Poem from the Vault: I was afraid of strangers

I was afraid of strangers

When I was young,

I looked before jumping

across puddles

or into relationships.

I rarely spoke

for fear of the flood.

I learned to love

those whose eyes loved me

with the bliss of drowning

and now

it is nothing

to slip on moist words—

my legs collapse underneath me

and on my knees

in this rippling pool,

I smile at you.

[Originally published in Jittering Microscope #3, 1991, this poem also appears in my first novel, Pieces of Home.]

Poem from the Vault: Sunflower

The sunflower

bursts with fertile, coppery

lust —

his facetothesun

reflects a thousand

seeds of what will be his offspring —

and likewise

Radhi, tall as corn

stretches toward the sun, face

open

for the blessing of lush harvest.

He plants the seeds,

follows the patterns

of light through the swaying stalks

till wetness drips

from the heaving sky, and

watches his children

dance dizzily

drenched in sun and rain.

They practice

carving, shaping, digging, sowing,

and the flame of birthed fruits.

Like their father, they learn

to bloom.

[Originally published in Jittering Microscope #1, 1990]

Radhi is a character archetype from my pantheon of characters. He is inspired by Papa Legba (the gate-keeper voodoo loa), and Osiris. In my upcoming novels he is channeled into the characters Roddy in Pieces of Home and Perry in Haunted House Designers. These two represent my “well-meaning but foolish father” character type.

Poem from the Vault: I Study the Wind

I study the wind

With my gaze I affix

swaying flowers

and  buzzing insects

trying to see their souls—

my vision only blurs.

I sniff the air, waiting

for a sign—

it never comes.

I touch the air

and feel I finally have grasped it—

but it has already blown away.

I taste my tongue—

I’m getting nowhere!

I listen for things which

cannot be heard, and hear

only silence—

and this is the way it is.

 

[Originally published in Jittering Microscope #5, 1992]

Poem from the Vault: For Jay, at Devils Tower, Wyoming

For Jay, at Devils Tower, Wyoming

Starlit slumber –

the stillness of your face

the curve of the water jar

tucked into the sand

so as not to spill

– a bit of the river

you carry to sustain you

on your walking path

backwards through the suns and moons,

when you swam inside

your mother,

before you melted

into the world.

You shift position

and the horizon yawns,

a drop of water spills out of your eye.

The air –

that fills the space

between the bright black sky

and your closed, quivering eyelids–

you take in like a lover,

with the rise and fall of your chest,

a cascading hill,

a smooth plain that stretches out

for a lifetime.

[Originally published in Jittering Microscope #7, 1991, though I just added the title to it]

Poem from the Vault: Faking

Faking

When the distance

between the inside of my stomach

and the outside of my mouth

is too close

to be comfortable;

It occurs to me

that what I want

and the things I do

are often very

far apart.

That I can’t always pretend

to like

something that repulses me.

One day I know

that the trash I have swallowed whole

and the empty shells I have spat out

will

like ghosts return

to kick me

where I am

most hollow.

[Originally published in Jittering Microscope #4, 1992]

Story from the Vault: Star

Note: I wrote this long before I ever had an actual daughter.

Star

                  We sit at the fire this night, my daughter and I.  She questions the stars with her gaze, and I am the one who must answer her, who must speak for the stars.  So I will tell her why she hears voices without human bodies, and how the artists always stand apart from the world.

During the time that I was becoming a woman, I spent many nights like this, looking at the moon and its sparkling sisters.  From the dark of lonely sky, a certain star splintered from the rest, and fell dizzily into the fire at which I sat.  I closed my eyes against the brilliance that flickered hotly on my face, and watched my tears melt through squinting eyes, entranced by the brightest light I had ever felt.  The earth and sky pressed together like lovers, and the horizon sealed from end to end.

This star, she spoke with the intensity of a person about to die, who tries to stop the inevitable flood with a dam of words.

“I want you to know the distant pain I feel, being above you and so separate from everything.  Until now, my burning in the sky is the only way you have witnessed my agony.  Sometimes one of us becomes so full of longing, the heat is so great, that we are given the power of speech, and the chance to communicate with the beings we watch over everyday.  I wish I could be a part of your earth.  I see you all jumping and playing and growing and I want to share the pleasures of being human, or animal, or plant.  I would love to have a body, and a name, and relationships with other bodies.  Imagining isn’t enough.  I want to know what it feels like to eat food or to make love.”

“I think I would rather be in your position,” I said, “able to see everything, and not have to be involved.  You see so many stories, watch so many lives wither and bloom, and see things from many different points of view.  And you really do know everything under the sun.”

“That is true,” admitted the star.

“Perhaps you can tell me about myself.” I asked, “Do you know things about me that even I don’t know?”

“Although I dream of being closer to you,” she said, “if I let my secrets become your own, you will find it harder to be close to your own kind.  You will share the curse of distant stars, and be an eternal observer.  Already you have this in you.  I can tell by your eyes that shine trance-like and sparkling, and by the way your arms fold in front of you when you speak to people.  I am afraid I may have already said too much.  Let me impart to you one piece of advice:  Don’t be afraid to be involved in the world around you, and if you ever find yourself an outcast, find a way to express your pain.”

The star began to sizzle and rise above the flames of my fire.  “Wait,” I exclaimed, “How do you express the pain?”

The star did not answer for a long moment, and then said, “We stars burn so feverishly with longing, that together we make pictures in the sky.  Some people on your earth, have read our pictures and made their own stories.  Everyone sees something new, a different picture, and makes up a different story.”

Distracted by her words, I barely noticed that she had long since left me shivering in the cold of early morning.  I looked west of the rising sun, to see if I could discern her from the many pale stars that quivered, each in their own small hole in the sky.

I talked to her many times again, in my head.  I learned to love the addictive power of being an observer, and the understanding of things that came from seeing life at a distance.  Even now I rarely think of my experiences as being my own.  I live my own dreams through others, and tell their stories as if they were my own.  I have few friends; most people are afraid to let me know them, afraid their secrets will become my poems, that their souls will be stolen by my paintbrush, their lives rendered and hung up for public view.  This is what hurts most, but I cannot let go of the sky.

My daughter, you already know the pain of distance, the burning that comes when you are laughed at for being different, and for having an outcast for a mother, for seeing things in your own way.  Some tell you that you are a mad girl, and a mad woman’s daughter.  They say that you cannot possibly know what you know, that your insight was gained by trickery.  But your eyes twinkle with the promise of fulfillment; and when you have learned to express all you have seen through an artist’s craft, you will grow to be my finest poem.

[Originally published in Jittering Microscope #3, 1991]

Poem from the Vault: Puppet of God

Puppet of God

God’s favorite puppet dresses like a clown

I saw him today on my way into town.

He played the fool, the pimp, and the sage

like a life-lusting monkey let out of his cage.

So I played the role of a vision quester

and for a few moments, he was my court jester.

With a passionate voice he started to sing

his quivering anthem to his listening king.

“I left my family for a gypsy’s life–

put myself under the scar-maker’s knife;

then lost my mind like wind-blown seed

and discovered that words are deceptive indeed.

“By God and nature and fate I was picked

to show all of you how we have been tricked.

You can’t see your strings but sure they are there.

There is no free will as some will declare.

“All children know when they are girls and boys

that their toys play with them, as they play with toys.

A doll is just a model of yourself–

so be content just to sit on your shelf.

“And so our days are hanging by a thread.

We’re only as alive as we are dead.

We’re bound to the earth as well as the sky.

In dreams and wind we are able to fly.

“Pretend I’m a sunflower rooted in soil.

I ache for the sun and toward it I toil.

If I could reach it I would surely burn

but drunk with warmth I continue to yearn.

“The next generation yields more like me,

who dream of the air while drowned in the sea,

So as you walk the mirrored shores

hang on to faith; it alone is yours.”

He delivered his song of paradox

then kissed his knees as he pushed down his socks.

Twirled he danced and made love to the air,

empty of shame as if no one were there.

His strings were stretched taut and making him shake

so quickly I thought his body would break.

To that man I have one question to ask–

Who will I be if I take off my mask?

[Originally published in Jittering Microscope #2, 1991]

Poem from the Vault: Echoes of Stillness

Echoes of Stillness

The path to my childhood

leads to a field, bright with sun,

bread and memory.

Field grasses quiver

and the ground is hot and firm,

yet breathes like skin.

The waiting seems to last

life-long.

I feel prickly in the oven-heat.

Then the field opens, wide as the horizon.

My wet palms

receive the seeds, the scent of shifting wind.

Seedling becomes flower,

familiar with the gossip of insects.

The grasses speak with new confidence

and soon birth seeds of their own.

The sun bows and peers distantly

through the leaves of the trees,

whose sheltering canopy

flutters, groundward.

I press the leaves in

this book stained with sweaty fingerprints,

and continue

down the road.

[Originally published in Jittering Microscope #6, 1992]