(Between Mallows and Rock Roses)
Try this: perch on a sandstone jebel;
feel your heart soar in the space
between mallows and rock roses, in a place
devoid of man. Do this early February—
Feast of Saint Brigit or Imbolc Day,
moving from winter into spring.
Hear the greening, flowering desert
calling you—earth summoning reverence
for ones bearing capsules that split open
along midribs of their modified leaves,
or dry fruit of indehiscent multiple carpels:
Indian mallow; Althea ludwigii;
cheeseweed common in depressions.
Compassion for herbs, shrubs:
rock roses and frostweeds
tendering calcareous rocks
and shallow depressions, truffles
growing in alliance with some.
Feel the desert tremble with floral
presence, the accusing iridescent eye
of the dragonfly, the wadis seeping.
From every shrub and herb,
a sweet breathing. Sit in the space
between Malva and Cistace,
become the desert's essence, ordained
by black redstart and desert lark,
gerbel and jird as it stretches before you —
all the universe you need.
— Diana Woodcock, Midlothian, VA
From the casket, the simple materials
Ghost peintre requires: torn canvas
of sufficient size for an infant's shroud,
fat tubes of slate and burnt sienna—
the primaries of your palette.
And a knife for the subtleties.
Forego the cross of easel, Ghost,
spread cloth instead like a patient
upon the table—beneath a hanging
light begin. Ropy veins of severed neck.
Holes where eyes had been, smeared
in a blindfold of blood. The scraped
scream of the mouth. The roar
of white sky. Toil on, Ghost. Beyond
barred window, the river whispers
toward the city and its groaning
museums, while frogs confer on genius:
But is it any good, or even a resemblance?
Every ghoul's Picasso at 2:00 a.m. You raise
black hands, lift the ruined blade.
No human mask, that's for certain.
Finally, yes, a minor study of agony,
overwrought and taken too far.
But Ghost is Ghost's harshest critic.
— Gaylord Brewer, Lacassas, TN
The U-2: our spy plane, before drones. So,
piloted by pilots, who sometimes got
shot down. Gary Powers remembered the f alling
fondly: just falling perfectly free, and then
the parachute, better than floating
in a swimming pool. He passed fields
and forests, everything cold, quiet,
serene. A large section of the aircraft
floated by, twisting and fluttering
like a leaf. But he landed, skipped
the cyanide some of us thought he should
take. The Russians picked him up, gave
him a Laika-brand smoke. How like an American
cigarette it was. The packet —you can still
find them online—is beautiful, half lapis
sky, gold stars. Little sickle
of moon. Sputnik streaking by. And Laika:
once a Moscow stray, first dog in space. First
anything to orbit earth. First one to die
up there. Her doggy face is nobly portrayed.
She died in hours: too hot, no air. But her corpse
circled the earth two thousand, five hundred
ten times before she crashed and burned.
Chin up, she looks past you, into her airless space.
— Jill McDonough, Jamaica Plain, MA
You are beautiful, I'll grant you,
but I find you cold, your beauty
sterile, austere. I might even say
morose —at very best, unhappy.
I can't fathom what Leda saw
in you, and that Aoife,
in her fevered envy,
changed the poor children of Lir
into the likes of you
is one of the nastiest fates
for a human child
that I can think of.
White, White, White.
Better the Ugly Duckling
had stayed a duck
and grew into something
as green and sheened
as I am blue—and not just blue,
but azure, cobalt—
hurtling over the river
like a bolt of laughter.
My short, bright cinnabar beak
is worth many times
the whole long coil
of your snakey neck.
— Frederick Lowe, Frenchtown, NJ
Archives were scant. Nothing of crows in the rowed field
feeding on ergot straw. There were some photos,
mostly dogchewed or torn. But they did show his body hanging up,
during a still, bright day, arms secured out in rough passels of twigs.
And the gloves, forced on and twined to the uneven wrists.
In the images there is typically a slight lean, for I imagine
it's impossible to get the scarecrow's cross exactly right.
The soft ground is trickery, and can't always bear this human weight.
There were a few drawings of the man, scrawled shapes
intimating the high shadow of our smoky countryside.
But for all their terrible earnestness, I don't have to mention
that these artifacts are inadmissible in any serious way.
Police files, hospital records: those things have clout.
My neighbor's father proved to be the most helpful
in my research and the writing of this piece.
Though, ashamedly, I had to fight a soft impatience with him.
I'm not proud of this and it was surprising,
and I'll have some bruised time to think about this later on.
But sometimes, when he was remembering- dogs barking at night,
electric fear devouring sleep- he would break down,
freeze, and I would put down my recorder and comfort him
as best I could. He told me: for a year the county was a silent fire.
They waited for the morning paper, and its rancid ink, and the killer.
The burlap head showing up in their yards.
— Linda Wojtowick, Portland, OR
The moon behind the moon
works its huge tides
the way you rotate this switch
and the wall still warm
dims, struggles to hold on
as the silt and afterglow
you use for coastline :a mouth
where the knob stops
condemned to circle back
—without thinking! you peel
and slowly a great darkness
drifts over you, whispers
though it is already hiding
another shadow, pulling it
closer, still weak, has her forehead.
— Simon Perchik, East Hampton, NY
It began in bed. Even in the vague dreamlight
of five am, I could see
the bedclothes crawling.
I scrambled out and tore the sheets
from the mattress,
ran them through a hot water wash, the wringer,
the industrial dryer's dessicating heat.
a shadow in the shape of a body,
ghostly tracery of filth and grease
burned into the sheets
The walls began to bubble,
plaster pocked and rippling like infected skin.
Wipe the walls down with Lysol,
take a wire brush to buckling floorboards
and strip the varnish to pulp.
Still, the dark scent of flesh,
like bruised fruit, is everywhere.
A balloon tied to a child's wrist.
It goes where I go
All night I swab my skin with astringent, sterilizer.
A desperate mix of peroxide, Clorox Tub & Tile,
Sally Hansen cream bleach.
It foams and burns worse than Nair,
peels the prints from my fingers,
and still: dot of rot spoiling clean
sheets. My body
a heaving bag of insects not even a swallowed
bottle of Raid could exterminate.
On my hands and knees,
arms numb with scouring, I begin to dream
a room-sized autoclave
big enough to lay down in and sleep.
Imagine the cleanest clean you could ever be.
Not-a speck clean. Eat-off-the-floor, surgical clean.
Imagine me as a white-hot skeleton,
a filament walking past these blinding, bleached-out walls.
White on white.
No one would ever see me then.
— E.B. Paige, Stamford, CT
She sued him over his sonnet
for libel. Because he used her real name
in that poem about the good old days
when she was bad and beautiful. He went
into such poetic detail in the second half
of the octave, that the reader feels a sweet
gasp in the loins to read it. "Your Honor,
I am honored," he began (it was quite the turn)
"to be sued over my sonnet. May it set
a precedent. May it get people reading
sonnets again!" Then he argued that it praised
rather than defamed her, that if read properly
she was its heroine, that though he published it
in a magazine, they never paid him a cent.
— Paul Hostovsky, Medfield, MA
Grandma told me Skywoman
was pushed through a hole in the sky by her husband
and she landed on turtle's back covered in mud.
I said “that's crazy” but I believe it.
Then she told me Skywoman flew down there on white light.
And I want that light. Grandma laughs and says the light is lost,
gone, disappeared ,never found again.
But I am determined to find it.
I need that light. I will use it
to get away from the beatings.
I watch Mum pushed and punched
and I find my little sister Lulu
with a black eye and swollen lips.
I am furious to get that light.
When the fist comes pushing towards me
I duck and run as fast as I can
right into the street.
I meant to run to the Seven sisters,
never to look back, only up
and up into the night sky.
The driver never has a chance to stop
I am too fast
The truck hits me
that light is everywhere.
I fly out of my body, run towards
the homeland, white birch and maples call me
under a luminous sky of auroras and star lights.
Chickawaukie, Quentabacook, Wassataquoik
your waters surround me.
— Barbara Robidoux, Santa Fe, NM
115 000, 20 000, 11 000, 5 000, 2 000
115 000 refugees out of Nigeria
Carrying with them black barrels of sadness
20 000 refugees out of Baga
Carrying the distance from what they loved most
11 000 of the 20 000 left for Chad
5 000 found their way to just outside Baga
Carrying their grief into a hundredfold of grief
2 000 extirpated in Baga and Dolan Baga
My grief cannot translate this beyond words
I would have loved to fly, howl and sizzle
Instead of this meager mundane fizz
It felt like absence, it felt gone
2 000 wiped off the land, glutted, gutted, gunned
Like a loosening of the human sphincter
Into a river, an ocean of red blood flowing off
Bulleted blood pouring into Lake Chad
Vegetation, soils, ditches, stones, grass
Reddened; colored red by an insane painter
In the name of religion, this insane painter kills
Maim, detain, rape, and kill again, displace, without care
Leaving tapes of grief flowing, tapes and tapes of it,
Flowing out, all human shit flushed out at once!
3700 razed structures in Baga and Doran Baga
By the madness that descended on 3 January 2015
And for 4 days this God killed, injured, displaced
Made us sick; we lost our families, properties, livelihoods
Using fear to make us conform to its teachings
This God has a name: Boko Horam
We have called out to it before
Asking it to bring back our girls it had abducted
And it brought them back strapping bombs on their little bodies
Burning us in its hot intelligence, fear and anger
Killing thousands all over our motherland
We have tried to stop calling for our babies back
Silently we have implored it, "Don't bring them back."
Not those ones who were coming back!
But the bullets never stopped flying our way
For the creation of a hard line Islamic state
In the north, north east Nigeria, it now controls
Killing over 2 000 in a small town!
This God killing civil vigilantes aiding the military?
This God doesn't care whom it would kill
And we can shout from our safe zones south
War crimes and crimes against humanity!
It doesn't bring them back, stop this killing God
The gulf between us sweeps breath across absence
A 50 year old running into the bushes
Dodging the red bullets, flying his way, says,
"I saw over 100 people being killed in Baga."
Another says, "Bodies were everywhere I looked."
Another says, "They were bodies decomposing in the streets."
Another stepped on dead bodies for over 5 kms
Another says, "Over 300 young woman were taken for amusements."
Another saw little children being gunned down
The pain of this powerlessness!
Half the body of the boy was out
Groaning red prayers
Breathing the hot angry smell of death
As bullets gutted it, pummeled it, and its mother
Killing a woman in labor, she died
With her unborn child
Death became the last word in human life
The last one in the shipwreck of humanity
It is all a cheat code
A God who kills to be worshipped
Doesn't care to kill itself; the unborn child
Who would worship it if it kills the innocent?
Who would be left in this killing field?
To worship it, to give alms to it, for it.
Who would care to love such a God
My own maps are useless and invisible
This poem's inability to say what I want it to say
Your own editing of this draft of grief
A death without an echo, it means nothing
I am afraid to fall in love with this sound
The sound that can't be quieted
Of my own tears and their shapes
Yet we can only harmonize together in our soft
Braided chorus that sings of an ocean of grief
— Tendai Rinos Mwanaka, Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe