Lady of Luminous Laughter,
I know you look down on me
and wonder at my stupidity,
that you must marvel at my inability
to appreciate the wonder that saturates my life.
Prone to melancholy, sometimes
I pretend that my tears are born of glee
and that the sudden lurching snap
that jerks me down toward the earth’s hot core
is natural, even desirable.
Sometimes I confuse you
with the young Cambodian woman
who runs the cash register at the liquor store,
so determined to pull from me
some detail of my day, yet always willing
to pay me for my reluctance with patience,
with her boundless exuberance,
with her predictable reassurance,
with these four simple words, “You are so beautiful!”
Sometimes you remind me of my friend Kat,
(You know, the one with the brain tumor?)
and the way she looked at me that day
and how, with a smile that lifted only
the left side of her face, she said simply,
“You have a beautiful life.”
Sometimes my face turns hot
and my shame grows unchecked,
blossoming uninhibited in my chest
until almost no oxygen remains and
all I can think is that I should have
visited Mamma before she died.
Then, I imagine you there, in that otherworldly place,
with your arms crossed gently over your breasts,
holding your veil soft against your face
and floating toward the ceiling
where, with only the occasional silent smile,
you rain peace and understanding from the rafters.
& THE SUBSEQUENT MELTDOWN
Lady of Longing,
I have learned something
about the way days fall into place
like ideas, preordained packets,
not cubelike by necessity,
but illuminated and interconnected.
To allow life to fall away
must be the greatest gift.
And if there wa not enough touching,
I fear there were never enough days.
So the sequence remains.
The pieces will fall.
And when they’ve all dropped,
the falling will stop.
There will be lightning
with no rain
and no thunder.
Hardly fodder for the tabloids,
yet off the scale
Lady of Landlocked Songs,
I just can’t do this today,
this brilliant juggling of gibberish,
when no sounds express my longing
and I need you to help me walk,
to hold me, loosely like a gifted doll,
putting first one foot and then the other
until nothing fills my toothless pumpkin head
but endless iambs heel to toe
and we’re embedded
in the sway of left to right.
I know God loves me.
How that breathless hip-hop moves me!
But I need to push this pale orange air
that heats my skin past ripeness,
need to cover the same line
over and again
until my footprints can be tracked
on this sandy, shifting path.
I need the background of chimes
to help me feel
that ambient steel sound
down my spine,
so like that unexpected tingle
when I first saw your eyes shimmering
at the bottom of the lake.
And, Lady, I need to know;
what does it take
to learn to sink like that?
I JUST WANTED TO SAY
So listen, oh Lady of Unlimited Wisdom, I have curled
around your leg like a cat, overcoming my aloofness,
shedding the burden of my loneliness,
with the bone deep wish just to be scratched.
I have snagged your hems intentionally at times
and been dragged down the same melancholy path
unnoticed by the masses for days and weeks and years.
I admit I have been greedy in my quest for love.
Like water thrown wasted on the floor before
a thirsty beast, my faith spreads thin and in the end evaporates.
But I will settle for the dregs of last morning’s dew,
for I have been told by those who know
that you have always been the one who holds the answers.
Thank God your gaze is elsewhere focused,
for to face your vision under the gravity of such sight
would surely signal the end of life as I have known it.
And I have known it. I have learned that pain contained
can be diluted, allowed to seep from day into night,
night into day. And I’ve grown tired, yet I cannot sleep…
I went to a funeral yesterday, and after only moments
in the church, I was caught by the organized beauty
of religion’s patterns. Admiring even the placement
of the choir chairs in the loft, I became confused,
as usual, by the difference between aesthetics and grace,
and was transported to that childhood place
where light once shone so sweetly from a promised shore.
I was twelve, the age of accountability,
and the Church of the Nazarene still held substantial mystery.
But promises were followed too closely by demands,
so, growing cold, I turned deliberately toward pursuits
hinted at by the new boy four rows back.
No cushions on the seats made squirming inevitable,
and the wooden pockets on the backs of the benches
were always empty of visitor cards.
Since we didn’t do that introductory thing,
where visitors remain seated, and regulars,
like falsely reassuring, curious aliens,
stand, turn in all directions,
and seek reluctant hands for the shaking--
I knew I was on my own when it came to making contact.
I’m not sure what happened to the boy’s real mom,
but he had a nice new one with blond hair
and soft, flower-colored clothing,
perhaps a little too polished to be proper for church,
but her husband was an usher
and their family always sat near the back.
I think I was drawn to them, because I, too, was shiny.
Having buffed myself almost raw,
I thought that taking off the rough edges
would somehow make me less visible.
In effect, I had a patina that screamed
for the whole world’s attention.
Back to the boy. Eddie. More precisely, Edgar Howell
and how he looked at me covertly in the beginning. But then
he made friends with the other guys and when they all sat together,
they looked at me from what seemed like all directions at once
until I felt like a compass, spinning slightly from side to side
as though vibrating from unseen forces.
We went on, content with this pattern for a while.
But things change. As Eddie grew tall and handsome,
he acted more interested, especially when his friends
fanned the embers. And at least once
every Sabbath evening that fall, he issued me
a personal invitation to accompany him behind the church.
I blushed and half-pretended not to hear or understand,
until his taunting demands for attention
pushed us both off center and I said, “Okay.”
The audience, astonished, withdrew.
It was November and the wind was cold,
and though I think what he really wanted to do
was return to the safety of the sanctuary,
he had to follow through on his implied threats
of what he would do to me if he got me alone.
So he got me alone. And he kissed me
with what would surely have been described as expertise,
until we were both a little breathless
and immediately giddy with our newfound guilt.
(I like to think the reality was too sweet to share with his friends
and that no one has ever mentioned that moment until now...)
So we met halfway, two rows up for him,
two rows back for me, where every Sunday,
we shielded each other from friends and family,
and we held hands religiously.
But things change--even memories.
And I wonder if I remember the truth. Maybe I’ve dropped
important sensory data along the path on my way to today,
but edited reality has taught me
there are some moments that should not
So I thought today about that kiss,
and how it made me late for Bible class…
I thought about the teacher named Birdie,
and how I remember liking her
because she loved her husband, tall and quiet and slim…
She seemed afraid of the rest of the world,
but I could tell she had no fear of him.
She was a tiny, dark woman with finger-waved hair,
and I liked to watch her, not because she was spectacular,
but mostly… because she was not hellbent on watching me.
They had the most beautiful daughter in the world.
A model,or an actress maybe--she almost never came to church.
I assumed her job kept her busy, you know,
traveling the globe, tossing back her glowing, golden hair,
shoulder length, never looking too quickly away
with gray-blue eyes that moved calmly from face to face.
She had a small dark mole beside her pouty mouth,
and she was tall, with nice ankles and soft hands.
I confess, I pretended she was the future Me.
But I grow sad thinking of Birdie and her family.
I remember one Sunday in particular,
when Birdie’s die-cut felt Zacheus
refused to stick to her die-cut felt Sycamore tree.
She tried over and over to make it work, but
the fourth time he fell to the floor,
she started to cry…very quietly.
Somehow I knew
that her son,
whom I had never even seen,
would not be coming home from Vietnam.
I wanted to touch her hand that day, but I didn’t.
And since I was developing the habit of living without words,
I couldn’t tell her that somewhere, someone knew
how she felt. All I could do was pick up the felt pieces,
lay them neatly in their precisely cut storage places,
and hope they would be ready to stick
the next time she pressed them on the sturdy tree.
And, Lady, I have to admit,
sometimes when I talk to you,
it’s really Birdie’s face I see.
And I just wanted to say, you know, how sorry
I’ve always been
about your son.