POEMS

What is reflected in the Koi pond in early evening

I.


Koi:   antiquity in gold leaf with crimson splashes of autumn white;
a slow stir of fin and finesse nestled amongst fans of green leaves.
A shield of water lily brushes my face from the distance.  I am afloat
amidst jewels that swim and dart.  My face is fluid.  My eyes are adamant
black; a mirror of time unfolding, spawning forward thrust.  Awash,
I am illusion:  a duet of amniotic moon and stony pool bottom.
Without gills, I breathe brocaded scale and dragon wing.

II.

A wave of my hand across the water's surface erases my face
from the pond and stirs the newly fallen leaves into excitement. 
They turn koi and swim deeply into the waiting school. 
The water remembers and returns to its former home.

III.

Silken dusk curves and sways in the koi pond.
It does not fear being lost; instead, it bathes in clear stillness,
caresses the koi and then withdraws into the darkening sky.





upon viewing Kanak Chakma’s painting:  Waiting 39


The artist smeared ultramarine blue onto the canvas
the way the lonely smear their blood onto asylum walls:

thick and warm.  Frightfully fluid and dark.  A poignant
background to the black strokes of calligraphed trees rising

into scribbles of despair where blackletter turns chignon
upon a waiting woman’s head and tendrils down into

folds of white linen and delicate white wrists clasped behind
her back and then into a twist of orange about her neck, a crawl

of orange twining up a tree trunk.  Color enough to capture the eye
and balance the unbalanced scribble of wanton time with

two trails of hope in primary yellow.





The Heart Wants What It Wants

 

My heart wears red lipstick, tucks a dahlia behind her ear
Smoothes on silk hose, straightens the seams, she tells me:
The right shade of red will keep you from being lonely at night.
I shake my head slowly; add a copious splash of bleach to the dishwater
and begin to scrub away what remains from the evening meal.
My heart scoffs, and then moistens her index finger and thumb. A bit
of spittle on her shiny black hair forms a comma curl across her brow.
She tells me: You can't wash yourself clean in a sink full of dirty dishes.
I spin my wedding rings around my prune wet fingers while watching
the suds reclaim the water's surface after the pots pass through.
My heart lights a cigarette, stains its filter lusty red and exhales impatience.
I try to ignore her, but she thumps my chest hard. Your man is gone. Come
out with me. I promise to keep it light. Fun. She says. But I know,
she lies. Even so. I follow her. Lips lacquered. A dahlia behind my ear.





Forcing it


When the magnolia trees began dropping
their flowers out of season, I knew
it was time to let you go, but
old folks say, shock a branch - make
it bloom, with plastic wrap
water in a jar,
a little light
enough time -
some space -
wait.



 

Freedom is Red

The first time I asked a man for a divorce, the Challenger exploded.
It wasn’t my fault, but seventeen years later, I’m divorcing again
and the Columbia is lost.  I wonder if it is wise to send up another shuttle.

On the stretch of tape not damaged by heat,
the Columbia astronauts are laughing.  Happy to be
seconds from home.  When the tape ends, the newscast cuts to video
of streaks of burning shuttle. Two arcs of light in the sky.

My daughter wants to show me a video she found in my bedroom.
It’s a tape of her brother’s 5th birthday party.   She is only three months old,
asleep in my mother’s lap, while squealing five-year-olds in cowboy hats, wearing
tin sheriff stars on their t-shirts munch gummy worms they pull from Oreo dirt pie.
She says I was the happy Mommy back then.

Afterwards, I watch the news.  See the bombs falling on Baghdad .  Arcs of light
illuminating mosques and marketplaces.  Stars to be wished upon.  I am afraid
because Thelma’s son is there and Ann’s is on the way.

The president says we must free the people of Iraq .  It must be done.
It makes no sense to me.  My divorce makes no sense to my daughter.  That I must
split us to make things better.  I tell her some things she is too young to understand.
I will explain them when she is older.  I pray I will have an answer for her by then.

So when I go to court, the judge will ask me what systems failed.
I’ll mumble something about shields and pressure and heat.
He’ll want to know if I could see it coming and I’ll say,
I thought something fell away at launch, but wasn’t it supposed to?
Like when I was five and we watched the first men fly into space
on their way to the moon.  Didn’t the rocket break apart?
Didn’t a fire ball fall to earth?  He’ll tell me
that was the old way.

When Baghdad falls, where will it land?  Who will be left to be free?
When all of the bombs have burst in mid-air.  When the red plumes are
burned to ash and cinder.  To which victor will the spoils go?
If I get the table and he gets the chairs, should the children stand over the table or
sit plate in hand?  Does it matter now which one of the thousands of shields failed?




The Poet is Freed

I.

A swarm of snapdragons bends itself east
to hear you,  into- the- air- believe- me woman.
It knows you will pierce verse.

The voices before you -
the first few - they were people,
bad as rhododendron raindrops
in the cathedral.  Dangerous
as shards of broken glass.

This boarded-up building
was your chrysalis, until
underneath stars
a blanket of smoke,
the mosaic color of  mangoes,
crawled into your mind.

So travel to the edge of jazz barely breathing;
a pocketful of pressed flowers in your torn t-shirt.
Dance in downtown puddles, through the
blues, bird droppings, sweet as
a swarm of snapdragons.
You used to play
he,  she
you, me
us
they.

II.

I am walking through this poem
aware of breath and heartbeat.
My footsteps give me away - alternately
right as rhododendron rain then tentatively
tip-toeing on buckling
bridges of language.  Forgive me
swarms of snap dragons.  Sometimes
a girl needs some pretty piece of language
to rest upon her head like a tiara.
Feed me fragments of mosaic mango.
Sometimes a girl needs a bit of sweet language
she can roll around on her tongue.

Lie to me.  Tell me
it is as easy as bending east, as easy as leaving
Little Rock on the next sliver of dawn
to find the edge of jazz barely breathing.
Tell me No creature ever falls short
of its own completion.  Tell me to piece
together torn bits of language
to make a map to anywhere that is not
boarded up.  I want to be dangerous
as shards of broken glass in the mouth.
I want to hear the voices from before the creation
promise me:  No creature ever falls short
of its own completion; wherever it stands,
it does not fail to cover the ground.*





*Dogen



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