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)

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

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.”

Entrance by default

Maybe it’s time to stop wearing

a dead woman’s perfume

find my own

smell

be my own

woman

I met her when I was 11

looked up to her in that tinkering way

I have continually become besotted

with older women

those who knew more than I

all the secret clubs they belonged to

giving me entrance by default

knock, knock, admittance, change your coat

alter your mind, don another mask

take a turn at the carousel, the diamond

cut of your eyes as you churn out living

into the willing mouths of babes

go on lap it up …

drink yourself into thinking you’re not you

comfortable with anything but

your own skin

the smell of your life clinging to my escape

like a day old glass of wine

just drinkable, a little bitter

redolent in mid-day sun

as soft as fur

I think I’m old enough

to be myself now

which means

your smell

in that white bottle

that I can only buy in rare perfume shops

because it was long ago discontined

much as it reminds me

of being a young girl

trying to understand why

she had feelings for older women

(that were definitely not about seeking a mother)

those days are over

I’m old enough now to have had

my own children

and while I still

have a thing for older women

I’m not going to smell of you

and the memories

anymore

Misleading light

You’re not leaving yet are you?

Girl with mango skin, every direction she turns

a kalidoscope of hopefulness in her smile

I notice how she wears her rings on her fingers like mine

that is because she is me

lost to time, a pull in a favorite knit top

the burgundy losing its focus as

it gathers holes

this is because she is me

bound to gravity and her weighty entreaty

toward inexorable end

a time away, yes, yes,

and nearer now than ever before

the steal of youth cloying on her dry hands

people slip her sweets and say: You are a doll

and she knows if she were a doll she’d be

able to affix the grimace all day and probably say

mama if you tipped her upside down

which is what she cannot say now

anymore than: I hurt, I cry, I feel

for she is passed that invisible line in the sand

where confession is pretty

she’s on the side of adulting

among the oaks and bulbs promising

fertility in Spring

but maybe they will be too tired

to show much of their lustrous potential

isn’t potential for under 25’s? She

read that somewhere in one of those

damaging women’s magazines before

they were transplanted to a screen

where weary eyed, prematurely hunched

poor postured youth eat their life’s golden ticket

like it is a salty snack at bedtime.

For sleep, for retreat, into the veiling woods

the silence unfolding like a veil, mist disgusing

her disappointment, even love doesn’t always

fill in where that ends, fickle in ways

you only learn when it’s exhausting

to find alternate routes, still she finds herself

thinking of the mango girl, the weight of the future

bowing her head like a shy dancer in the wings

of some hot lit theater

how then it was overwhelming in an entirely different way

the touch of a stranger, electricity firing her magic

quills into ether and those nights of no sleep

spent creating, describing, entire worlds

the future, a glittering prize, a lover, a friend

perhaps

perhaps

perhaps

it is time for her to leave

her skin shed in parts like impatient lizard of the desert

indigo handprints leading into arroyo

the scars of her like points of light

shining through

perpetual dark

as we mistake a falling star

when it is ignis fatuus

mere oxidation of phosphine

causing us to believe

remarkably and with some relief

in fairies again

Distorted from downpour

Without you there, rubbing against my emptiness

I am a scream

begun without end

I may close my mouth

I may purse my lips and paint them

I may say yes please and thank you very much

and still dial your number

that no longer exists

just to hear it ring

in my mind

once

twice

three times

it may be you

on the other end

picking up, I can hear the lint

of the connection stretching like walkers on wire

a crackle, a fizz, the ghosting hiss of you

what are you saying?

Rolling down bled city streets with lights

hanging like old bottles, catching stray saline

I strain to hear

through ceaseless whiteout of rain

it is yellow against brown glass

distorted from downpour

slapping wetly in time to lost rhythm

pirate radio in storm, trying to reach land

crackle, fizz, pop, static … spreading her fingers

we danced on these steps

in our best clothes

with bare feet growing dirty

and it was then

as you spun hotly beneath your wool coat and laughed

your iris neck bent in grace

as elegant a thing I ever saw

dissolving through time into ushered coffin

we are still

on the phone trading jokes

switching out rolling papers with blackened tongues

I hear you sigh

as reedy and deep as mislaid wine

tap your cheap hoop earring against the line

hello? Hello? What’s that you say?

Now that you are out of the box

I think I shall remain within

for it is easier to sleep by these four corners

of memory

than try in unremitting rain

to go on without you

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.

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.