Seeing Ilya Read

“You are wonderful poets,” he begins,
gently generous. His eyes insist this

is not impersonal. He reminds me
of poets who were kind to me when I

was the young one — Creeley, Berry, Snodgrass.
When he reads, his voice changes tone and pitch,

rhythm and personality, assumes
(I imagine) the rich voice lent to him

by his father, and all the fathers who
spoke before. Urgently, he flings himself

into the words as if they are weapons
fired too late to stop the tears left by those

others; as if they are scrolls set on fire;
as if his mouth is full of tears before

he speaks; as if we should already know
he means every word, but he understands

we may not believe, we may not ourselves
understand. So he helps us follow words

by drawing dance steps through the air, dotted
lines that appear like gestures of language

sculpted with his fervor for this, for what
must be said, for what he has said before,

and again, so many times now, waiting
still to be heard by someone who has not

met these words before. Now and then he takes
a step with tenderness, wrapped in woolen

memories as if a child’s blanket curves
and spins around him; he waltzes to words.

Shekhinah Rents a TARDIS For Her Wedding, and Travels to Somewhere Near Now

Once upon a time she wore sheer veils and her gown tore as she raced through a garden of thorns. The dried blossoms fell as she passed, the ripening fruit stained her scratches.

Once upon a time she covered herself from head to toe, and lay against the sands, only her eyes visible, looking up through air thin and sharp at a night thick with stars.

The dark was not stitched with straight lines, a silvery web of dot-to-dot, but painted with shadow and scent and the whispers of snakes, sculpted with a nuance as rounded as the dunes and sanded smooth with echoes of a far away hunger.

Once she wore a hat of leaves and dreams, taller than a bishop’s mitre. Once she wore a dress of galaxies, having drawn across her body a map to the universe.

Once she stood at the door as it opened, and it opened to a room she’d never seen before; it opened to a crowd of men who stared at her, and she refused to meet their eyes.

Once upon a time the moon shone full, and she watched it move across the sky, blurring the nearest stars, as if it was a cherubim of a thousand eyes with wings that shiver in the air.

Once upon a time she watched all the moons of all the planets rise, and set, and rise again, some swift, some slow. All were beautiful.

Once she measured wires and atoms, and embroidered them into the edges of the story she saw coming. She carefully wrote down the dust of the electric in her ledger, noting the way the light spilled and the shadow spread.

Once she walked barefoot for miles, and danced in whatever mud she found along the way. If she fell, she painted her bruises with more mud.

Once upon a time she wrapped herself in a shawl, and wrapped rags around her feet to catch the blood that ran down her legs.

Once she tied on an apron, stood over the heat, and stirred together apricots and onions, nuts and rice, orange blossoms and cinnamon and salt. Once she lay against pillows with her eyes closed, waiting for the plate that was coming.

Once she stood at the door as it opened, and it opened to a crowd of men who stared at her, and she stared back, until they looked away.

Once she counted the eyes of the animals before her — the bear, the wolf, the lion, the bull. Once upon a time she stood at the rail of the ship, drenched with mist as the whale breached and bowed. She bowed back.

Once upon a time she floated in the clouds of light that stretch from star to star, enormous and unseen.

Once upon a time wine glasses chimed and laughter shattered as she guided her guests through the crowded room. She was so quiet they had to bend close to hear her.

Once she wore a kippah the color of myrtle blossoms and wide-legged pants of shimmering silk. Her hips curved, her waist sloped, her arms raised and held up the wind. Her arms lowered and circled her love.

Once upon a time, the animals gathered around her, and she stroked their soft fur, their silken scales, their warm and shivering feathers.

Once someone tried to hold her and she flinched. Once someone tried to hold her and she sighed. Once she was asked what she says to the morning and the evening. Shhh, she answered, listen, listen.

My Pulse

My pulse

brushes its fingertips

against

cochlea and canal,

scattering

sand and aural glitter.

I listen

to my arrhythmia,

sliding

into sleep along its

drunken

stumbling. Sometimes, instead,

it slides

a thin-edged knife along

the line

of my jawbone. Sometimes

it pounds

like an ex-lover who

never

did listen, becoming

all I hear.

Sometimes my pulse just stops,

paused

like a dancer in mid-leap,

balanced

as if gravity

has lost

its grip. I open

my eyes

to see what happens next.

Time For Light

It is time for light
to tip over and spill
into the darkness.

It is time for light
to transmute darkness
into shades of blue —

from midnight to aqua,
robin’s eggs (fragile
and lined with cream when

they drop, crack, break
open, revealing
curves of accidental

blue in whatever grass
cradles them, wherever
they fell). In this time

before light, we have ice,
cold and hard as stone,
but where we find light

mingled with shadow,
there is water pooled,
pooling, warm as skin,

and we are to be
naked in it, as if
it is safe, as if

it is a holy place,
as if we float
on a radiant

silence. It is time
for light to move through
the membrane dividing

what is seen from what is
unseen, unobserved,
unwitnessed. Water.

There it is, and we are
to walk into it
as if we have no plan

to return, as if we don’t
know where is the shore
and what it means to be

living. As if we are
alive right now, here
in the dark and cold.

As if entering
water means something.
What, I don’t yet know.

As if water has
never carried hurt.
As if we were not

already drowning
in these fresh waters.
There is light, and water.

We are, no, I am
to be naked in it.
As if no one ever

forced me into water,
or under water,
as if no one has

ever forced water
into me. It is time
for light to tip over

and spill like oil from lamps
unlit and lined up
against a wall painted

white, but still in shadow;
spilling like oil from
a lamp on fire, pouring

the burning, fire running
like water along
a crevice, the line

between dark and light
(day and night, black and white,
blade and flight, wound and fight).

There is a thread of blood
in the water, in the
fire, in the light. It is

time for light to tip
over and spill red
along the edges

of dawn, shivering
as if we are stepping
through a mirage into

water, or into Spring,
or into waking, or
into day. It is time.

On Broken Glass

So many kinds of shattering.
The glass dropped in the bathroom lives

on forever in the barefoot
heel. The long bone snaps in the toe;

the fingers (bone dented by knives);
the spine that dances and dissolves

pink and wet in my hands; the line
the spine followed now drawn in raw

edges. A tour guide to pain stands
in the middle of the gray street

as pieces of windows scatter
in slow motion, and then reform,

over and over again. We
watch, mesmerized, as flames flicker

in the glass before us, the glass
shards on the ground, fragments floating

back into place, outlined with gold,
an ephemeral kintsugi

where the lines show what is broken
and paint it over with fear, fire,

a whisper of belief, of love
happy without hope of wholeness.

(untitled)

Words used to tumble

in my mouth like smooth stones.

Fractured, now I choke

on them, broken teeth,

cutting the soft scars

inside the pink cheeks

so they bleed again.

The dentist says nothing,

but sees better than

the priest the way faith

has fallen out of

my mouth, the way lips

and tongue crave new prayers

made of milk and honey

to cool the throbbing

of this silence, this

hollow that echoed

with voices like organs

and chimes, and tongues like

warriors. Are there words

to stitch up the cuts?

If I hold a pebble

against my gum, will it

put down roots, and bud?

After Performing at Pride

Diva and I had planned to have dinner tonight,
but we aren’t. We are sitting beside each other
at a white plastic table on white plastic chairs
wishing for water. She is the color, and I
am the quiet, even though we both draped rainbows
around ourselves (hers a feather boa and mine
a sarong gone wrong right around my neck),
even though neither of us has get-up-and-go
enough to talk. We text. She sends me Poké gifts,
and I say thank you. She says for what, and I flash
my phone so she can see we’re both in the same app.
We roll our eyes at the same time. We drip. We drift.
We cheered the drag queens, hot sun on glitter and sequins.
Drag queens still dance, music pounds, but us? We are done.


Sonnet form: Bowlesian