Tag Archives: death

My Idols are Dead and My Enemies are in Power: 2016, a Summary

Death has soaked this year to the bone,
leaving me wide-eyed,
shivering, wet.

Enough. Enough,
I beg with my palms,

but this year was a hyena,
killing for joy rather than
need.

It took my starman, it took my space princess,
it took my American dream

and just when I was beginning to feel
there was nothing left in me to take

Carrie Fisher took my heart
out to the stars somewhere
far, far away

leaving the rest of my body on Earth,
wide-eyed, shivering,
wet.

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Cinquain Chain: Links #3 & #4

The continuation of a poetry exchange between Johnny Crabcakes and myself. We are forming a chain of cinquains in an effort to unchain our muses.

Around
what dead thing are
the vultures circling?
There is always a corpse somewhere
nearby.

Nearby,
there are blossoms
breathing in the dark night.
Why is the air so empty in
our dreams?

Our dreams
where we descend
with stones in our pockets
like Virginia into the dark
water —

water
which bears the weight
and weeps to consume us
and delivers our bodies back
to land.

Bird and Worm

Before the bird eats the worm
it looks to me for forgiveness.

How do you tell nature it is not evil?
How do you promise there is nothing barbaric
about the way it stabs its beak into the earth
and uproots a body?

The animals were the first
masters of war, after all;
before we had rifles and bombs
they had tooth and claw

and knew how to strike a weak spot –
throat and eye and
soft underbelly.

But I was wrong about the bird.
It was not asking for forgiveness,
it was not even looking at me.

Nature, it seems,
does not need permission
to be what it is.

When Wood Gives Way to Water

When wood gives way to water
the structure must collapse.

No mind is built to last.
The psyche, having weathered the storm,
shipwrecks itself

and lies like a beached whale,
groaning and heaving.
No one knows why

to be human is to hurt
in the deep places

and to know when to seek
shallow water.

So when the sea has conquered the cellar
you are already half-sunk

and when the waves have raided the wine
the sailors have already mutinied.

Do not look for buckets;
nothing can scoop out an ocean
or a thought once it has
gotten inside.

Instead, drop your anchor –
drop it and feel the weight of it
leaving you

as you emerge from that wreck of
wood and nail and bone.

You will know land once you feel it
under your feet, once you remember
you have feet

and when wood gives way to water
you will know how to carry yourself forward

like the newly-hatched turtle
under the eye of a watchful moon

or the tortoise that blinks its slow eyes
and knows how to die.

God Is Not What You Imagine

The words that come to you tonight are not mine. Rather, I’d like you to enjoy the words of Neil Gaiman, my very favorite writer. And if you like those words, I recommend his haunting and brilliant short story collection: Trigger Warning.

“Don’t go digging in that graveyard for the kinds of old, the
mighty,
Or archbishops and their riches. They are guarded by Saint
Oran
Who will rise up from the gravedirt like the darkness, like
an otter,
For he sees the sun no longer. He will touch you,
He will taste you, he will leave his words inside you.
(God is not what you imagine. Nor is Hell and nor is Heaven.)”

Happy New Year, readers and friends. May 2016 bring you new words, new stories, and new imaginings.

Similes for the Girl with a Dreamt-Up Name

The words feel fake in my mouth, she says,
after telling us her mother died in her arms.
I stroked her until she was cold.

I do not know what to do with such a confession,
or how to hold a knife when it is given to me.
I only rub her hand until it’s warm again.

She is something beautiful, something defiant –
like a vein of lightning across the cheek of a blue sky.
Her edges are not serrated, but softened,
like the place where a wall meets a wall
and becomes a ceiling.

The words feel fake in her mouth, but in the air
they collect like dust particles caught
in a beam of sunlight.

And what else can you say? –
when the sun rises and the clock opens its arms wide
while your mother dies in yours.

She is something bold, something unflinching –
reaching out to hold the hand that hit her.
Life, I’ve learned, will kiss you one moment
and kick you the next.

She never kicks back.
I quite love her for it.

Yes, her words feel fake in her mouth, but in my ear
they grow full and heavy and real.

Like something alive, flailing in the dust.

Like a flute that is hollow
until it is filled with sound.

How to Feel

“This is how to feel,” and I feel it,
hard, like a sunken stone in my stomach.

The wolf in my throat chokes,
gnaws it like a bone, raises its haunches
and howls with a blood-speckled maw.

You taught me how to feel
and I whimpered like an animal –

shot.

Now only the hunt.
Now only the endless trembling.

Is this how you imagined it?
The twisting of a head –
towards the moon or towards the dirt?

No. Only this:

shaking, shaking, shaking –
to see which breaks first:
your spine or my jaw.

12/13/1937

Where is your armor, love?
You can’t drift onto the field
with nothing but the skin on your back.

It’s cold, and there are men
whose hands are colder still.
I can feel you trembling from miles away,
from years away.

Don’t you know you’re in a war zone.
Don’t you know what they do to children here.

I Am Just as Human as You Are

Too many times you looked at me like my fingers were grasping the switch
that would rock your electric chair.

No, I will not hold a life in my hands.
I am not your executioner or your liberator,
I am not your Christ.

Stop thinking of me as a raven in a graveyard,
my beak stabbing the ground, waking the dead.
Stop imagining me with the sky and earth in each palm,
bringing them together with a clap —

ground-shaker, thunder-maker, heaven-swallower.

I will not hold the world in my throat or on my back.
I will cough it out, I will thrust it off.
The only thing worse than being treated like an animal
is being treated like a god.

Too many times you gave me your heart to weigh against a feather.
Too many times you looked at me like I was Fate with her cruel scissors.

Slowly, deliberately, one by one

I lift away my fingers.

Litany of a Sunflower

“The sunflower is mine, in a way.” – Vincent van Gogh

As God loves his followers,
so the sun loves her flowers.
You’ve never seen disciples like these –
they raise and bow their heads to her,
they sway like women in church,
they never turn their backs.

The closest I ever came to a religious experience
I was hovering like a hesitant bumblebee
in the French countryside, the day
I tried to pick one from the edge of its field

I wrestled with its stalk for minutes
before my uncle eased my hands away
and snapped it for me.

Because my fingers were gentle and incapable,
I carried my stolen gift to a grave
in Auvers-sur-Oise where I laid it six feet
above a painter’s bones

and I swear he was breathing at my neck,
nothing heavy, nothing threatening,
just grateful –

gentle and incapable
of grabbing me by the wrist
and pulling me up by the roots.

I know you, I thought.
I know that hesitancy.

The realization came like water from the dirt,
it came to me earthy, it came to me holy,
pure as an epiphany at the altar.

This is the closest to God
I’ll ever be.

The Eye of a Little God

For Sylvia

I am Plath’s terrible fish, darting between
the four points of her bathroom mirror.
I exist only when she is looking at me.
She plunges her hands into my silver pool
hypnotized with the glitter in my scales
and I slip between her fingers, wet
and slick as a sheet of glass.

This is our waltz, our
sacred morning ritual.

If you ask me what it means to be caged,
I’ll tell you the dimensions of the tank
in a poet’s gaze, how there is barely room to move,
barely room to flex your fins.
Pupils are no depths for swimming in,
but I can’t be blamed for trying.

I only exist when she is looking at me –
but she thinks she is looking into her own heart.
I haven’t the heart to tell her
that a mirror is no place for a fish,
no place for a piece of your soul.
I want to tell her to reel herself in
because I know too much to ever
bite onto her hook.

I know about pills and I know about ovens,
I know about mermaids and bell jars.
There will not be enough oxygen to go around,
not for your lungs, not for my gills,
we will part our lips and gasp for the same thing.

We will suffocate – she in her jar,
me on my back, flopping,
slapping the mirror with my body.
I will die alongside my creator.

I will shudder and still, she will curl
into herself like a crushed spider,
I on my side of the glass,
she on hers.

A Fruit Apologizes for Its Ripeness

I am a pomegranate, sliced in half,
each seed exposed and ready to be plucked.
When your fingers come prying at the rind
I pray to god my insides don’t go leaking out.

Sorry for spilling my guts on the table.
Sorry for giving up so much of myself.
You just wanted a quick look at my anatomy
before I molded, it’s fine, I understand.

I don’t know how to hold anything in.
Barriers make no sense to me –
I seep through like condensation,
like rain on a window
dying to get in where it’s warm.

I am organic matter; what I lack in metal and structure
I make up for with blood and bones –
too human to mimic a skeleton,
too fluid to imitate something still.

And maybe I’ve been exposed to you for too long –
exposed like fruit to oxygen,
exposed like mummified skin.

If that’s the case, I’m sorry for rotting,
and I’m sorry for bringing the flies in.

Bearing Witness

I wish to look at the world
the way my cat does:
unflinchingly,
often for hours as a time.

I wish my eyes could
sit in my skin like that –
glossy marbles floating
in the black universe of his fur –
forever bearing witness,
forever documenting
the happenings of my backyard.

It astounds me —
how he can stare into the heart of a window,
refusing to turn aside

even as a bird is torn to shreds
on our front lawn,
chirping for mercy
at the talons of a hawk,

how he can watch with cool detachment
while I, with my human heart,

look away.

Eggshell Heart

Day after day you pick at your heart like an eggshell
or the way a vulture might pick at roadkill,
peeling back the membrane, the layers, the skin.
Feel this, you instruct it,
pinching its fleshy softness between your nails.
Feel that, you say,
pointing to the bird lying dead on your lawn.
You press your thumb into its sides
until it bruises purple –
watching the color bloom
violent under your fingers.
You tell it to ache.
You tell it to throb.
You tell it to do
its goddamn job.

Mouse and Snake

Once in ninth grade
my class huddled together
as the science teacher lowered a mouse by its tail
into the snake terrarium.

My peers whooped and hollered,
their faces bright with horrific glee
as I, social recluse, finally saw it:

the ring of humanity,
and how I existed on its fringes.

Neither the feeder nor the fed,
but the observer
of the violent order of things,
wringing her hands and watching in mute horror
as life swallows itself.

Reverse Gravedigger

An extension of my last poem.

My job is that of a reverse gravedigger.
Instead of burying people, I unearth them –
hold up their bones and announce: Here they are!
Look, they’re not gone! They lived, and it meant something!
The dirt under my fingernails is testimony
to how long I’ve been scratching at coffins,
trying to extract evidence of life.
It’s comforting to assign each skeleton an identity.
This one here: Queen Elizabeth I, my inspiration as a woman.
And these ashes: Van Gogh, my inspiration as an artist.
Perhaps someone will dig up my own ribcage one day –
cradling it like an ancient relic, swearing it once held King’s heart,
or Gandhi’s.
And maybe that’s all life is:
scavenging through graveyards,
holding each skull up to the light and
giving it a name.

Color

Some context: This poem was inspired by Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, in which the protagonist kills her infant daughter rather than handing her over to slave masters.

Red.
Thick red.
Red like a fistful of crushed berries,
Like juices bleeding through clenched knuckles,
Red that stains palms –
That is the color of a mother’s love.
Love too big and heavy for a single set of shoulders,
Love that breaks your back and bows you to the earth.
I killed my baby.
I killed my baby because I loved her too much,
Too much to give her up to a world that would only
Enslave her, rape her, and drain her of her all –
Too much to hand her over to the monsters at our door.
With love, I raised a saw to her throat.
With love, I tore her open and let her out,
Bent the bars of her prison and sent her running free into the dark.
Let me tell you about the color of skin coming apart
Like threads from a scarf – the color of unraveling,
Taking apart what your body worked nine months
To produce healthy and whole,
Destroying what you labored so long and so hard to create.
Show me beatings, show me lynchings
And I’ll show you killing as an act of kindness.
What you call a perversion of nature
I call an act of humanity.
Let me tell you about the color of chains
That are there even when they are not
And what it means when those chains rattle,
How you jump like a dog scared out of its skin and
Bare your teeth when your master raises his hand to hit you.
Let me tell you about men pounding down your door,
Men coming to claim your children.
Look me in the eye and tell me you would not do the same –
Would not gather your babies into your arms
And send them to a place safe from such violence.
Don’t think for one second it was easy;
Seeing color drain from baby cheeks
Makes you want to gouge your eyes out
And never see colors again.
I only did what was necessary,
What was right –
And if you mark me down as an animal
I have only this to say:
I was never more human than I was in that moment,
My hands stained with murder
And the color of mercy.

In Dreams We Also Die

Last week a boy said to me before class,
“I had a dream about you the other night. We died in a car accident together.”
I drove with him once, in real life, the night he told me he hated being alive
and I wanted nothing more than to kiss the sentence off his lips.
One hand on the steering wheel like an itch – the night he could’ve run us off the road
but didn’t.

In dreams we look for picnic blankets and cherry blossoms
and instead I brought you blood, a shattered windshield,
a bouquet of broken bones.
Like the pen that drains its ink in the middle of a thought
I am always running out of fuel and
I’m sorry I couldn’t get you someplace better.

I’m sorry we had to lay the blanket down here.
I’m sorry about the lack of cherry blossoms.

In reality I haven’t talked to that boy in weeks
but our dream selves are lying dead somewhere
hand-in-hand, staring sightless at the sky
and I will carry the weight of it with me always.

But anyway, it was just a dream.
Silly me. Silly us.

I told you once in a dream that I loved you.
You licked your thumb thoughtfully, flipped
through the pages of your dream oracle and mumbled
“Interesting. I wonder what that means.