Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Stele


I became a bride

then a mother

giving him female fruit, a daughter

and two miscarried children.


My girl is beautiful, perfumed

but dead to him

as the young child we saw

holding a pomegranate


on  the Greek stele

in Ankara. I loved the city

and gave her its name, its shadow.

He didn't even care enough

to care. He wanted sons

and my womb kept failing.


He threatened divorce

but the council said wait.

They determined that I had sinned

( in some way) greatly shaming God;


and we had to pray. Atone

through  song, fasting and  burnt

offerings of  silk, parchment, hair -- all

my  vanities.


I told him this was madness.

He said it was the wisdom

of holy men


precise and sound

as the geometry

in our courtyard gate.


I grabbed his  knife

and ran into the garden. The almond tree stood

almost flinging its long

limbs into the light like a whip.


I cut off a branch, ripped  its  flowers

and came inside. I begged him to beat me,

 flog  my body until its breath

 coughed out the flaw.


He turned his head and hinged his hands

together. They shook.  His knuckles white

as the stone fruit on that grave

where something became touchable,  moving

upon the immovable.

So many women in eastern or older cultures are still relegated to subservient roles in their married lives. A son is almost a duty and if she cannot deliver one, she is considered useless, almost barren. Even with modern science available to prove the determination of gender rests with the male, it does not penetrate in some of these rigid and ancient societies. I wanted to tell this story from her point of view but also with a sense of strong character. She uses the word beg in a mocking way, a dare hoping to strip down her husband's pride and blame, hoping to touch some facet of his humanity, almost shock him into being aware of her and how inhumane this act is she is asking him to perform. As inhumane as his rejection of her and his daughter. The funeral stele in Ankara symbolizes the  impermanence/permanence of life and death, also how one's humanity is etched permanently in time while still having the ability to move the heart of the living, generation after generation. And in her husband's case, his cold disappointment/stony anger creates its own stele. What seems so immovable may not be that impenetrable. Something deep within the stone breathes, an echo of empathy and grief that longs to be released.

Pomegranates ( in Hellenic art/belief) were considered the fruit of  death as well as that of offering life. They may have represented on the funeral markers both a sign that someone had died and that the life of that person ( like the many seeds within the fruit) would wander and re-bloom in the dreams, memories and legacy of those who loved and knew them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Breath here
is hung paper
framed by ribs
and made half-radiant
by the light.
It's now the moon
that illuminates
your shadow.
Dusk with wings
that ached in flight,
struggled against wind
and ice. The cold panic
flickering -
frozen reeds, blue cinders
of glass.
What  have  you come
to tell me,  what song
 on this screen
of bone and sigh?
Maybe nothing
but who you are.
Bruised woman
in the twilight,
of someone
who has not forsaken
her skill to survive.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Accident

Tears congregate

as I hear your voice turn

from now to another scene (of  bricks and river)

you call  down by the factory

where you're locked in.


You call the cast bracing

 your broken wrist, this new change, piecework

that lies heavy and limits

your ability to eat

or steer the steel walker


they once allowed. I cry Mom

and there is no response.

I pronounce Mari' an

stressing  the Mary in your name,


beseeching the girl

who birthed a king in a limestone cave

to lift this veil between us.


You  lean toward me

and whisper, I've a daughter

who lives in a house near trees.


She can turn the brass doorknob

without being watched.


Stillness in the desert sky
was not still but rather impulses of light
running through The Big Dipper. The ladle
not a spoon in suspension
but your  leg stretched out, its foot flexed
and the stars, pressure points that glimmered,
glossed the night with myth. If I ran my hand
along your hip and limb  where the hurt throbbed most,
they would assume the pain, make its fiery ache their own.
The blue sparks would ignite --  as an affliction blessed. Absolved.
And for the moment, they were there,
inside the ancient bear,  this new constellation,
because when you turned --  so agonized,
                              I prayed.  I imagined it.



Friday, January 9, 2015

Long After Ulysseus

Goats were left on an island

by the conquistadors

shining in  argent splendor

with other places to sail


The hills were harsh;  shrubs

and dry patches of grass

as the livestock grazed

on strange ground, sensing a savage wind.


They were used to hearing

hinged gates, heaved pails of water

or grain, a woman's skirt ripping

on the garden briar. A soldier's  boot

broadcast loudly on   deck.


Scimitared but scavenging,

 the  horned species seemed lost, stripped

of their wild instincts through husbandry

and time. Yet, when the mist  rolled in


and  revealed the  pale daughters

of the Galapagos sea,  long fingers combed

through their matted hair -- separating

the fragile from the feral,


casting grim into the grace

of survival. Hand maidens who untangled

their skein of storm.
Pastel artwork is called, "Girls Combing The Beards Of Goats", by Richard Doyle.




Venice Beach

Remember, the shadows are important as the light.
                                                               Jane Eyre

On the steps of The Floating Palace,
there is a man on stilts. His derby tilted downward.
Next to him, a girl spinning  her black parasol. Its beaded tassels
shimmer darkly in the sun.
The two draw a  crowd who also hear
 a static voice calling them in.  Come, bring your kids, your friends;
see the two-headed turtle, the twin-tailed fish,
the snake with dragon wings.
We hesitate, momentarily drawn
to the maze of  shadows on the broad walk;
our own mingled with palm branches
and  birds darting in and out, messengers
probing the degree
of mystery that lies within
those different angles. Between us ( man and wife)
less than ten percent. Between the stone and light,
the cirque du  soleil shapes on the stair
and this main street, something beyond sum and science. Neither
figure casts a shadow.

Note -- Venice Beach, a Bohemian replica of the original floating city  ( Venice) in Italy is an iconic tourist attraction in Southern California.  It is known for its  diverse set of oddities from human characters to its variety of trees. Mime artists, crafts people,  jugglers and  palm/tarot readers  ( along with others) line the main street or broad walk  during the week and on weekends. It has buildings that strive to emulate the same type of architecture found in Venice. One being The Floating Palace, which is not on a jetty like in the Italian city,  but rather on a strip of wide pavement facing the ocean. Here, they have weekend "Freak shows" inviting people into to see various creatures like the ones mentioned in this poem. Venice Beach is a place that conjures up the feeling of "Surreal", a carnival like atmosphere reminiscent of figures/players found in "Cirque du Soleil" or the musical, "Pippin". One can find it beguiling and often wonders if he or she is suspended somewhere between illusion and reality.


The Vigilant


Each time I walked home,  I saw an outline

in the cracked pavement, a man's face, a cartoonist's sketch.

It meant nothing. It was nothing.


Yesterday, I saw a difference. There were catkins spread

around his caricature, left by a cold gust  --

scattered like gun shells

from the  slaughter of twelve journalists.


I braid  then unbraid my hair

leaving  off the veil. A basket

of   laundry sits on the floor.  I want to dry

everything on the line that hangs

over the courtyard -- but hesitate. My headscarves;

my white, my black, my black and white

might drape the wind like flags. But I am not


one of them.

Last night, I  left a candle burning

                on the sidewalk. My shadow stayed.

Artwork by artist Michael Swider

This poem was inspired by the event and particularly by an interview with a French journalist on CNN. He said  that Islamic women, who hate such violence and denounce the loss of innocent life, suffer great anxiety after one of these attacks. They become afraid of being targeted, guilt by association, because they wear the garments of their faith, the hijab, the chaddah etc. And yet, they stand in solidarity with the victims and condemn these abhorrent acts of terror.