How the water

How the water was the water
And the sky the sky.
How not itself was anything,
How truth be told was lie.
When the weather was the weather
Mild, torrential, chilly, high–
Fog like aspic, rain like needles,
Storms your hazel eyes.
How the marvel was the marvel
That we loved from side to side,
That we carried when we carried
Soft or sharp or still or wry.
How we suffered when we suffered
The cramped room of rhyme.
How we metamorphosed then
And thought we outran time.
How the secret was the secret
Of the plow and lullaby–
How you loved me and I loved you,
How we thought we’d never die.

First Last

zin rszd cmp

like life itself before we know we’re us

In the end it’s air the body wants,
air that won’t come, air that comes too late–
the body wants it as one wants cool water
from a jar midday or to rest a spell
in that shade at the edge of the field
or near the creek that goes on even
when you look away,
moving as air moves through all living things
like life itself before we know we’re us.

If death did kindness
that last body letting go
would return you to the first,
the one you lived in when you knew
the way you’d never know again
the sound of that creek,
the smell of the cornfield in hot rain
or in the cool of the day the smell
of the kitchen garden’s beans and zinnias,
the red dirt you tasted or down the road
creosote on a power line pole
tasting the way electricity must taste–
not exactly better than the dirt
but worth the punishment that always
just seems part of prohibition.

Nothing could touch
the things you carried in your mind.
Even when you were dragging
that kid-sized cotton picking sack,
you could be in a dawdling dream,
feeling cool air on your skin in summer
or throwing sticks for your first dog,
that first friend of your soul
who smelled like biscuits and molasses,
and woke you every morning with the sun.

Classmates

Linda S. 1962

Long before Easter, you showed up in white,
the rats’ nest of your hair embellished
with a red barrette.  Miss Thomas said,
“My, Linda, dear how nice you look today!
Class, doesn’t Linda look nice today?”
We were ashamed, but there you were:
a beaming emissary from the Gold Coast,
where all are equally sick, equally poor,
wearing a dress as light and dove-soft as
a peony–a bit too much cologne, perhaps.
(I envied your not having to take baths.)
All day she praised the dress and just to please her,
you wore it every day thereafter
till the petticoat was gray and wilted
beneath the gray, bedraggled hem.
You were better than I in English and math,
and often when I finished tests too soon,
I’d watch the calculations of your grubby hands,
and earn a black mark with a whistled tune.
I was easily put up to things
and frequently advanced before the class
to place black marks next to my name
(marks as large as my small hand
and dark as the soot on yours)
for laughing in the lunch line or passing
forgeries of Grady Brandon’s love
to your friend Goldie.  (I thought
you were friends because you both were poor.)
Now when I wash my stockings in the sink
or, dead-tired, patch my iron-worn skirt
to go to work, Linda Bounds, I think of you,
gussied up and feeling like a queen,
almost like everybody else for once.

 

 

Patsy M. 1965

In Mrs. Ray’s sixth-grade homeroom,
I didn’t have a friend in all the world.
My adaptation of Macbeth and shy
refusal of Ted Jank’s State Fair ring
made me about as welcome as a friend
as you were showing up again
with bruises on your eyes and arms
from your daddy’s fists.
You were my only company
in the playground’s outlands,
from which we watched our classmates
swarm like gnats above cow pies or
angels on a pin.  When you sidled over,
cracked your gum, and spoke to me, I greeted
your attention with the joy of the redeemed.
You had savoir-faire, I thought, and won
my admiration when you skipped school–
one time to stitch a dress by hand
(you proudly showed the toothy seams to me).
At recess you recited the details
of your brutal family life as if
you were just naming candies in a shop
or capitals of the western world.
I might as well have been the moon.
At the sock hop, Lord, I yearned to dance
with Billy Cree (whose dark eyes
and soulful limp occupied my mind
during sermons and piano lessons),
but suddenly you said, “You can’t dance
with him! He’s a cripple!”
Near the playground where we met
was an asbestos-shingled “country club”
on sixteenth-section land.  I spent
every morning of the summer there
diving through bright air into an empty pool,
and when I’d gone as far and deep as I could go,
I paused a moment, glad I was alone.

 

 

Barbara B. 1968

You were the fondest bad example
for all the Baptist youth, had drunk whiskey,
run off with cowboys twice your age,
and lost, it was said, a baby or two
in punishment for your sins.
You seemed to drift from school to school
always carrying the same tattered book bag
full of mascara, lipstick, eyelash curlers,
hairspray, emery boards, eye shadow (peacock
blue), loose face powder, tweezers, combs,
True Stories, Lord knows what, a pack of Kools.
I was in the girls’ room twice
when you did your eyes.
I had lots of so-called friends by then,
most of whom blamed me when they got home late
(they were very, very good),
borrowed my clothes, and took my boyfriends.
None of them would speak to you,
not even when you showed the whole wide world
the in’s and out’s of zippers in Home Ec.
You found me weeping in my Corvair once
and pulled a tissue from your bag for me
and said the wisest, kindest things
I ever heard from another girl.
In spring you and Bob Spike of Pelahatchie,
after a night at the Silver Spur
flew off Dead Man’s Curve at eighty per
and kissed your last in flames.
At your funeral, pious Brandon girls
with damp eyes and new dresses murmured
pious phrases (glad they weren’t caught
that way) and just to prove their goodness,
dedicated a whole damn week to God.

 

 

 

Next

His first mistake, one that couldn’t be considered anything but a major mistake no matter how far away from it your mind was, ended up being precisely what he thought he was doing right at the outset when he enlisted the aid of a couple of sociopaths. They were eager to do, and relished doing, the thing he asked, though they were a bit sloppy about it—like cats, they liked to play with their prey. He winced when he thought of how often she must have thought she could get away, and how often they let her think that.

He just hadn’t thought much past getting them to do it. Didn’t think ahead, like, to the part where they would still be around and he might have to try to reason with them about various things, like would they leave and go back to wherever they had come from. They were in the kitchen now, fucking things up, which was what they generally did when they weren’t aimed in the direction of the miscellaneous criminal activity they enjoyed. There was just not going to be any clean transaction here.

They were wearing Melanie’s clothes, well, not exactly wearing, more like decorating themselves with Melanie’s clothes and jewelry. It bothered him a lot that they seemed to think of Melanie’s accoutrements–and his house–as part of their take for what they did to her, as if the money hadn’t been enough. The fact of it was that they didn’t really care about money, they didn’t understand money, and to his way of thinking people who didn’t understand money were people to be afraid of.

John-John—the other one was Jerry-Jo, Jesus, did they all have names like that—sauntered through with a pair of Melanie’s panties on his head, sauntered past him as if he wasn’t there, but he didn’t think about that right then. Oddly—since he didn’t think he noticed such things—he remembered Melanie wearing those panties when she undressed in a hotel room in Chania just last summer. How cool and dark and still it was in the room, the sun outside so bright and relentless it was like some kind of shout whenever you stepped out into it. But inside, her cool skin, the way she always smelled like warm rain, how he had loved her then.

When John-John and Jerry-Jo had moved in, he’d started going to church—any service, any day, any time, even the AA meetings Wednesday nights and the NA meetings Saturday mornings and those coffeecake meetings or doughnut meetings or whatever the hell they were. It wasn’t that he expected to come to Jesus and call down some kind of divine intervention to take care of his John-John-Jerry-Jo problem. He just thought that church was probably the only place he could be where they wouldn’t expect him to be.

But more than that, he figured church would be a good place to find a certain kind of psycho—an upright uptight finicky sort of psycho who wouldn’t move into your house and wear your wife’s panties on his head—a psycho who might be happy to take care of the other two and take a handsome sum of money and be done with it. Otherwise—and he couldn’t shake this feeling—he was next.

Conjure

This is the part in which you are strolling with the conjure woman in a garden filled with inexplicably scary or scarily inexplicable prehistoric looking plants, gigantic things, dwarfing, one supposes, the mere humans in the middle distance and reminding us of the, oh, the ephemerality of it all. Of course, the reason you’re with the conjure woman is that you thought she could do something about the ephemerality of things, specific things–fading, fleeting, gone already, in the kind of past that really is over. She is saying to you or maybe to me “I tol’ you and tol’ you so” or, perhaps, “I tol’ you so-and-so” or perhaps she is just nodding her head in that tired you-wouldn’t-listen way.

No matter. What she told you before that you wouldn’t listen to is this: if you have to make a charm for someone to love you, you have to take whatever kind of love you get from it, but you also have to take whatever kind of love it makes you give. Or, rather, you have to take the person you become when what you want to have for love is something that the person you want it from really doesn’t want to give you. In other words, in the scene from the past that may be appearing in a thought bubble in your vicinity, you asked for a mojo hand to make something happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise, and she warned you.

She warned you then in that other part that you are now remembering in this part—by the way, she’s not wearing a head-rag or a voluminous colonial skirt, she looks rather like a successful businesswoman, like really successful, like the clothes are understated and exquisite, and if you keep thinking about this you are going to get a fair idea of exactly how much business she does, even though it’s of basically three types: get and re-get and un-get. At any rate, she warned you that the outcome of the thing she could make for you and the let’s-bake-a-weird cake things you’ll have to do with it that these things are unpredictable–maybe help, maybe harm, that’s what she said. And then she gave you what you wanted, which has amounted to simultaneously giving you what you want and punishing you for thinking it was something you could have.

Which is why you’re here now after begging her to meet you. And now instead of asking her to undo it, you are asking her to do more to it, and you know it’s like that time you agreed to cut your girlfriend’s hair and your attempts to correct your mistakes and then to correct your corrections ended up with her having a more or less skinned head. And, of course, how do you think Miss Conjure got those fine clothes that you could never in a million years afford, if not by giving people what they deserve when they think they deserve something else?

She’s answering her phone now and giving you the cellphone finger. You wander down the path like a kid headed home after being shut out of a game. Or maybe you’re just starting to give in to the next outrageous thing that’s going to come out of your mouth. You realize now that you’re in the arboretum not some mystical garden though there is in fact a kind of mystical slant of late afternoon light coming in from somewhere, big stripes of it across the path full of what looks like extremely fine gold dust and you could just crawl up under that tree where shade has given things clear edges.

And then she’s saying she won’t do what you want, and you shouldn’t want it done [three-beat pause], but she knows someone who will. Suddenly she’s gone and you are standing there looking at the back of one of her business cards on which she’s written a phone number and a name. But you won’t pause to consider whether you should explore possibilities other than calling Madame Virginie and taking that taxi that’s going to miraculously appear when you get out to the street. Or at least you’re going to think of it as miraculously appearing, along with other things you’ll interpret as presaging in a happy sort of way the world you’re going to be living in when you are defined by the love that you are thinking of yourself as merely nudging along.

Listen: cicadas, that sound that winds around everything until there’s nothing else.

Tol’ you so.

Know

sea serpent near galveston crop short mod 1

This is the part where you don’t know what you know. Later when you know what you know, you don’t like what you know, you wish you didn’t know it, you wish you’d known it sooner. But you did.

Right now you are dreaming, strolling, lollygagging, in a place where you don’t know what you know. So it’s more like somebody is dreaming you, sorting you out in the dream bins with the other detritus of the day, some other dreamer who gets to wake up while you dream on.

First there are some bad things, though the really bad things aren’t what you think the bad things are, you think he’s sad. You’re sad, but your sad doesn’t matter. It’s like always giving him the better part of whatever it is that you are cooking for dinner, everything you take for yourself is something not good enough for him. No big deal, you’ve got love, you’ve got a lot to give. Everything you have in life is something with a nick in it or a smudge on it, you get the crooked, he gets the straight, you get the old, he gets the new. It’s what you do till you don’t even know you do it.

His sad, now that’s something, that’s some kind of sad, something’s got to be done about that kind of sad. Your sad, that’s just some little old thing you keep in the nevermind drawer. One day you’re going to be looking for something and you’re going to open that drawer up and think where did all this broken stuff come from, how come I kept it when it didn’t get fixed? But that’s later, not now.

Get this: he’s not loving you, but you cannot imagine that, so you think he’s sad, you think his mind is off in some lonely place, of course he’s not talking, there aren’t words to say whatever the big sad is he got coming down on him. You get a cat, you think maybe he needs something small to love, you think maybe he needs to work his way back up to loving you—what the hell are you thinking?

You’re thinking there’s a story here, a story of restoration, a story of return. Or maybe it’s just that you think whatever the story is, he’s in it, you’re in it. Now the cat’s in it, and the cat needs your love too because he’s not loving the cat and what you move on to thinking is that if he just loves the cat it’s ok if he doesn’t love me, he just needs to love something so he can start living again. Doctor Jesus, please come on in my house.

You’re not thinking he’s got a story and you’re not in it. What kind of story would that be? If you’re not in the story he’s in, why is he still here and what the hell are you doing here?

What you got girl is a baby man: a baby that ain’t a baby, a man that ain’t a man. So you think: must be a man man thing, letting you see his softer side, oh how you’re gonna take tender care of it, oh how you are gonna abide with this little slump here, this soft side. The side you get when the other side’s already packed its bags and gone off somewhere else.

Oh, you worried so about that man. Everybody loves that man. How’s Derek? they say down at the store. Oh, you know, you say and shake your head. How’s Derek? they say at work. Oh he’s coming along little by little, you say. At church, How’s Derek? Oh, you say, he just has not been the same since his mama died, I miss her too. And you do and so you think you know his sadness. Your girlfriends, now, they’re not saying How’s Derek, they don’t even say his name anymore but you don’t notice that, how’s he, what’s he doing, he’s he to you too, and by the time you get it, your friends, they’re gone too.

Later on you think. What kind of man, you think, what kind of man, what kind of words come after what kind of man. What kind of man what kind of man what kind of man. But right now you wait, you’re patient, but you don’t really know how to be patient, never have, so you don’t know that what you are experiencing is postponement.

So you wait. And then you drift. But even that isn’t what you think it is. You think you’re drifting, drifting in all this waiting, waiting for him to be the man who used to love you, waiting for him just to be the kind of man who can love you, waiting to be the woman that kind of man would love. Drifting. Postponing what you know but don’t know you know: you’re not drifting—he’s cut you loose, he’s thrown you back in, he’s got bigger fish to fry. He’s got the life boat. Look at all that water running over your feet.

One day you reach out to touch him, to comfort him, he’s so sad, he’s so lost, you think, and he recoils. Now there’s a word your mind has never coiled around, a word you’ve known only in books: the mortal coil, snakes coil, guns recoil. Now you know men recoil. You think about it the way you think about things you learned in school. Isn’t that something? Men recoil. Who’dathought.

And here you’ve got to hand it to your mind: if you knew what that meant, there would just be no living, so it just becomes another fact. And everything else becomes another fact. And you are living in a world where nothing can mean anything because if anything means anything then it can mean something that he won’t even touch you now. Though he does seem to be warming up to the cat.

And that, you will think later, is what people mean when they say it is what it is. It is what it is because we can’t say what it is because if we said what it is it would really be what it is which is what it really shouldn’t be but is. When you get back to it later, that is how your mind is going to run on because a mind that can run on like that is a mind that can run away.

One day you think he might as well have killed you. And then you know he did. And that’s when you know that nothing you know is any good. And that’s when you go see the conjure woman. Because you can’t live in the world you’re in, and you think if he loved you again it would be a world worth living in.

Now you know.

——————————
altered image; original image: Oudemans, The great sea-serpent (1892), Biodiversity Library: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/129989#page/75/mode/1up

Movie TV Jesus

ghent lamb cu mod - comique 2 - mod 2

In ten parts:    1. Jesus is on our TV!     2. Up close     3. After intermission, joyous horns     4. And tweeting!     5. The Pilate Show     6. Whereas, Jesus.     7. Gathering     8. Here comes Judas.     9. Even in this trumped-up Jesusland     10. If this is love

1. Jesus is on our TV!

A sleek, slow-moving, gliding movie Jesus looking now like an El Greco Jesus, then–declaiming atop a spaceship-shaped boulder—a rather Rio de Janeiro Jesus, then the Byzantine icon look, and otherwise other things. In other words, just about every possible Jesus. Except the Jesus in the bible your mother gave me, the one your pothead friend tried to tear a page out of when he ran out of rolling papers.

Movie-TV Jesus has followers who, well, are always following him, an excessive kind of following, like you worry if he suddenly stops they’re gonna Continue reading

Breathless

6 Sep 2013 dwnld 2 010 mod scp bw

I cannot recall exactly when it was or where, whether in some public place or private, that I looked at you, perhaps across a table, perhaps across a room, perhaps up close, even in some intimate skin-to-skin moment that in retrospect would not really be intimate at all, or perhaps in one of those sightings I had of you in various places around town where I’d not expect you to be–I wasn’t noticing that anomalies reiterated cease to be anomalies–but wherever it was, I looked at your face and it was like looking at a face with a closed door behind it, and I knew you were already gone, gone not just into your thoughts and silences, or the silences I took for thought, but into some other place, knew that you were living your life elsewhere, knew, without exactly thinking of it this way, that you had constructed another life and moved into it, that there was no more being with you when I was with you, and when I thought of our life together, where I still was but you weren’t, I could almost hear the hammer and drill of demolition, and see the workmen smoking and joking around on their break. After that, there was always sawdust in your touch, and I was someone who was not me with someone who was not you, though I always thought of you as substantial somehow, while I was a ghost haunting the place that had once been my life.

I felt all the time as if the breath had been knocked out of me, and in that way in which the mind pulls up the only memories that somehow correspond with a present that makes no sense, in one of my desolate reveries, I suddenly remembered, as if waking up in it, a time when I was probably ten or eleven years old and Mother and I went to visit the preacher’s family, the daughter was about my age–Mother was probably hoping I’d find a friend, so little did she understand the real conditions of my life, the ones that had started, of course, with her–and she was inside having coffee and chatting or whatever it was that adults who didn’t know each other did, and I was outside with the girl and her brother, and out of nowhere, he knocked me down and began to jump on my chest—and he was a big chubby guy, there was no way I could get up, and there was no air in me, I think I may even have blacked out for a bit. I guess his sister got him to stop, or like all bullies he had an instinct for when he’d done enough damage and could put the innocent face back on, and it was one of those don’t tell or I’ll kill you kind of things.

But he didn’t even need to tell me not to tell—there on the ground with the wind knocked out of me, whatever I was pulled back into that little space inside where I had my life, like the closet one tries to hide in in dreams of being stalked or chased: I already knew that there was nothing that could be done to stop it, that nobody was going to help me. It was a moment of absolute clarity and absolute solitude, and although it was really only part of a history of encounters with malicious children that started when I was three or so and went to what was called kindergarten then—it was really a kind of corral in which children did as they pleased under vague supervision—it was one of the events that I had put furthest from my mind until the memory of it suddenly cropped up. When he knocked the breath from me and in a very determined way made it impossible for me to breathe, I was shocked—physically—and I was taken by surprise, but in the long view of things, I wasn’t surprised that someone was hurting me, that it felt like some kind of annihilation, that it made no sense. That was what being in my world was as a child, no one was looking out for me, so harm and helplessness was always a nearby possibility. I wasn’t a cringer or a hider, but I had a habit of kind of spacing out, which I now realize was a kind of defense that probably only made things worse by making it easier for mean kids to catch me off guard, to inflict a kind of chaos on me, and then move on to the next thing as if, for them, nothing had happened.

Of course, it wasn’t as if you were beating me or as if you had some kind of malicious plan, just that you had casually hurt me and now you were done with it, and done with me. Like all betrayers, you acted as if you really had nothing to do with what had happened, and like all betrayals, an essential element was that you made me party to my own undoing by letting me think things were what they weren’t, for quite a long time as it turned out, though I would never know precisely how long. All the years of my life that I had spent with you, over half of my life then, were suddenly obliterated—when I thought of the past, I knew it wasn’t what I thought it was at the time, it had just been emptied out, like my present had been emptied out when I wasn’t looking. It was just suddenly as if there was nothing left, nothing left of me, nothing left of you, not even in my dreams, which were now populated with people I did not know in places where I’d never been.

So Fast and Errant

So fast and errant, an ungulate going its way did not pause
to greet us.
The atrocious backlog was phoning again at all hours.
We felt special the day of the flood as if we had long prayed
for disaster and it had finally come to deliver us.
The backwing of the spectacle was briefly stabled.
Anything he said elicited loud guffaws and spectral tapping.
My god, she said, were they drinking broom juice? What
were they thinking?
The blast aroused ancient fears of woeful neighbors.
Still, the rightful owners of the cave might desire these
toggled satellites.
The guy sponsoring the coconut–yes, that guy.
Lakes of oil slid through the cities like sloe-eyed harlots
searching for dibs.
But our endless novenas infiltrated even the most arid
fortitudes.
Uncommonly agreeable, the cat spoke in couplets.
Copper spattered the walls and ceilings.
We were certain the moodling was responsible, but we
could not say so.
The horizon drifted despite endless nailing.
Such warrants as they pleaded were robust and defiant.
The most formidable pinprick, like solar wind.
The absolutes had already been eaten, alas.
Look, he said, I need lulls and biscuits, not this mojo.
But we protest your furious telescope and abandon your
lairs.
The messenger collapsed.
There’s nothing left he cried. The paws. The paws!
Deserted aquifers and mendacious crustaceans.
And all their icy feathered singlets.

dinner

There was a terrible storm once and lightning came in through the window. Several small creatures slid down the lightning—very fast, though they seemed not to notice that. They looked like sturdy little things although their clothes–or maybe their skin, who could tell—was diaphanous, airy and glistening, bright yellow-green like the soda Mother would never let us drink no matter how much we begged to do so. “Plasma,” Dad said, then snapped the newspaper up in front of his face again. Mother crouched down and stared at the creatures for a moment. They backed away from her a little. “Look,” she said, “I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but we’re having macaroni and cheese tonight, and if you don’t like it you’re just shit out of luck.”