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Building of Unseen Cats

When I woke up, it was the middle of the night and
my building was on fire. The hallway was not filled
with smoke, and then quickly it was. I rescued a few
older men from their bathtubs, a few babies from
their cribs. Outside, the air was filled with hair.
Everyone but me was holding a plastic cage with a
cat in it. We weren’t supposed to have cats in my
building, but there they all were, an invisible nation
suddenly uncurtained into a blinding and brutal
world. Everyone looked at me with a face that said
let’s never speak of this. Let’s not look directly at what
is meant to be loved in secret. Let’s, for example,
imagine the sea is always, constantly, and forever
spilling toward us, that our screaming building is
something worth escaping.

Zachary Schomburg

My sweetheart says I can no longer watch the news.
You worry too much. And he is right. My fear is a drilling.
Constant. Bloodthick. That girl in the suitcase,
that wife in the river, that woman in the elevator needed me.

I worry too much, it is my right. My fear is a drilling,
a songless bird perched upon my shoulder.
That wife in the river, that woman in the elevator needed me.
But I have three girls of my own, they are mine mine mine

and the songless bird perched upon my shoulder
watches over them, my sweet little Gretels who follow me home,
these three girls who are mine mine mine
gobble up my heart like a hunk of bread. When men

see them, my dear little Gretels, they follow me home.
When there is a knock at the door, I stash my darlings in a cupboard.
They come to gobble up my girls like hunks of bread. Men
line up like ants to take them away, to carry them home.

When there is a knock at my door, I hide my darlings inside a cupboard
like bowls of sugar. When they sleep, I wrap them in kite strings,
line them up like ants so no one can take them and carry them home.
They clutch their dolls and all night long they wish for boys

like bowls of sugar. As they sleep, I hold them like kite strings.
Constant. Bloodthick. That girl in the suitcase,
clutched her doll and all night long wished she'd been a boy.
It is why my sweetheart says I can no longer watch the news.

i could not tell

I Could Not Tell
- Sharon Olds

I could not tell I had jumped off that bus,
that bus in motion, with my child in my arms,
because I did not know it. I believed my own story:
I had fallen, or the bus had started up
when I had one foot in the air.

I would not remember the tightening of my jaw,
the irk that I’d missed my stop, the step out
into the air, the clear child
gazing about her in the air as I plunged
to one knee on the street, scraped it, twisted it,
the bus skidding to a stop, the driver
jumping out, my daughter laughing
Do it again.

I have never done it
again, I have been very careful.
I have kept an eye on that nice young mother
who lightly leapt
off the moving vehicle
onto the stopped street, her life
in her hands, her life’s life in her hands.

Remembering Minidoka by W. Todd Kaneko

And with the camps came extremely significant designations and

distinctions that are with us to this very day: “What camp were
you in?”  Or as my great-grandchildren in the next century will
say: “What camp were they in?”

—Lawson Fusao Inada, Legends from Camp

There’s no place like home.
—Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz

1.

My grandmother remembered little about Minidoka
because her husband remembered it for them both—
fabricating home from splintered timber and
a lingering taste of horses.  She remembered life
before the war—dancing with her husband
in hay-filled barns, fearless walks across
meadow and township, through forests deep
with greedy tigers, through Chinatown.
After the war, she rebuilt her family in that house
brimming with shadows, the forgotten odor
of livestock.  After her husband died, she reread
old newspapers in the dim light of her living
room, she gazed at outlines of barbed wire
just beyond her curtains.

2.

My father remembers Minidoka differently—
I remember it all wrong, he says, then explains
how the crows kept him awake, their sorrow
drizzling through morning.  When the wolf loped
into camp, my father climbed on its back, rode it
through laundry lines, his fingers digging into fur
reeking of brimstone.  He battled hordes of rats
in the hollyhocks, drove them out of gardens
and into fissures beneath other families’ barracks.
The memories I have are all that I have,
my father says.  They’re just memories—
flocks of sheep devoured hillsides
like earthbound clouds, the hills
caught fire and set the sky ablaze for days,
the children were set to play
cat’s cradle only to find they had no thumbs,
all they had were hooves.

3.

When I visited Minidoka, all that remained
was a scar—that debris of family reclaimed
by the earth, that rubble of guard towers
left like broken mousetraps in the remote
curves of the yard.  My grandfather’s great hands
are buried out somewhere in the thistles.
My father’s childhood lies overrun
by knotweed because this is all we have—
the landscape is coated with a black sheen
of memory.  The land feels nothing.

1. I told you that I was a roadway of potholes, not safe to cross. You said nothing, showed up in my driveway wearing rollerskates.


2. The first time I asked you on a date, after you hung up, I held the air between our phones against my ear and whispered, “You will fall in love with me. Then, just months later, you will fall out. I will pretend the entire time that I don’t know it’s coming.”

3. Once, I got naked and danced around your bedroom, awkward and safe. You did the same. We held each other without hesitation and flailed lovely. This was vulnerability foreplay.

4. The last eight times I told you I loved you, they sounded like apologies.

5. You recorded me a CD of you repeating, “You are beautiful.” I listened to it until I no longer thought in my own voice.

6. Into the half-empty phone line, I whispered, “We will wake up believing the worst in each other. We will spit shrapnel at each other’s hearts. The bruises will lodge somewhere we don’t know how to look for and I will still pretend I don’t know it's coming.”

7. You photographed my eyebrow shapes and turned them into flashcards: mood on one side, correct response on the other. You studied them until you knew when to stay silent.

8. I bought you an entire bakery so that we could eat nothing but breakfast for a week. Breakfast, untainted by the day ahead, was when we still smiled at each other as if we meant it.

9. I whispered, “I will latch on like a deadbolt to a door and tell you it is only because I want to protect you. Really, I’m afraid that without you I mean nothing.”

10. I gave you a bouquet of plane tickets so I could practice the feeling of watching you leave.

11. I picked you up from the airport limping. In your absence, I’d forgotten how to walk. When I collapsed at your feet, you refused to look at me until I learned to stand up without your help.

12. Too scared to move, I stared while you set fire to your apartment – its walls decaying beyond repair, roaches invading the corpse of your bedroom. You tossed all the faulty appliances through the smoke out your window, screaming that you couldn’t handle choking on one more thing that wouldn’t just fix himself.

13. I whispered, “We will each weed through the last year and try to spot the moment we began breaking. We will repel sprint away from each other. Your voice will take months to drain out from my ears. You will throw away your notebook of tally marks from each time you wondered if I was worth the work. The invisible bruises will finally surface and I will still pretend that I didn’t know it was coming.”

14. The entire time, I was only pretending that I knew it was coming.

Fast forward ten years. The first thing you will notice is that you are taller. Not necessarily farther from the ground, but closer to the sky. This may at first be dizzying, especially if you never learned how to breathe. Practice. Meet your lungs. Take note of the way your skin fits, how your bones have grown into your skeleton. Your shoulders are perfectly balanced at the top of your spine. Your arms are long enough to reach your hands. This, you will discover, is what people who know anything mean when they say beautiful.

Investigate the body you are in. Reach for both horizons at once and discover your wingspan. Crack your knuckles. Lick the gap between your teeth. Place your fingers against the underside of your wrist and feel for a pulse. If you have one, it means you’re lonely. That’s good. This is a good world to be lonely in. Explore the space you take up, the way your body displaces air in the shape of: calves, hips, belly, chin. Trace the path of tingling from lips to nipples to between your legs. Notice that your skin is the color of new skin after the old skin has peeled away. Feel underneath your sternum: there. A scar. Your body has opened up, allowed egress to something it no longer needed, like an appendix. This was painful once, as doorways always are.

Excavate yourself. Turn inside out like a pocket and examine what falls to the ground. There should be just enough coins to take a bus to anywhere. A pressed flower with a breath of purple left in it, the exact shade of I will always remember you fondly. Keys meant to open something old and worthy. Lint. The lint means you have been places, smelled dust, shaken off dead cells. A piece of paper with a name on it. Nothing sharp: you don’t carry razor blades under your fingernails anymore.

The suitcase you packed before leaving your parents’ house is here, spine-creased books and a one-eyed stuffed dog. The green dress that made your collarbone a lie. Your first lipstick. Jeans that will always have the stain from that night, an empty whiskey bottle. Spread them out like tarot cards on the pavement: the past, the present, the wish. Where the tenth and final card would be, place yourself.

Practice listening to sounds other than the grinding of your teeth. Songs are a good place to start, especially songs with piano accompaniment and lyrics about changing seasons. Listen to crickets. Learn how to divine the temperature from their chirps. Listen to the ground underneath you. Gravity will keep you here until you are ready to leave.

You can still recite those sad poems from memory, but they don’t resonate in your chest the way they used to. You can walk across a bridge without counting the seconds between your bones and the concrete below. There is an ocean, but it is far away, not filling up your mouth. There will be people who want to touch you gently. You know that you can still feel pain, in your eyes and hands especially. But in this moment, all you know of your body is open arms.

morning glory--

morning glory -
the truth is
the flower hates people

Chiyo-ni (1703-1775)

To his lost lover by Simon Armitage

Now they are no longer

any trouble to each other

he can turn things over, get down to that list
of things that never happened, all of the lost

unfinishable business.
For instance… for instance,

how he never clipped and kept her hair, or drew a hairbrush
through that style of hers, and never knew how not to blush

at the fall of her name in close company.
How they never slept like buried cutlery –

two spoons or forks cupped perfectly together,
or made the most of some heavy weather –

walked out into hard rain under sheet lightning,
or did the gears while the other was driving.

How he never raised his fingertips
to stop the segments of her lips

from breaking the news,
or tasted the fruit

or picked for himself the pear of her heart,
or lifted her hand to where his own heart

was a small, dark, terrified bird
in her grip. Where it hurt.

Or said the right thing,
or put it in writing.

And never fled the black mile back to his house
before midnight, or coaxed another button of her blouse,

the another,
or knew her

favourite colour,
her taste, her flavour,

and never ran a bath or held a towel for her,
or soft-soaped her, or whipped her hair

into an ice-cream cornet or a beehive
of lather, or acted out of turn, or misbehaved

when he might have, or worked a comb
where no comb had been, or walked back home

through a black mile hugging a punctured heart,
where it hurt, where it hurt, or helped her hand

to his butterfly heart
in its two blue halves.

And never almost cried,
and never once described

an attack of the heart,
or under a silk shirt

nursed in his hand her breast,
her left, like a tear of flesh

wept by the heart,
where it hurts,

or brushed with his thumb the nut of her nipple,
or drank intoxicating liquors from her navel.

Or christened the Pole Star in her name,
or shielded the mask of her face like a flame,

a pilot light,
or stayed the night,

or steered her back to that house of his,
or said “Don’t ask me how it is

I like you.
I just might do.”

How he never figured out a fireproof plan,
or unravelled her hand, as if her hand

were a solid ball
of silver foil

and discovered a lifeline hiding inside it,
and measured the trace of his own alongside it.

But said some things and never meant them –
sweet nothings anybody could have mentioned.

And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,
about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.

The Fist - Derek Walcott

The fist clenched round my heart
loosens a little, and I gasp
brightness; but it tightens
again. When have I ever not loved
the pain of love? But this has moved

past love to mania. This has the strong
clench of the madman, this is
gripping the ledge of unreason, before
plunging howling into the abyss.

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.
“I Have Always Confused Desire With Apocalypse”, Daphne Gottlieb

We met over a small
earthquake. Now, my knees

shake whenever
you come around

and I've noticed your hand
has a slight tremor.

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