Twelve poems by US-based poet, linguist, literary translator and actor as part of World Poetry/Prose Portfolio [WPP], curated by Sudeep Sen, excerpted from Life in Suspension (Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 2016)
In Search of Benevolent Immortality
Someone I loved once
gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this too, was a gift.
My mother sacrificed so much.
I try to mend fractured relations,
let light flicker into the sheltered past.
We packed whole lives into bundles
in search of what chooses us,
what wants to come back to the surface,
what needs to be said.
We had so many dreams
we didn’t know what to make of them.
And so with leopard’s ears
I hear beyond the range of sound
the ineffable, the sublime, my mother’s
breath, grandmother’s smile, ancestors’
voices, to soothe and heal the sorrow.
If I could gather all the sadness of the world,
all the sadness inside me
into a gourd,
I’d shake it once in a while
and let it sing,
let it remind me of who I used to be,
bless it for what it taught me
and stare at it lovingly
for not seeping out of its container
To Kitty, Who Loved the Sea and Somerset Maugham
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
It’s always ourselves we find in the sea
— E.E. Cummings
The angel who smells of my childhood
My mother, piano and oboe
Whose face the icon reflects
Auburn hair like a Modigliani
Eyes the color of rain
Light caught by surprise
Whose presence the absence reveals
Whose laughter burns snow
Whose warm breath I breathed
This morning as I woke
The scent of gardenias whispering
I never left you
From the bottom rung of a ladder in the sky
I hang in the void.
Ultramarine is all I need.
Let it be simple,
build a cottage for the spirit
to rest and soar.
I trust, self contained, in equipoise,
resources at my fingertips —
deep-rooted ghosts supporting
the foundation of a throne
to explore and claim whole worlds —
surprised to find you here with me
lighting up my life.
My Mother Ceridwen
The light on the icon,
the way I see her in my dreams,
the core of her at the edge of darkness
in a magic cauldron always full —
never exhausted —
that brings her back to life,
guarded by a golden serpent
coiled in the shape of an egg,
the world snake marshalling
the seed of a new journey,
a glimpse of a mysterious and elusive
woman crowned with morning glories.
This is how she lands on the page,
slanted, looking out in space,
integrated within me
save the blue sky across her face.
Some days a shadow through
The high window shares my Prison.
My life is a slide show
projecting the same image
again and again,
a glimpse into a world full of light
from behind bars,
a world that escapes North and South
as I stare at the Angel,
blinded by whiteness of time.
A House Like a Ship
I live in a house like a ship
at times on land, at times on ocean.
I will myself into existence
surrender, invite grace in.
I heed the call of the siren.
On the phantom ship
I don’t know if I’m wave
or cloud, undine or seagull.
Lashed by winds, I cling tight to the mast.
Few return from the journey.
I now wear the memory of nothingness
a piece of white sail wrapped like second skin.
Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.
I fly at a delicately-low altitude
You feel it viscerally in your soul
and your wingspan lifts me
like earth’s breath
I empty myself of sadness
such is the power of storms
Some things are too sacred
to be uttered
Time slips away
I open doors
time stands still
Flying at a delicately low altitude
stalking music in a house of mirrors
I search for instructions
The key hides in the patterns
my magical thinking refuses to acknowledge
I can disappear
the way mountains turn bluer on the horizon
or a slow virga sublimes
You listen to the silence
drawn on the ashes of ancient sacrifices
know the redeeming power
of beauty and goodness
and that to live is to persist in pain
Twisting the Moon
Now is the time to know
that all you do is sacred.
We shared the coast of Maine in June,
hundreds of whales, lobster
sandwiches, buttermilk pancakes
and a room in Bar Harbor with antique tub.
They’re now a cloister of shadows loved,
goldsmith of the music of time.
She left when circumstances met.
I dream of offering her strawberries on sacred moons,
healed by the beauty of memories,
ready to start over as if knowing nothing.
How God Thinks Is Surprising
My mother and I are two swans intertwined.
We show the world stage our connection, our closeness.
The bond never fades. God is director of the play.
We’re part of each other,
a continuation of movement, dance, beauty.
Together we form a whole, a heart, an angel.
Our core holds a plate to be filledwith life.
We create and celebrate every reason,
the symmetry of our truth a vision, an offering.
We invented time.
The more we make it disappear,
the closer to God we grow.
I understand the nature of plants,
living off the land and rain.
I used to be a flower.
I like morphing into an animal,
devouring who I was.
The earth never fails me.
What kind of a horse?
A miraculous kind of horse.
I dream for a living —
glimmer at the edge of life,
a clock with many hands,
shape-shifter moving through different worlds.
I sail on the endeavor, captain musician,
not knowing whether I’m a ghost.
I take the road
to the end of the skyline.
My mother blows directions in my ear
from the other side.
The spokes of the wheel loosen
amidst thoughts like windstorms
containing all humanity.
I manifest fulfilled in the land of shadows,
resilient winter horse.
At My Funeral
Nothing is born or perishes, but already
existing things combine, then separate anew.
Somebody speaks at my funeral
but I am not dead.
People love the eulogy,
can’t get enough.
It isn’t sad.
Water floods out of
nowhere, mingles with air
and the fluidity converts me from solid
to liquid to ether and back.
Cats saunter in the condensation.
I see myself looking for them.
Finding all the cats means
there is no death.
Ce que nous portons (Dorianne Laux); Whitman et la Guerre de Sécession: Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings
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