

we had vacations whilst now everyone’s too afraid to be out of the office and checks their cell phones at the dinner table on Sunday’s

where is our sense of self? Did we buy into the belief we are free and rich because we were told that by a meme or nodding head?

did we forget what George Orwell or Rachel Carson said?

Because when we’re young we think we have it all if we have sex and firm thighs and the right to protest

but what good is protest if nothing ever changes? ask the pipe lines who cut through our country if they have heard us yet?

or the profits garnered to keep the 99 percent out of the front lawn

but oh wasn’t it always that way?

sure I read Dickens too and the Little Matchstick Girl

poverty isn’t a modern-dilemma

however maybe apathy and delusion is

wasn’t Marx talking about that when he mentioned Opiates?

we don’t need to take our Big Pharma pills to know

cancer comes with a price tag and you’d better not be poor

the cost of ‘getting well’ is only one part, the other is the creation of the disease

ask the petrochemical industries, do they let their kids inhale or eat that?

does anyone think of the future? Or should we change what Marie Antoinette said to

let them eat lead

what does it say when you’re glad you don’t have kids to inherit these times?

I wanted to write poems and get published and you owned the rights like you always had

glutted and fat on your marble pyramid

you look at people like me, like the street cleaner regards bird shit

something it takes some elbow grease to clean and even then

the outline will mark the pretty pavement where you wanted to hold

your procession proclaiming the world is good and just

I suppose I didn’t fit in with that then and I don’t now

this world is made of dust and sweat, we toil even when we think we are not

against haters, against cruelty, against disregard, apathy and the unexpected

sometimes I think we got it very wrong when we called these Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin may have had a point there

as many who are gone now did, we’re in another incarnation of delusion

hurry up children take your medicine, sip, sip !

so …  I won’t win a trophy or even get my name recalled when I’m gone

and that’s okay with me God

I just want enough to live on and to be unmolested by those who seek to tear down

an honest heart or a man who prizes integrity above fitting in

lest we follow a prophet who says he’s the one, and all fall off the cliff

did we ever figure out if the Pied Piper was evil?

down we go

you cannot find truth looking into empty crystal

you find it by noticing the hypocrisy and stepping out of the casting coach

it will be a harder road they always said

but a high road is preferable to one paved in gold

Off kilter

30853828_1_lSociety told the woman

at 50 you cannot wear jeans

nobody wants to see your saddle bags

you should either get yourself stretched

or hide in a sack

they call it “Laganlook” but the truth is

men over a certain age ignore women of the same

culture makes invisible an entire swath

sure, 70-year-old males can re-make action movies

their wobbling muscles and toupee jolting

nobody wants to believe a woman over 50

desirable nay formidable other than as matron

or crone

that’s how it was

they said the female poets over 50 were lost

for all the ones known

many more forgotten and wind tossed

society stuck on youth

like a tick feeding off

some kind of strange timer

stuck on the first 25

but if you stand by the fire long enough

you will not stay warm you will burn

when it comes your turn

to eclipse o’er the hill

what will you have created to sustain you?