For Paul

016_imogen-cunningham_theredlistIn the other place of keeping

afterward when door is softly closed

and light extinguished

where flowers bloom without need of sun

perfuming air with unseen stamen

at last you are unburdened, free of torment

we sit at oiled wood table

eating buttered toast with fingertips

you tell me of  real things

that time you fell into a river as

you reached for tires swinging overhead

just one more inch and you’d have been saved

from submerging with oily fish

and yet you say, it taught you

the value of sinking and how quiet

beneath the world can be

where creatures with opaque eyes glide past

watching you try to breathe

they called it a near drowning

you claimed second-sight

we shuffle our checkers, mindful

it’s your turn to win tonight

 

for Paul

you were a brother of sorts

sprinting ahead of jostling crowd

lean and bronzed by effort

your heart a flutter of machination

once you said, now I am old

and I laughed and reminded you

there’s so much time left

except you knew

and I did not

time can collapse upon itself

just as it begins so it can end

all the days we spent waiting for the next

better to live now and climb

that tree to sling rope and dangle seat

children long after us

will come to the river and watch

each others fear and then wonder

jumping into the void

and as you are gone

I clear away the plates and ready for the next day

not sure it will be free of rain

I hear you outside among the trees

you are laughing at me

for my fear of things I cannot know

remember, you say, it’s not about control

it’s about having the courage to try

I watch you walk toward the river

you are straight and lean again

no scars, no pain cross your way

I want to go with you but you have told me

it is not yet time

we’ll play again, be patient

master this moment

live now in the warm rush of water

watching overhead

moving clouds turning from blue to white

and then to grey

 

For Paul. You counted, and you mattered.

 

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Shards

dscn1772-2There is an edge

ever-changing, indescribable

and as you turn your shoulder

thinking the sun has only burnt

one side

the other is latticed

in marks of your exposure

as things of darkness will crawl

deep inside you like a well without end

and build with whitened fingers

their hungry descent

until you are changed

even as you taste the salt of your tears

staining your face like damage

blackening light into rotten parts

tearing your wings to pieces

it’s been so long you forgot

once you were able to climb

high into sky and feel something

unknown now like a lover

who has turned to enemy and stranger

instead without warning

the edge presents itself

in terrible hour like a sharp knife

one moment you are clinking glasses

smiling into the camera

and others remark

goodness she’s aged well

look how happy she looks

the next you are ripping the lies

from your arms, all that glitters

tearing into shreds artifice

tying together knots in hope

they can end

the sudden terror inhabiting you

always cruelest when it shows

just as you believe you might

have escaped

yoking you back

get on your knees

here you are, here you are

your toes grip the edge

you see the emptiness below

much like what lies inside

untethered, unnamed

for who can put a word

to terror? to hopelessness?

who can place a finger on the place

the rot set in and began

to devour the person you once were?

leaving a scarecrow

others do not see inside

the stuffing ready to ignite

they only see the perfect smile

accoutrements without truth

glittering like shards of glass

scattered in the night

Presque vu

MSDMAOF EC057A noise disturbed deep night

rinsing slumbering cloak of peace

in my wake I almost see

the outline of you beckoning

come out to the moon

you sign

dancing in peals

incomplete and ethereal

with crooked smile

turning your feet across

the epiphany of carpet

checkered in fistfuls of

left over dream

where

what you think you see

is uncertain and irregular

touching magic between

there and here

as time can lisp

and places exist

that are not with day

fully real

Stillborn

thFrom Germany to Australia your parents fled

the brush of taint

your mother a beauty

your father with only enough room in his heart

for singular devotion

when she died, cut down by trolley car in front of you

aged six, catching the splatter of her broken skull

he took you into his bed to make up for her absence

you grew wan on divulgence of sin

til neighbors found out and your doors were broken

three men in uniform standing around the bed

get out they said

the smear of their inferred condemnation thick in your ears

like river mud swallowing you up among grubs and slugs

who blames a child for her abuse?

those who know nothing of truth, shining their finery with glass

you walked the line all the way to a foster home with metal teeth

thrown out at 17 for falling in love and shaming their Baptist ideals

as you and he prepared to marry he rode his bike in the night to pick up

his mother’s narrow ring

skidding on freak ice on the way back his head caved in like an exploding star

you stood at the altar alone waiting

impatient clock showing

he will not attend

afterward with nothing, there was no reason to stay

someone said like they do before you pass 20

let’s go to India

so you packed up your emptiness, put your leather sandals on

high in the Himalayas you caught the fever and nuns with tight wrapped mouths

whirled with lines and decay

nursed you as you slipped in and out of consciousness

liquid and sorrow pouring from you in bucket loads

a miracle! they announced when clawed your way back

what did you have to live for? being the whispered irony

and there, in the desolation of knowing nothing you walked

kept on walking until your feet blistered and your soul took flight

in the low hanging mangrove trees

where at night the shadows looked like an epiphany and you decided

I will return to my native land, the one of my ancestors

you wrote a distant aunt, she replied; come to the black forest we have

mud that will cleanse you of your sorrow and broad-shouldered men

Germany with its fairy tale castles and starched people rolling their own

you clambered over your wreckage, beginning again as only the young can

a flutist falling in love with your dark eyes and shiny thick Germanic hair

a marriage led to loneliness, he toured, you waited, touching his absence

with lightest fingertip

until it seemed being without him, would fill you more than staying put

traveling to Greece alone, you burned and burned and burned

turning yourself into oak

a waiter slept in your bed and kept you cool

against the battering murmur of sea tapping at french windows

life grew inside of you

when you took your first real job in London’s garish metropolis

heaving with anticipation and empty suitcases of hope

your daughter gave you the first peace you ever knew

a perfect child with a little mouth and large eyes

your Greek baby she lay in the curve of your hips smiling

and you breathed, deeply, and slow

like a long traveled bird finds purchase and easement

on empty shore

she, with her little tiny fingers and little feet

died of crib death just as

a match can be blown out never to

be re-lit

feeling like she hadn’t existed and she couldn’t be gone

here was your second decade of sorrow

etched between your fine eyes and deep clavicle

WHY? was not a word you used

absent of all

living only because your chest deemed it necessary to rise and fall

in time to your still-born ache framed

in reluctant silver requiring continual polish

you wanted to hurl yourself out of existence

yet you flourished as if life had said

we have taken and now we nourish

you grew successful, wealthy, every night you tucked yourself up

alone in a singletons bed

until the smell of the sea on the shores of Australia called you

it’s been eighteen years and it’s time

to come home

passing over Sydney Opera House you saw

the curve of sky and water meet

something within you released

he seemed to be waiting in the first corner you turned

as if always there, just ready to reveal

his promise to stay

with time they say pain subsides

which you know isn’t quite true

though love can keep together broken halves

by its stubborn hold on people who

would otherwise fracture and become

light on water skimming surface

it was not fair,  it was not right

now you are back in your homeland where

you began and will draw to a close

I hope

with the knowledge that even lives

built on pyres can hold

depths we release like night birds

flying unseen

overhead

Unwilling

016_imogen-cunningham_theredlistThere are differing forms of narcissism

and sadness

wrenching and unyielding

can produce

solid fat trapped in water

thickened floating, unformed intention

we cannot breathe

holding hands to jump rope pinching noses

against fumes of exhaust

her knees were smoother and brown

elbows protrude like question marks

and when you are both fortunate enough to be old

her breasts will still point upward

whilst you shall swing heavily like a dowel

losing time with the rest of the world

she is lighter, her skip higher, cheeks flush with

the sting of cold weather tingeing red pinpoints

you don’t know yet

a time comes, the path breaks

one way is without constraint

the other a heaviness

you cannot shrug like boiled wool

as you see her wet feet climb upward

there is nothing to stop the relenting undertow

that’s what children don’t know

when they play behind wire and protection of youth

but if you look closely

like the colt whose legs and teeth are examined by horse breeder

tapping his aquiline nose

you can tell the furlow of a soul

in their pedigree and infection

do they have worms or marrow?

she was born hot and unwilling

jaundice beginning with first labored breath

but if you gave her a chance to dance

she would break over you, turn into water

a hundred fingers enclosing

circles of diminishment

no matter how fast she danced

legacy caught up and held her down

Queen of Thorns

grandma why didn’t you

prune me back when you had the chance?

cut off my head and let dead parts turn me violet

before you grew demented and wan

why didn’t you tear into my stuffing and let

the tartan apple seed scatter

maybe I would have stopped being a child

turning into a great ancient tree

where the girls who had smooth unwrinkled brows

could climb and flash their starched knickers

hanging upside down catching bird song

reflecting off fish pond surrounded by nettles

I was always better at being a spectator

than entertaining life’s specters

you should have cut the cord

played your last best record

let the needle run it through

scratching out hurt and

unwilling children

Thin girl

couples-sleeping-1

The afternoon

like used rubber

lost in roll

one in pleasure

the other cold and full

beneath their day clothes

thrown off like wings

she looked nude like a thinner version of herself

lost in angles and jutting hip bones

a little skinnier than his wont

but you know what they say about skinny women?

you can put them on top of your pencil and rotate

sharpening to a point and using until blunt

her smell is on his fingers and in his hair

his mouth aches from kissing her between her legs

she’s showering with the door open

the tiny bones in her spine popping

as she leans into the heat

the steam fogging up frosted windows

he inhales her and his fifth cigarette

simultaneously

it is this

the indistinct

stillness of afterward

sought most of all

when his body is sate and slick with her dew

nothing, not anything, matters

she

will ask for him again with her eyes even after

she has washed him off

it’s the contradiction of

passion

to re-dress only to have them torn off

he traces with his little finger

a selfishness that tells the rest of the world

to go to hell

languidly replaying how

her thin body rose and fell above him

weightless

the sound of her pleasure

pressed against his neck

like vibrations from a train

speeding into station with

oiled momentum

 

IF

6093430_orig

If depression were a shadow

when it is my shadow

waking me up with glass behind my eyes

replacing authentic feeling with

stifled, muffled, agonies

depression tells me; don’t get your hair cut

the hair dresser will stare too hard and you cannot

bear to be scrutinized as your father who called you

many things like plain-faced and ungainly but most of all

stocky leading to a starvation worthy

yes that father who because of his own mental defect

could not really stand long in the sun of parenthood

you’d have been better off loose and lopsided

with latch key children

to climb dog piss stained trees that barely held your weight

as they pushed through concrete with white pealing hands

as city green must

an effort make

we would chew on wild rhubarb, give ourselves stomach aches

eat dandelions and wild plums and share a precious few

hard-boiled sweets sticky in our pockets

some turned our mouths the color of tar

behind the corrugated iron where bombed out houses

stand like disfigured moments

collapsing in tombed neglect

we chased skinny wild cats and built fluttering camps

fortresses around destruction and sadness

something I learned to carry inside

when I sought to travel far from the city

its anonymous bricked faces

lending little grace

when I said goodbye to prefab family who

had their own lives

I was an appendage

needing to find my tribe

instead inheriting faulty DNA

tingeing my wake with sorrow

much as I tried

even on the warm days I wore leg warmers

pretended to be auditioning for FAME

when I ordered a hot chocolate and watched curling waves

change sequined shoreline in slow swell

though the world amassed around me

glorious and glittering like water touched by fire

as bleating sun dipped low against horizon

I could not find a way to feel unburdened

or climb aboard the impulse to slough skin

care nothing of what others would say

try hard as I could to become

laughter

that ephemeris

out of reach … thing