Saturday, November 23, 2013

A wandering tree

Was there a face in the whirling wood
or a knot in the wick of a weeping candle?
To whom did the words belong, to the clinging bush,
or to the wind, its adversary?

When I leapt down the hill like mountain goat,
were the kinnikinnick berries full of eyes?
Did you sense me searching for you,
up-ending lichen-scarred rocks?

When I sank into sleep,
the leaves were summer-green;
I awoke to autumn's flicker-dance.
Was it the thought of your shadow
that brought me back to breath?

That plunge into a snow-melt summit lake,
the flat-bottom smooth stones and burning gasp,
were they decreed, so my skin might unfold,
like a curl of birch bark, to caress your hand?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Song of an Arctic Tern

When air scented with the breath of pineapple groves
Lingers near the limbs of an icy Sitka rose,
See the thorn-tree shuddering, hear Frost crack his whip.
Spare, somber seneschal, a pair of Rosa's hips!

Agate-eyed ice diadems in crystals crackle,
Frosty fraternities in formations fractal.
Sleep, Rosamunda, snow showers you with kisses,
Heed not the zephyr--sweet the North wind's cold hisses.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

shared silence

several years have passed
since the night

my son wandered the house
and i followed

don't know if he even noticed

his sisters snored
someone had plugged in
our new nightlight
a christmas gift

he stopped and watched
the flickering on the wall
blue, green, red, purple
(someone had set the light
to run through all of its colors)

he reached out to touch it
he lay down on the floor
where the light would pass over him
i lay down with him

we shared a silent
symphony of color
until he slept

sometimes when i'm tired
i remember that moment

if the splendor of the Aurora
can shine through a cheap piece of plastic

how much more would we shine
if we let the light pass through us --

Broken Prism

I am shattered, an empty vessel.

But while I have a chance
to whisper what I have held:

the purple taste of my grandmother's choked worries,
the crimson vibrations of my mother's fiery nature,
the leafy green integrity of my sister,
the bright yellow warmth of my brother,
the indigo silence of my father,

oh, the ancient amber voices,
the song of stone and water and tree,
the quicksilver seduction of civilization's dying soul...

the sharp arrows in my quiver--
Eldest, who carries my mother's fire,
Second, who folds herself to fit any space,
Third, whose heart is older than her mind,
Fourth, our joy, sorrow, and unraveling mystery,
Fifth, our stubborn, capricious beauty.

My gift and curse is to be a bridge
between yesterday and tomorrow,
words and forms,
fire and ice.

Let me speak first, then I will melt away,
a grey mist...

If only one pair of eyes
is opened to the colors
of my joy

I will fade into contented obscurity.

Valentine for Baghdad, Unsent

Deep within a grey clay room
Gliding through glass, a woman:
She is dark while I am pale,
her eyes obsidian flame.
Her reflection is a spark
in the mirror of my mind.
I gasp the sting of her breath,
the vibration of her heart.

She rocks to soothe her raw nerves.
I fall into her rhythm.
Her son flutters by her side,
while my son scribbles by mine.
The rose I hold in my hand
Is a gift I would offer
But I forget. The shadow
of Moloch hangs over us.

The mirror shudders in fear
at the evil one's footsteps.
The rose is snatched from my hands,
her blood caresses the floor,
delicate crimson petals.
Her son is a bird pinioned.

The mirror cracks in anguish.
My stomach a shattered shard,
there is no soothing this ache,
only the sighs of angels.
This is no woman's country,
I do not know the way home.


Paper Birch

Dormant, she dreams of the sun,
And strains towards it, bud by bud.
Zephyr teaches her a song
And her sap begins to rise.

"Kiss us, light," declare her leaves,
"Claim us, change our properties,
Let us share the breath of life
With all of our surroundings."

Stretched taut from old sapling-wounds,
Ring within rings, the heart-wood
Bears the burden for the rest,
While it savors its own death.

Sudden storms which bend her trunk,
Snap her branches, thresh her stems,
Instruct her to sink within
Her roots, deep in earth's midden.

Old gnarled fingers are her roots,
Which claw for water through rocks.
These roots sense an adventure:
A dark and throbbing center.

The light which flows within her
Endures its endless circle.
Trembling scrolls of bark are blank,
Like whispered prayers without names.

fragile boy

his eyes are candles glimmering,
if they saw you they would consume you
but they can't, can't, can't

his limbs are lounged in leather
his ears are pierced with silver
he is lost wax, wax, wax

his heart is guarded by bubbles
he'll tell you, you have the answer
but you won't, won't, won't--

derelict dreams

he came and wrapped her in gilded sinister
she became his shattered castle
while he wove her in his webs
and he seeded his lies like garlic

in the garden of betrayal
he bid his spiders suck her marrow
only then did he crack a smile
while he prepared for his final blow

so she rent her roots and left him
let him spin his chaos songs
let him twist in akathisia
let him harvest derelict dreams

At the Banya

There on Neglinnaya
behind the carved doors
of Sandunovskie 
on a slab of cold marble--

She splayed her mottled
brawn and tossed 
a wood-handled brush 
in my direction--

Harder, harder! she screeched,
while I tentatively explored
the massive vistas
of this assemblage of Woman.

She told me the stories of each of her war scars,
how once she'd screamed her way en route
from engine to caboose, knife in hand,
evading rape at the hands of her countrymen.

This was a dynamo. My jaw jammed open
and I followed my new luminary
to the dressing room, avoiding the sight of my
scrawny limbs in a 19th century mirror.

She eased her torpedoes into their silos,
brassieres and petticoats layer on layer,
topped off solidly with a belted brown dress,
an imposing bit of stalinist-era architecture.

Years later, looking back, I wondered if
her bravado was yet another of those layers,
designed to protect the memory of her younger self-- 
that slender, terrified girl concealed in the center


Forefinger tracing knots in plywood, 
waiting for the pendulum to swing, 
we sip the suspended seconds
stricken in the house of murmurs.

When a word arrives and dissipates,
we gather it in tight-lipped calm, 
draping our minds in rigid requiem,
staining them with stilted purity.

Callow feet run in a straight line
from this heavy curtain into the fog
where buzzing flocks of forgeries are
inhaled by a fool's cupped ears.

O old ones, have you heard our cry,
our hearts are skewered and buried
in that rut not far away, beneath
rows and rows of headlights--?

One word from them might suffice
to lift the veil from the way home,
but we slip away like grains of sand,
syllables sifting through the glass.

For Valentina Nikolaevna

Of all the regrets
that sprout tendrils
and cling steadfastly
to anamnesis

I lament the gentle wit
which lilted off your silver tongue
simmered under your salted hair
and kindled the purest of hearts

I tripped on the potholes under your window
while you foundered on the fifth floor
peeling potatoes for
your sailor husband's new girl

in the desert of my mind
your fusion of culture and lore
swept through and cleansed me
leaving a gaping wadi

you opened the world of Likhachev to me
but I lost and squandered
our friendship and my head
in a foolish girlish sacrifice

how I miss you

our lives admonish our daughters:

never, ever, lose
your voices

Abandoned. Hidden. Forgotten. Lost, possibly for centuries. Then, the sudden discovery of a damaged treasure. In a nutshell, that is the story of the Zvenigorod icon of the Redeemer, found in 1919 by accident under a board in a farmer's yard. Apparently, it was being trampled into the mud on a daily basis, because it was used to support a walkway into a barn. Now it is one of the prize possessions of the Tretyakov Gallery, and is attributed to the great Andrei Rublev. There was a time when it was one of my favorite icons. I could stare at the gentle face for a long time.

What if such a pearl lay abandoned, hidden, forgotten, and lost within our own selves? Would we want to find it?

For a long time, I rejected these kinds of thoughts.

Those walls that I had built around my heart: I thought that they were impregnable. I thought that I was doing the right thing. Then --

When a few of the bricks began to hit me in the face, I tasted them with my tongue for the first time. I discovered that they tasted like shit, that they smelled of falsehood and that they were, indeed, lies.

Did that stop me from laying the bricks again and again? No, it did not.

It took the glimpse of my reflection in the face of a child for me to realize what I had been doing to the child in my heart. I had held her in prison without the possibility of parole. She had almost lost hope. She was beyond tears and beyond words. There in my arms sat a child of my flesh, a son without words, and I knew that I must find a way to reach both children.

The little girl liked to peek out at me in between the flecks of textured paint in the wall. She waved at me from the branch that hung in front of my window.

I was discovering how to free her. That I must take her hand with a feathered touch. We would walk up the steps to that place and not deny any more. That there were pictures on the walls. One of them was that icon. That she was wearing a pale blue skirt with a white peasant blouse, given to her as a gift from a dear friend. That she was pushed down. That she said, No. There was no doubt of that.

That she was left alone, to scrub the blood from the floor, the bed, even from her shoes. The blankets and sheets washed out in the tub, but the stains on her clothing only turned brown, so she ripped them into pieces and shoved them, still dripping, down a garbage chute.

That she looked up later into those unseeing eyes and saw nothing. Nothing. So what did she do? She felt sorry for the eyes. She lost herself in them. She wanted to know: why? In her search for an answer, she became their slave, and walked further and further into a labyrinth.

Who would not have wanted to comfort her? I, in my cruelty, did not bother. She had made her bed, I decided. She could sleep in it, splayed out cruciform. It was none of my business. I disowned her, I changed my name, my personality, and tried to re-create myself altogether, without her.

Then I decided finally that I wanted to whisper to her this word that I have learned. I do not know if she can always understand it, or if when it passes through my lips, it will only hiss in her ears like so many snakes passing in the wind.

But I have learned, also, that I must persist in repeating the word:

And somehow, we are learning, bit by bit, what this means. The child in my arms has grown. He has words, but they are different for him than they are for the girl in my heart. His words march in rows. They zoom around racetracks. They clatter on train rails. I do not know if he could understand the word, Beloved. But I do know that he understands the love that I give. The pressure of his heels against my thigh when he is tired, this tells me that he trusts me to lull him to sleep. That is a beginning.

I am learning to say to the little girl: I am sorry. I think she is beginning to believe me. Hand in hand, we will keep walking, and we will find the right door, and when we find it, we will open it, and be set free. If we could, then we would draw a map that would help any girl to escape from such a trap.

We are learning, she and I, that there is nothing more sacred than a person, than a human being. Not love. Not truth. Not money. Not sacrifices. Not morals. Nothing. Only you -- and I.  You and I, who shine in the darkness like priceless pearls, when we discover the divine image in one another.

And as for the word, "Why", well--we will let it flutter away like a capricious butterfly.

somewhere in the silence

Somewhere in the silence, like a
remnant of silk in a clenched fist,
my cicada wings buzzed, my
moth brain burned.

I thought I could fly
to the sound of your name,
but my toes grew roots with tendrils,
and the moon frowned in disapproval.

I opened my mouth to scream,
when out came the buzz of a mosquito.

A minor annoyance, or so I thought.
Then every time I opened my jaw,
out popped a hiss or hum or murmur or purr,
and soon I was swarmed with sounds.

If I could reach with a net and catch these things,
these whispers, this whirring, these words,
if I could lasso a cluster of them altogether,
would they
 spell your name, in hieroglyphs?

Or would they tell me of my negligence.
That I am burning the food of the poor,
while I sit and enjoy my leisure?

The thought stings me back to
the symmetry of the moon,
and her silence.


In a song on a shoe-string, a
bird on a wire, Solovushka sings;
night is his country, darkness his
solo, lost his plumage, he is all
voice and trill of woven words
caught in crescendo:

On the edge of the earth
sifted in sand slapped by snow
shaped in rain lured by light
branch shaken leaf trembling,
stands a paper birch--
filled with
mist-flavored sweet water

untapped and rising
from tangled rock-cracking roots

So gather
your pails and buckets and cups,
fill them up for the price of
the one thing the wordless wind
cannot grant: the craving of
a silver birch,
for the gurgling of

the song of a shell sapphire melting inside jade a color unnamed Ofra Haza's version of this song defies categoriz...

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