Monday, July 30, 2007

the chickens

"You have to reach under them,"
the farmer's wife tells me, forcing her hand
beneath a hen that cries out loudly.

The hen's beady eyes look at its freshly stolen egg
shining against the flesh of her palm, bewildered,
like the egg is a fallen star or an oblong moon
that rose too soon in the peach sky
of the farmer's wife's long-fingered
spider web hands.

The hen begins to scream and peck
squawks of protest. It fights for
its treasured egg; its sharp beak
darts out and strikes
drawing a crimson line on a knuckle.

With a fierce curse,
the bird is struck down by
the farmer's wife's fist.

"Sometimes they'll fight," she says
whistling on her 's' through the black and white
piano keys that are her teeth
placing the egg in a wicker basket
at my feet, "But if you give 'em a good whack,
they'll remember who's boss."

She walks away, entering the house
the shotgun sound of the screen door slamming
and the scrambled static of the police scanner
echoing after her.

Surrounded by foul battery cages,
pebbles grinding into the bottoms of my bare feet,
I take up the basket and approach the next bird.

Sitting upon its nest as if in meditation,
the hen's eyes are serene and closed.
Its feathers are fluffed, feet tucked beneath
white plumes that are spotted with the defecation
of other birds.

So like a statue, she doesn't seem to breathe.

She sits so placidly that instead of seeing meat
and eggs, I see the figure of Mary in the
garden of the house where I used to live,
surrounded by dandelions and weeds,
her beatific face raised towards the heavens.

Her eyes were closed too.

Her marble white cloak was marked
with the drops of birds too.

She held her child in her arms,
and contemplated the wonders of maternity
that this bird meditates
upon the egg between its feet.

I hold the wicker basket,
Its gaping maw reminds me
timidly I extend my hand
toward the base of the hen.

The chicken's eyes open, angrily
and she immediately leaps to her feet
beating her wings and shrieking
defending the egg she's keeping
thrashing the air with her beak.

Determined to do my job, I reach
but she grabs my thumb
and she bites me hard.

I begin to bleed.

Now, irritated in my agony,
I knead my fingers into a fist
and draw it back, self-righteous,
behind my head.

But the chicken stops screaming.

Instead, it sits back down on its egg,
Bracing its head under its wing,
anticipating the blow, with all the grace
of a dove mid-flight in a
stained glass window
trembling with the wind.

A mass of quivering feathers.

I’m poised to deliver the hit,
My shadow covering her
Like an ominous black blanket
But there’s something familiar
In the way she’s cowering
In the fear that makes her shiver.

I’ll never strike.

I stand by the nest until
the chicken leaves of its own accord,
searching out niblets of corn peppered
across the gravel.

Then, I take the egg, gingerly
tucking it in the basket like
I’m cradling my own baby,
even singing it to sleep.

Collecting the eggs like this takes all day
with each chicken only mildly surprised
when it returns to an empty roost.

When the sky turns darker shades
I hush the screen door and creep into the house
with a basket full of tiny moons
and by the blue glow of the stove’s
pilot light, I put the eggs in the fridge.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Life After Depth

Hydrogen and oxygen
chained together
weigh down on sunken ships
putting lost sailors' bones under pressure.

Do their empty eyesockets
see fish swimming above
or birds in air?

Does the sun dapple through
fingers of seaweed or
clusters of leaves?

The corals and anemones
do they sway
in currents or in breeze?

A crab has taken the place of Eve
springing from the jacket
of one of these wide-eyed men.

A shock of red against sodden denim.

The sailor, as he lies,
smiles a toothy grin
the crab crawling across his ribs
and down his sternum

amazed that in this depth
there's still life within him.

The Ballad of Patrick Creevey (draft)

Patrick Creevey, seventeen
full of heart and full of dreams
set out to sail on the open sea
to pay for a golden ring.

His lady fair Molly McGee
worked night and day in a bakery
her hardened hands smelled of yeast
and only wed would she be free.

So it's off to sea with poor, young Pat
'least a fortnight 'til he rows on back
She'll marry him when his ship comes in
and Creevey's baby be.

Three weeks on board, no sign of shore
scrubbing red hands and knees on port
a man named Jack dear Patrick met
who offered him a tempting bet.

Jack, a man dressed solemnly
all clad in velvet of ebony
inquired of Pat why he chose to be
across the waves upon the sea

Patick, resting the soap on deck,
replied that he'd money to get
for a lovely lady Molly McGee
who was a-waiting for his company.

Oh, it's off to sea with poor, young Pat
'least a fortnight 'til he rows on back
She'll marry him when his ship comes in
and Creevey's baby be

"If you best me in a game of dice,
I'll double your wage; you go home to your wife"
said Jack brushing of his veleveteen,
to the sound of his pockets jingling.

Oh, it's a game of dice for poor young Pat
with a quick throw, he rolls snake eyes
She'll marry him when his ship comes in
and Creevey's baby be

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Do Not Write Angry Poetry

I don’t wear words like ‘survivor’
Or ‘victim’ very well. They don’t fit.
A size too small, my shoulders get caught
In the stitches, the feel of the cloth abrasive
and the tag ‘statistic’ itches.
So I just cut it out.

I don’t use poetry as therapy
Treating the page like a chaise lounge
And the audience as an MD
The subtext to every word being
‘Pity me. Listen to my pain, not my art.
You think that other guy went through hell?
Just look at my marks, they’re longer
Deeper and dreamy, conflicted artistic melancholy,’
Like if you’ve ever bled you understand need.
Like scars don’t count, you have to pick at scabs
Until they bleed.

A real reformed addict wouldn’t roll up
His sleeve,
Turning syntax into syringe
Making new tracks to escape on
Because real suffering deserves dignity.

A true resurrection does not happen
Surrounded by a crowd,
no apostles in the garden before crucifixion,
only the company of choice.

It’s having the strength for impetus, for change,
For having convictions.

I fight my battles alone
In the dark
Wondering if it’s real,
If tonight’s the night that
The demon strikes, breaking the door
And crawling in, sitting on my chest,
Weight suppressing breath,
claws hauling out a list of sins
then ticking the box
Next to ‘damned’ not ‘salvation’
Because I’m too proud to pray
To a God that doesn’t listen
even terrified, too paralyzed with pride
to say ‘redemption.’

I wake myself.

Then, between Hail Marys
the sound of clicking rosary beads,
I pray to St. Anthony hoping to find normalcy,
But instead discover gravity.

That things move only when forced.
That there’s no divine intervention.
Only choice.

I refuse to be defined by my problems
I am beyond the outline of my scars
I am worth more than the case numbers
Or the broken bones that have healed within
Creating hills on the horizon of my body
Or the stains on my skin,
Ink black then ball point blue fading
Back to paper white.

I write love poetry
Because love has saved me.

I play with words
Because I like meaning.

I say things prettily
Because I want to live in a world of beauty.

I do not write angry poetry.
I do not share the crosses I wear
Or the things that broke me
because I value my privacy.

My revenge will not
Be the venom of my words
Or living an entire life of ‘after’
But the songs I sing, my desire to love,
and my laughter.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Small Murders

When Cleopatra received Antony on her cedarwood ship,
she made sure he would smell her in advance across the sea:
perfumed sails, nets sagging with rosehips and crocus
draped over her bed, her feet and hands rubbed in almond oil,
cinnamon, and henna. I knew I had you when you told me

you could not live without my scent, bought pink bottles of it,
creamy lotions, a tiny vial of parfume—one drop lasted all day.
They say Napoleon told Josephine not to bathe for two weeks
so he could savor her raw scent, but hardly any mention is ever
made of their love of violets. Her signature fragrance: a special blend

of these crushed purple blooms for wrist, cleavage, earlobe.
Some expected to discover a valuable painting inside
the locket around Napoleon’s neck when he died, but found
a powder of violet petals from his wife’s grave instead. And just
yesterday, a new boy leaned in close to whisper that he loved

the smell of my perfume, the one you handpicked years ago.
I could tell he wanted to kiss me, his breath heavy and slow
against my neck. My face lit blue from the movie screen—
I said nothing, only sat up and stared straight ahead. But
by evening’s end, I let him have it: twenty-seven kisses

on my neck, twenty-seven small murders of you. And the count
is correct, I know—each sweet press one less number to weigh
heavy in the next boy’s cupped hands. Your mark on me washed
away with each kiss. The last one so cold, so filled with mist
and tiny daggers, I already smelled blood on my hands.

by Aimee Nezukhamatahalil

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

may i feel said he

may i feel said he
(i'll squeal said she
just once said he)
it's fun said she

(may i touch said he
how much said she
a lot said he)
why not said she

(let's go said he
not too far said she
what's too far said he
where you are said she)

may i stay said he
(which way said she
like this said he
if you kiss said she

may i move said he
is it love said she)
if you're willing said he
(but you're killing said she

but it's life said he
but your wife said she
now said he)
ow said she

(tiptop said he
don't stop said she
oh no said he)
go slow said she

(cccome?said he
ummm said she)
you're divine!said he
(you are Mine said she)

- ee cummings

i like my body when it is with your

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like,, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh . . . . And eyes big Love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you quite so new

- ee cummings

Monday, July 09, 2007

Jack the Reaper

I creep out the back of the house. Mother should be climbing into her sleigh of a bed, brother should be watching TV and me, I should be fast asleep but I want to die a little instead.

Sauntering down the driveway, I dig my dirty nails into my pockets, searching for fire. However, there is no answer to my finger’s burning question, so I stick the cancer behind my ear and weave onto the street. It’s a warm summer night, breeze in the trees, and my feet are itching in my three dollar shoes so I promenade down Lawrence Avenue, a skip in my step.

Which I reach the arrow, suddenly I note that my skin is prickling despite the heat. I’ve changed texture from cotton to suede and there’s a shade on the pavement that doesn’t match the scene. I bring my fingers to my neck, touching the Celtic cross that hangs there. It’s an old inside joke with the company I keep.

From behind me, a black sleeve creeps over my shoulder, spider fingers play with the chain of my cross, shadow on my collarbone.

“Hello,” I say, placing my digits on their counterparts. My heart skips a beat. A searing, fleeting pain streaks across my chest, an echo of a past heartache.

“Hello,” my old friend replies. He retracts his touch and falls in step with me. His voice is pleasant to hear. How many years has it been?

As if reading my mind, Jack speaks, “You know, you’re kind of a tease. We don’t see each other too much anymore – just passing glances, a wave or so. Nearly meeting but always a miss.”

“I dare say you’ll catch up with me one day.”

He laughs at my expense. We’ve reached Sprague street, passing by Karrie’s house. All the lights are out. Trying not to be vague, I start shooting the summer breeze, “How’s my sister?”

“Business is booming,” he takes the cigarette from my ear, “an excellent partner. She doesn’t talk much, good for the morgue.”

He touches a finger to the tip of the cancer stick and it begins to smoke.

“Thanks,” I say as he passes it to me.

“Anything to bring us closer,” he replies with a wink.

I think as I inhale the fumes and exhale through my nose. Nicotine absorbs faster that way. By now, my companion and I have strayed to Elm and feeling especially bold, I take Jack’s cold hand. It overwhelms me, his skin. I tremble. He notices my chagrin and lets go, withering some leaves on a tree we pass. As we amble by the Wead library, I nod at a house across the street and ask, “Why are you so hard on Cheryl?”

He sighs and wearily replies, “It’s not my place to question fate. I just do my job.”

Though I find his tone odd, I don’t speak. The only sound is our shuffling feet, the wind in the trees, and the hush when I breathe.

Somewhere down Park, the silence makes me silly and for a lark, I start doing a jig. Jack smiles and joins in, though he’s a bit stiff. If someone were to drive by, they’d probably think we’re high, but we’re just playing with being alive. But after the jig morphs into a hand jive, we decide that things have gotten ridiculous and return to our constitutional. We’re by the hospital now, its façade toothy with neon signs.

Jack ducks inside for a minute, to take care of some business. I don’t mind. I light another little suicide and chill on the curb, humming the opening bars of Another One Bites the Dust.

In just a few moments, Jack is back again. He smells a little like formaldehyde so I walk beside, not behind him. The aroma is carried away on the wind.

We’ve wound our way to Constable street an found our words a bit lost after his occupational jaunt. It’s always weird to see a friend at work.

“When are you going back to Chicago?,” he asks, as if he doesn’t know.

I play along, “Sunday morning, three A.M.” and flick my cigarette butt onto the cement.

“Rail or sky?”

I smile as I reply, “Plane. Statistically it’s the safest way to travel.”

He laughs deeply, “Y’beat me.”

Starting to climb the incline of Prospect, I suspect that Jack’s got something on his mind. There’s a frown on his lips.

I gasp, giving him a flat tire and he trips. “C’mon man, out with it.”

After recovering his balance and a quick glance in my direction, Jack says, “Sometimes it’s hard to leave work at the office.”

As we descend the end of the hill, I give him my best clap on the shoulder. It stings my hand.

But now, after our meandering maze, we’ve made our way back to Lawrence Avenue. As we walk up to number three, Jack says to me, “Well, it’s been great catching up with you.”

“Likewise, my friend,” I say, climbing the steps to the porch.

He stands at the bottom of the stairs. The air moves in the trees around us. I’d embrace him, if his touch didn’t hurt so much.

“You take care of yourself,” he says, about to turn and leave, “and don’t you forget about me.”

I laugh and say, “Jack, you know I’m a sucker for a man in black, and besides, I can’t forget. I wear you around my neck.”

He smiles, then blows me a kiss. I pretend to catch it, but don’t. He won’t know, though. He’s already taken off.

So with a yawn, I open my door as dawn begins to form. It’s late and I need to sleep. Climbing into bed, I'm not worried about seeing Jack again. It’s only a matter of time.

My Mother is Massaging my Shoulder

My mother is massaging my shoulder
the right one, its knotted sinews.

Overhead a disembodied voice announces
departures, arrivals, boarding calls,
but I don't listen.

It doesn't matter that I am twenty years old.
It doesn't matter that I have traveled across oceans.
None of it.

In this moment, I am listening to my mother
softly humming Church hymns beneath her breath
her fingers softly kneading the muscles beneath my skin
tension under her persuasion.

Once, I came home
my mother was crying in a corner
crumpled under invisible weight.

I put my backpack by the stairs,
pretending I didn't see.
Her sobs chased me
echoing guilty footsteps.

Another time, I was leaving
my mother was singing in the shower
voice mingling with steam

I put my back to the sound
talking aloud
her tones chased me
filling in the pauses of
my breath

The carpet beneath my feet is making
cross hatching on my skin
lines into skin into muscle

My mother is massaging my shoulder.
Overhead a disembodied voice announces
departures, arrivals, and boarding calls.
I don't listen