King Vultures

November 2, 2019

It starts as a fragment of sky
that detaches itself from the stratosphere,
something in my eye as I look up.
I call it the Land of the Dead,
its messenger gliding toward me,
star-ermine cape scalloped with black wings,
to land at the foot of the kapok tree
between buttresses
that remind me of the house we lived in once —
you said a gale had ripped off its roof.

Furniture inside for the afterlife —
and you laid out on the table,
a skeleton curled like a foetus
that the king vultures pierce,
their beaks inside your bowel,
their heads painted with prisms,
their white eyes haloed with red.
Kings of light
who once wore the constellations as headdresses,
death eaters
now bringing up lumps of your flesh,
putrid at first, then sweet.
Maggots shrink back into eggs, flies buzz to their pupas.

If I sniff I can smell the stink that’s followed me ever since you died.
Who knows what the mind can do
but here your corpse
is becoming fragrant,
your face pointed east where the sun rises
as our family arrives,
their tears flowing up, back into their eyes,
their tissues folded into pockets.
They hug each other then carry you
into the hut, remove the herbs
packed in your heart, your intestines.
A brush paints backwards, removing the annatto dye
that’s protected me against your ghost,
dressing me in red jaguar clothes.

Now the surgeons arrive, scrub their hands, peel on stained
white gloves and green masks
and unpick the stitches across your abdomen,
a scalpel erases its cut,
iodine is wiped off your skin.
You wake as you are counting backwards. When you get to one,
the anaesthetist’s needle pops out of the cannula on your hand
and as the gurney is wheeled down corridors
the sedative wears off.
Now you’re back in the ward, anti-psychotics
sucked out of your blood into the saline drip.
Poisons rush up syringes; pills appear on your tongue
and fly back into nurses’ hands.
Your teeth plant themselves in your gums
and you menstruate.
Wrinkles smooth themselves out
as your hair grows auburn.

Here comes the hard part, the Land of the Dead
floating just above my head
because all along as you’ve been healing
I’ve been getting smaller until
I’m a newborn, resting against
the buttress of your thigh, a liana
linking me to you from my navel.
The kapok tree drops a shower of red blooms around me
as I cry out and take a sharp breath.
I’m lifted up, lowered into the ledge of your womb
where I settle in a foetal position facing east.
The king vultures have followed me in
and someone is zipping up my roof with a scalpel.
I squeeze my eyelids shut and my eyes sink into their sockets
then vanish.
My lips close and fuse.
My ears no longer hear your heart.
Silence.

I’ve gone back as far as I can. You must do the work now
my pregnant mother, you who once told me
what your psychiatrist said—that
you should never have had children.
You were crying at the time and I consoled you
in the hall of my bedsit, cradling the black phone.
The vultures stayed with me all my life. I wake some nights
and their starry heads are above me, as they were
when I lay inside you, my organs shining in the dark
like caskets of jewels to be plundered.

Pascale Petit

The Glass House

October 12, 2019

i.

It’s still warm from the day,
the seedbed, light and moist.
Leafy greens are best
sown during a waxing moon
roots during a wane
even better
seeded
at night,
like tonight,
in a faint
glow.
The fingers know
the shape of seeds,
the necessary depth
of planting
and how to envelop
everything
in readiness.

ii.

At forty-five there is still time.
Systems are functioning
although
there is a rumour
things may not be
all go.

iii.

Frost’s first kiss
lies upon the ground.
Brassicas and spinach may still be planted —
these seedlings already hardened outside
for days and nights to come.
More important, garlic.
Ready the beds
for the longest night
choose the largest
healthiest
cloves
from last year’s harvest
(crush the remainder into virgin olive oil or compost)
gently rub the papery skin
to liberate a bare bulb
hold tip upwards
insert to depth
no more than twice the bulb length
cover with compost then pea straw
for nourishment, water retention, weed suppression
continue:
feed
water
weed
until the shortest night

iv.

Her body has changed shape —
carries weight and water.
Her face has a decoration of unevenness.
These nights, and sometimes days
the bed she sleeps in
presses back
and there are unforgiven aches.
Finally, the mattress
needs to be
replaced.

v.
Cloches ease transition

through these days of early winter.
The glasshouse
brittles with age.
Surfaces are etched.
There is a fungus
that cannot be
washed out
in spite of days
spent scrubbing.

vi.

The heart. The mind.
This ready pair.
Something is always missing.
A matter of the senses.
A matter of connection.
Seductive.
Isolation.
There is the matter of fate.
There is an inability
to convey
se paraten ess.

vii.

The nursery lights
shut off
automatically.
There is nothing to see
at night and light
can only give so much.
Days shorten without notice.
Still the bed lies prepared
and the cup of the moon
holds a smile.

viii.

Through winter’s dark
the plantings grow
in the ground
around her.
Nourished.
Spoken to.

ix.

She bleeds
with the moon.
Meanwhile the quick of her thins,
and what she grows
no longer sustains her.
Soon she will be transparent
and on some unexpected
cold night
in spring
like a glasshouse
of unseeded beds
she will shatter.

Hayden Carruth

Do you remember when we met
in Gomorrah? When you were still beardless,
and I would oil my hair in the lamp light before seeing
you, when we were young, and blushed with youth
like bruised fruit. Did we care then
what our neighbours did
in the dark?

When our first daughter was born
on the River Jordan, when our second
cracked her pink head from my body
like a promise, did we worry
what our friends might be
doing with their tongues?

What new crevices they found
to lick love into or strange flesh
to push pleasure from, when we
called them Sodomites then,
all we meant by it
was neighbour.

When the angels told us to run
from the city, I went with you,
but even the angels knew
that women always look back.
Let me describe for you, Lot,
what your city looked like burning
since you never turned around to see it.

Sulphur ran its sticky fingers over the skin
of our countrymen. It smelled like burning hair
and rancid eggs. I watched as our friends pulled
chunks of brimstone from their faces. Is any form
of loving this indecent?

Cover your eyes tight,
husband, until you see stars, convince
yourself you are looking at Heaven.

Because any man weak enough to hide his eyes while his neighbours
are punished for the way they love deserves a vengeful god.

I would say these things to you now, Lot,
but an ocean has dried itself on my tongue.
So instead I will stand here, while my body blows itself
grain by grain back over the Land of Canaan.
I will stand here
and I will watch you
run.

Karen Finneyfrock

Dysrhythmia

January 18, 2019

Old people spit with absolutely no finesse
and bicycles bully traffic on the sidewalk.
The unknown poet waits for criticism
and reads his verses three times a day
like a monk with his book of hours.
The brush got old and no longer brushes.
Right now what’s important
is to untangle the hair.
We give birth to life between our legs
and go on talking about it till the end,
few of us understanding:
it’s the soul that’s erotic.

Adelia Prado
Trans. Ellen Watson

Make room

August 19, 2017

A kernel is hidden in me

November 16, 2016

trees2

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labour is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

Herman Hesse
Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte (Trees: Reflections and poems)

Kicking and screaming…

March 15, 2016

Kicking,screaming

Birth

September 28, 2015

birth

is not a concept I can embrace readily
having forgotten, somehow, to give and of course
not recalling my own,

unless I think of floating, not quite belly up,
shushed and lulled by the ocean – that
mother of all birthing pools – whose

saltsoup plasmas our channels, keeps
our cells, ourselves abreast; so that it
comes as no surprise when skinny-dipping infants

splash and thrash, then just as suddenly
stroke the cobalt with fluent limbs
that part ripples limpid as memory.

I have plunged through brine to the seabed –
that deeper earth – to shimmy through rock gardens,
coral forests and swirling, sandbottom valleys like any other

original fish dodging the poisongrass of anemones,
the ponderous flight of the shadowy ray,
the rasping handshake of basking lobsters

dark as deepsea sapphire, to be electrified by
lightening shoals of angels – teeming and familiar
waves of aquamarine –

until my hot lungs urged the kickpush upwards
to burst through to the gasping shock of surf, of dazzling sky,
back to the cradling arc of sand that reminds us

how near, how far we are from where we began.

Vicci Bentley

(Vicci Bentley is a journalist who, she claims, writes poetry to provide herself with a little light relief)