Recurring Dream, Moving Toward Some Unburdening

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Do you remember how often 
I used to dream of searching
through houses not our own
for a bathroom? I pushed in
door after door, following
what I thought was an audible  
plinking. And no, it wasn't
dark. Or at least, not yet.
In some rooms, bedclothes 
were mounded on sleeping
forms. In others, the shape 
of a crackling fire. Long 
wooden tables with woven 
runners, salt shakers and
stone bowls of a flecked 
blue shade reminding me 
of river water. Is this 
about the body holding in, 
until it can no longer? 
When it does, it wants 
to excuse itself or keep 
others at bay. A last
door always opens upon 
a view of fields, or a hill. 
Light hovers. Wild grass,
waist-high, makes another 
room through which a body 
could find its way.

On the Navigation of Unstable Surfaces

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
     How many turns in place
on the school playground—your head
     flung upward, your eyes looking 
straight at the steeple of the church 
     next to the gym— before you're 
gripped with vertigo or tip ground-
     ward? Once, on TV, a seismologist
offered: what if, between the big magnitude 
     quakes that flatten cities, disrupt
our lives and push lava out of volcano
     cones, the tiny, daily tremors beneath 
the earth are too fast, too close together
     so they register on the needle
as a line we think is flat? There are
     towns with roofs still sunk in
hardened clay; buried belfries and plaster
     saints whose cloth robes have turned
the color of dust, whose heads now 
     resemble shredded dandelions. Stippled 
indentations on walls mark the places 
     where birds careened out of the mouths 
of cliffs, colliding with their own 
     displacement. I can't imagine how it is
that a tortoise holds up the pillar of
     the world; how a legless snail holds 
tight to this surface of trembling filaments.  

Dream in Which Everyone You Love is Finally Happy

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
You remember afternoons of warm
summer rain washing the clay
walls clean. Towels folded 

into a drawer; the lift of wings. 
Even the sounds of the city felt
softer. A baker rolled out 

a carpet of dough on the table; 
the noodle man twisted sweet ropes 
that lengthened and divided 

between his hands. What you couldn't 
see, but knew. One side of the street 
in sunlight, the other lined 

with papery shadows of cut-out 
leaves. You've dreamed of a tree 
gleaming like a lighthouse,

radius of white blossoms spiraling; 
and all your loves rising through 
the air, wide open, to catch them.  

  

Marrus orthocanna

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Imagine a long train,
                   every coach 
a dining car. Imagine 
                   the sparks 
firing up each cell of 
                   its engines.
Imagine a pole strung 
                   with clear, red-
orange lanterns. Every
                   thing's a mouth,
every mouth's bobbin or
                   an appetite.
O bell-shaped medusae 
                   ringing through
the ocean night: would I 
                   forget my place
in this domino-scatter of 
                   work and desire?
Only a hot plumb line cuts
                   through our pronouns:
I, you, we, us. Each polyp's 
                   colony can't exist
except in the blur with others.  
                   
                   
                    
                    

Two Birds

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
See here; there's always a story of two birds. 
One of them's bound to another; the other, too, 
though secretly. I have two of them that I keep 
in a miniature house. They eat little 
squares of bread dipped in too-sweet 
coffee, skewers of meat grilled over a fire. 
In the afternoons they unfold pattern paper,
bright bits of cotton and silk. I watch 
as they twirl in front of a long cheval 
mirror, or pace each other while pawing 
the floor. One does up her hair with pins 
and flowers. The other sobs into the soup. 
Guess whose mouth prismed with glass. Guess 
whose wings were pinned in a room where sewing 
needles flashed. The first time you lay beneath 
someone you thought you heard the crumple 
of wings, felt the scalding on your tongue. 

We Don’t See Death Until After it Arrives

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
~ after "The Feathered Cloud" by Armando Valero

Even the blue-veined dragonflies in the grass
have heard his approach. The owls hold

conference among themselves, unsure
of how to break the news; their eyes,

soft brown and human-like, tell me
they know. The woman gestures, one hand 

near her lips and the other as if drawing 
a curtain aside. That's all we can really do

until the rider looms closer on the plain.
We can see the sparks from his horse's hooves;

then there's no mistaking his cloak of bitumen 
or his slate, marked with names and numbers.
 

Thanatophobia

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
"Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me..."
                       ~ Janice N. Harrington


I've been reading about transformation
again: all those women who writhed

on a hillside then looked upon their own 
limbs scaled over with bark; or their hair 

fanned out and leafing with green— How,
in the throes of an agony (some god in hot

pursuit), they cried out: and this trans-
formation was the answer they were given.
 
But what if the girl was running 
away from a different sort of god, one

who didn't want her body nor her capture 
but only wanted to make her pay for 

the audacity of drinking from the cup 
of her own desire. Every night, her mouth 

is the mirror on which petals of breath
rise and fall on the damp pillows.

Like her, all I want now is to stay,
embraced, inside that cove of air.  

Baseline

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
I think I could stay

            cocooned from the world  
            without being absolved 

To be brave like that

            as long as a pulse hums
            the outlines of shapes we've made

Trying to raise a life out of life

            arranging our myths  
            in such plain vessels

Landscape, Girdled Mostly by Hills

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
When you grow up in a city with a man-
made lake, you do not learn to swim.

You learn to lean into the oars and pull,
all the while facing the creaky dock. This

is one way to move forward, to set into motion,
to look as if you know where you're going.

Overhead, a sky filters through willow leaves.
Streetlamps are only streetlamps and not a row

of gavels preparing judgment. Your ancestors
still sleep under bedspreads tufted with fog

and pine needles. Unlike you, they never wanted
to climb over the teacup's rim. You know a god

doesn't linger there or strike a spoon,
giving off lightning sparks. Your eyes

have learned to adjust to light; your hands,
between the makeshift screen and the source, 

still remember how to make the shapes for
dragonfly and bird, fish and trembling hare.

Lexicography

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Gypsum and karst my consonants; 
pine and mountain-fed streams, my vowels.
My syntax and speech of copper-mined and gold-
veined hills; the craggy, rain-soaked vowels 
that won’t stop stippling the ceilings.
My tutors: stonecroppings and terraces, 
ochre-traced sunflowers; the flint-tapping call 
of the mountain shrike. My avatars: stick 
shift jeepneys, five of them crowded into 
two-lane roads. My aubades from hot 
bean curd vendors, the molasses of their song. 
Vesper of unfertilized duck eggs tucked 
into warming cloths. In the oldest café, 
click of chess pieces and rumor of coffee 
grounds mingled with eggshell bits. 
In the distance, ghosts of Dominican friars 
and Kempeitai walking ruined labyrinths. 
My countrymen: low-moving cloud rats; 
carnival queens and Benguet lilies. 
My harbor of monsoons and February 
cabbage-frost. Monuments, mudslides 
and bus graveyards; soft gauze of mummy
scarves. My conjugation of vegetable 
carts, hefts of burlap slung into the air. 
I walked across the city as if from the front 
of a small monograph to the very end 
then turned the pages again, my feet
leaving trails of inky sludge.