Thursday
Jan302014

Poetry by Martha Marinara, Karen Mary Berr, Christy Hall, Susan Angland, Carolyn Gregory, Kushal Poddar, Anne Britting Oleson 

Five Poems by Martha Marinara

 

Necessary Work

 

If only you had been here when the blue bowl of sky

folded in on itself, and the thin clouds pulled apart

sizzled and spit like fine hair

caught in a candle flame.

 

When Lazarus closed his heart, slender voiced,

I prayed to your Father for his soul’s shelter.

His fingers slipped from my palm.

He breathed a final frightened breath.

 

Four days ago, I performed the necessary rites:

bathed his white body like a little child’s,

my grief thicker than the yellow sponge

I squeezed and drew over his young limbs.

 

Drowning in the din of mourning

I sewed the soft, white linen shroud

the last of my small, even stitches

covering his face, his eyes diminished dark seeds.

 

I hired four strong men to carry his body,

to roll the rock against the chamber door.

I fed the mourners, comforted my sister Mary

whose grief sucked me dry of comfort.

 

Today you command, the rock rolls back, linen unfolds.

If only you had been here before the need for resurrection.

Tomorrow, I will wash the ashes from Mary’s burnished hair,

sew our rent clothes, and feed the multitudes who celebrate life.

 

 

 

Aiding the Rebellion

                   Sybil Ludington, April 26, 1777

 

April in New York is planting season:

the Colonel’s regiment disbanded to plow an earth

moist with snow melt, drifting promise of hay and feed corn.

Sybil finished her kitchen chores, tightly tucked her smaller siblings

under the blue and yellow quilt her mother thought looked like spring.

With a lullaby, her whispery alto made them sleepy:

 

Darkness falls, sand man calls, go to sleep my little baby.
When you wake, you shall have all the pretty little horses.

 

She thought she could smell the smoke and imagined

orange, yellow and red flames from the British attack

on Danbury’s stores. The war raged only seventeen miles

from the Ludington farm.  She heard her father’s heavy

voice vibrate through the crossbeams, the river stone chimney

voices swift as water, the fire of men with ideals.

 

            Blacks and bays, dapples and greys, go to sleep you little baby.

 

Children, chickens, sweet corn could not hold

the passion inside as she flew down the stairs

and offered to summon her father’s soldiers. 

 

Newly sixteen, barely old enough to be the revolution’s oracle,

her father mapped the route for his Cassandra, a route she knew

with her eyes closed, along with a few forest shortcuts discovered

with Luke, but she wisely kept those afternoons to herself.

Sybil’s white thighs clung to a saddle

slick with animal sweat and her own trembling thoughts.

 

She left Fredericksburg just after dark,

steered Star south and west

and rode fast on narrow, unmarked roads

until dew formed, bending the grass towards morning.

She thought of Luke and his warm fingers on her cheek

without the moon, the blushing thoughts a warmer cloak.

 

Her warning a ferocious banging on militia doors

with the same stick she used to spur Star harder

past nests of small twigs, pale green with spring’s restlessness.

Branches snap and grab, she answers the woods unwelcoming howls

fighting off  deserters and highway men with her father’s musket.

Cramped and chilled after ten hours of hard riding

of muddy woods and cold drizzle

shivering down her neck, soaking her skin.

 

Homesteads, hamlets, farms, fences and barns

blurred together in her exhausted eyes.  Forty miles

through Carmel to Mahopac, onto Kent Cliffs and Farmers Mills,

then finally home where 400 armed men stood outside her door

ready to march General Tyron back to the Sound.

For a brief moment Sybil felt more alive than ever before

breathing the scent of freedom, while warm biscuits,

fresh eggs, earth and a scratchy flannel sleeve

filled her senses as Luke gently lifted her from Star’s back.

 

Up and down, round and round, dream of pretty little horses.

 

The Invention of Triage

 

The most melancholy spectacle that one can imagine meets the eye here—Houses dismantled and torn to pieces, gardens ruined and trampled down, fences torn away, orchards destroyed, and indeed all marks of civilization and culture lost. Such is one of the many curses & horrors of war.

Major Richard Maury, 24th Virginia, March 1862, Fairfax Station

 

 

The edges of the dogwood leaves stained brown and yellow,

September morning holds a sky still azure from summer.

The breeze left from last night’s storm turns the grass like closing eyelashes

black birds, singing their piercing forest opera, stopped by the sudden

round sound of cart wheels, tired hooves, shuffling broken boots

leather scraping earth and stone.

 

We knew more soldiers would come in torn, bloody blue and gold

on foot, on horseback, by the wagon load. Their groans

stormed our small rail station, singing the sounds of animals

sent to slaughter.  Immersed in the coppery smells of blood

the acid stink of vomit, of urine, we shivered in the growing heat of day.

We learned to sort men like cider apples.

 

Following Clara’s lead, those we could save went on the first trains.

Those who could walk helped carry the wounded, sprawled their bent

bloody bodies on splintered planks torn from houses and fences

in Chantilly and Ox Hill and Blackburn’s Ford, where cannon balls

tore through the bones of homes, the bones of men leaving jagged wounds,

white splinters, red streams, ragged blue uniforms. 

 

Eight thousand different lesions, though their eyes suffered all the same.

The ones who could grab our dusky skirts, hems dirty with mud

(cotton petticoats long since ripped into bandages and tourniquets),

those soldier boys rewarded with jewels of jam, scoops of blue and red

from summer (our fingers like silver spoons) and sips of water, sherry

fruit wines from women’s afternoons.

 

Hours ago, one would barely know we were at war with ourselves.

Out of bandages, we tore our knickers and yellowed shifts, tightly covered limbs

we promised would be there tomorrow and next week—an arm, a leg, a lone foot,

the soldier not knowing the other was already gone.  Under the makeshift wrappings,

invisible infections broke down their skin like bird shot.  We prayed and listened for broken breaths as we sorted the bodies of boys.

 

The Mills, Fall River, Massachusetts

            Matthew 14:21-28

 

There is a certain industry in madness

the din of two hundred shuttle cocks

slamming wooden bobbins back and forth

forth and back.  Madness weaves thick

red threads that nest her yellow throat

making it hard to breathe

harder still to speak up.

The rumble of civilization spins

round and round and there’s never enough to eat.

 

The seamstress prays for the faith to understand entropy,

the rush of wind through a nun’s stuffy room.

Her daughter runs across the wooden floor, heaving

spools of thread larger than her thin bruised arms.

Under her mother’s quick feet, under the metal treadles

of her sewing machine marching its way across linen.

Even the dogs under the table can lick the children’s crumbs.

What portion of the world’s weight must she carry?

 

Faith is not the temperate angel breath that lifts

the folded wings of one thousand paper cranes.

Faith is the hours, the nights and days of bending

folding sharp creases, creases cut with scissors

brown, blue, green triangles, tiny pains like split skin

one quick pull, a balance of beak and tail

right wing and left wing, tacking cotton bodice to sleeve.

She carries one white crane in her palm

the rest follow behind in a steady stream.

 

Canaan dust settles on her mother’s seamed face

the long road kicked up by the tiny mercies of her feet.

She pleads, “My daughter is severely possessed.”

Blinded by bird wings and the Israelites’ needs, Jesus looks away.

Her mother screams a prayer to the foreman’s God

echoing the ache from one thousand asylums—

“I will have justice for my daughter.”

The divine, expanded in her human pain, gathers in the birds,

the flash of wings blows the dust from her daughter’s eyes.

 

Amelia Earhart, July 2, 1937

“‘It’s the classic desert island,’ Gillespie said.  ‘It’s beautiful to look at . . . and it hurts all the time.’”

 

 

She smiles for the camera with lips sealed,

chin turned and placed over her left shoulder,

disheveled hair finger brushed from her forehead

poised uncomfortably on earth. It is early March 1937, Los Angeles

inside the cockpit of her Lockheed Electra. She is sitting to the right of the controls.

Altimeter, fuel gauge, clock roundly fill the left of the photograph and most of the center,

technology claiming space from her eyes, cheeks, earlobes.

 

Richard Gillespie holds this photograph next to his own face.

It is early March 1992, and he has found her shoe, brown, size nine,

a pill bottle, and part of the plane’s metal fuselage on Nikumaroro Island.

What he has unearthed after his four-year search for her death is the remnant

of one shoe, a black heel of Cat’s Paw rubber.

 

Failing to “find her destination,” Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan,

landed on an atoll, its shores littered with sharp shell fragments that sliced shoes and knees.

For three days, Gillespie theorizes, they sent out distress signals until a storm smashed the plane,

“swept it over the edge of the reef into deep water.” Three days hearing her watch prick time,

the tiny hands like needles of coral, three days running out of water in 120-degree temperatures,

leaving only a shoe heel and a glass pill bottle.

 

Remnants of living are all you’ll find if you puzzle the earth for clothing and footprints,

forgiving the spirit that flew through the death of night,

warm star scents flying past her face.

 

Karen Mary Berr

 

Back to You

"Is it too late for a Stranger’s remembrance-

Is it perharps too early? ” E.D

 

There’s a trace

something in my chest, leaks

so strong you can smell it in the streets

a blossom of fire

as in sleep, suddenly moves

there’s a spur of flesh in your absence

nailed into nothing there’s a spur

a carnal trace

constricted as in some spray paint

not to be exposed to direct sunlight

but laid in a refrigerated body box

a trace so alive, so luminous

it blooms along my frozen nerves and lips

your imprint

a poison of unknown name

that perforates and burns, say, after use

my salty throat and uterine walls-

there’s a spur of flesh

rising from underneath the skin of loss

outliving cold veins and still blood

there’s a trace

piercing the balloon of my amnesia

gunshots holes in my funeral dress

now, fling open your worn blue coat

don’t stay chaste with me, love

It’s not you, it‘s me, god chastised

for living without you was lying in a coffin

but now, sweet defiant, look

there’s a carnal trace in everything

blood colored suns on the road to nothingness

wooly cells, red diodes, lustrous anomalies

that leads me to your cummy hands

as you knead my heart and eat it like bread

on your way to some peep show cabin-

Oh my weird stone, my man, my absolutist

there’s a rain

there’s a rain of flesh in this noisy space

in every interference there’s a trace

there’s a spur of flesh in your absence

that stands naked in the rearview mirror

and delivers me from heaven.

 

A video to accompany this poem is available at http://vimeo.com/75515187

 

Three Poems by Christy Hall

 

Coffee and Music

 

There is a flick, two in fact

– one for keeps –

on a coffee machines levered arm,

bent metal at the elbow.

Background fizzes

of a steam wand; barista or maestro?

Orchestrating musical puffs

to wind milk up.

Then punctuated by the soft clang (or is it clank?)

of teaspoons on mug-rims.

Stirred and re-stirred by transient

ladies-lunching folk

 – skinny latte?

Mediterranean-looking blokes

espresso faux.

Or the bottom sucked from frappes,

rock and roll with crushed ice –

to the teenage girl’s finger drum,

nails strummed and dotted-polka.

 

  Oregon Bonfires

 

An Oregon bonfire

  feels like no other

when it’s down on the beach

  in the dark.

 

  Stillness to the air,

like the redwood forests

farther south.

 

Back there, at the border:

  grazing elk groups,

poles-totemed, busts of bigfoot.

The Sequoia gardens grow thinner

  further towards

Salem.

 

Around the fire, sea salt

  and wine render you unsteady

when you really dig your toes

into the sand.

Sand that looks like bones,

  crushed bones that are ground from this –

stones, bones and ribs.

 

Worn to nothing but ash

  and pulped ivory bits –

pestle and mortared.

 

We made a half-circle ‘round

dragged-logs to head height,

  a glowing tepee

trailing movement from

  the night.

 

The marrowed wood, was

nothing to English oak, -

  too pale, pallid, bare –

quick camo against the sand.

  Picked from the beach,

  made ready to burn.

 

This Oregon bonfire

  burnt-slow and warmed,

to black above our heads,

  to take us high.

The hoop of faces too ablaze,

  lit to blue touch-paper.

 

Seats from fish rigs,

  funny cigs,

we fell back onto shafts of

  driftwood

  and laughed.

 

 Port-Drunk

 

For this time of year

it’s shameful that you keep me here

an extra hour.

 

Your eyes, of course,

  it had to be them,

all over the room;

  placing the ceilings planetarium –

like stick-on luminescent stars

for a child.

 

Huge things they are, as decorative

now as the touch in a church window –

your eyes.

 

Once you sat, cross legged,

down next to me and drank the

treacle out of port –

from an oversized beaker

that dwarfed your sharp,

manicured hands.

 

Circling a glug or two

around and around,

leaving a sticky film of syrup

sliding back and forth to the pool.

 

Then flinch –

the sickly punch of molasses –

and without my knowing

you clanked our

  glasses.

 

Susan Angland

 

Riding My Bicycle

 

Riding my bicycle
moving forward
climbing up hills
coasting down
peddling around barriers
avoiding obstacles
speeding past noise
braking for silence
stopping for recovery

 

Leaning too far left, my kickstand saves me
leaning too far right, I fall
falling isn't fatal
getting up is optional

My path ultimately requires moving
climbing as well as coasting
barriers as well as obstacles
noises as well as silence
hurdles as well as tranquility
weaving as well as leaning
falling as well as arising

My life is like riding a bicycle
It's filled with joy and risks
     pain and injury

     suffering and evolving

 

Sometimes I feel alone
Sometimes I lose my way
Sometimes I lose my balance
Sometimes I need my training wheels
Sometimes I need to ask for help
Sometimes I need to lean on loved ones!

 

Riding my bicycle teaches me to love

the good and the bad, the easy and the hard.

 

Three Poems by Carolyn Gregory

 

 

Endless Groceries

 

Nightly, he was sent in the car,

crunching down the driveway.

Mother would not let him rest

because her need for paper towels

and strawberry pies was bottomless.

 

There were weevils in the cereal boxes,

mildew in the bin

where fresh carrots and lettuce sat

too long, ignored.

 

Mother always had a new list,

based on ads and intentions,

red meat four times out of five,

chicken on Sunday,

Monk's bread and frozen

vegetables most nights.

 

She loved sales and chocolates,

boxes of cornflakes

painted with red and blue roosters

like some missing link

to the Indiana farm from her childhood

and its rows of corn

 

where her own mother lay buried

from childbirth fever,

too many babies in a row.

 

Perhaps it was my mother's way

to build her home and forget the dead,

my father's car a boat carrying meat, cheese,

bread, butter and peas for a better life.

 

 

The Minor Theme

 

When Mahler flows around her

in clusters of dark accelerating strings,

she remembers piano chords

while listening to A Nightingale Sang

in Berkeley Square,

her second hand record player whirs,

horns crowning the lesson.

 

Now Mahler flows again

on the radio, ambiguous and mournful

till the end turns slippery with glissando,

soaring on a harp.

 

Out her window, pink blossoms

fall to a carpet

like the soul’s fingernails, discarded.

 

She feels the presence of a ghost walking,

her long finger pointing

to red lips, requesting silence.

Outside, iron blue clouds gather.

 

The ghost swirls away,

the minor key struggles with timpani,

Vienna creaking like an old and rotten ship.

 

Letting down the knot of her long gray hair,

she sits in her armchair.

The window opens on wet, shining leaves.

When the last bright star has fallen,

Lord, who will comfort me?

 

 

 

The Magical Breasts 

 

Some men think that big

breasts have magical powers.

 

He did when he spotted a woman

with radical hair pounding

on African drums.

 

Her breasts jumped with rhythm

at the picnic!

 

While the rest of us lolled in lawn chairs,

he took off across the grass

 

to more closely observe

the music of those spheres,

 

his pupils wide with wonder

at such ancient rhythms.

 

 

Kushal Poddar                 

 

To The Morocco Returned, 70  

 

Lost weight, 

She says 
 

 

I know.  

I see. 

 

A fresh coat of white 

spells gleam on the walls. 

 

See a pit, crevasse. 

One corrosive fights 

 

against another. 

Thumbs down, pestilence. 

 

You lost weight. A lot. 

A grain of salt rubs  

 

its soul on my eyes. 

I see. I see not. 

 

You look thin. Tired. 

This Middle East does 

 

to one often. With 

 

love. Without it. 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Poems by Anne Britting Oleson

 

Autumn Song 

To the west, down the mountain,

the knife-edged front slices:

on this side of the cut

the clouds cling to the backbone

of the hills, gloom pressing

to the hardening ground.

The far buzz of a tractor, tracing

the perimeter of the high meadow,

hearkens back to the flies of summer,

but with a bass note of nostalgia

for things lost, things missed.

Winter's drawing on.  The wind

picks up, swirling the scarlet patter

of leaves from maples which have guarded

the homestead for a century:

those patient trees don't mind;

they have seen other autumns,

and know in their roots more will come,

singing of the season's sadness.

 

Dive

Route 20 clots with cars on their way

to somewhere else.  On its other side

huddles what used to be a music store,

cracked glass mended with tape.

Now its grimy sign hangs as off-key as she feels:

in this motel room with wallpaper peeling,

the television's constant hum countermelody

to mini-refrigerator wheezes and faucet drips.

 

She's humming, too, watching

tears roll down the windowpane,

beyond a pool covered in drifting leaves,

to the traffic, always the traffic.

It's a song whose words she can't remember,

something about low clouds

and lost love, which makes sense

in this drafty room left over

from some '50's road trip,

a room in which she knows

she won't even bother to unpack her bag.

 

 The Last Poem in the World

 

If this were the last poem in the world,

I would pop the top and tip back

my head, let it roll down my throat

with all its tastes of pepper or honey

until I was full to bursting,

until my head whirled, and drunken,

I would fall to my knees and pass out

to blissful dreams—or vomit.

 

If this were the last poem in the world,

I'd roll it in cigarette paper and light up,

inhaling the smoke deep into my lungs

and holding onto it as long as I could,

willing the mind-altering drug that it is

to give me super powers,

to make every beauty and ugliness stand out

in finest detail and vivid colors,

so I could be—dizzyingly—high.

 

If this were the last poem in the world,

I would press my face to it

as one presses to a lover's breast,

and I'd listen to its unsteady heart,

breathe deep of its scents

of roses and soap and musk and sweat.

I'd love it until it begged for mercy,

but I wouldn't be able to stop,

not then, no, not even then.

 

 

 

 

 

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