i. Mendoza, Argentina
You have never tasted a land like this.
––the wine black
as the sleep of earthworms–– I was offered
a prize Tempranillo in Argentina at the finca
of an old heiress.
On her mantel, a menagerie of saints
and small crystal icons the colors
of the sea. She watched me
with a thirst for salvation,
as the girl in the corner rocked with one foot
in the underworld
and her ache to get out,
her throat offering its creaks and groans.
How they all looked away
as the cries grew louder,
pushing her oars in the air,
stirring the room with her storm
until she crossed
to hold my hand, and calmed.
ii. Glendale, California
My neighbor was from the old country.
Her babushka, the color
of a Bezoar goat and she came toward me
on Ash Wednesday as if as if I were an apparition –
a saint appearing like a gift
in her garden. Her bones had already lost
their breath and her eyes held
the remains of villages. Children too small to walk
the long road, parents strapping them in boxes
on the sides of donkeys.
Babies and the old dying without shelter.
where the danger hadn't passed.
At 13 I wanted to be a nun,
to love without filtering resin
from the grape.
I was called to the church more than once –
the church of innocence,
the church of the insane father,
the church of womanhood,
the church of poetry and its illuminated manuscripts.
They’ve all burned down except for one
in this half-finished heaven.
I clarify wine no more than I am the saint
my neighbor needs. Still, I smile down at her,
not understanding Armenian,
only the gesture as her hand hovers from right
to left shoulder. Am I dead or blessed?
I cannot bring back her ancestors.
iii. Saugus High School, Santa Clarita, California
Bless the boy who shot the children
then pointed at his own temple
with an automatic pistol, the mind’s nave closing
over the steel chamber,
each bullet hand-made
by the father. The father found dead
on the floor by the boy two years before.
Bless the mothers – swans
turned upside down – necks reaching
toward the moss of the seabed.
Bless the 10,000 souls who gathered
in Santa Clarita to grieve the ghosts –
the many who gave thousands
to the shooter’s mother. The ones who said
we must continue to bless all
the empty beds.
iv. Santa Monica, California at David Whyte’s Lecture
Didn’t it seem as if the nave of the church grew as tall
as a eucalyptus, our hush a mist hovering
above its crown. And didn’t it feel as if he were
holding our silence from across the dais –
certain as his linen shirt as he looked out at the pews,
his eyes reaching into our trenches,
our wounds of a nation split
down its middle. I thought of the Baruch ברוך
which says G-d is the true source of all blessings.
But I have been kissed on the cheek and it was
a small rain that left nothing but thoughts
of what it was and wasn’t. As if a tree pressed
lips to skin, its green skirting the house of you,
sweeping from room to room, filling the floorboards
with its breath, your walls becoming water
the body forgetting it carried anything at all.
v. Global Pandemic
What leapt into our veins leapt swiftly.
Breath our one blessing –
to rise and fall
and rise again.
*half-finished heaven from Tomas Tranströmer’s poem of the same name.
Four Nights in the Misty Fjords
She was inside the whalebone
counting the looped ritual
that followed her below deck.
She was the smell of crayfish
and crab, cracking them open,
tearing out their sweet meat.
This is what she did when the shells
split. She kept them until they dried
inside like a gull’s white dung.
She layered the hours with it –
when everyone lay in their bunks
and the stars were hammers on the sea.
She could feel their weight – hear
the surrender of the old halibut
before the hook found passage.
Blackwater pulling on a line,
pulling like the night, creaking
like a lie. And when she closed her eyes
and her body sank down
that’s when he would appear, cinch
in his hand, twisting the anchor
until it snapped, watching her drop
in the dark. The rope unravelling
from the rust so swiftly, it burned
to touch. Nothing left but nightfall
at the river’s mouth and the slow
motion of salmon waiting to be caught.
Previously published in Night Ladder (Glass Lyre Press).
A Stranger’s Needs
(Chateau) Muzot was extremely primitive. The rooms were comfortable,
but there was no electricity and no running water in the house.
—Frida Baumgartner, housekeeper to Rilke, 1921
In the beginning I knew nothing. Not of the steel
pots that required constant scrubbing, or the way
to press a shirt of linen—wait for the iron to smell
like burnt leaves on an October morning.
Not of how to bathe in a castle without plumbing—
cotton cloth dipped in an icy pail of water, a dab
of lavender soap to scent the skin. Nothing of how
to undress by paraffin lamp in the cold knot of December
or the desires of a body at twenty-six, all of me rising
into the belly. I had to learn to be invisible.
He wanted another Leni—a woman who walked like a cat
by moonlight and understood his needs with a single look.
How could I find my way to a man who has no map?
Sometimes I would say to the mirror,
this is not the life you promised. Sometimes I would say
to the bed, someone will carry me like a candle to their chapel.
Previously published in Spillway