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.

The Face of Mercy (Unmentionables, 11)

[NOTE: The computer I was using fried on Sunday when I was writing this, so it was posted a day late, and I post dated it to make it fit the days for NaPoWriMo, and make it easier to track and find.]


(i) The face of mercy

is so dark. I couldn’t
make out his features.
He pulled his beater over
beside my sedan with its
flat tire, broken down
in the heart of the South Side
of Chicago, much too long
after midnight. Nearby,
the factory’s broken windows
also barely visible,
the streetlights burned out,
well most of them. He walks
slow, gangly, wiry, worn,
cheekbones jutting. I look
soft and white and well-fed,
Wonderbread. Two hours later,
he’s done jacking up my car,
replacing the tire. He won’t
take money, accepts my thanks,
calls this miracle “God’s work.”
He never told me his name.

(ii) The face of mercy

is tired and grizzled,
and doesn’t work here.
He’s probably the only one
for a hundred miles or more
who speaks even a little
of my language. I speak
none of his. I’m here on faith,
but there are no churches
for much farther than that,
in the thick of Eastern Europe
at a time when no one
even imagined the fall
of the Berlin Wall. Still,
he’s kind; explains I’m lost,
about to get on the wrong train
heading the wrong direction.
I grab his hand, grateful,
shake it vigorously, and run
for the right train, shouting,
“Thank you!” Later, I call him
my Communist angel of God.

(iii) The face of mercy

is a toddler, chubby,
unsteady, and so fast!
Running right past grandma,
past the eager aunts, right
to the saddest person there,
the only person looking away,
where the babe crawls up
onto the unwelcoming lap,
and refuses to leave.

(iv) The face of mercy

is young, soft, white, roundish
with a sharp chin and thick glasses,
surrounded by a dark cloud of fine,
frizzy hair. In class, she was quiet,
always, sitting in the back, while
I was loud and brash, right in front.
That morning, she went up to the prof,
and she told him what he was going
to do: let me take the final late.
That evening, the evening after
I was raped, she came to my door,
fierce and protective. I said no,
turned away. I didn’t let her in,
I couldn’t let anyone in. Still,
I never forgot that she came
without being asked, standing
in the dim twilight, in the doorway
where hours before my rapist stood
in the deep dark. It helped. It helped.
I never forgot her face, even if
I could never remember her name.

Masks (Unmentionables, 10)

Voilà! The classic little black strip without which any respectable bandit feels improperly dressed.

There’s always the ski mask for fuller coverage of those fleshier faces.

A feathered headdress with jewel-coloured diamond patchwork fitted to the face. The mask attracts all the attention, so you don’t need to.

These are just too darling. Perky plaid pollution filtration masks that color coordinate with your outfit.

Or let’s keep it simple. You can’t go wrong with a bandana, knotted at the neck and draped over the mouth. Too open?

We could custom print a black bandana with teeth, mandible, maxilla, and zygomatic bone, then you could pair it with sunglasses to scare other drivers on the highway when you ride your hog. Who knows? It might work.

A yellow fez-shaped blob of plastic dangling from overhead. It doesn’t fit. It’s not supposed to. Or so they say.

Oh, something more athletic. Tougher? Perhaps Iron Man? I know, you’re right. It’s been done to death.

A welder’s mask? Too heavy. Yes, one doesn’t want to appear too common. Naturally. Apollo astronaut helmet?

Gridded bars across the face and mouth, connected to sensors to alert you to injury. They don’t work. Well enough, anyway.

Do any of them work? Silly superheroes, do they really believe that jellybean-coloured scrap will hide their secret identity?

Better the full face latex, molded to fit, monster or clown, furred or striped, with crazy curly red hair stitched to the edges. But damn, someone could smoulder inside.

If they do, grab a pocket mask and suck in some air. Then push the air in them, whether they like it or not.

Something simpler, but along the same lines but cooler, only covering half the face, animal snouts. Just the snout and jaw, pick your animal!

Hmmm, not quite. Perhaps a hot pink gel pack, with cute smiley-face holes cookie cut into it, chilled or warmed, however you prefer. No?

Available in three colourways, baby blue or custard yellow or pure white, the disposable, pleated like the skirt of a Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform.

More medical? The full face combo, complete with goggles, pocket resuscitator, and respirator. All clear plastic, but with a wave to distort the face behind.

Quite right. It DOES look like transparent tentacles wrapping around your head, shimmering, slick, beautifully malignant. Not the look you wanted?

Here’s something novel. First it’s a bra, but when the poison gas starts you can quickly convert each cup to an air filtration device. One for you, one for a friend, eh?

Too complicated? What about a scuba mask? Deep sea or snorkeling?

Ah, the steampunk goggles, of course. Brassy, sassy, and opaque, all at the same time. No? Vintage deep sea diver?

If that’s the style you’re going for, perhaps a military-grade full-face reusable … ? Of course. That would be insensitive.

Civilian-styling, perhaps a Dräger Deluxe 5500 Full Face with dual respirators?

No, I am NOT your mummy. Yes, they do look like bug’s mouths. No, they don’t wiggle side to side.

Perhaps death masks? We have an almost infinite supply, each one unique.

Or Guy Fawkes? None unique, all exactly the same, completely unidentifiable.

Yes, we can deliver that tonight. Did you want it gift-wrapped?

Juan Luna’s Introduction

Today I squeezed onto the crowded bus,
dragging my bag past feet and wheels, settling
finally into the only open seat,
next to a twinkling tiny brown woman.
She nodded as I sat down, leaned over
conspiratorially, and said, “So!
You like Luna?” “Luna?” I asked, baffled.
“Juan Luna! You are reading about him!”
“Oh, the book!” I flip it over, confirm
the cover does indeed say “Juan Luna.”
“You know the new book store? Literati?”
I ask, waving my hands vaguely towards it.
“Of course,” she nods, serenely. “I have asked,
for many months — 6? 8? — I’ve been asking
for them to stock the books of Luisa
Igloria.”
“Ah, you read Luisa?”
“Luisa is … incredible,” I rave,
“I love her work, always so vivid, so
intense, so vibrant. We know each other
on Facebook.”
“Really,” she says, “You know her?”
I nod. “On Facebook?” I nod. “Hmmm. I know
Luisa,” she says, “In real life. We’ve met.
She’s a Philippina.” My eyes go wide.
“Really?! Well, yesterday her books arrived
at the bookstore. I bought two, and left one,
so maybe someone else will learn about her.”

“Thank you,” she says, firmly, “Luisa is
quite good.” I pass over the book, but she
waves it away. “I don’t read much these days.
That’s why I go to the doctor. My eyes.”
So I read to her, on the bus, “Luces.”
“I have been reading about the Malolos
Convention … “
“Ah!” she interrupts, “Since you
are reading about Malolos, did you
know there is a lecture today, at noon?
You might find it interesting. Since you
are reading about Malolos.” “How?!”
“I was a faculty at the college,”
she explains. “What did you teach?” “Philippine
language and culture.” “Ah, that explains how
you know Luisa.”
She smiles, and nods,
rummages in her bag. “Here!” She pushes
a bus schedule at me. “Write down your name,
your email address. I want to talk more.”
She can’t find a pen, I can’t find a pen.
Then she does, and I write. “What is your name?”
I ask. “Deling.” Then, tentatively, “How
is she? Luisa? It’s been a while since
I’ve seen her, now that I’m retired.”
I describe her new poetry, the blog,
her recordings, video, her friendship
with Dave, who introduced us. “I’m sorry,
what is your name again? I’m bad with names.”

“Deling.” “Could you write it down? I’m not good
with this.”
She does. I continue reading
aloud: “gold-tasseled menus … Cocido
Filipino … sardinas secas … straw …
glaciers … mestizas … fathered by friars …”

and at last “los indios bravos.” Both
of us smile at the end. I reach past her
to pull the cord. “I’m glad to have met you.”
“Me, too. What is your name again? I want
to remember, to say hi to Luisa
for you.”
“Deling,” she says. “That’s my nickname.”
Later at the noon presentation, this:
“May I livetweet your talk?” [pause] “Oh, wow,
that’s never happened before.” “How do you
pronounce your name, Kale like the vegetable?”

“No, I pronounce it Kah-lay.” “I’m here now
because of this book, and this poem …”
“Oh, yeah,
I know Luisa. I should read that book.”


True story, lightly edited. I really WANT to put up another in the Unmentionables series, but … I have a super busy day, and I’m not sure I’ll have time to finish the next one in the series, and at least this way I’ve fulfilled my NaPoWriMo obligation!