“More than gems in my comb box shaped by the
God of the Sea, I prize you, my daughter. . .”
Lady Otomo, 8th century, Japan
A woman weaves
her daughter’s wedding
slippers that will carry
her steps into a new life.
The mother weeps alone
into her jeweled sewing box
slips red thread
around its spool,
the same she used to stitch
her daughter’s first silk jacket
embroidered with turtles
that would bring luck, long life.
She remembers all the steps
taken by her daughter’s
unbound quick feet:
dancing on the stones
of the yard among yellow
butterflies and white breasted sparrows.
And she grew, legs strong
body long, mind
Now she captures all eyes
with her hair combed smooth
and her hips gently
swaying like bamboo.
spins her thread
from the spool of her heart,
knotted to her daughter’s
We used to like talking about grief
Our journals and letters were packed
with losses, complaints, and sorrows.
Even if there was no grief
we wouldn’t stop lamenting
as though longing for the charm
of a distressed face.
Then we couldn’t help expressing grief
So many things descended without warning:
labor wasted, loves lost, houses gone,
marriages broken, friends estranged,
ambitions worn away by immediate needs.
Words lined up in our throats
for a good whining.
Grief seemed like an endless river—
the only immortal flow of life.
After losing a land and then giving up a tongue,
we stopped talking of grief
Smiles began to brighten our faces.
We laugh a lot, at our own mess.
Things become beautiful,
even hailstones in the strawberry fields.
We, the naturally hopeful,
Need a simple sign
For the myriad ways we’re capsized.
We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.
For speechlessness and all its inflections,
For up-ended expectations,
For every time we’re ambushed
By trivial or stupefying irony,
For pure incredulity, we need
The inverted exclamation point.
For the dropped smile, the limp handshake,
For whoever has just unwrapped a dumb gift
Or taken the first sip of flat beer,
Or felt love or pond ice
Give way underfoot, we deserve it.
We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,
The child whose ball doesn’t bounce back,
The flat tire at journey’s outset,
The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.
But mainly because I need it—here and now
As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio
Staring at my espresso and cannoli
After this middle-aged couple
Came strolling by and he suddenly
Veered and sneezed all over my table
And she said to him, “See, that’s why
I don’t like to eat outside.”
(¡Pura vida! — Costa Rican phrase for “O.K.” or “Great!”)
Such heat! It brings the brain back to its basic blank.
Small, recurrent events become the daily news—
the white-nosed coati treading the cecropia’s
bending thin branches like sidewalks in the sky,
the scarlet-rumped tanager flitting like a spark
in the tinder of dank green, the nodding palm leaves
perforated like Jacquard cards in a code of wormholes,
the black hawk skimming nothingness over and over.
What does the world’s wide brimming mean, with hunger
the unstated secret, dying the proximate reality?
Con mucho gusto—the muchness extends to the stars,
as wet and numerous as larvae underground
where the ants in their preset patterns scurry and nurture,
and the queen, immobilized, pours forth her eggs
in the dark. We are far from oaks and stoplights,
from England’s chill classrooms and Tuscany’s paved hills.
For thought is a stridulation, an insect sizzling,
knit of the moment’s headlines and temperate-zone quips,
viable in the debris of our rotting educations,
that thatch where peer-groups call each to each in semes
ecosystematically. Great God Himself
wilts with a rise in temperature, a drop in soil acidity,
a new language in its grimacing opacity.
The brain’s dry buzz revives, a bit, as evening falls.
In Memorium, 1932-2009
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
thanks God I said
and is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
Courtesy of S.L.
You have rented an apartment.
You come to this enclosure with physical relief,
your heavy body climbing the stairs in the dark,
the hall bulb burned out, the landlord
of Greek extraction and possibly a fatalist.
In the apartment leaning against one wall,
your daughter’s painting of a large frilled cabbage
against a dark sky with pinpoints of stars.
The eager vegetable, opening itself
as if to eat the air, or speak in cabbage
language of the meanings within meanings;
while the points of stars hide their massive
violence in the dark upper half of the painting.
You can live with this.
Take a deep breath: there, now you’ve stooped to doing what poems tell you. It’s all downhill from here: the sordid parties, the fabulous butterflies that winter in the brain, leaving it choked with newscasters and verdigris. When you obey the poem, you always find yourself, sooner or later, in the darkest corridor of the grand hotel inside the moon, looking for either a lavatory or else the misplaced wonder of childhood. Your slippers feel rough and scaly, as if they’d been manufactured of asbestos, or sharkskin. You shuffle forward cautiously. Somewhere inside this poem Albany is lurking, and the last thing you want to do is trip over it in the dark. From the ambassador suite, the voice of the poem commands you to breathe again, and you do: left lung, right lung. Soldiers have surrounded the hotel, but that’s OK. You saw them earlier in the bar, decked out in mylar and mufti. They simply didn’t look very serious. Now, in the hallway in the dark, you hear voices shouting, and what might be rifle fire. Breathe, whispers the poem. And you do.
From Memorious, Issue 11, December 2008