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?

Poem “The mud of the rio grande does not easily release” at Gobblers / Masticadores

I’m very pleased to have The mud of the rio grande does not easily release featured at Masticadores.

Seeing it again makes me so homesick for the Colorado Plateau. And I always think of Calexico when I think of Out There. This dreamy little instrumental piece from “Feast of Wire” (still my favorite) drifts in and out of my mind.

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
overcome

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
wondering.

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.

Mudita

Compersion
sounds so cold,
clinical.

Mudita
spreads its arms
wide open.

Enfolding
more than these
loves of ours.

I have to thank Jennifer Patino for giving me just the form for this poem. I hadn’t known tricubes were a thing before, and you can’t ask for a more apt frame for an ode to polyamory.

I’ve always hated the word compersion, which is largely unknown outside the Poly community. It’s supposed to describe a feeling of vicarious happiness when your partner is enjoying time with someone else. But it’s a product of the late 20th century and as much as I agree that 1) we need a word for this feeling and 2) we need it to extend outside polyamory (as people have argued compersion should do), I just can’t get past its problematic origins. (A word rooted in colonialism, repurposed by a white male cult leader is just never going to sit well with me.)

Of all the alternatives that I’ve seen offered, only one really speaks to me: the Buddhist term mudita. It seems to better capture the feeling itself: “the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being”. It’s often used to describe parents’ feelings for their children’s happiness or success. I would like to see this level of desexualized joy attached to non-monogamous relationships, which are too often stigmatized in the popular mind. There’s something about compersion that makes it sound closer to compulsion than compassion – a kind of aberrance. Mudita has a gentleness that discourages judgement.

I think about the borrowed words English has for emotions and find it unsettling that almost everybody knows what Schadenfreude is, but can’t come up with a similarly concise term for vicarious happiness. Considering its proto-Indo-European roots, English could really stand to give a lot more love to Sanskrit and Pali. Or take more love from it, as the case may be.

Carl Bloch – In a Roman Osteria (1866) – via Wikimedia Commons.
I love how even the cat looks like “Jeez, take a picture, it’ll last longer!”

Scary

When I shared the news with my folks that I was going to have a poem published in The Chamber Magazine, and that I was excited to write a lot more horror and dark fantasy this year, she texted me: “I never really thought of you as a scary person. Congrats!”

I’m still smiling about that. What a delight to realize, after almost 50 years, that your mother’s greatest hope for you was that one day you’d become a scary person! And before you say that’s probably not what she meant… hah, you really don’t know my folks.

So if the past few weeks are any gauge, I think 2021 is going to be a creative year, as well as a difficult and painful one. This is, after all, why people write the macabre: life is the ultimate horror show, but at least on the page, you get to direct the shocks. To return, though, to The Chamber — if this is your jam, there is some top-notch writing there. I particularly enjoyed the article, “H.R. Giger: His Dreams, Our Nightmares”, by John A. DeLaughter; Hans, I’d have killed for just one dinner at your house. (Kidding! Or… well, it depends on who I’d have had to bump off. But seriously, the dinner scene in his documentary… These are my people.) Also, I’m very excited to see what Jennifer Patino has in her upcoming drop; her poetry is astounding.

My piece, “Sonata No. 6 (for Julian Scriabin)” comes out Jan. 22; I’ll post a link here then, but in the meantime, enjoy a little musical backstory. In the dark, if you dare. (Apologies to your immortal soul.)

There are far better videos out there from a sound-value standpoint, but I love Ashkenazy’s interpretation — and his courage…

Above the gorge, listening

Here is a silence
to humble anyone.
To confound the roar
of a restless mind.

In time, you learn
to cast that noise
into the chasm,
along with your fear.

To keep your distance
from the yearning edge.
Observe the millennia.
Let your cells respire.

Far below in the canyon,
the Rio rushes unheard
and no wind whispers
in the furnace heat.

One sound only
drags its brush across
the canvas of space:
a raven’s graw.

I’ve been missing New Mexico desperately through much of this year. (That top shot is from Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, about 50 miles from Taos.) And if you’ve never heard a raven before, here, listen. They most definitely do not caw.