Tag Archives: poem
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.
Living On The Moon, a poem
I remember all she had, stockpiled
in a child’s Easter basket. Necklaces
of ivory, turquoise and amber beads —
hopelessly broken and tangled. Cheap
metal pins, plastic bracelets, a dozen
stilled watches. Dried-out jars
of skin cream, mangled greeting cards,
portraits of her sisters. Often,
I allowed her to caress my face with
her trembling, soiled hands. On the pillow,
my head next to hers, pretending
I was a small child, and she my beloved
mother. Afterward, I scrubbed myself pink
with harsh soap. In a moment captured
years ago, Brandy, her tiny poodle,
dances on his hind legs, his pink toenails
scrabbling against her tanned,
scrawny calves, a rhinestone collar
tight around his limber ashen neck.
She tempts him to please her with a bit
of bacon — herself very plump around
the middle, silver hair teased and
sprayed, a perfect bouffant. You
would never guess then she was fated
to end up living on the surface of the moon,
by herself, without shame, without desire.
I must restring the beads, drape them over
a mirror, say a few words to her picture.
She will appear in my dreams nightly, dancing
with a small white dog, twirling her brittle
bones around and around until they catch fire.
She will sparkle like cut glass; gulping for air.
Layers, on this island the pearly nacre of creation — darkness,
light swirl for my attention. Walled around the park are giant
buildings, shades of gray and brown, windows glinting,
dark mirrors. I traveled a thousand miles to get here,
to find something, the heart of something, heaven,
earth, sore feet, my own heart. I am a dry sponge,
tramping from one street to the next, darting eyes
quick to latch on, transcend movement, freeze-frame
all in memory. The benches call out to me; I can’t refuse,
down low in Manhattan, where Chinese congregate,
playing some fast game. Like mah-johngg, like dominoes,
like poker. And a wino passes out on the bench
next to me — his mouth gapes, his teeth darkened with decay,
his tongue moving as he breathes. I am here on my bench
otherwise alone, trying to remember my divine nature.
The fact I don’t feel full of knowledge is sure evidence
I am. Nobody ever talks about how in his twenty-ninth
year, the Buddha left his wife and child in the middle of the night
without even saying goodbye. Nobody speaks of the tears
they shed next day. Buddha’s sobbing wife
is the mother of all things, and I have never known
her name. And I know without knowing I have two
souls — the one that will die with my body, the other that will
wander the world. Everything here becomes holy;
I take the wino in my arms, feeling his foul breath
grow sweet, becoming perfume of heaven. The world blooms;
I am its soul, dancing upon the knife-blade, bleeding, but not
falling. No, not falling. As I understand, so shall I be delivered.
Now she is the color of lichen-splattered bark,
not brown, not gray, not silver — without turning
her head, her small alarmed eye rotates in full
orbit, sweeping me from head to toe, a cruel, knowing
assessment… I don’t measure up, I can tell
from her expression. I wait, wanting to see her
go green, that hot, bright jewel color she does so well.
She creeps down the trunk, movements slow, smooth,
almost invisible. From time to time, she glances
my way; then an ant catches her attention.
Her nimble, rolling eye follows the tiny creature
crawling back past her tail — still afraid of me,
she doesn’t give chase. Off her long hind paw
dangles a limp glove of molted skin. In annoyance,
she curves sleek head toward delicate toes and bites;
she chews the dry scales, then swallows. Her throat
is pale, silken white; her fat tongue glossy pink.
Minutes pass — she pretends to sleep; the eye
closest to me closes, but the other stays wide.
A large iridescent fly alights on the leaves below;
suddenly she flings herself into the air, slender limbs
flared outward, mouth already open, and twists her head
to one side, shaking the insect clamped in her jaws,
the better to subdue it. I breathe faster as she grows
pale, paler, then glows so tender just for me
in the shadows, the clear green seeping down from her
low forehead as a shy leaf unfolds in early spring.
It is raining on Fifth Avenue. I see umbrellas in a rainbow of colors but only gray clothes, gray faces, black rain, black streets. I wait for the sign it is safe to walk, assured God will never deceive me. The caviar store on the corner is empty again, as usual, except for the man behind the counter. My existence remains unproved.
I, like Descartes, come from a legal family. I too am excused from morning duties and allowed to remain abed, contemplating theoretical problems. This morning from my high window I saw the sun rise over the river. Fire to light, line to plane, flames on a gray mirror — objects around me glowing. I imagined an infinity of rulers. I felt hope rising in me with the sun. Hope for what, exactly?
The fish eggs I buy are tiny black pearls, glued together with brine. Bursting against the roof of my mouth, juicy exclamations of Universal Wisdom. I imagine my soul to be something extraordinary and rare, like a flame, coursing through my body. I exist; I think; I am free of doubt. When I was a tender baby, with skin like fresh flower petals, who loved me enough to love my soul? Who breathed dreams into my tiny shell ear? Who wept over me? Who wished me dead?
I am like any ancient geometer, my problems beg for elegant solutions. This curve, this conic slice — where will the truest intersection lie? A series of three dreams turns me into a timid comedian, hiding behind my garish painted mask. I am not a soldier in uniform. Quiet, the air is still — I can feel my heart, unscarred as yet. It only feels as though it has been broken, that is deception, it is perfectly healthy.
I am already exhausted by so much living. While I slept as a baby, the whispers came from someone close: I will lie to you for your health; I will mislead you for your own good; I will beat you up for your excuses, I will beat you for your carelessness; I will beat the drum of my own desires, never yours. Now, the sun is dancing upon the sea.
Neither René nor I like to live long in the same location. We will change our dwelling place twenty-four times in twenty years. Think of an infinite number of points. Across from the caviar store, an icon with a gold halo, painted on peeling white brick.
I pray to you, my silly angel. Hoping for what, exactly? For feelings of joy, like a drug…. The joy of watching water move, tickled from beneath by fish fins. School has let out for summer. The joy of heated skin as it is plunged into cool water. Feet in wet sand, toes nibbled by fish; pinched by tiny crabs, scraped raw on rocks. The pleasure of discovery.
My mind is unclouded and attentive. I deduce the transition of blood into water, wine into water, wine into blood. The firm eggs of the caviar burst in my mouth, tangy grains of hope. Posterity will judge me kindly.
Like me, Descartes could not find leisure and quiet to write until he got away from his family. Was it the way his father drank? The drunkenness, the curses, will repeat every evening at sunset. Children will scream, cry. Children will beat themselves up for an explanation. Hope for what, exactly?
René and I both trust thinking more than feeling. We work hard to free ourselves from the element of probability. Salty fish eggs, trips to the caviar store, and flare-ups of hope, repeated endlessly.
A toast to us, to our new lives. René completes his law degree on my birthday. Both of us will wear robes of black & purple; spread a velvet cowl upon our shoulders. Envy, we can taste envy: who breathed such curses as we slept? I have walked in darkness so long, I cannot bear the light of day. I enter the labyrinth, clutching a flimsy thread. Curiosity is blind, leads me to risk, to unexplored streets, to black fish eggs in the rain. It is still raining on Fifth Avenue.