Conducting a silent
invisible orchestra
bouncing as if
a hundred instruments
weighed nothing

a Chinese drag queen poised
at the center of a sea of cushions
flexes her fan
to flirt or hope
to inspire
fear and failing

dives upward
taking winds
and strings and brass
in hiccuping arrhythmia
away from curious fingers
of child scientists and predators

so strange
art can live
in false eyes
on dung and corpses
guised as flowers and guiltless

for it is natural this
hysterical gown
worn by the vulnerable
and our preconception
as if beauty were neither
utility nor taught.

butterfly

cracks in darkness
 what is coming

  highlights

 at birth breaks
  in the ice

   remembered
    shine

kintsugi eggshells

after Elisa Sheehan’s “Kintsugi Eggshells”

Featured art: Making it Real by Gill Bustamante.
Image used with permission from the artist.

Charity

The tourist bought the Sherpa boots
who from then on could never go without
damaging others with good deeds.
The side effects of this pill

kill or coax us to long
for swifter death.
For instance the widow
leaning too long on

the tired banister
collapses to communicate
internal turmoil – sharing disaster
so it might be understood better.

If help hurts and hurt helps
the loving mother nurtures a despot.
Beneath his brutality a Renaissance tunnels

inspired by oppression (scandalous sculptures
seditious canvases) but ends
merely in practicality

adorned until encumbered
(suffocating corsets
gauntlets gauded with jewels).
The soul
free-falling

upon the concrete
becomes a body.
Beware of all philanthropy
since good deeds done in turn
depart and take your share
of kindness likewise

elsewhere – plagues spread in the wake
of well-meaning apostles.

Featured art: The Waste Material, 2015, by Samedi Von Drole
Oil and other media, 70x50x4 cm

Figures

A candle-lit dinner broken up by the cops.
Another long weekend at Grandma’s.
I couldn’t read the foreshadows
anymore than tea leaves:

a garbage bag of broken glass
torn open in the driveway,
a yellow letter pinched in the screen door
you ignored. We watched cartoons
you hated. You didn’t yell
when I dropped the popcorn.
For months the houseplants went unwatered.
The dog slipped out of his collar.

He would come at night in gym shorts and flip-flops
while I worked on a secondhand puzzle,
listening through the ducts to cards shuffle
between hands. Here I learned
the power of holding secrets,
the luck of the draw, addicted to
imagining how it would look
without the pieces missing.

I saw him one day
nosing through trash on the shoulder,
but you insisted it couldn’t be,
not even canceling your cruise control.
He’d been a footed bill
written off, a friendly favor you savored
regretting. I looked forward to the pawn broker’s
buffet of jewelry junk
every week before the grocery,
the yard sale when you sold
his dusty action figures
on our unmown lawn. That summer

I tracked him through a sea of cornstalks
until our footprints looked the same.
I know he glimpsed me through the blades of leaves,
from every photo on every milk carton,
tacked to lamp posts, collaged in bulletins
doubly lost. I kept an empty peg
to hang his jacket and hat, you an eye
open in the back of your head,
a loaded bullet bedside.

His apartment was a stone
I cried when you danced drunk on
at the cemetery, his legacy greasy
overalls dumped in a burn barrel.
In the end, I couldn’t pull
all your needles from his voodoo doll.
You were blind, but I knew his kind
monster, who pulled me under the bed
into a reckless world
ice cream colored.

Featured art: Suspense by János Kujbus

Image used with permission from the artist.

Mahar

Forty buffalo wait in a barbed wire pen
for the rain to come and green the grass for you
are just across the dust road
and smile at me.
Thirty horses will be born and bought
for you and never set free –
never being wild
their starving would be
worse and lonesome.

I feed the pigs I need to give up
to be with you and watch you
when your father isn’t looking
work in the garden.
Their ribs are showing.

Your mother scowls from the porch
but doesn’t tell.

II.

Returning from the market
pushing a cart of wilting vegetables
I turn the corner to look for you.

A dark car I’ve never seen
shines by your front door.

My wheel drops into a hole.

The coins in the drawer rattle.

III.

Weeks go by. The drought singes
the edges of the most resilient leaves.
Dust devils twist in the empty pastures
between our grass roofs and in reflections
of the merchants’ windows in town

I start to hate myself.
Full of dead dreams I see
melting from my pores

I am a candle
burning down.

IV.

The black car leaves.
Your parents build a cement house
my heart is trampled under

stampeding horses
thunder without rain.
Stronger than bamboo

more hollow
it stands dead and guarded
by a dark dog-shaped god

in a cactus forest.
I never see you again.

V.

As children together
we swept the stones
protecting the bones
of our ancestors clean.
Years later
old and alone
asleep in their shade
I see us in a distant meadow
green with rain
all the buffalo and horses
for miles gathering
to be given away.

Cultural note: on the island of Sumba, the price the groom pays to the bride’s family includes a number of horses, pigs, buffalo, and chickens, the bride price increasing for families of higher status. As much of the island at this time lives in poverty, this tradition has become quite an obstacle for young men seeking marriage.

Original photography by Paul Pope.

The River Witch

The weather here was slaughtered
by a spinster with a cane.
When she died the river dried
like the blood in her veins.

From her heartbeat birds were drawn
by the fallow harvest moon,
arthritic crickets chiming in.
For disappointment soon

would find a fetus in the meadow
like glue dried to a rock,
widows’ riddles walking circles
with the rolling eyes of clocks,

and a scampering of souls
tracking through the barren dust
snacking on each other.
A pickup truck’s rust,

with the uprooting oak,
out of tact made a pact
for us future folk.
We gave thanks for a puppy

flattened on the interstate
when scowls turned to howls
and love made love to hate.
When answers to questions

questioned questions in return,
the river roared and we were bored,
the brittle bridges burned.

Featured image: The Coven, by Iain Andrews
50x60cm, acrylic and oil on canvas

Image used with permission from the artist.

To See a Starstruck Star

step into the photograph
reveals dimension and depth
of a spectrum once thought
one shade of red carpet.
Ripe grapes within reach
turn out to be clustered planets
in middle distance – not looming
but imminent, nor aware of you
enough to know they tempt.
A front rumbles over, a cloud parade
nourishing the fallow with mere greatness
and not a drop of rain, since
advice seems violent – storms
breaking over grass
too yellow to be green.

So fame is somehow like the weather –
predictable but prayed to,
destructive sustenance
for aspirers – the hurt that helps.
Might artists be so bent on greatness
they’d sacrifice integrity for presence,
spread so far and thin they become
like air – invisible and essential, so omnipresent
they’re forgettable?

Blooms in autumn
shed their white hair seeds
carried where the wind insists. It is this
that tells me – not the photo –
that they still exist, the shoulders of giants
lighter than air, which lift the future
so confined and dense,
letting it land with thoughtful
careless coincidence.

Featured artwork: Union by Gudrun Newman

Image used with permission from the artist.

The Offering

the prize-winning goat
sold off to bleed out
genetics gushing
from its slit throat
red as gold

an island shaved of sandalwood
shipped abroad to burn
in temples which
could afford sacrifice
shows its bones
to the blind world

the attention span of interest
adorned so far beyond
its sheltering premise
buried
cannot breathe
to cry out

as if confession
canceled the deed
a corporation dresses
its starving victims
in gowns of cash
grown on stolen trees
feeding them candy
that keeps sweetening
the shorter it lasts

Featured art: People and Stones by Александр Саяпин.

Image used with permission from the artist.

If fences were streets and streets were fences

the city would be a city. Its people
would know exactly where they were
allowed to go and not
worry about what went on on
the other sides of streets and fences.

If doors were windows and windows doors,
visitors would be voyeurs
and voyeurs visitors.
Former window washers would fall
on hard times. Broke brokers would walk
out of 50th floor doors
and end it all.

If in were out and out were in,
parks would be carpeted, drywalled and wallpapered.
Living rooms would grow vineyards
and by star, moon, and flashlight
we would make love between
bedposts made from goalposts
while trees press against the window-doors
to glimpse their air-conditioned sun.

Window bells and window mats,
fence signs and fence lights,
door shades to keep the universe
from peeking out – all this change
until one day a ball
is accidentally thrown
over the indoor street,
as if doors and windows
were eyes and mouths
gaping and gawking.

If the houses were people
and people houses
stunned askew while the roof
bounced the ball back,
they never said a word
to keep distance near
for lack of peacekeeping weapons.

featured art: West Concentric Estates by Ross Racine.

Image used with permission from the artist.

An Absent Departure

   for my grandmother

I came to see you last evening
but you weren’t there.
The sun pouring through the window
spilled my shadow across the tile.
A white room

locked and empty.
I had wasted your last day
at a beach kitesurfers played
like cherubim glittering in a birdbath
the wind in their harp strings. All day
you must have rocked in pain’s cradle
looking out this window
waiting for a visitor

your feet hardly touching the floor.
Finally one came and took you
in a blue convertible
picking up your husband on the way
and drove among the pastures
green as spring

to a banquet hall where
you-thought-had-been-forgotten
faces stood and cheered
charged with love
you thought had been forgotten.
In our sorrow you triumphed
coasting past our shining smiles
through a plain back door
hinged like a hymnal.

I cannot follow you
to where we’ll meet again
only think of us as porcelain angels
immortally fragile
we protect in dark cabinets
until our hearts are steered
into letting them live.
They alight and circle
the old roost
until it diminishes
and make their own.

I thought your light I followed guided
when it was actually a destination –
a tonic chord poured through clouds
to lift me from the deepest furrows.
From the warmth of a dying giant’s
cradling hand

the life inside a dove’s egg stirs
the galaxies. You have moved between eternities
and I could never be more proud.
Image-1

Featured art: “The Traveler” from the Birds of Light series by Gretchen K. Deahl.

Image used with permission from the artist.