Category Archives: prose poetry

War, a very short story

illustration war very short story cats and dogs illustration war very short story cat and dog backwards

The woman thought of God a hundred times a day. A thousand. An infinite number of times. Consciousness on the quantum level. And each day, she grew unhappier. More discouraged. Bleaker. Uglier. Sadder. More uncertain. In the trenches. Wanting to know for sure, and be done with it. The big picture… could anyone see it… could anyone imagine it… could she, or anyone she knew, ever have a clue to its subject… its matter. Most people seem strong until something goes wrong. Could time really heal?

Her belly grew heavy and cold, a dizzying pit of endless space. Would she ever be able to see it through to the end? Where was the end? When was it reasonable to stop trying. When was it the right time to stop trying… too hard. Where were people when you needed them. Bullets never did any body any good. The first human-killing weapons led to more, and more deadly, machinery for war… cannons and tanks and bombers. Land mines. Napalm. Nukes. Propaganda. Poison. Secrecy. It all boiled down into the same rotten thing, in the end.

Terror. The dog barked and barked and yelped and whined and barked some more. He was single-minded; his existence that moment was all about the cat, the cat behind the sofa. She refused to be ruled by terror. She growled and hissed back. She sat just outside his reach and baited him. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it backfired. Sometimes the dog came so close to her, his mouth closed in on the long, silky fluff of her tail. He bore a complex pattern of red scratches on his black and white snout. The man wanted the cat gone in the morning. What if he insisted? The man, or the cat? She preferred the cat tonight. No telling about tomorrow.

 

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Giant Redwoods, a poem

illustration muir woods 2

Giant Redwoods

(Statements in italics taken from Ethics, by Baruch de Spinoza)

Look farther and farther toward thin blue sky, until the green feathery tops of the trees are like the northern pole on some dream planet.  Put the anger back in its bottle. These trees are generous.  Hatred can never be good.

Your carsickness from the ride up the mountain begins to fade, leaving behind a breathless, weepy echo not unlike your first religious fervor.  Hatred is increased through return of hatred, but may be destroyed by love.

When have you not been afraid?  The random can be scrutinized for meaning, the puzzle solved, when surveyed long & carefully enough.  Anything may be accidentally the cause of either hope or fear.

These trees have plenty of time.  As a child, you stared at Jesus’ sad face for hours, wishing you could marry him  — wondering what it was that made him love you.  Could you sacrifice yourself for the sins of the world, if it was that simple & necessary? Cathedrals turn us small and vulnerable again, for reasons both blessed & cursed.  Devotion is love towards an object which astonishes us.

Vague, starry eyes like yours feel at home here; the air is weighty, burdensome & solemn. You’ve loved trees before; this is different.  These trees have plenty of time – more time than you.  If we love a thing which is like ourselves, we endeavor as much as possible to make it love us in return.

Your nerves are suddenly frozen, by the unaccustomed richness of perfect light.  Your guide is tall & slender, hesitant to speak.  Her mother has the tattooed forearm of a Polish Jew of a certain age.  The knowledge of good and evil is nothing but an idea of joy or sorrow.  Sorrow is [a hu]man’s passage from a greater to a less perfection.

These trees have plenty of time.  She touches your wrist, and for a moment, you, too, want to grow taller, leaving the surface of the earth behind forever.  Shyly, she picks up a tiny pinecone, smaller than a toy.  You both laugh when she tells you this is their seed.  Joy is [a hu]man’s passage from a less to a greater perfection.

These trees have plenty of time.  And all around, their wise, fallen, hollow bodies litter the ground like the bones of saints.  Childlike, you understand a wish to die here, never to leave this hush.  They’re only trees – your neck bent back as far as it will go; only trees, yet wondering if the giants can hear your thoughts.  Love is joy, with the accompanying idea of an external cause.  Love and desire may be excessive.  When the mind imagines its own weakness, it necessarily sorrows.

Is there anything we have less power over than our own tongues?  These trees have plenty of time, growing wise as the Buddha, in their silence.

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doctor’s report: patient a, a short story

Kimberly Townsend Palmer

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(originally published in Burning Word)

Doctor’s Report: Patient A, a short story

Patient A is a living museum of femininity, and serves as transitory evidence of extensive neo-geo-psycho-socio-eco-political movement. Designed and built in the second half of the twentieth century, she first gained philanthropic prominence with a cynical, witty, overeducated man eight years her senior, Charles F. She stayed faithful to Charles F. for six months, but the intriguing tales of his former romantic partners, then numbering in the several hundred, irretrievably seized her imagination. She left, and never looked back. She shops for new men the way other women shop for new shoes.

She invariably rejects both the too-easy conquest and the too-stubborn resistance. Every season countless men flock near to witness her fleeting, hormonally-induced states of passion, and observe for themselves her classic “XX” architecture.

If it seems that everything has already been said about Patient…

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Edie Sedgwick Discusses Her Early Years, a Monologue/Poem/Story/Lyric.

illustration edie sedgwickI felt I was Gloria, some angel living in her own hallucination of time. We were angels on LSD, on LPS. I was cheesecake, chocolate-dribbled, sexy & asexual, pop-rocks eye candy. Wrapped in a wealthy, yet tragic, past. DEEP BREATH. With my dreamy tones; those slow, hypnotic lyrics, my subliminal heavenly chorus of all that is female, the goddess inside us. Hypnotic, larger than life.

And so were the commercials. We really were all famous for about 15 minutes, but we couldn’t see that, all we could see was right now, right then. The atom bomb age, the Cold War, suicides, the Third World starving to death… children dropping like flies in Africa from famine. India, hit by an earthquake. Viet Nam cranking up, with war profits for the conglomerating corporations; divvying up the spoils of war. Kennedy, dead in Texas.

Be the girl all the bad boys want. DEEP BREATH. Sex turned into a Technicolor rock show, pure fantasy; turned into reality. People started living according to their own fantasies of what the world was like. The awakening grew harder; grew easer; grew harder; again & again.

Material wealth. An intoxicant. A drug. Addictive behavior. Spread it around. Moderation in everything. Reasonable assumptions? No? DEEP BREATH. Spell it the fuck out. Rules-based understanding. It takes me a long, long, long time to learn all the rules, all the techniques, all the subtleties. But when I figure something out, I have fucking figured the fuck out of it! DEEP BREATH.

I’m a dreamer; I’m a practical schemer. I’m a dreamer with a BMW; I’m a bad-ass schemer; I’m a waterlogged dreamer; I give up when there is trouble; I run like a rabbit. I dig in like a lion at bay.

Falling in love is wonderful. Once you fall in, take care never to fall out. Find something to keep your love alive… anything! Fasten on & fasten hard. In every way, so they say. Rumors fly. Determining actual facts is hard. All the shit I ever believed about myself came true. DEEP BREATH.

So, my body believes, at least. Next, to make my logical mind decipher the hieroglyphs. DEEP BREATH. Then my heart shall feel; then my soul shall live. DEEP BREATH.

It’s what Andy always used to say: artists are artists, no matter their profession or occupation or job or outward circumstances, and artists are the commodities of the very wealthy. DEEP BREATH. We’re all falling prey.

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The Latest Fashion: New Toilettes, a poem

illustration new toilettesThe Latest Fashion:  New Toilettes, a poem

(title and subtitles from an essay by Mallarmé)

 I.  An At-Home Gown in Garnet Velvet.

I receive you at my front door, formally, immaculately dressed, delicately arrayed, impeccably scented.  You think of me as I last appeared at the beach, tousled, salt-encrusted, and burned by the sun, dusted from scalp to toe with golden sand.  You see underneath my gown a double exposure — the natural, the cultivated — which rises up so that my two brown eyes turn to four, eyes within eyes, nudity within garnet velvet.

You think of wine, the vintner’s trembling hands caressing grapes, silently pleading with them to reveal when they will give up their most perfect secrets.  We live for moments such as those, we live to take up our wine in a crystal goblet and put it to our lips and breathe the scent of rain, sun, earth and sweetness.  Sweetness which has by virtue of aging embraced its opposite — sweetness which has given birth to tart recognition.

We are both innocent as three-year-olds and jaded as madams.  You touch the supple velvet, but what you are feeling is the smoothness of my insides.  I remember the sound you made, long ago, an explosive sound which you tried so valiantly to muffle.  The report of your exhalation was echoed in each cell of my body.  Garnet velvet becomes a skin I will shed.  Nothing before was unskinned.  I will turn myself inside out, only for you.

II.  A Hostess Gown in Gray Russian Satin.

 Together, we receive cadres of admirers — come to look upon our glowing faces, hear the way we laugh, breathe in the air of passion which surrounds us.  We understand this loveliness we display is not ours, rather on loan merely, a magnification of the same electric forces which keep every atom together, proton and electron and neutron dancing their way in a wild mazurka.  Those atomic particles, those rapscallions.

My gray dress hugs my body tightly, exposing each curve, revealing my body but keeping it a magnificent secret at the same time.  When your fingertips slide across my shoulders, the fabric moans, and the assembly gasps.  I can take no credit for my beauty, only for the courage to allow it free rein.  And I count every electron of your body, I feel the whirling clouds as they circle your atomic nuclei, endlessly proclaiming not beauty, not usefulness, but truth.

Please be advised you are in the presence of ananda.  Or at the very least, maple syrup.  Even the trees know.  How the sparks flew when first we met!  We confused the friction with dislike, at least until you saw me lick my lips.  Gray satin reminds us of the cries of mourning doves, the way they’d scatter as your car pulled into my driveway.  Such murmurings as felt like satin threads, pulled through my heart.  You came to me.  I will stay found.

III.  A Frock for Paying Calls in Plum-colored Faille.

We deign to visit the world, after a twenty-three year sabbatical, and everywhere we go the air matches my dress.  The moon becomes a large opal, the sky an onyx abyss into which I fall upward, tethered only by your voice.  When you laugh, I hear my father.  I hear the way he held me, our skin where it touched on fire with longing only for more bare skin.  He died too soon, and so did I.

My skirt is cut on the bias — when I walk it moves as the tops of the Australian pines moved that day you first kissed me, at the beginning of hurricane season.  You and I ask our hosts if they are prepared, but they don’t understand.  Once, you lusted for books — 27,000 of them — 19 cartons fit into your truck, each trip.  The hardwood shelves groaned under the beautiful weight of your hope.  Please, don’t read too much into the facts.  What do the pages tell you?  Do you remember when you hated me?

It is so difficult to construct a garment on the bias, I must consult experts in the field.  I show them the dress I wear, ask, can you make me the same dress, in the same fabric, over and over.  I want nothing varied, because in this dress is all the world.  My father has been dead now for longer than I knew him.  I still see his hair, iridescent red-gold feathers, under my fingertips, my nails painted purple.  I asked for you.  I found your succulent eyes.

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This Road I Am Traveling, a prose poem

illustration this road i am traveling

This Road I Am Traveling, a prose poem

I used to think it was possible, even desirable to order the world into alphabetic categories, though I never dared cut someone open with such a blunt knife as you.  The most I ever tried was harvesting a few drops of blood — they oozed through the cleanly raked skin underneath my claw like rare jewels.

You do not offer help.  You are scientific, curious, high on espresso, perfumed with the thick odor of fatty, fruity soap.  You tempt me to weep on your flannel jacket, though you don’t for a minute pretend to love me — or anyone.  It is all part of your elaborate theory.

You ask me what it was like to watch her body go, you say you hesitate to dredge up old muck, yet you persist in an ignorant, wheedling way, pulling the raw edges of the wound farther in your fretful passion to get at the truth.  I can’t believe a word you say.

Death is foreign to you.  Open your eyes!  See mine, clouded with the desire to cause your enlightenment.  Yes, I recall a hundred details:  the way a hand is not any longer a hand after that last breath, just a heavy piece of meat.  I remember the stiffening of flesh, the way heat emanates in nearly visible waves from the stilled body.  Though as you observe, time has continued to flow, my thoughts have not yet moved on — you are deluding yourself to think they ever will.  Shut up!  Your sympathies are worth nothing.

There are a million out there who know what I know — until you have allowed the fleeting soul of the one you love to pass through you, risking the internal injuries, the scarring from radiation, you can forget trying to follow for your own amusement.

This road I am traveling is ice — I have been skating with my silvery feet for more than ten years, and though it grows ever wider, I can see no end.  I grow tired, but there is nowhere to stop.  Living is grieving — sooner or later, only grief survives.  Once you learn to skate down memory lane, it’s something you never forget.  Though my legs ache, I have to keep them pushing.  Still, the bare trees arch gracefully overhead.  This cold air burns, yet cleanses.

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Violet Crown, a fable

illustration just me and god

Violet Crown, a fable

It took a long time for the dreams to come back.

(The dreams took a long time to come back.)

Her parrot knew before anyone.

The city of the violet crown.

No one escapes the labyrinth. Not even the dissolute rich.

The oracle sighed, and filled her pen with blue ink:

I know you intimately; I know the way your eyes move,
across the landscape. I realize how we live.  It’s not a sin;
you want the love you got in the beginning.  You want to
change your size, your shape, and your life. Where you
will be drawn, and in what order?  One woman you know
will stop at the color green, another woman dreams
of strangers as she sleeps next to her husband of fifty years.
That man will drink his coffee black, that one will slap
his daughter so hard she feels her cheekbones vibrating
for hours. Remember before you were born; remember
not having to breathe?  Imagine that stillness, that beauty
of the womb.  Let me remind you.  It was shielded
from the world, no sharp edges anywhere.  You and you
and you and you… your taut plum of a heart beat.
One day we will be there again, our blood will soar,
the sparkle sparkle sparkle of life.  The moonlight there
will be as pale and as reflective as new snow.
Your worry-lines will gradually fall away. To forget
your longing, you agonize daily, hourly: the beans
or the meatloaf?  The blue shirt or the yellow?  Toward the sea…
or the mountains?  Marry Paul or James?  As the crow flies,
or the long, winding road? We were together, you and I,
even when you thought no one could see — I watched
the way you lied, cooked the books, phoned for drugs,
delivered Chinese take-out.  You made yourself
important, taller, richer, more attractive.  Time for courage,
time for facts.  You have always been, are, will be loved.

 

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