A Prayer to the Ancestors

Image courtesy of BBC

What would I learn 
Could I raise your bones
From the earth?
And like some ancient medicine woman
Scatter them like runes to read
Or use them in the making
Of a sacred instrument
To rattle next to my ear?
What would their music tell me?
Would their rhythms move me?
Would there be some wisdom spoken?
Hidden within the notes of rattled rhythms
Of all your dried out unearthed bones
Is there enough marrow left to have
All my ancestors speak to me?
Should I, in some ancient tribal ritual
Of ancestral cannibalism,
Ingest your ground bones
Mixed with magic into an elixir
Infused with your ancestral spirits, 
Be given the power of thunder
And lightening that is your strength
Earned by you through the ages?
Is this how your spirits will travel through me
Teaching me of all the earth and sky?
Is there a way to know, to learn
To hear all the secrets you deem I need,
Need to know in this time, this place
For this, this last chapter
Of what I have left to me?
My ancestors, for I have wasted 
Away pages and chapters,
Squandered decades of the anthology
You have written into me.
Ancestors, speak to me, 
So I waste not the years
Left to be written 
By your spirits into me.

July

Image courtesy of O’Conner Mortuary

 

I’d nail all the windows in that month shut.

Board the place completely up.

All closed and shuttered,

Leaving it to the dust and rot.

July—the only summer month

I’d abandon

The month forced me to abandon you—

How is a starving  child forced to leave

A mother who sold herself

So the child could eat?

Thus, I cared for you

Until I had to reach out and close your eyes—

Then I dreamed

Dreamed–

I nailed the windows in every room shut

And I boarded up every room.

I took a hammer to that floor to ceiling avocado green tile

Of the kitchen tomb,

Shattering every single inch

Of mirror green shine.

I brought the garden hose in

And hosed down all our scars

Until yours and mine

Nearly disappeared.

Then I woke

And buried you

Under roses

In hot, steamy July

Shuttering you away

Until I thought there’d

Be nothing left of you.

But you are always here.

I pick the good of you

From the rubble,

See little bits of you

In each of your grandchildren.

I see bits of you in my daughter,

And our legacy is not only

One of scars.

Baltimore

Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine

Pulled my anchor from this harbor
Years ago.
Yet the current pulls me back,
Some irritant speck,
Yet to yield a pearl,
In the soul,
Some rough edged
Needless need chafes away
Until confession is made
And a pilgrimage to graves
Must be paid—

There is no why to this–
This steel wrought laundry list
To be run down and checked through

A visit, a meal eaten
At the landmark restaurant,
Where new owners chiseled hieroglyphics
over a history of years when
the landmark lived across
A narrow brick paved street
And my family lived upstairs,
Erasing my mother’s sacrifice
Of bloody fetal tissue,
My fraternal twin,
On the bathroom floor there
While I hung on to be born.
But such bloody sacrifice
Doesn’t sell cheeseburgers,
Greek salads, and over easy eggs,
A fairytale of family ownership-
Sells well and makes for spots
On reality television shows.

A drive by the childhood home,
Sentimentality at its highest,
Revisit the torture chamber
It became—
A wooden yardstick and when it broke,
A metal one I had to buy to be taken
Across my back by a drunken mother
Until the skin broke open to bleed.
.
Why the drive by?
Who the hell knows?
When all I’d like to see
Is it all disappear—

Then the statue of Christ
In Hopkins Hospital lobby, a must see.
Where I stood as a teen
Confessing the darkest
Thing upon my soul—
A part of me wishing
My mother had died
In that surgery of fifteen hours
The other part thanking Jesus
she had lived.

Then the graves,
To place some flowers,
Talk a bit to the air,
Turn my soul inside out
To find it dusty and dirty again.
We can think our souls clean
Until turning them inside out—
That is where we find the grime
Of all the living done.

I visit my brothers,
The man who was my real father,
Then on to the man I thought was,
And then my mother,
The saint she was,
The monster she became.
At her grave, my soul aches the most,
Tweezing thorns left from her old rose bushes and my own,
Turning itself inside out,
Leaving all the grime and dirt behind,
Or so it feels.

Then on to visit with what is left of the living.
And though, I love the living,
There is little, so little–
To charm me into staying.
But the currents, the tides
Of some blood element,
Like an ancient memory,
Bring me back
From time to time.

This is Baltimore—
for me.

 

Tapestry of Spirit

my mother

In her grandchildren,
her spirit is woven–
What a tapestry
These children create.

The strongest fibers
of her determination run
In the eldest, wearing her grandmother’s face,
Though she never knew her.

Threads of her courage and strength
Weave into the only one who knew her,
Who can remember the smell of her beef stew,
As the grown child wages a battle for her life.

Yarns of responsibility and fun spin
In the lone grandson,
As he raises his son
And forgets not how to play.

The delicate fine threads of her caring and her dreams
Spin through the twins,
Born too late to know her,
One doing what must be done
to care for others.
the other creating a business of her art.


The warm, soft yarn of her love and generosity
weaves through the youngest, my daughter,
Born under the same December sun,
As she becomes a nurse caring
For babies born too early.

In my mother’s grandchildren,
A tapestry of faith is woven,
And I am taught
DNA is more than science,
Woven with soul upon
Some ancient loom.
This tapestry of spirit
Where my mother lives still.

Splinters and Ash

 

Splinters these things:
A Cherrywood vanity
Of fine detail,
Queen Anne legs
And dovetailed drawers,
A square ring left in the surface of the finish,
Where perfume dripped down the sides
Of a stoppered crystal bottle;
A dull walnut jewelry box
With red velvet lined drawers,
An attached mirror
Makes it too large,
Ungainly, for today.

These things, leavings,
Leftovers of a life lived,
For remembrance, for reverence,
Symbols of the intangible
As spring greenery
Is glimpsed and seen
Through a sunlit dusty screen
On a late afternoon,
Containing a muted gold softness
One can never touch.

Lackluster as they are,
They are her, her leavings,
The leftovers of the grinding times
She spent between
Rocks and hard places.

You will have her splinters
And my dusty ashes:
A picture or two, photo albums,
Old fashioned things to look through,
No links to clouds but to history, yours;
Some pencil scratching and ink splatters,
Words hurled, tattooed, etched, brushed
Upon page after page,
Notebook after notebook,
Drive after drive;
Yet you will never know or guess
How many were destroyed,
Burned, ripped, broken,
All trashed over my years.

And if you should read my leftovers?
Press your lips together,
Drawing them thin?
Sigh and raise an eyebrow?
Roll your eyes then burn it all?
Or simply, send it all to the trash
In green plastic bags?
Or
Find one old photo,
one written line
Worth the keeping,
For remembrance sake?
Perhaps, perhaps

You will find something
Among my dust and ash leavings
Of the grinding times I spent
Between rocks and hard places
And view it
As spring greenery is seen
Though a sunlit pollen dusty screen,
Void of vibrancy,
But containing a muted gold softness
One can feel yet never touch
Then know my damning sin,
Like Jonson’s, “was too much hope of thee”
Then find your heart softened and free.