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Mama, she says, tickle me mercifully.
We both know that this means that when she says stop,
I stop. We begin. I plunder her sides, her ribs,
the tender spot above the knee—she writhes and giggles—
her feet, her belly, beneath her chin, oh such sweet
and terrible vulnerability. Stop! She shouts, and I stop.
But my pointer finger and thumb still bend at the knuckle tips,
ready to start up the game again.
It takes only seconds before she’s caught her breath,
and it’s squirm and wriggle, wriggle, twist,
I pause, I tickle her armpits, she thrashes
and struggles and giggles and squeals and says, Stop!

I think of times I have wanted to shout, Stop! for myself,
for others, for strangers, for friends, when the world goes too far
and the pain is too great. And the stones are thrown and the bodies
are burned and the borders are crossed and the cries
are unheard and where, where is the mercy?

Tickle me more, she says, when my fingers are quiet too long.
And I tickle her, tickle her mercilessly until she is done
with the game. And then it is over, except it is not,
as those of us know who have lived beyond
the times when we’ve said stop, and the world’s gone on.

Remembering to Look Up

Night unbuttons its coat
and all those stars fall out—
I feel no need
to name them
nor order them
nor to measure their distance,
to calculate their age.
I still cannot find
the lines that others use
to link one to another,
but sometimes I sense
the invisible ladders
that link the stars
to you, to me.

Happily Ever After

Your eyes. I used to believe they created me.
One look from you, and I became chalice,
lotus, lioness, crane. Woman. Without your gaze,
I was unformed clay. Your absence, my absence.
It was like some strange twist on what Ptolemy said—
he believed that rays emanate from the eyes,
rays that traverse the air and find the object, allowing
it to be seen. If a woman dances alone in a room,
and you do not see her, is she really dancing?
Does she exist at all?

But Ptolemy was wrong, love, and so was I.
And this is not really the story of photoreceptors
and environmental stimuli. It’s the story
of how we long to be seen—it begins with such
innocence, a longing to please. It’s the story
of how eventually a woman might find herself
dancing for the leaping, whirling pleasure of dancing.

Two for the Road

driving through the stoplight—
too dark to notice if your eyes are green

*

after all that bad news
I teach the radio a love song

vase of dried flowers—
why keep sniffing that dust?
all around us, souls in bloom

*

in the mirror
of the divine, every face
the same face

(Divan xiii)

It is not so much the look on Mary’s face,
as if she is yet untouched by the tragedy.
It is not so much the diagonal drape
of the dead Christ’s arm, nor the empty folds
of the virgin’s dress. It’s the name that catches me,
Michelangelo Buonarroti, chiseled in the sash
that runs between Mary’s breasts, as if to say,
“This is my work, and it is good.”

Oh Mary, holding your son, dead,
what do you know about wanting to own something
that cannot be owned? Just this morning
my own six-year-old girl curled into my lap
and reached up with her right hand to clasp
my shirt in her fist. You never ever go, she said,
sprawling across me, loaning me all of her weight.

I love to find my signature in this girl—
the greenish gray color of her eyes,
the way she loves to read. The color of her skin,
her silly side. Mary, how did you do it, say goodbye?
I run my hands over the startling muscles of her legs,
trace the shape of her jaw, the length of her neck.
Oh the body, how it loves to touch, oh the soul, how
it blossoms by letting go. And the ego, oh how it wants

to say, this is mine, this is mine,
though the mind knows the way that all things go—
even the glass surrounding the Carrara marble,
even the marble, the cathedral, the square.
Even the girl, who leaps up to chase the cat.
Even her mother retelling the story of longing
and love and fear. Even the story itself.

robbing ninety banks
I’d still come up short to buy
this pearl love gives me

(Divan, x)

*

on this ladder each
rung its own destination—
it’s time, love, to climb

(Divan, xii)

*

rather to wear
this scratchy wool slip of love
than all the silks of pride

(Divan, xiii)

*

is that True Love
you’re sipping? quick, bartender,
make mine a triple

(Divan, xiii)

*

I put all I love
in a canoe, love sank it—
now everything is possible

(Divan, xiii)

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