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Showing posts from 2016

Mvmt IV. Adagio.

Here you are. Eighty-four staircases
and daisy chains later, and here
you are, listening again.


You think there is something about a kiss
that feels like a song:

you hope your children by now
have felt that too.


Every time you drop your glasses,
the sound of them hitting the ground
opens a door for a split second.
Through it, you can see the ropes

that pull the stars out every night,
and the puzzle pieces that fit oceans and cities
together like chords.


Your headphones wore out years ago.
You miss the way you used to put them on
and play with time,

the days and moments slipping under
your fingers like wet sand,
while light went on for miles in both directions.


You are here now, alone. Listening.
Thinking there is something about a song
that feels like a kiss.

November Song, 2016

1. the journey

I met a man on the road to the city
who asked me if I believed in love.
We were walking over ashes
that smelled like human flesh, the dust of it
getting into our shoes, and
I didn’t know what he meant.

Maybe he was talking about the way
a kid’s face lights up to see her mom.
Maybe he was talking about laughter,
the easy silence between old friends,
the soft look some people slip into
when they don’t think anyone’s watching.

But he cried and covered his face with his hands,
and I think he meant forgiveness.

2. in the dark

Last night I fell asleep with sirens
under my bed and the sound of terror
cracking in the streets.
Somehow I kept breathing
until the ceiling turned from black to gray.

Who will be the next person
to tell us it’ll be all right, to hold out promises
like cabinet medicine for our cancer,
and how long will it be
before the bandages fall apart again?

And even then, who will we have to blame?

3. lazarus

         I must remember . . .
         somewhere, there is
         a king who keeps his word.

4. the sound of his voice

We came to the dock, where they were trawling
the riverbed for rubble but kept pulling bodies
out of the mud.

A woman from the boat
stood scrubbing the silt off her arms
and she couldn’t stop shaking,
couldn’t look at the day’s haul as the muddy tarps
got carried off.

I think she remembered each face too well.
Maybe she kept finding them everywhere:
fathers like ghosts in the kitchen,
phantom kids running around the backyard
and shadows of mothers stuck in traffic.
Maybe she was afraid if she opened her eyes,
she might see herself, washed too pale
and long past drowning.

The man spoke to her the way he spoke to me.

When we left, her eyes were still closed,
but her hands were clean.

5. “do you believe in love?”

At an old gravestone we stopped.
A whole family was buried there, so long ago
the stone was washed blank of memory,
a second burial,
an extra layer of death.

But when he squatted down and his fingers
touched the cold soil—as morning
crept across the frozen earth,

I saw their names,
bright and unexpected, kept
so carefully for all this time.

They were waiting
just behind his teeth.

To the Dancer

Speak, once-still and silent limbs,
and give our fragile language wing;
ye need not lips nor tongue to sing
the hymns of all our dreams—

and we who watch, if listening,
might find we recognize the sound
of skeletons and souls unbound.
Our hearts, uncoiling.

When I Was Born

When I was born, my parents etched their names
into the blade of a sword and
laid it in my hands.
I carry it like a loaded gun.

My belt sags heavier as I get older, a grievous inventory:

three coiled whips from my brothers, braided and knotted up
with bookmarks, backyard twigs, tape from unwound cassettes.

two finger knives carved from pine needles and
the old safety pins my sister and I used
to write our stories intertwined.

a paper-fledged arrow stained with salamander ink,
one garrote sliced from a single guitar string,
a hand-axe made of car door hinges
and rusted train tracks.

I wish I could say my fingers never
flew to my waist, itching to draw blood,
that each aging gift is not tinged with dark traces of regret.
I wish I could say my scars don’t wear the shapes
of everything I chose to give away.

As for the sword, I am glad of its weight. I am glad
that to step without it seems strange, incomplete.

Too many mothers I’ve seen reeling,
their children’s blades sunk to the hilt,

but they don’t cry for the pain of it, they don’t seem
to notice their own bodies torn nearly in two:
they knew all along what it meant to give a child a weapon.

I only see them dazed at the fingerprints left behind,
trying to comprehend the incomprehensible—
how bewildering, how unbearable,
that someone grown so much a part of you

might drive your love
back through your heart
and walk away.


        “If you run now, without a moment’s rest…” 
         – C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

There are times I feel like Shasta 
on that precipice of the mind, at the line 
between impossibility and
life, just the way it is,
unyielding days with all their demands
and nights too short for rest. It’s a line you either 
leap across or curl up behind to lose yourself 
in dreaming.

Either plant your feet and claim some just reward
or open your hands to take the next day as it’s
laid down like lead bricks
into your palms. 

Cover your face, or look out at the wilderness before you,
newly weary through the old ache,
as your shoulders bear down under the cold press of rain, 
and the hounds ahead string their mournful voices
back along the wind. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

There are times I let the unfairness curdle under 
my breath, and I choke on bitterness
for hours on end.
There are times I hold my hands out again and again
and wonder how a day hasn’t yet slipped
through my fingers and shattered.

Some weeks I don’t know what keeps my heart beating.
I know the rhythm of the sunlight isn’t enough. 

Every now and then, the faint clamor in the distance
shapes itself almost into a hope. (maybe a lion’s heart, 
maybe a father’s sparkling eyes, maybe a birthright restored)
Mostly the call is the same. 

Straight ahead, they cry. Over level or steep,
over smooth or rough, over dry or wet.
Run, run: 
always run.

Dear Baby On The Bus

Dear baby on the bus,
your smile is as contagious as your yawn,
the way your little mouth stretches
as wide as it can go and
your binky falls out,
dimples bursting like happy fireworks
across your tiny face.

Your mother's nose is as wide and beautiful
as a mango tree; her eyelids
are round heavy stones worn smooth
by the same worry that carves mistrust into
the center of her brow.

Did you see my soft look towards the two of you?
I think she did—and frowned, unsure
how to hold a stranger's pity.
It wasn't pity.

I'm falling in love with your empty palms,
where greed and jealousy cannot yet fit,
and sorrow finds no space to perch.
Soon you'll be picking up the pieces
of a broken city, soon you'll know the weights
that cut your mother's hands—

but for now, you'll hold her scarred fingers
as if you could heal them,
as if you might break the mask she wears,
as if in one person's world, she's all that matters.
I hope she knows.

and it came calling

The early evening sky had cracked open
and was leaking. I think you must remember
how it is, one reflected wave of gold

hovering above the white-tailed doe as she
pastures on your lawn, where
her swollen belly sings of winter’s relentless
growth, and the life inside her kicks out
through darkness, reaching; how the sweet sun

kisses the sparrow’s
beak a gentle farewell, and coaxes
amber saplings deep within your chest
to awaken, to stretch, to unfurl—
you must remember how

we prayed that afternoon, silent,
tight-lipped mourners
with grief just beginning to bloom.

Cry! said the sparrow, and my answer
came in anguish: what could I cry?
Even new grass withers in the night
which comes to all, which will
swallow up this evening glory, too

but in that moment
the bleeding sky had dripped 
into my open mouth and burst there
with shocking radiance,
an explosion of triumph and bewildering joy
that lingered on my tongue
for hours, long after dusk

had faded, and only streetlamps in their orange
glow heard the melodies that climbed
unbidden from my throat and went out,
weeping, to where you are.

When they returned to me, you had filled them
with the close circle of a father’s comfort,
with new laughter 
and a promise.
Thus while the sidewalk turned to lamplight gold
beneath my feet, I stood,
baffled but listening, and

it came calling, reaching out
through darkness. The staggering song of
hope. That blinding sound
of morning on its way.

Birth, in a Cornfield

The wind above the dried stalks—
cooled air rustling, enormous breaths
coupled to my own—and the imperceptible
heartbeat of the ground were

my bound hood and cloak as I crept forward
though the narrow lines of the field:

I began to bend into myself,
to stoop and curl like a withering leaf,
knees to chin, toes to mouth,
some tenuous feeling like a tether behind
me, a quivering cord ready
to break

And then, the sky.
That vast slate awning, softly marbled and
whispering infinity.

then, endless grass in tilted planes,
the horizon’s magnetic gravity,
Eliza’s wondering murmur in my left ear
and the first long inhale that drew
my whole being upright

We had stumbled over the crying threshold.
The wind’s cold hands soothed back
our wild hair, and we gasped for freedom, aching
with sudden possibility—

Ashes, Ashes

I had paused in the corridor, faltering
in my crystal shoes, my gut flipping with
a cold sense of unbelonging.
The floor was lucent gold and smoother
than my young nephew’s infant cheek,
and I, whose soot-stained kneecaps creaked
with age and smudged black even
the dark, tired stones in my father’s old house,
what was I doing here?

(I dreamed of this once, long ago—
when one stepsister had first kissed her count
and the other was laughing with her duke,
I thought of the prince, yet unmarried,
and a silent dance sparkling like
stars at midnight—but he
weathered the decades alone, and
so did I.)

Again, before I turned on the curve
of the staircase, I hesitated.
My bare hand on the ivory railing trembled,
crudely wrinkled leather against
the polished white, knuckles scraped and raw
from the years’ washing.

(No gloves, she said.
I want them all to see your hands, your
scars, your callouses: this is
the honor you have earned.
She saw my girlish look, shy
beneath the creases on my weary face,
and laughed, kindly.
As for your beauty tonight, she said, beauty
is always a gift.)

The wide window, then, reached out
to me, when the blaze of chandeliers
and braziers had thrown itself into the glass and
hauled out the image of myself
breathtaking, like I had never seen,

my hair bound up in a silver crown
of moonlight, shoulders pulled back
and standing tall, free from work at last,
a long gown of silk with its deep blue
slippery beneath the roughness of my fingertips.

When I looked down at the people,
the room grew thick with a hush.
I lifted my head and found the king, rising
from his throne, and there his eyes
caught me, somehow ancient and somehow new;

he came to me through the parting crowd
and took my weathered hands in his,
warm and strong and silent—
(I thought of you
once, I said.)
—a smile split the lines on his face, and he
bowed with creaking spine, and asked
me to dance.

Other Princess Poems:
Snow White
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast
Sleeping Beauty