Shorelines

What may loom, unweaving.

We wanted a story its magic in the key of longing notes we arced like stones from cliffs where we stood the key was carrying the eyes to where the magic was not. Years on a planet would spin us, looking for more of them to name. Here is one, an ordinary song, here is how you survive until the moment when you say back to us here is home and it cuts to remember between places so far full of dead heroes whose spirits won’t quit. We waited, unweaving the ritual to save ourselves. For tomorrow against this siege, and dawn keeps coming so soon.

The Residents

Between shores.

In here, the past is paper fragments. We gather them up and try to remember. One sings. The song happens in the middle of a room. The occupants of the room are engaged in various tasks. The tune is off, the phrasing disjointed. No one minds. 

In here, only new arrivals worry about death. We all did, says a veteran resident. But you get over it. How? We want to know. The resident explains how something breaks. It’s like a levee and you let it because it won’t be stopped. The flow is too fast and the volume too high.

Besides, the resident adds, you can floatBesides, the resident adds. You’ll land somewhere. Eventually. Now, we let it take us when it comes. We float in this narrow strait, washing between shores according to the tides. Paper is gone now, but songs pass through, sometimes.

If this is History

A record of intentions.

Then let it be known that the bleeding bodies of our words went first. Once emptied they could be sharpened to capital letters and fired toward certain ends. The first layer of a portrait is wet on wet, a luminosity that won’t come again. Point being, let this not be a likeness, but more.

When everyone had waved goodbye and the cars between us hummed a question of what might be saved, there came a flame at the end of the sharpened tip of a sawed limb, and we could touch but not taste it. We meant to leave the known world, but it chased us, yipping at heels.

We meant to tap the skies until from somewhere behind their altitudes we heard the click of a door about to give.

The Sisters

In the late days of long wars.

We wanted to mend, so kept company with our mothers’ ghosts. Our yesterdays were wounded and came to us until every bed was full. 

O muse. Your song was bleeding out. 

We brought cloths and went to you. We wrapped you tight and held against the flow. It entered then.

We are still, holding. 

The Grounded

Regarding nearby deaths.

We would smell it sometimes, just outside, beneath the porch. Once we heard its scream at midday. We were in somber clothes with serious faces, lining at a wake. To pay our respects, we said. Until it called us out. 

Still, each of us held our private reserves of deflection. We flexed budding wings beneath dark clothes, planned our escapes. We dreamed in altitudes, had ideas about the next to go. We watched for drape of eyes over landscapes and their shine at recollections of near brushes. These almost always involved driving, when the rush of speed before it ended promised to finally know its peak.

Annals

The stories we keep.

Which history? The people, or the book? Language or lens? A soul reveals itself by the memory it keeps. It is less like the cementing of bricks than the stitching of squares. The quilters’ collective eye has its aesthetic aim, an effort of seasonal return. It is a functional art. But to forget either one of these––function or art–––is to make it something else.

Shelter Lullaby

Praise song for the dancers.

Face buried in her warm bread smell,

I cannonballed into dreams of flying;

she kept watch with one good eye

trained on roaches in the ceiling.

*
As I cannonballed into the next flight

she said Just a little while,

good eye trained on roaches in the ceiling,

in the room beneath the church of the sisters.

*
Just a little while, she said, 

bandage over other eye

applied by sisters after landing,

and changed it when she thought I could not see.

*
Bandage over blinded eye,

she left the bed when I slept

to change it somewhere where I could not see,

and then she danced.

*
She left the bed when I slept

for a basement where music played

and then she danced

with the women in a circle, and they laughed.

*
In a basement where music played

danced Leti, and Patrice, Maria and Janae,

these women in a circle and they laughed,

away from the men they had survived.

*
Danced Gina and Kira, Shondra and Renee,

and my mother, and I, for the time being,

away from the men we had survived —

and you should have seen her dance.

_____________

This one first appeared in High Shelf, 2019.