bodies to which we do not belong by See Wern Hao

We keep asking our bodies for more.
When my father brought me
to the gym for the first time,
he said there must be tears for growth.
I learnt from him,
the way the mirror shows us
the difference between our actual form
and what we imagine.

I started to press —
pen to paper, dumbbell to chest, lips —
expecting repetition to give
meaning, force, tenderness,
not necessarily in that order.
There is only so much that can be stretched.

After a while, my palms grew calluses. The body refusing
to be torn at the same place twice.
Soon, even muscles started getting used
to aching. I became dull. For days at a stretch,

if I did not write a new poem or go to the gym,
I think about my father. How he made me
go out of the house on Saturdays to run
below the train tracks at Ang Mo Kio.

There must be tears for growth.
How, eight years on, when I asked him
about life in Melbourne, his short silence
tells me he vacillates between both meanings,
the breaking and the broken. This

alone is enough for me

to do another pushup,
write another line,
speak over the line. Yes,
I have made friends here.

Six years ago, I started overtaking my father
on the track by a lap, then two.

Today, I have stopped looking in the mirror.

 

 

See Wern Hao is pursuing Law and Liberal Arts at the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS College. His works have been featured in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Softblow and other literary journals. He has also contributed to anthologies such as Words: Lost and Found and Rollercoasters & Bedsheets.

 

 

My Legacy by Sandy Feinstein

Diamonds from Arabia
Persian sapphires
and rare Baghdad rubies
legible as runes.

The peddler carts memory
heavily loaded by his children’s
grown up tales, precious
stones and what became

a wife, courted
on golden promises
round her fair Rumanian neck
with dreams of more.

The daughter’s daughter knots
gold into tangled chains
to be stolen
then forgotten

until reopened as her story
of a man who woos
his wife in aureate strands
far, far from Mesopotamia.

 

 

 

Sandy Feinstein’s poetry appears over the past year in the print journals Poetry South, Connecticut River Review, Colere, and Blueline; online in Gyroscope, Redheaded Stepchild, Praxis Magazine, among others.

Elsewhere Door by Laura Grace Weldon

My sister and I run
through thigh-scratch grasses
in the field behind our house
wherever make-believe leads us.

In this realm of hum, buzz, scurry
waits scattered trash,
treasure for pirates and princesses.
Rotting boards against a tree
our spy’s lookout. Battered
paint cans our seats.

Until we find a dusty rectangle
where no thrumming green
grows. Stop playing. Wonder.
She squats in blue shorts,
brushes dirt away to discover
the space is a door,
flat against the ground,
rusty doorknob facing up,
as if a sky hand
might reach down and twist it.

What waits behind
an unopened door, one
left from time so ancient
we didn’t exist?
Steps leading down
to another world,
I guess. No,
she says, just junk.
Though I back away,
beg her not to,
she strains, lifting an edge
for one whole second.

She sees curled sowbugs,
shiny white roots,
an old door’s imprint on damp soil.

Terrified, I look away. But
a chill grabs my ankles,
squeezes my chest.
I almost fall into
a place so dark
I might never again
hear our mother
call us home for dinner.

 

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and a handbook of alternative education, Free Range Learning. She lives on a small farm where she’d get more done if she didn’t spend so much time reading library books, cooking weird things, and singing to livestock. Her poetry appears in various anthologies as well as J Journal, Literary Mama, Christian Science Monitor, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Mom Egg Review, Red River Review, Penman Review, Shot Glass Journal, Pudding Magazine, and others. Connect with her at lauragraceweldon.com

I Call Him Devastation by Michael Russell

I have given my eating disorder a name—
Devastation seems to fit like a pair of brass knuckles.

With him, my body is a fleshed-out punching bag.
He buries his knuckles

like a tick in the meat rack of my ribs
then sends me cake and flowers.

Who sends cake and flowers after they’ve beaten you
black, blue—magenta? In an attempt to woo me

I get rewarded if I don’t eat
but punishment is inevitable—

I always eat and eat and eat and eat.
Sometimes, to soften the blow, I imagine I’m a mother bird

and the toilet is my hatchling.
As I regurgitate my food I picture it as an act

of nourishment instead of waste.
I call him Devastation

for a reason: he breaks me
like a plate

then glues me back together
for the fun of it,

until I’m almost
good as new.

 

Michael Russell is a 26 year old queer poet who is working on his first chapbook. He lives in Toronto. In his spare time he likes to read and write and participate in random nonsense. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming in cahoodaloodaling, The Maynard, (parenthetical), The Quilliad, untethered and QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology.

Silence by Ana Prundaru

img_1183

Ana Prundaru is a Romanian transplant in the birthplace of milk chocolate, who splits her free time between creative endeavors and volunteering for animal welfare causes. Recent work is forthcoming from DIAGRAM and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.

Breathing the Sky by Ana Prundaru

img_1181

 

 

 

 

Ana Prundaru is a Romanian transplant in the birthplace of milk chocolate, who splits her free time between creative endeavors and volunteering for animal welfare causes. Recent work is forthcoming from DIAGRAM and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.

Sweeney Confounded by Derek Coyle

‘It is what’s inside you
you have to fear the most
sometimes,
not what’s outside.’

So Sweeney said to me
as he got stuck into
a bunch of fresh watercress,
tasty as a rasher
and not a drop
of balsamic vinegar in sight.

‘The thing I miss most
from the past is the trees.
Now it’s all motorways,
shopping malls, houses.
Although the chimney,
that’s a fine invention.
It never sways no matter
the weather – in hail,
storm, snow or rain.’

‘What I’ll say for modern living,
people’s awful good lookin’
for longer.
I lay it down
to the central heating.
I’m envious of radiators.
Nights I sit in the alders
dripping wet, perished
with the cold.
And I think of all
the featherless bipeds
tucked up in their houses,
tidy as a banker’s wallet.’

‘When I saw you coming,
I thought to myself,
sure enough now we’ll see snow,
even if it’s June.
A white blackbird
is only ever an omen
of poor weather. Even if
Aristotle himself
put the white blackbird
in Arcadia singing
luxurious tunes in the moonlight,
the people of Mayo know better.
They only ever bring snow.
And very wet snow at that!’

‘I thought after all my time
I’d come to the end
of generations, but you guys,
yez are as relentless
as the rain of Connemara.
As if I hadn’t
seen me fair share
of misery and hardship,
now I find myself in Oak Park
listening to you. Go on,
what is it bothers ya?’

‘For all the rich store of words
in our lexicon – Latin, Greek,
French, even Old Germanic,
there’s ne’er one of them at all
truly captures how totally
rotten it is to lose love.
Like the Divil himself
is conducting some fiendish orchestra
in the brain – and the virtuoso
soloist on piano is pouncing off
those keys like a carpenter
hammering nails.’

‘There are no soft corners
to hide in, in oak, ash or beech,
where the moonlight is your standard lamp,
the clouds your curtains.
As much as I’ve been drenched
by snow, hail, fog,
from Lughnaquilla
to the lakes of Killarney,
its nothing compared to the way
the world drenched me
in misery and loss. Still,
the one thing you can say
about living in the trees
is that the air is always fresh,
the leaves refreshed by dew,
wind and rain.

No need for Odour Eaters here,
or air fresheners
called Autumn Breeze.
Isn’t it just like the Autumn
to knock some sense
into you, its hints of decay
and ruin, a stark reminder
seasons move forward,
never backwards?’

‘You have to greet it all
with a welcome,
as if you are the next tenant
who has to rent out misery
from the landlord that is existence.
You must live in it,
as if it were your own home.’

‘I could tell you my story,
the tale of mad Sweeney
who took to the trees,
flapping wildly, ignored
by Eorann his wife.
She understood no longer
my language, my whinging,
a bird-man speaking in tongues.
It is strange
when you speak to others
in this new form.
They recognise the voice
as who you once were,
exiled now from yourself
as you appeared to be,
and as you once knew yourself.
There is much about you
you have yet to discover,
even as you don’t really want to know.’

‘Ah Sweeney, we should not be
competitors amongst leaf and bush.
After all, we share a common fate.
We knew what it was
to be human, once.
I know what you feel,
what it means to keep company
with wild stags in Killarney,
Cooley, the Burren.
To see him in every linnet,
red butterfly, green nettle
—a king of dark ditches,
empty roads, how he ignores
my cries.’

‘Watercress is not too bad
once you get used to it,
even if there is no
balsamic dressing.
You know what I miss the most?
I sit on windowsills now,
listening to violin and cello,
banjo or uilleann pipes.
Music, one of the things
I miss most. The skill
to express yourself
at the mere touch of your fingers.
The thrush and the blackbird
united in the dawn chorus
are not quite the same
as a bit of Mahler
or Beethoven.’

‘Some nights,
listening to the rustle
of forests of ash,
beech and oak,
I think I hear an overture
of a great symphony
stuttering into existence,
the music of nature.
Leaf, bole and branch,
becoming notes.’

At this point
we were interrupted
by the vicious squawking
and biting of two nearby jackdaws.

‘Don’t mind them, every night
at this hour they start. They’re
the avian equivalent of Nietzsche
and Heidegger. They constantly
fight over
which is more primal, poetry
or music. Each
tries to outwit the other,
just as they scramble
for wild garlic and black sloes.’

‘Tell me something beautiful
about being in love. Remind me,
ah yes, remind me of that.’

‘At nearly forty
you’d think I’d have known
all there is to know
about kissing. Yet,
he managed to teach new things.
His habit of biting my lower lip,
pulling it to him, stretched between his teeth.
I never said anything. It hurt.
Like when he bit my nipple,
delicate as he tried to be.
I was the first person he did this with
and it amazed me how this instinct
found itself in him; wild, unfettered,
him. I’d have either back,
his teeth on my lower lip, my left nipple
—I’d swop both for the vertigo I felt
the minute I knew it was over. Then,
I staggered and lurched, convulsed,
one minute a man, the next
some wild bird, squawking
startled across the sky.’

‘O dear, yes, o dear,’
said Sweeney. ‘This world
can never be pressed
into forgiveness. The purple
crocus will keep sprouting
from the earth, persistent.
All it aims to do
is keep living. You have to
learn to live like that crocus,
silent in the darkness,
slowly inching towards the light.’

‘Give me another poem.’

‘His skin was not white,
a sallow smooth
svelte silk, bristled
by soft beard,
clothing angular cheeks,
a jaw line
worthy of a sultan,
some sage caliph. I remember
the day we stopped
in the corner shop
for tobacco, and the lady,
hurried and impatient,
stalled before this dark skin,
chestnut eyes,
haughtily clipping out
the price of tobacco,
and he handed her coins
precisely totted up,
every cent accounted for.
Regal, unruffled, silent,
his bearing spoke
as he handed over
what had been asked.
His eyes gleamed
like studded silver,
his teeth gemstones
set in gold, a horseman
worthy to ride out
with Congal, Süleyman,
even yourself Sweeney.’

‘Ah yes, I enjoy the company of horses,
such elegant, beautiful creatures.
They never lie. You’ve had it hard.
Indeed, it is hard you’ve had it.’

‘I have no idea
what sins led to my new shape.
I fluttered from ivy
to beech, shivered
under rain and hail.
The wintry skies of October
drew in,
and I crouched under leaves
while Heaven thundered.
I searched high
and low for my Lynchseachan,
someone to bring me back
from the brink of madness.’

‘I grew tired of the trees,
those marvellous cities, alder,
ash and oak, lonely
for my own kind.
I left behind damp leaves,
spiders’ webs, branch
and bole, hunted
and haunted by his five faces
over fields, rivers, towns;
bearded, beardless,
smiling, quizzical, sad,
his eyebrow arching
and un-arching in the rain.

I fled before this vision
terrified—him lolling
and baying, snapping
and yelping, ‘our love
is over, over, gone.’
I could dive through water,
I could swim through air,
still I’d see him there.

I flew up the Liffey
to the city centre,
landed on a cupola
in Parnell Square
where the dull gossip
of blackbirds bored me.
I flew on down to Larkin,
his extended hand a perch,
the street full of people,
busy and ignorant, shopping.
I stared Larkin in the eye—
if I could have used beak and claw
to carve his image from bone,
wood, clay, I would have.

I flew up to O’Connell,
landed on his shoulder
and looked down
and spotted him,
looking up and down
a glass-fronted
office-block, Heineken
emblazoned down its length.
Looking left, then right,
he stepped onto the road.

I flew high and up and after.
It’s him, him,
wearing the purple top
I loved him in. How often
I’d turned from the washed purple
of dying suns in Killarney,
Glencoe, Glendalough.
That purple sun a livid wound,
a blind, twisted eye,
my head under my feathers.
Now, my eye was steadfast,
his curly black hair my beacon,
his ears plugged in
to Arab poetry or music.
I flew high and up and after.

Swept up by a gust,
I was tossed backwards,
forwards. I hovered
and soared, tried hard
not to lose sight of him.
I turned and returned
in mid-air, swooping,
diving, stalled.
I struggled for breath.
I battled, but lost sight of him
heading to Trinity College,
St Stephen’s Green.
I was blown downriver
and landed, blasted,
on the docks.
I became
the opposite of all
I was meant to be,
a feathered version
of hopelessness.

‘Ah Musha, God help you,
come here, come here.
Warm your head
under my wing. Tomorrow,
we’ll fly south
to St Mullins,
we’ll find better shelter there.
Here, here, child.’

 

Derek Coyle has published poems in Irish Pages, The Texas Literary Review, Cuadrivio, Wordlegs, The SHOp, Burning Bush 2, Glitterwolf, Skylight 47, Assaracus, Chelsea Station, RFD, and fathers and what needs to be said. He has been shortlisted for the Patrick Kavanagh Award (2010, 2014, 2015), the Bradshaw Prize (2011), and in 2012 he was a chosen poet for the Poetry Ireland ‘Introductions Series.’ In 2013 he was runner up in the Bradshaw Prize. He is a founding member of the Carlow Writers’ Co-Operative.

Magnetic Migratory Bird Woman by Valerie Marie Arvidson

I.

Here in New Zealand
the light is scrubbed clean by the winds
and the winds are scraped clean by the light
by the southerlies
cold with Antarctica’s ice-sheets
seething with blue and white, like a hiss through teeth
shifting and scented with briny snow
even in summer here
where January is July.

Here the dampness is invisible
everywhere.
Sometimes it floats a fog
curving
over the convex water,
a milky fish­eye.

The clouds are white eyelashes,
fluttering feathers over my view.

img_1186

II.

How did I get here?
Distance looked me in the eye and pulled a thread
and I felt the tug through my nasal passages.
Carried on a tidal wave from one haunted body of water to another.

It’s hard to travel when you’re also a collector of trash
and a pickpocket.
So there’s a lot I had to let go.

Am I like all the faces of Janet Frame, also a migratory bird,
two sided? Dipolar. Belonging now to both sides of the earth.
A Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Juturna.

I dream I’m also a dancer, a dying swan.
Like Anna Pavlova,
I have severely arched feet, weak ankles, and savage sickly eyes.
A dream-skirt like a breath of meringue glittered by the milky way, Te Ikaroa,
a trillion shimmering fish scales,
children of light,
and Magellan’s galactic clouds.

I may be more Arctic than Antarctic, for now.
More German, Russian, Swede, or Finn.
Still a guest in the South Pacific.
But slowly comfortable standing upside down.
It’s a treatment for the melancholy mind.
More oxygen to the brain.

Like Janet, will they plan to take a piece of it?
So I can sleep soundly, calm as marble, at Seacliff?

The Lagoon is dark and gloomy but diving into the depths of stories will save you.
The swan knows and keeps her head under water fishing for food and for her mate.
Always looking for her reflection.

My teeth, my sinuses ache –
But a little metal in the brain is a good thing.
Cobalt. Magnetite.
Zinc Iron Copper.
These crystals in the brain talk to me
Like a clock-and-compass.

I sense the hair on my arms softening into feathery down.
The slow elongation of my snowy neck.
The shrinking of my eyes and hardening of my nose.
The strange rise of a sixth sense, metallic on the tongue.
Headaches like two magnets vibrating across my temples.
The lights inside the stores are always too bright.

I’m constantly preening. Skittish and quick to jump to high places.
My fingers turn thin and wispy; toenails grow at twice the normal rate.
A lightening. Bones hollowing. Almost buoyant.

Every old piece of iron junk radiates with color;
Parked cars, rusted tractors,
electrical lines, telephone booths,
cell-phones and mountain peaks
speak in auroras, rainbows. Violet. Cerulean. Yellow.

The stars appear to rotate, creating celestial circles.
I listen to the wind, the waves and infrasounds waning and waxing.
All the voices and arrows led me here.

Now I’m Antipodean and perpetually short of paper.
Just because it’s blank doesn’t mean you can write on it.
Who knows if it’s a snowflake, a feather, or a puff of seafoam?
It dissolves too quickly to grasp or attack with a pen.

Here the gales and gusts accumulate into white caps on the water
And the grey warbler sings her descending song, my summer anthem.
Riroriro.

I must write in bed, head propped on a pillow.
My neck aches as my posture morphs.

I crack my bones in the morning, create a crick-in-the-neck,
a protective spasm,
straining those ligaments across the facets.
Like mollusk muscles,
White oyster feet attached to Mother of Pearl.

I feel intuitively that if I push into the pain, against it, somehow I will push through
to the other side of it, break it open, be free of it –
or just feel it until it’s not a feeling anymore.
Every nerve eventually dies.

As a child, I was precocial, nidifugous,
ready to fledge early,
Wanted to run away, or rather wanted to perch
on the bedroom window and jump
towards the moon –
into the summer air filled
with the sweet sounds of night frogs and owls.
My spirit still wants to depart on any given warm night.

Like my neck, the days lengthen between seasons,
and a flush of hormones agitates me, fattens me, makes me sleepless.
I turn my face in the direction of my route.
This readying, a desire to flee – it has a name – Zugunruhe.
Migratory restlessness.
Tinged with Fernweh: a desire to be somewhere else— soreness for somewhere remote.
Or is this the other side of homesickness? A feeling come full circle.
Heimweh or Hiraeth. Saudade?

I feel the pull of both poles, something fierce wants out
but also wants to be held.

Often I wonder, is it a swan I’ll become or is it a snipe,
sandpiper, godwit or curlew?
A whimbrel, tern, petrel or plover,
knot, turnstone, stint, or skua?
No, a swan, black and white, with a beak as red as
the belly of a dinosaur.

And I fly, from a place of birth, a place to breed, towards another summer,
and back again.
Later I will moult, diminish,
require coffee.

Like Janet, I vanish
To follow the light
To find the calm
To melt into the murmuring.

And there are many days when there is nothing outside of language.
Through the wooden cellar door, a song, the other writers chat in secret dialect,
and I inhale the scent of loneliness,
summer camp and musty stowage.
Of slang and shanty.

And some days there is nothing outside my swan song.

III.

In the winter briefly
blue and brown guts of houses
are damp, sticky,
like the inside of a fish-mouth.

In my house, moths are born out of the air,
eat holes in the flour-sacks,
in my possum­down sweater,
flutter out on their death flight,
all smoky fur and wing­feather;
die
between my fingers leaving
an ashy black smear.
Something to write on the walls with.

Here I am living in the head of Maui’s fish,
Te Upoko o Te Ika a Maui.
I can see the flex and bend of green wood,
the hills and islands across the thrashing waters of the Cook Strait,
parts of his painted canoe,
a slit, a spine
between the Pacific and Tasman.

Across the bay,
Red rusty horses, shining, sorrel,
and once­white sheep, filthy with mud and shit,
spots caught in the thorny yellow mountains of Wainui.
The timid beasts including me are riding
on the undulating backs of broke­down sea monsters.

The winds are constant here, constantly mothering,
like the mouth of a prehistoric lioness lifting you from the back of the neck,
your hair in her long pointy white teeth.
Is this protection or is she trying to rip me away?

It’s beautiful, being caught up in the raw wild, like a fish in tomorrow’s net –
Not sure what animal I am, or what part of the beast, but
it’s a prayer here; it’s the future,
12 or 13 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

But who is to say that this is not some other center?

A hole in the sky floats above us, shapeshifting, hopefully shrinking.
Ozone is thin here and sky­damage causes skin­damage.
New freckles appear: hello.
The constellation of Virgo on my shoulder doubles into Gemini;
My moon becomes Cancer, Aquarius, Sagittarius.

Even in winter, I scuttle from sunburn like a crab, seeking shadow,
but then when cold
I bathe in the yellow rays like something reptilian.
Perfectly still, a tuatara, hiding my third eye.
And then the hot water from the tap fills in around me.
I restore myself in the water, the steam.
The languid buzz of the black fly makes me stiffen,
lick my lips.
Maybe I’m a raptor,
mothered by Archaeopteryx the Urvogel.

I become stranger to myself each day there are sunny fine spells.
The wind whips the light around;
The trees, the street, and me,
we are disguised, painted in dappled green shadows.

I open and close the wooden post­box, checking for letters,
for news from America.
Inside, along the back wall, a giant cricket creature has made his bed.
At night, though he is deinacrida, terrible grasshopper from Gondwanaland,
he hides from the little owl, Ninox novaeseelandiae,
the ruru, the boobook,
who lives in the lemonwood tree and hunts him and sings me to sleep,
hoo hoo
++++++hoo hoo.

The water in the nautilus­shaped harbor is always
moving, always eroding slowly what lies at the edges,
even me, but I am grateful also to be scrubbed clean by water, by wind.
The salt is the perfect amount of sting.

My feet are on volcanic land, a tectonic plate.
The rocks are organic here,
moving at the same speed fingernails grow.
Suddenly in shudders. Is it the wind or the planet? Is it me?
Is it my mother shouting and stomping from above,
In the northern hemisphere?

Here, in this clean light, you can see more stars,
Is that what I came here for?

To see better
the traces of things erased
on the other side of the world.

img_1188

IV.

I came because I was scared, am scared
And because I was brave,
Am brave.

Instead of dying, I came here, left there,
erased myself from one place
put down pencil in another.
in the world upside down and prettier.

I followed the birds South
instead of crashing into a wind turbine, we split in half,
the V became two I’s,
a wing in each of the hemispheres.

What’s been erased is hidden most of the time;
most empty spaces get replaced with new words,
new cars, new friends, new wives.

I am tired (always). I escape. I procrastinate.
I will wash all the floors and windows,
preen my entire head and body,
like the South Pacific parrots that look into my window,
before looking in the mirror,
before looking at the page.

This is the land of the long white cloud, the bright long day,
Aotearoa,
say it with your tongue out, wiggling, and your eyes wide as two mouths.
Say it like you are breathing in and out, saying ow, saying whoa,
lips a little numb,
ah oh ow.
Ah oh tay ah ro ah.
Knowing it’s not quite right, though you rolled your R.

And this is the land of birds. Parrots, pigeons, seabirds,
and those who are flightless.
Other kinds of creatures don’t belong.
I’m just here to watch and remember what’s passing through,
what’s staying put,
and what’s not here.

It seems that migratory birds have a good sense of the world;
the compass is in the eye and the map is in the nose.
Migratory women require paper, clothes,
windows,
books and roses.

The more time I spend here,
the more I mimic the birds,
maybe I’ll find out for certain whether they,
we,
really do always go,
ever go
homeward
or just away for a little while.

V.

No wonder lost:
And no wandering.
The mind of a bird, of a woman,
is made of wonder, home,
and the hunt,
appearing as wander lust.

Even in a Wellington raincloud, white as the inside of a bird’s hollow bones,
white as the feathers beneath its mother’s wings,
protected from the wind, home sick and sick of home;
it smells of mother here, everywhere.

(Am I unraveling?
Wool yarn being pulled off a loom by a bird’s little curved beak?
It’s for the best,
so I can re­knit myself, make a new pattern.)

Pigeons
don’t (usually) get lost,
given
their god­given
directions from Nature
or devil­given magnetic “map”
and a compass made of black magic crystal magnetite inside their beaks.

A black arrow on their tongues pulls and pushes between the poles,
between the wobble and suck of the arctic
and the spit of the Antarctic,
and the birds make an arc over land and sea, over the long­distance
Earth field,
for example, thousands of miles,
from New Zealand to Chile, and someday back.

Slowly, someday, the two wandering eyes of north and south
will reverse again.

Do we all end up where we don’t belong?
Following the beautiful auroras and secret messages in the stars
that make our joints ache and our eyes water.

And where does it come from, this instinctive melancholy of migrators,
this malaise,
this madness that makes us leave.
We try to get away and we keep getting more.

Here, I learned where the wind comes from,
not where it goes.
It scatters.
I know by the direction of the white­capped waves if I’ll be warm or cold.
I don’t need a map anymore.

In the atmosphere
somewhere,
you might find home.

Without magnetic storms, the pigeons
descended from wild rock doves
might find their lofts, or roosts,
several thousand miles away.

Birds carry messages for us
from the sun gods, from the center of the earth,
from asteroids and from stars inside their veins.

Only mammals and birds
have warm blood.

We find a clot of it, wine red, in the orange double yolk.
My friend says she has trouble eating the eggs
now that she keeps birds. Knows them by name.
I nod and say I understand.
But I still love the taste.

Each egg I lay, I give a great cry, a warbling hiss of cymbals.
And shiver. My ballerina knees quiver and my toes nibble the floor
Until the pain departs.

VI.

I haven’t dreamed in years. Or is this a dream, this place?
Am I really in the middle of nowhere?

The birds are piling them up somewhere, my dreams,
like brightly colored bits of rubbish, melting plastic,
bottles bobbing on the waves.
Maybe on an island, or in that great pacific garbage vortex.

There the birds are screaming. The seagulls, albatrosses, petrels,
are squawking with power, with dying,
saying get away, saying come here,
saying feed me or fight me.
On this swirling heap of discarded pleasures.
Isn’t that where I’d go, too, if I could?

IMG_1191.JPG

VII.

If you place us, the birds,
in a wooden tunnel with magnetic coils on the outside;
if you make an experiment taking away our sixth sense,
what happens?
We become impaired.
Unstable.

I know what it’s like to be caught in a tunnel of magnets,
disturbed by sadness, loss,
even on a Pacific island of paradise.

What if every living thing that navigates using magnetite,
whales, sharks, tuna, trout, sea turtles, mollusks
lost her way,
found herself on a foreign beach
moaning muted by the sonic booming
of planes soaring overhead.

Everyone looks up— in awe of human flight– what a miracle, what a gift.
Some pilots go mad; some planes run out of fuel and
end up on foreign beaches, too,
or nowhere to be found.

The skin beneath my wedding band is white and shiny,
as if it’s been under water all this time.
The paleness imprinted by the metal frightens me,
what the delicious metal does to me, pulls in me.

It tastes of the Baltic,
and I am sea­sick with love for that ring from Maarianhamina,
Ahvenanmaa, Suomi, 1859,
made of rose­gold on another set of islands, long ago,
where my dream bird, sielulintu, waits
and guards my soul as I sleep.
She’s ready to carry it to Tuonela
or to the egg in the water
when I die.

Here or there, my hands,
and the back of my neck,
will always be cold,
so, I’ll always need a cuppa hot tea to hold.

VIII.

Watch the paths of birds:
the magnetic fields become visible curves.
Our memories are suspended between the poles.
Why keep images of home inside such a small skull when the atmosphere
can carry them for you?

I put home on repeat even as I shed myself of it.
I’m prone to repetition and romance. Narcolepsy and amnesia.
I’m prolix, discursive; prone to the occasional disassociate fugue.
Prone to periphrasis and ekphrasis.
Rashes and pruritus.
I can only wear silver or gold.

I sing the same song
of myself.
And like a good American poet, I do contradict myself.
I loaf in the sunlit leaves of grass and fail to know
where I went, where I go,
But feel someone, somewhere is waiting for me.

Like birds, we have cryptochromes, hidden colors, in our eyes.
We are sensitive to blue light, and circadian in nature,
and also, almost imperceptibly, we are magnetically inclined.

Do humans also grow towards the light, bend towards hidden waters,
the poles, like plants, like birds?

I swivel my office chair towards the cool yellow east in the morning,
to the warm orange west in the afternoon.

I need a room with many windows, or I think I’ll suffocate;
can’t photosynthesize the sublime.
But I’m always thirsty; there’s never enough water, wind, or light.
Birds fly across the picture window view,
alight on the branches of the kowhai.
Starlings, Tui, Kingfisher.
Eat berries.
Sing and chatter all day.
I keep the wooden door closed. Maybe the other females don’t like me.
I stare too long at them. I am unnatural in my gaze.
My flock is slow to follow. My feathers slow to show.

Are we all just witches waiting, seething, jealous?
Eventually we will form a coven of love and fly together through the night.
Our brooms stand ready in the locked closet.
A mirror hangs on the back of the door.
Each, when alone in the room, tries to see through to the other side.
Wiggles the cold metal doorknob. Believes that it’s mine.
My place is inside there somewhere.
And when no one’s here, when no one (else) is looking,
we dance, we fly, instead of write.

My office is like an empty ship but for me and a few other ghostly writers;
It’s quiet but for our tapping;
I’m perched on the side of a small mountain, poised as if on a wave.
The wood is one hundred years old, maybe older;
It smells of the sea, of sand, of rot;
The latrine is in the cellar, cold and damp.

Behind my closed door, I crack my fingers;
I crack my neck until there is no more air in my joints left to pop.
I twist my spine. My computer chair spins ‘round.
I see a bird in the mirror. The one I drew on the whiteboard.
I can’t write though words spill forth,
and my cup runneth over with sea and sky.

If I were a bird, would I circle around endlessly if given the chance,
chasing the sun, or would I fly across the sea in a perfect path?
Would I get lost and go looking,
for my life­long mate, for my mother, for my chicks,
with their soft white feathers waiting,
And me, just a roving eye moving towards a roving home?

Erase a bird’s mind with a magnet. Is a bird still a bird if it’s lost?

Who has she become?

img_1190

_______________________________

i. Illustration by Arthur Rackham from Earl Mar’s Daughter in Some British Ballards, 1919. Public domain.

ii. “…and from their haunted bay / The godwits vanish towards another summer. / Everywhere in light and calm the murmuring / Shadow of departure; distance looks our way; / And none knows where he will lie down at night.” By Charles Brasch from “The Islands” by way of Janet Frame in Towards Another Summer.

iii. Transformed image from illustration by Arthur Rackham from Earl Mar’s Daughter in Some British Ballards, 1919. Public domain.

iv. Transformed image from illustration by Arthur Rackham from Earl Mar’s Daughter in Some British Ballards, 1919. Public domain.

v. Cropped images of ballerina Anna Pavlova (b. 1881 – d. 1931). Photographs taken by Arnold Genthe, c. 1915. Accessed via The AMICA Library. Courtesy the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Public Domain.

A story version of this poem appeared in Capital issue 38 (Jan/Feb 2017).

 

 

 

Valerie Marie Arvidson writes hybrid literature that sometimes includes pictures. Her writing has appeared online or in print with Capital, Headland, Drunken Boat, The Seattle Review, Blunderbuss Magazine, Anomalous Press, Apt, Hunger Mountain, and elsewhere. She is from Boston but lives in Wellington, NZ with her husband. She is currently pursuing her Creative Writing PhD at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. Read more at her website.

Rita Dove’s “Thomas and Beulah” by Michael Vander Does

the ball of your thumb
nestles
the cup
between my thumb’s
nail and knuckle

implicit in this glimpse of time
are the small adjustments we will make
again and again
to keep fingers
from tingling
hand muscles
from cramping
shoulders from
aching

to separate our hands
and let them breathe

each
knowing
movement
accommodating
compensating

like players whose knees gave out
at a crucial moment,
we move carefully
betrayed

by our bodies
our understanding
of our lives and our lovers
doubting
we adjust for wind speed and direction
temperature and humidity
sniffing the air

carrying a body
within
a self
carrying our bodies
our selves
everything
caught
in the crack of a knee
a caress

past and future cohabit
this tiny
tucking
of our bodies

 

Michael Vander Does is a jazz-poet from Columbus, Ohio. He has been published here and there. He performs with The Jazz Poetry Ensemble (poetry/trombone). ( http://www.makejazznotwar.org ). His poetry is informed by avant-garde jazz. He has received occasional awards. His all-yard garden is also informed by avant-garde jazz. @jazzpoetryensem https://www.facebook.com/jazzpoetryensemble/

An apology to Andrew Ford by Robert Ford

As things stand, he is the bole of this unsteady tree,
the backmost reaching into the frail chain of records,
through the sporadic diggings of our research, and

I picture him taking the days of journey north from Devon,
by the old Roman road, possibly driving one of the carts
or wains he’d made, loaded with what could not be left,

bound for a place he’d only heard of, yet believed held
all the answers. This place, that kicked the light out of me
from the moment I could stand. Then every moment after.

The one I couldn’t wait to flee. Now the insistent hands of
autumn tear at the leaves, and the bough is close to breaking,
I have no way to tell him what I’ve failed to do, how sorry I am.

 

 

 

Robert Ford lives on the east coast of Scotland. His poetry has appeared in both print and online publications in the UK and US, including Antiphon, Clear Poetry, Homestead Review and Ink, Sweat and Tears. More of his work can be found at https://wezzlehead.wordpress.com/