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exhibition at the cafe

Exhibition at the Café

the café’s thunder-gray walls are covered in paintings of guns: rifles, handguns, one gun pointed at another. I am surprised by the lack of detestation I feel, as if my mind is protecting me by viewing the guns as mere symbol- almost harmless, almost good. sipping my vanilla latte I think how I want to hold the cold metal weight of one, to point the trigger at a cold metal place inside me no sunset or sunrise seems to take away.

 

my 2-month old daughter has fallen asleep at my breast. the length of her body is spread across my lap and I am comforted by her warmth, her curled hand like moonlight on my belly. I listen to the sounds from her point of view, what she would hear if she were awake: voices and ceramic clinks burning together in one ungraspable flame. the low backdrop drone of a middle-aged man who speaks with short pauses as if chanting a prayer.

 

I think of how my mother might have settled into her rocking chair, wooden, the color of her eyes. the sensations that might have swept through her as she nursed me, her firstborn, after a lifetime of water-treading starvation. hunger-her theme, her tragedy. how she might have found nourishment in the deep tender forest of my eyes, how she might have bowed low with her forehead to my feet and her love drilling a hole that she simultaneously filled with the shavings.

 

I read something written by the artist. that he is not making a statement but wants his audience to contemplate the powerful history-and-fate shaping thing called the Gun. there is a flavor in my mind, sweet and sour and resigned, knowing the forces that influence my own lamentable plot. knowing that to unlearn the mother’s hunger, the child must betray her.

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on the cheap plastic deck chair

I.

i’m folded into myself

on the cheap plastic deck chair–

an ocean wave

majestic crest bloomed

and rolling inward.

i’m trying to choose what to focus on:

the science of stars, texture of air,

chaos and ethics,

the effect of chaos on ethics,

a man’s touch/a woman’s touch

II.

don’t tell me not to cry

my body is decaying as we speak

soon no one will want to look at it

and then no one will remember

that it ever existed.

the people i speak to everyday

will leave

or i will leave them.

III.

each moment begins with a

heaviness

dense with tragedy and sin

silver threads tangled like moonlight

ghosts of primal fear

my shoulders tense and

my heartbeat quick as a summer storm

quivering through the skies:

then the shadow loosens into

a fine kind of glittery dust

lucid with eyes that

see into the dark.

family therapy

I.

I am watching a mother and her son

the mother has left the father

and her colors are always shifting

for a moment she is summer blue

her hands, palms down,

look as though they are kneading air

as though she is laying her words

on the shore

of her son’s ocean heart

he tries to speak

but she is already running ahead

her eyes spill glass tears

and her whole body shakes

red, blood red, merlot red, fire orange,

sunset orange, slivers of black and coal

her son plays with his zipper

zip up zip down

zip up zip down

while she loses herself in rage

turns white with it

until her organs burn

and her body contracts, empty

she faces him, moist-cheeked,

and folds herself into his chest

his arms are stiff

in the shadow of her formless form

he avoids my eyes

the fingers of his right hand

are already

turning to stone.

II.

but I don’t only watch

the mother and her son

my task is to save them

from this fate

immersed in the mother’s

thick oozing voice

my own mother comes

with her woven pendant

of silver, copper, silk

and places it at the center

of my chest

the breath slides invisible

gathers and spins

its heavy web

in the pendant

a tiny voice unwinds

sinks down

as if the mother’s presence

is a lake

and the voice is a pebble

meaning, I lay my lotus palms

on the floor

and hold space for

fragments of spattered truths

the mother is tangled

in her worn-out stories

the son, silent, and

I am stuck at the cliff’s edge

where my mother’s soul

meets my own

you’re hurt,

I say to the boy’s mother

it seems the only thing

to say in this room

poisoned with words

or maybe it is all

I have the courage to say.

bad lover

Georgia O'Keefe

Georgia O’Keefe (Photo credit: Martin Beek)

Life is like

making love

with a partner

who doesn’t  quite know

how to get it right.

The attraction can be

unbearable.

You move

your hips

in circles

for years

searching for the

right spot.

Sometimes

you are so close to climax

the darkness

like a tunnel

seems to crack.

Image

side of the road

stand still-
autumn brook
gives voice to
its many selves.

separate skins

Imagewe sat in the screened-in porch and discussed what other kinds of things we could have done with our lives. the air was flat and sticky, poking through windows and walls.   

 

our daughter, seven months old, slept fitfully in our bedroom. my body tenses when she hears or sees something ugly, like the day before when two teenage boys passed by throwing curses with hard jagged motions. we were walking on a sidewalk and I slowed down, let them pass, stopped myself from sprinting across the road. she showed no sign of noticing any of this, just gazed curiously from face to face, all the passing strangers with all their secret worlds. if she has nightmares I don’t know what they’re about: maybe they’re about sharp-worded teenage boys or maybe they’re about hunger. I hope she dreams of beautiful things, like the radiant-winged azalea blossoms outside her window and fairies guiding her through a sunlit forest. I hope that my love warms her even in the coldest corners of her dreams.

 

my husband thinks that maybe he should have been a scientist, a dendrologist, to spend his days in the hushed company of trees.

 

we sat in the darkness. outside, there was a mass of black space and it was the forest breathing itself to sleep under a starless wave of sky.

 

I thought of a walk I used to take with my parents, where the woods bordered on a classmate’s property. all through the walk I would wonder what he was doing, wonder if he could see me which of course he couldn’t and I laughed extra hard. stood extra tall with my chest open wide. the land was electric with pre-adolescent fantasy and  lust. (a strange kind of lust, a ravenous and abstract craving which may have sounded like whining to the passersby.) years before, in the fourth grade, I’d slapped his back with my winter hat as an attempt at flirtation. he turned around and I smiled sweetly, shyly, but he must have growled something in response because I remember flaming hot orange in embarrassment and I never tried flirting again.

 

my husband would make a good scientist. he’s curious, focused, perseverant when there’s purpose to a task. when I describe myself I worry that I’m setting limits on who I am and who I have the potential of being but I’ll go ahead anyways and admit to a lack of patience. a kind of frustrated restlessness when the undertaking is too mundane or challenging or boring. as a therapist I can train myself to drift in cradles of stories and free-floating words. if a woman says ‘life is too unbearably hard’ then I can sink into the center of that phrase and nod my head. I can say ‘yes, yes it is,’ and then help her climb out with different words, different images, different symbols. I can say ‘feel the chair holding your weight.’ ‘feel the stillness at the core of every moment.’

 

in college I panicked, felt ill-equipped to live in this world. I became obsessed with the tragedy of being my own individual person bound by a skin marred with weakness and flaw. I followed the solitary swan to her place by the Charles River and settled into myself, a different kind of self than the one I was before. awed by my aloneness. bitter about it, and wondrous. I ate dinner alone as often as possible and came out on Friday nights to smoke marijuana with people who knew how to talk about nothing.

 

when my daughter was born I thought, I don’t want her to experience pain. every mother must think this, to see the shining tiny creature that’s come from her womb. if mothers could live by this feeling then maybe war wouldn’t exist. but how could they? the infant is hungry, thirsty, and tired, and maybe that is pain. the infant sees her mother leave the room and maybe that is pain. she wails and it sounds like she knows all the suffering in this world. a mother must learn to live with an aching heart, or she must let it turn to stone.

 

sometimes I imagine that I’m a tree, a tall and thick one, ancient. hemlock or cottonwood. catalpa, gingko, or weeping willow with my hair hanging loose. in their bodies I swallow the energy of earth and sun. I draw nourishment up through my roots, honor my ancestors and the parts of them that shape my life, exhale and reach, grow in intricate pathways towards the light. my skin hardens. the hardness of strength, not cynicism not judgment. I watch the shifting of things around me, I feel the movement of my limbs, I feel my leaves swelling and pulsing and dying, dropping to my feet. I feel the tremblings of procreation. the cool arms of a fickle wind. I feel a stillness in my center, the place where breath collects the ashes and carries them home.

 

the violence of humanity mirrors all the internal battlefields where volcanoes shoot fire from deep within and oceans open to inhale the rain. our contradictions shake the glowing core. people leak their lava everywhere and when my daughter was born I cringed at the lethargically sour inflections of my own imperfect voice. she was like a white dress made of lace.       

 

my husband and I watched the darkness. hidden trails of rhododendron flowers and dead leaves twisting through the garden. for some time we stopped speaking and a slow breeze moved between us. around us. her fingers lingered on our separate skins, tugging at the seams.       

white petals answer

a black mass unfolds

the layers of its heart

rocking chair, wooden table,

narrow bed

ivy stretched like lace

across the windowsill

this morning

you can feel it too

the attention, the tenderness

of light waking

and draping each object

the way a mother enfolds herself

around her sleeping infant

or a bud holds the blossom

in its belly

 

the hiss of shoelaces winding ribbons

cedar floors calloused with the

violence of frozen routine

the door creaks open and

you look back one more time

some nameless feeling

elbows you in the chest

you can hear its breath

behind your neck

 

there is no road

only the palest remnants of

some footsteps through a forest

spectral tracks which could be

one of those comforting illusions that

speak guidance and company

within the silver certainties of solitude

 

exposed tree roots on the earthen floor

the way you might excavate your past

to see the surface textures

of your path

all those loose stones and hidden holes

buttercups gathering where the

creek passes through

 

each step forward

shimmers with death

fire and ash

new seeds blinking open

receive the hushed rumble

through the soles of your feet

 

in the crinkling leaves

in the blue jay’s shriek

hear the common journey

of women and men

hunting foraging fleeing

sanctuary vision quest

seeking longing

tumbling stones

human rhythm

human voices calling to the

full moon guardian light

are we there yet

are we there yet

are we there yet

 

only white petals answer

and drop to the ground

in a series of songs

 

you, with your incense and candlesticks

climb her ribcage to the top and

wait there while the winds crash

a healing storm

follow her secret folds into

darkness moist with a

quivering pulse.