TONGUES

Ninety-six years ago today
Women gained the right to vote.
It would be another five
before those who preceded
the lot of us were blessed with citizenship,
the least we could offer, after
our prior gifts of disease,
alcoholism and down sizing.
Who, our forebears must have imagined,
wouldn’t want to live somewhere
they had a reservation in their name
we had given them, their land
taken with their language,
no longer useful in our shared world.
The King of France allowed
only the Jews to be moneylenders,
reserved space in each town for us as well,
for which we are still told
we should be thankful, but
you have no idea how to say so in Navajo.

PHOTO

Oddly I have a photo
of my grandmother’s grave,
but not one of my mothers,
either of them actually, and
we’ve yet to have a funeral
for the one who raised me.
I forgive the one who gave me life,
for she gave me to one she felt
could care for me well and
she slipped away into death
before I found out her name.
I do have a college yearbook
photo of her, and that will
have to do every day, and
especially on Sunday when she
will have been lying
in the soil of West Virginia
for sixteen years, and I will
be mourning her passing for four.

THE CEMETERY, AFTER THE BATTLE

They come to her in the dark
the voices whisper, she hears them
from behind half lidded eyes
they sound like the children
that once ran across the open field
chasing the ball, a too slow bird
a mortar shell whose fall
outpaced them all, left them
scattered, shattered, marked
by simple wooden crosses
that were taken for heat.

She strains to answer them
the words thick on her tongue
clogging her mouth
like a gas soaked rag
stuck into the thin neck
of a bottle, lit, they explode
inside her mind, the shrapnel
tearing at her eyes
red, only red, the sky
seems aflame yet the sun
has long since set
behind the smoke of the fires.

They hover around her
gently touching her cheek
like a demented butterfly
seeking nectar long dry
she caresses the thick scar
were her breast once stood
proudly, but there is no feeling
only numbness of too many bodies
strewn on tables, across chairs
which are broken to feed the flames
which dance away into the snowy night.

She can see their masks
hiding sneering lips
spitting vitriol for what once was
she curses them, faceless
her eyes pressed shut
by their tiny fingers, kneading
the soft dough, pulling it
taught, letting it snap back
released by the sated mouth
of the devil child who runs
laughing up the hill
chasing a dragonfly
into the dawn.


First Appeared in Arnazella, 2000.

POLI SCIENCE

She isn’t used to the cold,
she never will be, and she hates it
with the sort of passion she once reserved
for people of a different
political philosophy than hers.
She grew up here, but she left.
She has never regretted the departure.
She visits only in late spring
or in the heart of summer, or early autumn
and is here now only for a funeral, which she hates
more than the cold this winter.
She wishes that the death could have occurred
in late spring, early autumn, the heart of summer.
She is certain she will die in one of those seasons,
or at least in the deep enough south
that no one attending a funeral
will have to freeze and curse the winter.
She has no intention of dying anytime soon,
for she has a great deal left to do
and some of that clearly involves
cursing winter and hating the cold with a passion.

ANTWERP

It is seven in the morning
Antwerp arises slowing in winter
the small bar along seldom
used quays of Schelde
is almost empty, one old man
tottering on his stool
swaying to breath
head pressed on the counter.
Young couple, she brown haired
pale white skin against white
sweater, he long blond
woven into a ponytail
draped over the faded
denim jacket.
Her fingers
entwined in his, they stared
now, again sipping , she
Stella Artois, he Duvel.
He would paint,
when there was light
and when not, his fingers
would play across her belly
her breasts and mons
as they had in darkness
slowly receding, touching
canvas mind filling
with images cast in oils,
she would cast words
as ancient runes, telling
of times gone, to come,
and in night he would rise
into her, interlocked
sweat running across
his chest, pooling
in his navel.
She touched
his lips, sucked her finger
and put match
to cigarette, drawing
deeply of the morning
carried on river breezes.


First Appeared in Coffee and Chicory, Vol. 5, 1997.

BASHO DOES NOT TEACH 鐵笛倒吹 八十

There is a woman
who asks no questions,
who fears neither birth nor death.
What can you teach her?
The wise man offers no lesson
but observes closely
and gains great wisdom.

What can you teach
one who already knows.
What can you learn
with a fully open mind.
In a clockless world
there is no time.


A reflection on case 80 of the Iron Flute Koans

FIRST TIME

It looks perfectly normal, the kind
of restaurant you would seek out
on a Friday night in a distant city.
The people look like those you know
or could know, those from home for instance.
She is not remarkable, blonde, older,
a slightly twisted smile, blue eyes,
but on meeting there is a sudden distance
as though this is not a normal world,
certainly not the world where
you first met a cousin, and you have
a nagging feeling, which grows during the meal
that one of you is an alien, an avatar
from some other world, parallel perhaps,
and this reality is anything but, although
the pennette is quite remarkable.
Would you meet your first true relative at age 62
you know that while blood may be thicker than water,
it also congeals just as easily.