Category Archives: Free Verse/Prose Poems

On My Father’s Fifth Yahrzeit

I’m making your favorite dinner. Red, green,
white. It’s like a Christmas card. Tomatoes
and peppers. Onions, chopped coarse and scattered
over a field of red like white beads. Flecks
of color from peppers. Handfuls of spice.
Simmering all together, the way we
simmered and softened in summer’s too high
heat, boiling over the tall pot’s edges.
While cooking, I fret over the house; it’s
falling apart. The fridge door is broken.
You’d know how to fix it, but I’ve taped it
together with duct tape, some neon pink,
some zebra striped. The toilet doesn’t flush
properly. You’d know how to fix that, too.
I know how, but like you, I have bad knees,
and like you at the end, am just too old
and broken to make it all the way down
to the floor and still expect to get back
up. Yeah, no. So the toilet doesn’t work.
They told me how you fell, and broke, and tried
to drag yourself onto your feet again
clinging to the bathroom doorknob until
the knob bent, and the door came loose, and you
fell again, and passed out from the pain. They
found you a couple days later. That
wasn’t how you died, just a beginning
of the end, one of many. If I try
to choose just one beginning for the end,
I always find myself going further
and further back in time, and finally
give up, saying beginnings are the end.
They say we can’t escape our past, it comes
to find us, over and over again
throughout our lives. I don’t know the stories
you carried in silence, apparently
at ease in your favorite chair, not speaking.
I know some of my mother’s secrets. Some
of my own. I know how they swell inside
as we walk through life, finding as life shrinks
our secrets don’t, but grow, and become more
of us, infiltrating, grabbing onto
bits of life around us and pulling them
either into and through us or into
the stories we don’t tell. I believe that’s
what makes our death a blessing or a curse,
at least in part. Now, we are taught to ask,
“What happened to you?” That’s not what people
used to ask. Neighbors. Coworkers. We said,
“Why did you do that?” “Why do you do such
terrible/wonderful things?” What were you
thinking?” Or we asked nothing, just blamed. Or
praised. Either way, it was a fiction, and
it was real. As real as the comfort of
your daily rosary, the beads shifting
in your hands, over and over, the prayers
a shield and a gift. I light a candle
you would never have lit, and murmur prayers
you never learned, and remember you as
a puzzle, with pieces missing. This is
as it should be. It is what it is. We
are what we are. Or were. Or will be. Amen.

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.

Our Lady of Endurance

Somewhere a whip-thin girl slumps on the edge of the bed she couldn’t afford to replace after she was raped in it; then straightens, stands, and goes to work, where she smiles and laughs and brightens the day for everyone around her. I am her.

I am the mother and the father,
The brother and the sister.

Somewhere a wife apologizes to the neighbors for keeping them awake last night. She doesn’t mention that her screaming was because her husband was beating her again. They know. I remember. I am her. Somewhere a mother takes her youngest child wailing into her bed, so they can both sleep and feel safe. I am her.

The cat that bats your mouse,
The dog that tugs the leash.

Somewhere a woman stands silent and still until he turns one last time and she waves back, nerves jangling invisibly within. Somewhere another woman locks the door behind her, turns away from the house, and walks away as if this is any other day, but knows this is the end and beginning of her life, if she makes it through the first day of freedom.

The coon that snarls under the porch,
The cow that doesn’t avert her gaze.

Somewhere a woman takes off her apron and puts on the rest of her uniform, hands out lunches they wish were something else to the kids and drives them to school before going to her own duties. Somewhere a woman waits for a bus while a nearby man shudders with fear of the scars on her face. I am her, I am her.

The bush of berries tart and sweet,
The tree on which you lean and weep.

Gray-haired, a woman in a suit pulls out a folder to study papers for today’s decision. Silver-haired, weights in each hand, she briskly walks the track, knowing she can’t put it off forever, but trying to minimize the time she’ll be a burden.

I am there, facet, flicker, stone, stump,
Wind or window, the flame and the extinguisher.

I am her. I am here. I am all around you.

Our Lady of Waiting

Waiting to be born
Waiting to be fed
Waiting to walk
Waiting to talk, to tell your stories
Waiting to know the alphabet
Waiting to know your numbers
Waiting to learn the times tables
Waiting for your report card
Waiting behind the couch for your dad to get home
Waiting for the screaming to stop
Waiting for the bruises to fade
Waiting for the bathroom
Waiting for the bus
Waiting for the train
Waiting for dinner
Waiting for the cookies to come out of the oven
Waiting for the first snow
Waiting for Christmas
Waiting for Easter
Waiting for the last snow
Waiting for the trees to bud
Waiting for the violets
Waiting for the strawberries
Waiting for the bell
Waiting for summer
Waiting for the first day of school
Waiting to grow into your shoes
Waiting to dance en pointe
Waiting for your first period to come
Then waiting for your period to come, over and over and over
Waiting for your learners permit
Waiting for your first car
Waiting for someone to understand your stories
Waiting for a friend
Waiting for your first date, first dance
Waiting for your first kiss
Waiting for your first kiss from someone you want
Waiting for your first kiss from someone who cares
Waiting for the boy to call
Waiting for the blow to fall
Waiting for your prince to come
Waiting to turn 21
Waiting for the ring
Waiting to find out if you are pregnant when you don’t want to be
Waiting to find out if you are pregnant when you want it desperately
Waiting to tell him you lost the baby
Waiting for forgiveness
Waiting for someone else to be born
Wondering who they will be
Waiting to hear that all is well
Waiting for the other shoe to fall
Waiting to hear that it can be fixed
Waiting for sleep
Waiting for the baby to stop crying
Waiting for a raise
Waiting for your first house
Waiting for paint to dry
Waiting for the pot to boil
Waiting for the sun to set
Waiting for the stars to come out
Waiting for a fish to bite
Waiting for life to be simple
Waiting for the movie to start
Waiting for the monster to jump out
Waiting for the girls to scream
Waiting for the curtain to go up when you are on the other side
Waiting for your big break
Waiting to make up
Waiting for the lie
Waiting for the truth
Waiting for the truth to be used against you
Waiting for him to come home
Waiting to hear him admit he lost his job, again
Waiting for the phone to ring
Waiting for a knock on the door
Waiting for the house to sell
Waiting for the divorce to be finalized
Waiting to forgive
Waiting for your child to come home from school
Waiting for your favorite color to be in fashion again
Waiting for your favorite dress to fit again
Waiting for the next book in the series to come out
Waiting for someone to listen
Waiting for your mother to get better
Counting her breaths when they stop
Waiting for your father to figure out he needs help
Waiting to hear if they could find him
Waiting to hear how the surgery went
Waiting your turn
Waiting at the doctor’s office
Waiting for the results of the biopsy
Waiting for chemo
Waiting for hair
Waiting for a recurrence
Waiting to say so long for now
Waiting for the pain to stop
Waiting for the pain to stop
Waiting to stop
Waiting for the priest
Waiting for light
Waiting

Speaking in Code (Unmentionables, 24)

It’s all about getting to first base, third base, sliding into home. It’s all about you, and nothing about me. It was never about the money. Of course it wasn’t, it never is. It’s about choices. Making choices, having choices. It’s about the details. I don’t think it’s funny. It’s all about shoulders, tied in knots. It’s about now. Right now. It’s about changing what “now” is.

This isn’t what it’s about. Tibet. Thailand. Tokyo. Tunisia. It isn’t about singing, elephants, thieves, late night neon lights, the moon that eats up the stars. It isn’t about having a big impact, like being scared in Katmandu when the ancient temples fall. It isn’t about blessings, or grace. It isn’t about how many hands it takes to do it. And we’ll never have Paris. Never.

Hawaii, where I’ve never been, but still I steam in the hot words; cradle fragile nuggets of juice that stain my arms lime. I am smeared with mango, scratched with blackberry, streaked hot pink with ōhelo ‘ai; aching for a sky the color of my bruises: violet, magenta, dusk. I buy awapuhi at the grocery to scent my dreams, mourn its scaly heat, brew a cup of jasmine comfort.

Underground tunnels are slippery with seepage, curved with the logic of water, carved with the stiffness of stone. There are rumors of desiderata in the darkness, but with the awkwardness of the misplaced, we know that intention alone will not discover the scattered seeds. Dragon’s teeth. It is the distant echoing. Lost, lost, long lost, the veins of gold bleed ice.

Remember that flashback we had? Where Sonja beat the evil wizard? Why didn’t she just feed him to Ryu-Wo? It was all about her. It was all about her hair. It was all about war, revenge, art. It’s all about art. It’s all about cutting out the heart. Let’s have another round before you go. I’ll pass. I’ll pass out. It’s just like you treat her like a human. Go figure.

This is round two. Don’t kill this person. This boy. This bed. This thing that cannot be pried out of my mouth. We need this to release the most powerful fighter who will ever exist. We need this to catch the mouse and cage it. We need this in black. We need this urgently. This is three. This is she. This is what a hero looks like. This is subzero. This too shall pass.

Sunflowers. How they embrace the searing sun. Open themselves to it, divide each spear of light into mathematical precision, the elegance of multitudes, rapacious hungers sated by their slick delicious oils. Or, perhaps each one being different, there is an opposite, flinching from fever, cringing from the moonlight. It’s about the sun, the sun shine. Where the sun never shines.

It’s all about Alice, tripping down the hole, the hole that grew to be large enough to hold her, and her world. It’s all about doing the time warp again, with the knees clenched tight, and the pelvic thrusts. It’s about love, hate, and big hair. It’s about making beautiful music. It’s about the team. It’s about taking one for the team. It’s about winning, taking control. Taking it.

Fragments (Unmentionables, 23)

[NOTE: We’ve been without network for 2 days, so I’m running behind on NaPoWriMo duties. I’ll try to catch up tomorrow.]


FRAGMENTS

i.
There was a laughing mouth,
but it wasn’t mine to wear.

ii.
A stormy night stuffed
with false fathers, who
(like some real fathers)
turn away when you
turn toward them, and then
poke you when you don’t.

iii.
I have the portrait
of her rapist, framed.
It was an heirloom.
I thought someone (me?)
should have it who knew.

iv.
Death wraps the dead
in forgiveness,
bathes them and us
in surprising
sweetness. Let go.
Let go. It’s time.

v.
Like kittens no one wants
dumped in a grocery bag
under a broken bridge,
I’m trying to set free
a story no one wants
to hear, no one wants told.

Saying No (Unmentionables, 22)

“Consider the duty of saying No; to what we should say No;
and the difficulty and examples of saying it.”

But I did say no. I did. Or did I?

“No peace, no excellence, no safety, without being able to say No.”

When he pounded on the door, I said,
no, I’m sleeping, go away.

“Even inferior creatures have this power of saying No.”

When he said let me in, I said
it’s too late, go away.

“Saying No grows easier every time you do it.”

When he said he was thirsty, he’d been out running for miles,
when he dripped sweat and asked for a glass of water,
I said get real, let me go back to sleep, I’m not a water fountain,
go somewhere else.

“A saying No to them deliberately, honestly, and finally.”

When he said it was too late,
all the bars were closed,
I said then go home.

“But stop your ears, — refuse the thoughts and urgencies, — say No”

When he said home was too far away, I said
he should have thought of that sooner.

“This ‘saying-No’ and ‘saying-Yes’ is in his case
a veritable Paraphasia vesana, or insane language”

When he said, just a glass of water, just one glass of water, I said,

“But have we this power to say No?”

You promise? One glass of water, and you’ll leave?

“Lose no time by saying No, Let us to the green woods go.”

And then it really was too late.

“Whereas, if you say Yes, yes, you open the bulwark,
and it is like the letting in of water,
hard to stop, and always increasing.”


NOTE: Quotes mostly from:
Milne, John. “When and How to Say No.” Christian Treasury, December 1, 1868, v.24, pp.565-567.