Dead Rose at 5 Points Local

 

Dead Rose at 5 Points Local
(A collaborative poem written with Stephanie L. Harper)

Having plucked the disheveled
petals from the core,
she waits
for the dead to speak
of last week’s sweetness—

of damp upholstery
and worn-out shoes,
of locked chests
and the faint honey
of unrealized hope.

Magnetized,
I twist the stem;
I quarter the seeds and
blemish the plate.
Which north rings true?

Which faded-red
bridge reveals the lost
inner compass?
Our ice cubes clink
no answers, as the essences

of hibiscus, lavender,
and mint slip over my tongue,
concealing the cool
tang of her demurring
ghosts…

But when she says whisper,
touching her lips
with an index finger,
I hear distant trains
baying like wolves,

and smell the char of nights
trailing the undiminished
river, its waters flowing
in every possible
direction, away.

 

* * *

“Dead Rose at 5 Points Local” first appeared in Formidable Woman Sanctuary in November 2018. For the story behind the poem, click on the link.

Recording of “The Body Gives”

 

The Body Gives

Sometimes the body gives too much.
A tendon frays, the heart mumbles
and no one sees the damaged parts.

Ignoring pain, we continue climbing ladders,
sandpaper breath rasping the morning light.

Little bits of us crumble all the time,
yet we stumble on, pretending.

Then the body kills us with its enthusiasm.

Cells duplicate wildly, plaque explodes.
This enmity within? Defensive maneuvers.

Working alone, I wonder where I might end.

On the floor. In a field. Atop the bed.
Under the surface of a rippling pond
or drifting with smoke

through a snow-clad afternoon
at eight thousand feet. Among
the grocery’s tomatoes and squash
approaching the end of a long list.

At the bar, glass in hand, or in a truck
at a four-way stop, the radio blaring.

Time enough for speculation, they say.
But I wonder: when I jump,

does the earth always rise to greet me?

 

* * * *

“The Body Gives” first appeared in The New Reader Magazine, in March 2018.

 

Chilled Soba

Chilled Soba

I am not
philosophical
today,

but hunger
concerns me.
Oh, not

real hunger
but a desire
to consume.

Afternoon
chews morning.
Evening

swallows afternoon.
Morning digests
night. And I,

slurping chilled
soba with
pickled ginger

and scallion,
wonder which verb
my days will choose.

 

 

“Chilled Soba,” first appeared in Kikwetu: A Journal of East African Literature in November 2018. I am grateful to the editors for accepting my poem.

 

 

Bread

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bread

That year we learned the true language of fear.
I baked boule and you haunted medical sites.

You said to arrive I must first depart
or be willing to suffer self-awareness. Let’s not

mention our pact just yet. My basic boule requires a
Dutch oven, 20 ounces of flour, water, yeast and salt.

At twenty I learned the finer points
of sausage-making, how to butcher chicken, and

that your hair smelled like dawn’s last flower.
Back then we owned the night. Now I harvest

wild yeast and sharpen pencils, make to-do lists,
pour Chianti, run numbers. I agreed

to your proposal. It would be a kindness, you said.
The pancreas produces hormones

and aids digestion. I chopped off my left thumbtip
and a year later the abscission point

still felt numb. After rolling the dough
into a ball, let it proof for an hour in an oiled bowl.

We shared a taste for sharp cheese
but never agreed on pillows. You loved

down comforters and found vultures fascinating.
Years together honed our lives

but we never considered what that meant. Score
the dough, bake it for 30 minutes with the lid on,

remove the lid and bake for another 15.
Kneading resembles breathing: in,

out. Rise, fall. Bright lights made your eyes water,
so I kept them dimmed. You swallowed

and said “Tell me how to knead bread.”
With the heel of your right hand, push down

and forward, applying steady pressure.
The dough should move under your hand.

Within minutes it will transform.

 

* * *

“Bread” was first published in Extract(s) in April 2015.

pillows

Self-Portrait as Border

 

Self-Portrait as Border

Some rivers shift course, but
I stand firm, a nexus of rejection,
that line denoting separation of north
and good, evil and south, dark and
white. Welcoming no one, I stand
guard, opposing all with my flag
of diminishment. Squint, and you
still can’t see me. Your bare feet
won’t stir my dust. I am nowhere,
but remain here — that feeling of
prideful despair, strong, resolute,
inflexible foe to all who dare cross.

 

“Self-Portrait as Border” first appeared in October 2018 in Minute Magazine. Many thanks to the editors for taking my poem.

 

 

Variations on a Theme

darkedinburgh_shadow

Variations on a Theme

1. The Long Night

We envy the shadow its attributes, its willingness to subside,
but what of its flesh?

I lay in the field and wept.

Think of the fragrance, the moist leaves
enveloping the still

warm body. In retrospect, I realize that I should never have left, that air
returns to voided space despite all attempts to disavow

light, that wind and rain and soil alike filter through the chest’s
cavity, that stones may bear one’s touch in perpetuity.

At nineteen, death had gifted nothing to my world.
At twenty, little else remained.

So close, so lovely.

 

2. The Loneliness of Shadows

Light collapsing around a point. The two-headed flower.

In my dreams, no one speaks.

Not the thing itself, the bud bursting forth, petals ablaze with color,
but rather change: the process reinforced.

Sleep seldom shows such kindness.

Or its fruit, redolent of sun and rain, withdrawn and shriveled,
and finally, ingested.

Yesterday I woke damp but unafraid.

 

3. Alchemy

Stones never talk, but they rise from the earth, appearing as if by invitation.

The way silence lines an unfilled
grave, which is to say as below

so above, an infinite murmur open to the night.
And other notions: transpiration.

Waste.
Sublimation. Calcination and burning.

At times I have withdrawn
like water from the air’s

body, fearful yet reckless in the act.
That evening the moon flickered and the shadows lay at our feet,

and all the words we never framed,
the bitters our tongues could not know, the wasted

music and abandoned caresses, those words,
sighed into the ground, leaving you adrift, alone.

But how else might one transform darkness to light?
Or the reverse.

huey_ef

 

This originally appeared in Boston Poetry Magazine in April, 2014, and was first posted here in July of 2015.