Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Emily Coming In From The Moors

 
 we are also living the stories we planted - knowingly or unknowingly - in ourselves
                                                                                                              Ben Okri   
                                                                                                  
She enters the house with her skirts
frayed and field-stained. Her left hand
bitten by a dog. Oblivious to  pain, she grabs
a washbowl, hot iron from the hearth, rags
that were once her  brother's linen shirt.
 
Soon the wound is cauterized and dressed. In
the glass, she glances at her  face. Tangling hair
resembles the shade of dried blood -- or is the  broom grass
ruffling the broad lands in thick disarray. The thought
 
lingers along with the day's trauma
but none of its makes news in her diary. Her fingers
 pull aside a pale ribbon 
as if yielding to the mundane --  and she writes;
 
Branwell is coming home on a train from London.
There will be storm clouds over the moors and cold
gusts when he returns. We must ready the house
with plenty of light and food. Lay out fresh linens
and sheets of music on the piano. I think
I will play him a concerto by Liszt.
 
Then she shuts the leather shutters of her journal
and ends a daily routine. Rubbing her injured hand
 she remembers where  she disembarked
(days before)  and leans again into the twilight
of  that half-imagined scene. A girl clings
to the granite  ledge of a window
watching the young people inside.
Her legs  are scratched by the bramble;
and her ankle bone shines
 
like a white moon  drawing
the howl of wind and pit bull
straining to seize
the beautiful intruder.
___________________________________________________________________________________ 

Having seen the wonderful and uniquely crafted book sculptures on "The Myth and Moor"  blog site sponsored by author/artist, Terri Windling, I was left awestruck by the scope and diversity of the art. The one image  that haunted me long after the initial viewing, was a piece called "I shall not; finding out the secret" by Justin Rowe. 
 

 
The pages cut and left billowing as waves  along with the winsome girl standing near the edge , brought to mind Emily Bronte. Standing there with her bustle skirt wrinkled and a sprig of broom in her hand, I thought of the Victorian author coming in from the gust-swept moors. A poem was beginning to form as I also recalled a recent article in The Paris Review. The magazine's feature focused on the enigma of  Bronte's reclusive nature paralleled with the wild and expressive prose she exhibited in her masterpiece, Wuthering Heights. It contended that the diarist writings of this woman along with her letters were mundane and  unassuming. The reader as well as the author of the essay would be inclined to ask,  Then how could such a reticent  person write with that depth of passionate risk and abandon? 

My poem attempts to answer this question with its openings scene where Emily enters with her hand bitten by a wild dog. Without hesitation, she tends to the wound and then proceeds to write in her journal. The contrast between what she writes, what she has experienced  and what she later imagines as a continuing scene in her novel, is  distinct and diverse. It underscores the epigram by Ben Okri. In the appearance of our nature and everyday life, we function one way--  but underneath, imagination stirs and we slip into those stories that shape our inner desires and other identity. Maybe the shadow of our character that keeps its distance but still casts its influence through art.
I should also mention the poem's reference to the dog bite and dressing of the wound is based on an incident from her real life.
..............................................................................................................................
Credits and Links:
 
Justin Rowe's Gallery:   http://www.daysfalllikeleaves.com/book-sculptures/
Article in Paris Review: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/tag/emily-bronte/
 Terri Windling's Blog, Myth and Moor: http://windling.typepad.com/blog/
 

 
 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

During The Cease Fire

 
A girl stands on the roof
feeding pigeons. Swabs of  bread
litter the cement. The bird's bubbling song
brings comfort -- like the light, lyrical verse
 of a nursery rhyme
 
Downstairs, her  white-veiled  mother
 is cooking stew. Embalmed in the scent
of garlic, lemon and mint, she feels
 they are still in a safe section
of the city. Wind riles the curtains
where trees mirage their presence
in shadow. She remembers a hillside
 
terraced in stone with high grass
and olive branches looming on each ledge;
the air soaked in light and sea.
An ancient place  where she walked
lost in a labyrinthine of time
and thought, an incentive
that would give her  daughter a  name
meaning beloved garden..
 
Crowds chant loudly  in the distance.
She drops her spoon and leaves
to retrieve her child -- wondering
if they will stay safe,
taste the evening meal, and fall asleep
on bed linens taken
clean from their own closet.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer's Shade

 

Summer's Shade
( Mississippi, 1964)
 
Oh! Child, sharecropper's girl,
you hold a book in your hands
under that tree with the flowers
so large and white -- it seems blasphemous.
 
The pages smell -- hope chest old
and the words are old
written by a slave woman
generations before.
 
On the water, a damsel fly
hovers around the wide leaf
of a water lily. its wings checkered
like the author's gingham gown
you saw on the cover.
 
The insect dances, delighting
in the wind's language of heat
and grass scent. In her poems,
the woman writes of singing
 
 
in  a warm grassland
where young women weave baskets
out of the  marsh straw
and cast their shadows proud
and slender on the foot paths.
 
From the evening bush, birds rise.
a sharp flock, a spear head
to honor their  grace and distaff.
The magic craft, the ancestral fingers
minding their skill.
 
Oh! Child, sharecropper's girl,
you  look at your own hands.
They bear the same color
as the writer's. They touch her book.
They will make a difference.
___________________________________________________________________________
 
In the Summer of 1964, The Civil Rights Movement took a major step in promoting the education and voting rights of the African American community. At this time period, Southern States made if extremely difficult for black people to vote demanding they pass literacy tests and other questionable tasks to qualify. Many people of this ethnic group were poor and undereducated. Black people were not allowed access to  libraries among other educational facilities that served  a Caucasian  population. Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement recruited teachers and educators from all over the nation to come to Mississippi and train the  young Black kids to read and write with accuracy, encouraging their knowledge of literature and their own cultural identities. They were exposed to literature written by Black poets, essayists, historians and other people of great, ethnic distinction. My poem is an example of a young girl being exposed to a writer, a freed African Slave woman from the 19th Century, who wrote poems about her homeland in Africa where women were honored for their domestic talents, fertility, wisdom etc. A culture that was closely connected to nature and the grassland. Though, my character is fictitious , she does symbolize the opening of a door, the possibility of a young black female developing an awareness of herself and her historic identity/legacy. The slave woman referenced in this poem is actually based on some black women writers of the era I have found on-line. Several of which wrote poems but were simply titled as anonymous.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Contemplating A Rose

 
In the old books, a silk merchant
steals a rose for his daughter
from a private garden. The rose
is fabled to be the most exquisite
in the kingdom. Its pallor
could match that of the fairest maiden.
 
 
Often, I dismissed the idea
of a single rose gaining  such status
or summoning such desire. After all,
it was a storyteller's song.. Yet, last night
when the desert cooled at dusk
you found a branch of the rose bush
blocking the sprinkler. You snipped
the  sprig with a frail bud
about to open --  and brought it inside.
 
I placed the plant in a glass vase
with  water -- expecting it might die. This morning
a symmetrical  bloom
leans forward in praying mantis pink. Just there
bidding me to sigh, to trace
its contours with the light hand
of  the heroine in the fairytale,  to know
and feel as she did when first given
the flower, the coveted gift.
 
 
I sense her subtle pulse
radiating through  stem, leaf
and petal, the vine work
of my own wrist. This is Beauty's rose
our rose. Summer's offering
in the worst of dry  heat and rainless hours
A bribe to believe.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

 
The lovely painting is by French artist, Marie-France Riviere and entitled --
"Une Première Dame en liberté ". More of her lovely work can be found here -- www.griviere.com/expo2000
 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

To Fate


(On a point called the rest area with no name.)
 
Come, bury  my fear
within this Salt Wash rock
where yellow flowers rise
from bone and ash -- remains
 
of a woman
who won daylight
from the creator
 
and shared her bright
gains with the tribe.
 
Come, sweep my breath
harried and hopeless
into stone lungs
 
that smell of rushing water
and pine. Come, let it fade,
seep and settle
 
into palisades
that shift and shatter
over time -- until
 
another sculpture
shoves its way
out of the ruin. An overhang.
A prow guarding its field
of tidal grass.
 
A solid calm.
where the shaken self
has been re-cast
 
into the wing drift
of mist or white-tailed hawk,
the presence of prayer.
 

Monday, July 7, 2014

What Comes To mind

 
 
(Travelling  through the mountains along Interstate 70.)
 
The wide. wingspread fall
of a raven
shadows the canyon.
 
A dark lament
cast from its stone ribcage
to seek prey.
 
The song must be old
and mysterious. A legend
that saddens yet satisfies
this ancient void.
 
Awe has sunk enough silence
into these tectonic bones. Poetry
hungers to breathe, bewitch;
and its voice must sing,
sing of someone, half human, half divine
 
who gave this deep place
a spirit, an echo. And maybe,
it was a woman
waiting, threading her needle
with patience and long  water,
a river --The Colorado.
 


Monday, June 23, 2014

The Trip



 
    

In Native legends, the large beast glitters in the sky

looking for a place to lie down or someone to protect.

                                                               Wikipedia

                                                                         
On the cargo train  rattling north

through the coastal  mountains,  a young mother

sits fatigued as hair clings to her  skin

like black seaweed. Her face aimed toward

then receding from the landscape's view. The trees

and those dark slits inbetween -- hint at wild tinder,

 

sudden fires. Heat she has known in her village

as grenades, land mines, a kitchen blaze burgeoning

from a broken  lamp. The chairs and table charred, a lost

altar for sharing bread or catching one's breath.

But in that part of the country, she  could barely catch hers, 

it was always out of reach. The pale moth  (her toddler  tried to grab)

hovering with its nervous wings  around a thorn bush.

 

Now her son huddles close holding a tan bear. Last night

the bear was stitched with stars and filled with a brighter portion

of the universe. She had hope. Today, its' stuffed with straw

and  soiled from their long journey here. Reynosa

is still miles ahead ---

                            and the trees a waiting line of  millions.