Sunday, November 17, 2013


The silent fold of paper
that curved into shadows,
the sly light shining
from your emerald ring.
You think that I've forgotten.
Or you've forgotten

Once, we wandered 
into shops,
felt the icy wonder
of jewels caught
in nets of silver.
I saw how you blossomed
away from the crowd;
warm petals of your hidden
in those worn aisles,
sweet cardamom cream.

On the street again
to grey cobbles
in darkness,
I whisper your name,
And realize
it's no longer true.

Still, I will 
repeat it over and over,
trying to conjure
that plush weft
of your London suit
green like the water
melding moor to sea,
green like my heart, of course,
pulled into your kitchen
where you coyly mashed
the tight pearls of jasmine tea,
the copper patina
against the deep red
oriental patterened rugs,
and later with olives
eagerly dispensing their fleshy coats
under our teeth.

I thought you were a fierce adept
of birds and vines,
so natural in your breathless flow.
Damselflies floated 
on the walls
behind the gloss
of your haloed hair.

I ranged your library,
seeking out in which volumes
you might have secreted 
childhood violets.
The scent of their decay
leading me on.
I felt a glass of sherry
in my hand,
catching some last light
of Sunday,
when we'd let that Fado
recording spin and
cover our unspoken

Do the campions still bravely wave
rosy greetings 
this late
in the season?

Hello, Hello

as we trail
the night

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Where Beauty Rhymes with Vulnerability

He touched the ice rimming his plate of oysters, those poor little crystals, slowly deteriorating.  In his mind he saw her with her coat collar pulled up, framing her face, so indistinct, yet seemingly so warm and inviting, as little snowflakes graced her hair.  How sentimental he had become about her already, not knowing her at all, but letting himself muse on the delight of snowflakes caught in some grassy wave of her hair.  He smiled.  Oh, maybe it was the alcohol, but there was no harm in it either way.  Does thinking make it so?   How would it matter?  Thoughts swam in and out constantly.  Which stuck?  Which set up shop, as it were? 

He brought his fingers to his lips.  Suddenly a strong perfume of hyacinth so pungent and feminine startled him.  He looked around to see if someone had slipped up beside him unbeknownst, but he sat alone at the bar.  Where had he been, then?  He had gone to get some groceries after his trip to the hardware store.  What had he touched?  Fish, cream, coffee, a pack of mushrooms, a tin of tea.  The cashier?  He couldn’t picture her just yet.  Some dumpy woman, with dark strings of hair.  Were her hands slathered with such a strong scent?  Had they touched his?  A receipt passed between them.  That was all.

What scent would she wear?  His blue-robed oyster princess in the snow?  He brought his fingers back to his nose.  It was almost choking thick and sweet as a hothouse in spring:  now jasmine, now lilies.  He pulled back a little.  Just a touch here on his fingers could make him nostalgic for something as yet unknown, a swing of silk in a hallway.  But a whole pasture of it, a whole swath of a woman dripping in such scent—one wouldn’t be able to breathe.  His happy reverie was broken.  He had dark thoughts again.  Women were difficult.   He returned his attention to the oysters and ordered another drink.  

The Timid Light Around It

She thought for a long time about the various birds she brought to her story in the car.  Why had she chosen them:  hawk, raven, crane—surely there were more melodious names, more colorful ones.  Would Dell’s son have joined in if she had called out other names?  No, it wasn’t her words; something else was holding him back.  Was he grown-up already and suddenly too shy to speak his mind and let loose his usual parade of the fantastic?   She wouldn’t know.   In so much of life, our minds are elsewhere.  Some one had said that more poetically than I, she thought.  I have my dead.  That was Rilke.  Why did she think of that now?  Grief slipped in like a thief, when one’s mind was wandering.  I have my dead.  Yes.  Mine.  A collision of losses seeped in, crowding her thoughts.  She walked to the windows to see the loons had returned.  It felt too early, too sudden.  A melancholy came with the draping mist, pulled like wool over the olive water of the lake.  One loon preened its black and white herringbone feathers while the other floated silently, two solitary figures in this muted world.  The redbud on the shore that once was so brightly pink with blossoms, was now hung with a few yellowing cordate leaves.  The locusts next to it had long ago shed their petal-like growth, and once-gilded leaves littered the muddy black earth below like some shrugged off cloak.  She turned to tell someone this and only found a dusty ficus, inherited from her mother, that somehow kept its dull life afloat in this still indoor life of no birds, no bees.  Who was she thinking she would tell? 

She lit the two white tapers and drew a bath.  She poured herself a Pastis.  How cloudy it was:  The drink, the world, her mind.  How cloudy and how white:  The bathtub, the candles, her skin.  She let herself slip into the heat of the bath, smoothly soft the porcelain, like the marble of him.  How she had felt the heat, that terribly violent and delicate machinery that ran under his skin, beneath that thin weave of his white shirt, patterned with small red leaves, tiny acanthus.  How would it feel to have them drift down over her?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Painted with Birds and Insects Amongst Blossoming Branches

The teapot had drawn him in—its blue pattern calling from some past; a dream perhaps.  Her dress, yes, blue slubbed with white, twined over and over, long like how his bones felt now that he remembered, something deep and flowing through him.

He wasn’t going to that shop, just passing by on his way to the hardware store for some couplings.  Some couplings, dammit.  And then the blue in the window glinted, caught his eye.  He went in feeling too large, of course, too unsteady.  If only it had been some bigger place, some vast anonymous brightly lit box where he could slide into an aisle unnoticed and browse with his eyes scanning the shelves, his fingers free to touch without any questions.  But it was a cubbyhole of a teashop, a dark acrid den.  He was afraid to ask about the pot.  He didn’t want to hear its provenance—how it was Delft or Chinese or what the design meant—he only wanted to touch it, to hold it close to his face . . . .

“You like that pot?” 

Oh please, he thought, don’t say it, don’t tell me.  “Yes,” he nodded, looking downward, sighing.  

Just then another customer banged through the door, jangling the red strung tangle of brass bells and asking loudly, almost bellowing:  “Tea.  I need Green Tea.  And White Peony.  Do you have these?”

Oh, thank god, he thought.   While the proprietor re-directed her gaze, he reached quickly into the window display and grabbed the teapot, pressing the blue shining ceramic to his cheek.  A sleek, cold rush; thrilling, like popping one’s head out at night from an overwarm house to just catch a glimpse of a sliver of the moon before it was shrouded again in frosty clouds.  “Forgive me.  Forgive me, my love,” he whispered to the soft glaze, the tiny twists of stems and wings.  Just as quickly as he had grabbed it, he replaced the pot and left the store.  Back on the blaze of the sunlit street, he felt his heart burring, his whole being smiling.  What, what was he doing?
He had gone mad.  He shrugged and kept going. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Typhoid Mary Never Washed Her Hands

The Saab broke down again.  This would have sent me into a panic of money worries, but Dell never seemed to panic.  Her previous man had been a mechanic—I knew that.  She got on the phone and had the silver beast towed.  At the shop she spoke authoritatively to the repairman.  She had a list of probable causes in her head she was ticking off, knowing how much each item should cost, weighing the repair costs over the worth of the car.  Meanwhile, as the man looked things up on his computer, she was continuing her previous conversation with me, complaining about her husband as girlfriends do, just little annoyances: How he wasn’t aligned with her.  How he didn’t understand her completely.  How he wasn’t affectionate when she felt low and in need of it.  And I thought, Oh, why can’t he be magnificent?  Why this sagging gap between men and women?  But then there was all that I didn’t see, the mystery that arched between them and them alone.  I thought of the men I knew and how they were.  How were they?  Did I remember?  It was the long silences that tripped me up, perplexed me.  What I wanted was a blessed communion of souls and I could only come to blank, shamed silences, lying on the floor mute and still.   Had men’s feelings been so raw and so stoppered that when they broke such terrible floods burst out and destroyed every tender bridge leaving nothing in their wake?   I could not speak to the emptiness I had witnessed.  It tore at my own understanding and blurred my belief in the order of the world. 

As Dell was talking, I noticed a molar in my mouth had gone wrong.  It seemed to be hanging lower than usual, worrying my tongue.  Oh!  Dell said that her dentist was right next to this shop.   He was so wonderful; he always found time for any emergency no matter how small.   He wouldn’t mind fixing it for me.  She took me straight over to his office.  A tan, muscled, and grinning man in a tight short-sleeved white jacket greeted us.  I immediately hated him.  He kept rubbing his hands together greedily as though he couldn’t wait to get them in my mouth.  I wanted to leave, but my tooth!  I had to have it fixed. 

Dell left me with the good doctor and went back to the repair shop to finish her business there.  He sat me down at the base of a small theater with all of his interns blabbing and joking in the seats above us, as students will before class starts.  He was explaining the procedure to me.  How important it was.  He sensed my hesitation.  Of course I had the option of doing nothing, he said with a grin, and get along just fine if I wished, for the moment.   I could ignore my molar, but at what cost in the future?  What about sex?  I blanched at that.  Was he saying how important it was for my orifice to be the sweet smooth vessel for a male organ?  That my oral health was primarily for the good of mankind?  Of course he hadn’t said that.  Why did my mind go there?  I could hear all the students murmuring approval and agreeing.  What was he saying, then?  I shook my head and blinked and saw that he wasn’t looking at me, but pointing to illustrations of the operation.  The molar would have to come out.  Teeth were primitive.   Enamel and bone in the mouth had served our ancestors, but decades of research had brought modern dentistry to the point where teeth were irrelevant, replaceable by . . . and he showed a diagnostic diagram so fantastic and incomprehensible to me as though it were the inner workings of a massive mechanical Leviathan.  And the scrub-wearing youth kept up their loud commentary behind us.  Look, I said to the dentist, can’t we do this in your office?  It seemed that my private inner workings were being displayed, something so embarrassing and personal and somehow shameful.  Oh, she has teeth, then?  No one has those anymore.  I turned to them and began to scream.  Shut up!  Shut up!  Shut up!  I screamed and screamed at them until a bell sounded and they all left.  5 pm.  Quitting time. 

I left, too.  There is nothing wrong with me, I mumbled to myself.  My tooth is fine, a little long and sore, but I’ll live.

I walked to a vineyard where the vines were old, over 50 years like me, I thought.  Maybe that wasn’t so old.  Dusty fat grapes hung off them, almost brown in their ripeness.  I picked one and it split open like a fig and its juice spilled out into my mouth as flavors unrolled like a carpet.  New patterns kept emerging, bright and sweet yet threaded with dark notes.  I’ve planted all of this.  And I’ll keep planting.  All these long rows like a pipeline heading . . . I kept walking.

Dell picked me up in front of the theater.  The weather had turned cold and her face with rimmed with a fur-lined hood, like Diana, like a fantastical huntress.  Her young son was with her.  I told him about a man driving 100mph there.  It was Dell’s ex-husband, the boy’s father, but I kept that part to myself.  I made him into a legend and started to spin a story about him:  The dangerous maniac who had flown down streets and terrorized little dogs and children.   No one could stop him, no one dared and he had driven the same route we were on.  He just kept speeding along until he was airborne, I said, just as our car hit the crest of a hill, just as I looked at Dell and wondered why she was driving so fast.   “And then he flew with black hawks and came down into a blackened valley of ravens and cranes.”  I continued,  “swarmed by plump pigeons colored like koi, orange and white, lolling on wires by a barn.”  Her son looked at me askance and went back to his red and blue Legos, smashing one into another.

“Dell, I need coffee,” I told her.  “I’m sorry.  I forgot to get one earlier.”  She glared at me for a minute and then relented.  She didn’t want to stop, but she knew a place.  We pulled over.  I realized that I really wanted a French press, but it would take too long.  We entered the coffee shop.  A man and his aged father were in line with us.  I quickly decided to order a latte, which was the fastest word I could think of.  The old man was asking for a burgundy and beef roast.  His son was trying to pull him back.  “Dad, they don’t have that here, it’s a coffee place.”  Dad persisted.  “Burgundy.  What do you have for burgundy?  Meat loaf will be alright if you don’t have a roast, and potatoes, mashed, with gravy.”  He turned to look at me.   I was trying not to stare back.  I lowered my eyes.  I felt embarrassed for my rushed order of a latte.  What he was ordering actually sounded better.  His son was mortified and I couldn’t help but share in his discomfort.   But what shame was there in asking for what one really wanted?  The old man had a thin blue worn washcloth in his hands.  He brought it up to my mouth and began wiping my lips.  “Hold still,” he said, “I’ll get it.”  He brushed the soft terrycloth over and all around my mouth.  I don’t know what was on my lips, but I let him wipe me clean.  I don’t know.  I don’t know.  But I let him wipe me clean anyway.