The magnolia tree is dead or dying Said the experts at the nursery Which planted it. No green leaves hang upon it, Only these brittle, brown things Cling to its limbs still. The experts give me two things, Free of charge of course, To try to resuscitate my magnolia. The experts tell me everything to do Over the next eight weeks, But not to worry, if it all doesn’t work, The tree will be replaced. It’s guaranteed. A guarantee I never thought I’d need. I did everything right: Watering and fertilizing, Watering and fertilizing, Factoring in all the rain— Yet here it stands dead or dying In this place you never knew. Like with you, in the place you knew, I did everything I knew to do— Replace the cooking pots and pans with stainless, Only organic foods, red wine the only alcohol, Broke all the cigarettes in two, Quit my job to care for you— Until— Until the fourth time it returned, Spread to the lungs and liver, You wanted your cigarettes and alcohol back. How could I argue? Say no to that? Yet even then— I found you cigarettes with no additives, organic tobacco too. Until January, our magnolia bloomed as you lay dying, When at midnight a storm blew through, Minutes later, you died And the magnolia shed its blooms. So here now, in this new place, I planted a magnolia in memory Of what was, what was not, Of what could have been, should have been, Of what would have been If I possessed the magic to shape shift Into the one you most wanted. And now, this tree in this new place Stands dead or dying. But I will do as the experts say: Spray from top to bottom for disease, Shock the roots every other week Until mid- November, hoping to bring it back, Bring it back from the edge of death. If I can’t, the nursery will replace it With another magnolia tree. Yet I must think on that. In this place, in this soil, perhaps A magnolia is not meant to be. I may ask them to replace it With a different tree. For it could be, That here and now, Magnolias are no longer meant for me.
Walking through days--- There are too many left And not enough To let me forget. I walk into sunrises Into sunsets-- There are not enough Sunrises or sunsets left In life to let me forget And too many yet to live To live in remembering. I walk to gain forgetfulness. There are not enough miles, Not enough steps, Not enough earth To walk To bring About forgetfulness. I walk, seeking shelter From thunderstorms Yet they remind me. I walk, seeking exhaustion In the mountains Yet they remind me. I walk, seeking the healing of salt From ocean waters Yet they remind me. All speaking In whispers Of the earth’s remembrance. It all reminds me— The brilliant azure sky, The verdant green of forests, The primal roar of oceans, The Rorschach shape of clouds, The roil gray of storms— It all reminds me, Brings me back Nothing allows me to forget.
When the prowess of early morn
And the touch of dawn’s fingertips
Overwhelm my heart and soul,
I am reminded of some story
I heard somewhere as a child—
From a book or cartoon
Or some sitter’s wild
Imagination of bedtime tales,
The story of the gargoyle
Who was beckoned
To a place in heaven
By an angel fair.
And there the gargoyle stayed
For a day or three or more
Or maybe a week or three.
For a moment,
The gargoyle knew sweetness and joy,
Thinking, perhaps, for once, just this once,
The universe had smiled down
Upon one of the gargoyle race,
And felt the cracking of stone begin.
But the gargoyle, being a gargoyle,
A somewhat silent, stony creature,
Soon bored the angel who withdrew,
Having angel business to attend too.
The gargoyle knew. Knew from the start too,
But had hoped it was not to be held true–
That angel and gargoyle were not a pairing to be made.
Such creatures being out of each other’s realm
Cannot last but a season or two.
So, the gargoyle fell to earth again
To crouch forever upon a building,
Keeping watch upon the city and the sky.
The gargoyle knew this was the nature of things
And thought itself blessed for ever having known
The sweetness of an angel.
For what angel had ever doted upon a gargoyle?
The gargoyle asked.
For years, the gargoyle crouched,
Watching the city and the sky,
Remembering, reliving the sweetness
Known of an angel.
Yet wishing such sweetness had never been tasted,
Never been touched,
Forever was too long to remember
The memories encased in stone
Where wind and rain would never touch,
Would never wear them away.
Thus, the gargoyle paid the price
For allowing stone to crack.
I wrote this several years ago. Posted it and then later took it down. I’ve revised it and worked with it a bit. It’s time to leave this one alone.
A song reminds her of all those years ago—
Upon the screen words of “survivor”
And “not your fault” inked upon the forearms of a chorus—
In a moment,
All the gains of strength and safety cut,
Sliced by a razor as air is choked off,
And she is held up by the throat,
Feet dangling off the ground.
Then slammed into a wall,
The back of her head hitting first.
Fighting blackness, wanting to yield to it for peace,
Fear keeps her from giving in.
When another backhand hits across her mouth.
She reels, turns, struggling to move forward.
If she could just make it to the phone,
To the kitchen, maybe grab a knife.
Her hair grabbed from behind,
Pulls her back, off balance, she falls.
“Get back here, you fucking cunt.”
Her dog barks, bares teeth, growls.
Laughter, “Only have to kick that wiener dog like this—”
She feels ribs crack. She can’t breathe.
“And I’d kill him.”
She finds enough air, tells her dog it’s okay and to go to his bed.
“This ends when I say, bitch.”
Her hair is grabbed, and she is pulled down the hall to her bedroom.
“Now, you’ll give me what you owe me, you fucking cunt.”
She is pulled to her feet, stumbling against the wall,
She wonders what her fever is up to now, after this.
After all, she was sent home by her principal
Because the school nurse said a teacher
With a fever of 102 shouldn’t be around kids.
“Thought you were gonna get to that phone, didn’t you?”—laughter
“Just imagine, the cops showing up for a domestic disturbance at a lesbian’s
Apartment. You know those TV cameras would follow. How’s your job after that?”
Fingers dig into her face, grabbing, gripping, squeezing.
She is thrown across the bed, T-shirt ripping.
Now. Now is the time to fight. She reacts—flailing—use anything,
Nails, elbows, fists, knees—anything to connect, cause pain,
Then open a window to get away.
She feels a fist to her jaw, tastes blood.
A fist to an eye. It’s hard to take a breath. Her side hurts.
A hand at her throat.
“Stop it, cunt.”
Something in the timbre, in the octave, in the venom,
Makes her stop then. This can’t happen. Can’t be. Her thoughts stop.
It all barely registers after that—
Teeth biting, something tearing upon entering, a fist to the face again.
“I said kiss me, you bitch.”
She tastes blood again. She’s rolled over when she doesn’t comply.
“Think you’re better than me, you stupid cunt? I’ll show you.”
She thinks she must have screamed
Because her hair is pulled and used
To shove her face into the mattress.
She doesn’t know if she passed out or not.
Rumbling. A crash. Cursing from the kitchen, then the living room.
It’s best not move yet she thinks. And she doesn’t know if she could.
Then she hears the front door slam shut.
Movement returns to limbs.
Swollen faced and bleary eyed, she struggles to the door.
Lock the dead bolt, chain latch and all.
Hurts to take a breath,
But she must clean,
The apartment and herself.
Erase, erase it all—
All the traces, any trace
Of what happened.
No. It didn’t happen.
It did not happen because it could not.
As she steps into a scalding shower,
Wash away the blood,
The touch. Memory.
The she realizes more soap doesn’t help
The bleeding between her legs stop.
Then she realizes there is bleeding
from her anus too.
She isn’t sure now what to do.
How could she answer
The questions of a doctor
At a hospital ER?
She sinks down in the shower,
Thinking of what she must do.
Call into work, they expect it.
She is, after all, sick with a flu of some sort.
Break the lease,
Find a new apartment,
Movers are required, no time to wait on friends and a U-Haul.
Begin to rebuild, to regain.
Only to wake,
In a new apartment across town,
Hiding with her dog behind clothes in a closet,
And she knows she needs to do something.
She won’t live like this.
She didn’t work to overcome
the damage of an abusive alcoholic parent
to live like this.
Find a therapist and begin
To pick the shards of shattered safety
From the wounds,
Find the strength and begin.
“You’re going to have to admit what happened to yourself.”
Listen to the therapist’s litany for a moment:
Facial bruising and swelling prevent returning to work for nearly two weeks.
Bruised, if not broken, ribs from being kicked.
Bite marks on the neck and breasts.
Vaginal and anal bleeding for over three days.
“What does that list of injuries sound like to you?”
Her words tumble, fractured,
Broken by a truth she thought to scrub away:
…what you’re trying to get me to say…red flags
…addicted to speed or cocaine…so I cut it off…
…showed up at my apartment with soup… since I was sick
…became irate…still said no to seeing each other…
…hyped up on something that night…couldn’t fight her off
…so damn strong…couldn’t fight…another woman, for God’s sake…
…Not the same…
“Was anything that happened that night consensual?”
“That’s the definition of rape, isn’t it? Not consensual.”
In the admission,
The rebuilding, the redesign
Of strength, of safety, of taking back control,
She recalls the words:
All the words she has fought,
Words flung at her by friends and girlfriends who claimed to love her—
–One woman can’t do that to another. Lesbians don’t do that to each other.
–It couldn’t have been as bad as a real rape. It was only a woman. So, get over it.
–You must have done something to make it happen, to push her to that point.
–Women don’t rape.
Yes, so she thought too, even after it happened to her—
At least for a little while,
Until she admitted it was true.
But she learned to stay silent,
Trusting very few with the truth.
Even after all these years,
To have survived, regained control, found safety
And know it wasn’t her fault,
Yet deeper down,
There remains a tiny pebble of shame
Since her community said—
It wasn’t real
Since it wasn’t a man.
It was her fault
Since she refused sex after six weeks of dating
And wouldn’t continue to date her.
It never happened
since lesbians don’t rape.
She stands, watching the video her daughter shares a second time.
She finds herself close to tears at seeing the words “Not Your Fault”
Inked upon an arm. Her daughter wants to know if she thinks
It’s cool. She says it’s great. It’s empowering for those involved.
She quickly turns away.
She can’t tell her heterosexual daughter
That it happened.
If her community couldn’t accept it,
How could her daughter?
A risk she cannot take.
If she moves, twists, walks a certain speed or way,
That tiny pebble of shame bruises a little still,
As if yet rolling around in her shoe.
Perhaps for those in the community her daughter’s age,
Things are different and they hear, if it should happen,
Lesbians do rape.
It was real.
You did nothing wrong.
It is not your fault.
It is her thought.
It is her silent
Reverent, fervent prayer.
Crescendo, sun rise,
Swells an upsurge of color,
Fades too fast for me.
The business of the day trades
Scenes of memories.
An end, a small death of colors
As day slowly fades.
Pulled my anchor from this harbor
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
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—
The resplendent month,
Of sun’s heat and blinding light.
The lethargic month
Of jealousy’s blight,
A thing of loss, not fought.
The milestone marking month,
Of anniversaries, holidays, tears.
The flaming month
Of ashes where freedom,
A rising thing, held dear.
Serrated edges of your secrets
Sliced open my chest long ago.
Yet, I carried those secrets
Across the borders of decades.
I guarded those secrets like gemstones.
I wore them as talismans,
Good luck charms, rubbing each
Like burnished bronze of ages old.
Why have I kept them so?
I do not know.
The guardian watches the sea,
For the return of old ones
Who long ago slipped away
Out to sea, speaking
Words of promise,
Words of return–
Not unlike your words to me.
Like you, the old ones
Will not return,
Lost in an ocean
Of time long forgotten.
They found new homes
Where to light their fires,
Burning away old, shriveled desires,
Burning away the salt of the sea,
And the dirt of old known shores.
The guardian waits,
Like a widow upon her widow’s walk,
Staring out to sea.
But as I have finished waiting,
I must walk away.
Sleeplessness always told the story
between the back when and now,
what she once thought a game,
tracks leading nowhere.
This last section of living
something not well lived.
A swirl of memory
piercing through knots
too tight to be undone.
She had lived without a plan,
having a heart that spoke in tongues
she had yet to understand.