Three Seasons Triptych

LILAC TIME (for Steve)

Eleven or twelve, the year doesn’t matter;
May seventeenth,
or twenty-second, irrelevant dates
that both happened.
Let the world smirk at our disdain of time,
tradition, convention,
question our memory or our ardor;
recall is overrated.
Sometime in May, every year, lilac buds
open just enough,
release a premonition of fragrance,
to make the eyes close
as for an unknown number of kisses.
Why count or count down?
Let’s just stay in this half-bloomed state,
not caring how many
buds are past or promising, unable
to put a finger down
on the pulse of that fugitive perfume,
with the light just so.

News: there is no law
against second chances.
So much is allowed.
The equinox came and
went, and September
dug its claws deep
in summer’s flank.
And there, under an
improbable arbor of
grapes ready to press,
you and I went back
seven years and kissed
the world right again.
COLD COMFORT (for Claudio)

It’s a bitter night
to hunt the Huntress;
but the brittle clouds
have cleared the way
for me to glimpse her
from behind glass.

I feel as trapped
as my cat tonight,
taunted by shadows
under the snow.

Last night he saw an owl
poach a fat rabbit
that should have been his,
striking so silently.
I can still see the imprint
of its ghostly wings.

It’s cold comfort,
sharing this cozy cell,
but again tonight
we dine on moonlight.

Setting my blogs aside on a note of romance, given it’s the central theme in my writing. The formatting may not be correct, but that’s WordPress all over. These odes to my three loves are old poems, as new ones aren’t particularly forthcoming these days — one of my principal reasons for stepping “away from the machine”.

This and The Fairy of Disenchantment will remain, willfully taking up space on WP’s servers, and I’ve got subscriptions to the folks I follow here, so I won’t be entirely absent. But if there’s new work to be read (a big If, it feels like right now), it will be on Instagram (@sunhesper, also my Twitter handle) where I have more room to play with creative (im)permanence. Finishing the novel(s) will be my main focus; in fact I’ve booked myself a little writer’s retreat this weekend to hopefully make progress on that. The end of the first Beast is so close. I refuse to let MS rob me of that victory.

Lots of mental space has to be cleared first, though. I suppose I needed to be this sick to quit deluding myself that my work situation is sustainable. The next few months will be laying the foundation for that departure into the land of Disability. It’s scary, even though I grew up in lean times. But a time has to come when you re-evaluate what comfort means. Look after yourselves, friends, and hold on to what matters most.

“In my defense,” the shirt reads, “the moon was full and I was unsupervised.” Only half true in this case.

Poem “Fox Magic” at Gobblers/Masticadores

I’m thankful to Gobblers/Masticadores for featuring my poem “Fox Magic”. I perennially miss the fox family that our neighbors drove away by buying a dog.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Thanks also for your good wishes for my recent health struggles. Looks like I’m coming out of the woods. Am I the only one who has this little song come into their head when they use that phrase?

Third Day

The UNPRECEDENTED project is wonderful. It’s turned a really miserable period of time — and I don’t mean this year+, I mean the past several days — into something useful. Sometimes only the most brutal inspiration will get me to break past the barrier I make in my mind between visual art and written art and what I permit myself to produce based on some arbitrary assessment of self-worth. The point, the project presses, is simply to pass the time. And it happens to be a dark, damned time.

Tomorrow will actually be the Thirteenth Day of my journey into delayed-reaction-vaccine-induced MS misery, which has felt like traveling back in time to my first full-body assault by the disease. (This is not uncommon, and I’m not necessarily regretting vaccination but I really would’ve liked a little advance warning.) I have no idea how long I’m in for, but as of yesterday I can actually walk pretty well, so that’s something; we may be tapering off into the more tolerable end of the spectrum. That, I believe, is thanks to a new prescription for Baclofen… a Faustian bargain to be sure.

Defiance (for Mommo)

The mirror that is seen is almost useless,
but I know the resemblances by heart, especially
that querulous contortion of my eyes, misread
so often as anger, that answers a question or
a statement half-heard or unexpected. People,
it’s nothing more than concern or curiosity, or a
challenging of unclear language; a need to fix
an unsatisfactory state of knowledge.

How many hours we clocked at the library,
working on that never-ending quest together,
I’ll never know, but I can’t help noticing my crib
is still lined with books, mostly science fiction,
science fact, and fantasy, novels whose caliber
would meet even your exacting tastes; everyone
knows you could teach college lit if not for
a few pesky pieces of stiff paper.

But I’m guessing you’d hate that: your words
on other people’s terms, at other people’s pace.
“She keeps to herself” they may say about you
but I know this is half a lie; after the parties,
explosions of notions are the introvert’s gift.
I miss the midnight dissections of Dickens,
the quantum mechanical travels, but luckily
I have your brain on speed-dial.

Where would half my worlds be without
your verification that they’ve yet to be written,
or my ego without your anticipation of sequels
and movie rights; I’m glad you’re patient about that
because my stories grow at the rate of gardens,
which you’ve apparently added to your long list
of artforms after pastels, drawings, wire figures,
and Surrealist pipe-cleaner cat toys.

You’re restless and bored and I dig that;
What other girl in the 70s had all her costumes sewn
from inspirations in the Encyclopedia Britannica?
What happened in the 80s I don’t want to talk about;
what decade of teenage angst doesn’t strangle
the tightest mother-daughter bond? Regardless,
I blame Reagan. We’ve never ceased struggling,
but at least we’re on the same side now.

Walking downtown I see ghostly overlays
of past-on-present. Behind the shiny windows
of apartments and offices, you and I eat burgers
at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, see a movie
at the Strand; it all went away before our eyes.
I get worked up about who can afford to live there
now (Reagan again), but at least when they built
the new library, they were thinking of us.

If only our healthcare system were redesigned
with such intelligence; every day you go to work
you navigate the rubble of a profession deformed
by greed. “Why”, even I used to ask, “doesn’t she
look for another job? Anywhere would be better
than that place.” But the residents know and
so do I, your subversive compassion; if not for
your defiance, who would even care?

Going back to both mirrors, I will confess to envying
everything, really. My commitment to keeping it all
together, being responsible, and not just running off
to join the circus, has always needed improvement.
And like everyone, I’ve wanted that long curly red hair,
but at least after all this time I’ve learned to be happy
making silk flowers for your braids, while my own
sharp blondness bleaches in the sun.

But sooner or later you’ll say, “You know, kiddo,
I’ve got enough flowers”, so I’ve crimped together
instead this ode to all the scrappy habits I’ve learned
from you, and to the fact that no one ever really knows
what’s going on inside our scrunched-up foreheads.
Like I said, it’s probably just that work-in-progress,
some tasty new problem. Or we could really be angry,
but man, that’s a whole other poem.

My offering for International Women’s Day. I wrote this and posted it on The Fairy of Disenchantment in 2015, and I’m happy to say that my mother has retired since then, and works for nobody but her muse. But she would totally run away and join the circus with me if I asked.

Ignus Fatuus

An unknown age of ice
fractures, attenuates
all patience, stretches
to the perfect limit of
pain, disintegrates like
sugar on the tongue.
March rushes under.
It has never stopped.

The last two lines of this poem came as a surprise to me. Why? Because when winter comes, I always feel as if it’s never actually left, just lain dormant. Like it’s a return to reality. Summer for me has felt illusory for a long time. Ignus fatuus. (My grandfather loved that term, discovered in the giant encyclopedic dictionary that was his daily reading where another man — at another time, before the death of his second child — had once read the Bible. “Ignus fatuus,” he’d say to me, apropos of nothing sometimes. And I’d supply the rejoinder: “Will o’ the wisp.”) And I’ve realized over the last several years that this is a survival mechanism, because Messers (as I’ve come to call people with MS) largely dread the hot months as times of misery — a flare-up of every possible symptom. It helps to view summers as temporary things. Which goes so against my grain I could cry.

I was born on the summer solstice and am by nature a creature of the sun. I am rampant in the desert, or on a sole-scorching beach. Or I should be. Once was. Whatever. Spring, though… What was it, before? The thing I tolerated, before my season started.

It seems that’s altered, since. And on a good day, it’s March, not December, that feels dormant — eternal. The bubbling up of water under broken glass, pushing apart the shatter so gently, and yet with such force. I won’t say I welcome it more than October, because my shadow-loving nature will always keen towards Samhain. But the flip side, kindled at Imbolc, is definitely powerful. And that’s a good thing… growth, I’d say, to more than tolerate a time of burgeoning.

Poem “What Remains must be Tended” at Gobblers / Masticadores

I’m pleased to have become a contributor to Gobblers / Masticadores. A brand new poem, “What Remains Must be Tended” just went up there today; gracias a juan re crivello por el honor.

I always provide some accompaniment to my poems and stories, so here is a scene from Wings of Desire (one of my favorites of all time). I was thinking of the soundtrack (specifically “Der Himmel über Berlin”), when I first imagined my father’s hallucinations during a nearly fatal bout with pneumonia several years back. Part of me sometimes returns to St. Mary’s Hospital from two separate long, lonely stays there as a child, so, true story.

Poem at THE CHAMBER MAGAZINE: “Sonata No. 6 (for Julian Scriabin)”

© Sébastian Dahl, Creative Commons BY-NC-SA, used with kind permission of the artist (please check out his page!)

My poem, “Sonata No. 6 (for Julian Scriabin),” was just published at The Chamber Magazine (thanks again to Phil Slattery for accepting it). If you are a wordsmith with morbid tendencies, I encourage you to submit your work!

I recently posted a video of the titular sonata, but there’s some good background on the piece on Wikipedia. I don’t recall precisely when I discovered Alexander Scriabin but it was in my late teens and I loved Russian composers as much as I loved Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. When I heard No. 6 for the first time… it was a formative experience for a Goth girl. There was no Wikipedia then, but there were liner notes, and I was thrilled to discover that the piece scared the shit out of Scriabin too, and he rarely performed it.

It was many years later that I learned about Alexander’s son Julian, whose music you’ll probably never hear on NPR (though a few recordings are out there). Julian’s work, as you might expect from a composer who died when he was 11, bore many of his father’s hallmarks but was not without personality of its own. I have always wondered how it might have evolved if he had not died so tragically young in that “boating accident”…

The Code of Us

If we wrote what we said, one might think it a code
and so we seem already to outsiders, speaking in
anacoluthons, clear enough to each other, mostly–
this page, torn from an obscure imprint, is what
I saved from that voyage of lost images, and I am

by being there again, a ghost in Taos, looking up
that ladder that led to nowhere, and into the red,
weeping eyes of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, and
listening to Blue Spruce Standing Deer’s memories
of his grandfather, bringing us into so many worlds
all at once.

This page from Gertrude Stein’s portrait of Mabel.
There were more but I kept only this one — why? —
and why these lines to spark just one poem of us,
that code to speak our language which is also bent
and alone and abandonment and not vanishing,
letters cut

from some synchronicity, from one of our alternate
eras; I still want them to find one day a trove of clues
to our escape, that last great joke on civilization, that
masterful plan we hatched in Glenwood Springs,
that would with your luck and my art leave them

The image is of a souvenir from the 2016 exhibition Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company: American Moderns and the West at the Harwood Museum in Taos. The poem is dedicated to my husband, Steve, who’s going in for surgery for lung cancer on Monday. A hospital is a terrible place for an alcoholic; I don’t envy what he’ll go through if he has a prolonged stay. But I also renounce the guilt of not having done enough to make the experience easier. I happen to believe in free will, for better or worse. He’s always said “That’s your luck” whenever anything good has ever happened to us, but he’s got to have plenty of his own to have made it this long as an unrepentant rocker. Here’s hoping it holds out a little longer. I’d like us to make it back to Taos one more time.

Putting this out to the universe on the same principle that carrying an umbrella ensures it won’t actually rain.

Considering the Void, 5 am

Reading about geology and deep time
and Norse mythology before bed
apparently means that I wake up
with a line like this in mind:

There were tardigrades
in the Ginnungagap.

I blink into the before-alarm dawn,
pondering insanity, and the vision
of the great Primeval Cow licking
a little water bear into being.

I hope everyone’s winter rituals have been restorative and strengthening for the season ahead. My Yule, which is not precisely the same Yule celebrated by my Wiccan friends but some of the work is the same, felt like an unusually important one, and the magic was powerful because I actually slept. (Alas, the drug I mentioned a few posts ago ended up being utterly useless, so we’re back to more ancient practices and potions.)

The year is closing on a difficult new prospect: they found cancer in one of my husband’s lungs last week, so surgery will be among the first adventures of 2021. We have our consultation Tuesday to set the date and generally prepare him for an experience that he’s not in the best shape to deal with. My task for both of us is to recognize the outcomes that are subject to influence, and manage expectations, and generally continue to be the one friend sturdy enough to have lived with him for 20 years. We’d both like there to be at least a few more of those, so we’ll see what we can do. My consultation with the Tarot, as I promptly showed him, was favorable.

The little poem above is of course a true story. The books are Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology (incredibly, you can listen to the whole audiobook (read by the author, 6.5 hours) here). Very different books, superb in very different ways. Macfarlane’s is unforgettable — though I must admit I can’t be completely sure he mentions tardigrades… I think maybe they were just in the news while I was reading the book. So if you’re interested in the book solely for water bears, don’t be disappointed. There is much more to amaze you, and make you deliciously claustrophobic, to be sure.

The Bookshop Band is amazing