Open Hands and Silence

Poetry by someone who cannot write poetry.

When the young man in the four-door calls me a whore and laughs in my face

Underneath the asphalt of this street,
there is black soil. There is rock
and fire. Mother, in years gone by we called to you.
Weariness has pooled in my shoulders.
I am a changeling of the glass-and-concrete kingdom.
I cannot speak your language of earth
and moon
and blood.
I have not known you.
Mother, I need you now.

Daughter, open your eyes.
Daughter, clench your fists.
You are fire, you are rage, you are stone.
Daughter, you are adamantine.
Break him over your knee and do not flinch.

Mother, I have swallowed my tongue,
carved crescent moons into my palms.
I have bled with the flow of the tide.
I have filled the ocean with salt water and endured,
endured,
endured.
I cannot be patient anymore.

He is not worthy of your patience.

Mother, my anger has worn me to the bone.
Mother, grant me steady hands.

If he puts his hands on you, daughter,
rip his throat out with your teeth.

And if I fail?

And if I fail?

Come home still, daughter of the moon.
Spring comes again.
Return.
Return with the tide.

Hourglass

This is where we wait,
where quiet
drowns the loudest sounds,
unrelenting
as the song of summer cicadas–
the song we lost
to the silence–
and we pass the time forgetting
and forgotten.

This is where we wait,
where breathing in
each other’s breaths
will keep us standing long enough
to fall.
We fail to estimate the distance
between our hands.
We wait for wind.

Here is where we wait,
where centuries of sand sift down above us,
where the weight of memory and music wears us thin.
This is where we wait,
no other place.
Time and silence bury us.
Love holds us down.

There are locked rooms, she says, and no one gets in and she doesn’t have a lock pick. She says you need a lock pick; what she means is give me the key. There are locked rooms where the sunlight doesn’t go and they’re piled high with books, every one of them, and poems and songs and scripts and pages of pencil drawings until you can’t see the walls or the floor. There are locked rooms in the dark with one ghostlight shining on an empty stage where nobody comes and nobody sings or speaks or dances. Not tonight. Not ever. Not tomorrow and they never will. What she means is give me the key. Give someone the key. There are cobwebs in the corners of locked rooms and there are no books and no dusty stages or lights, just a child on her knees with her face in her hands on the dirty linoleum–and she’s crying stop it stop stop but no one can hear her. Three people who love her can hear but they don’t care. No one gets in. There’s nobody there. Not even a little girl. There’s everything. Open the door and it could be anything. Better. And isn’t it strange how nobody knows? And isn’t it strange how I don’t know? And aren’t those my own long-fingered hands with splinters under bloody fingernails, beating at locked doors? Aren’t those my hands, still and quiet? And whose hands are looking for the key to those rooms now? Who knows where it is? Locked locked lost.

Becoming Icarus

We found her under the pier,
hair spread on the lapping water,
indistinguishable
from all the seaweed among lost flip-flops
and empty plastic bottles. Her hands
were open, one bare foot knocked gently
against a wooden post, and her paper wings
undulated under her like tattered sea-creatures,
disintegrating as we watched.
They,
and her water-logged clothes dragged her down,
but still she floated,
and we pulled her out,
her face turned
up.
She wouldn’t take our offered hands
or answer ’til I asked,
“Why wings?”
“To break orbit,” she said.
“Almost. Almost.”
She turned her head to the horizon, then,
like the setting sun,
she sank.

Alternatives

In another world,
I remember the reason,
the long hair in the water,
which face didn’t wear the mask.
I am not disappointed by waking.
In another, sunburn is just sunburn.
I’ve forgotten how her real name looked written-down–
how I couldn’t spell it,
how lips cannot pronounce letters that look like birds in flight.
In a world not like this one,
there are no frightened old maids or insects.
I don’t have to defend myself
for not crying out.
There’s a place where I’m not missing the other half.
The circle’s complete.
Somewhere I don’t know I need
anything more than this.
Another world,
another morning.

Heart

this is poetry and I have a choice:
here’s my heart
and it’s either a lion or a scared rabbit
this is a poem (maybe) about my heart and I get metaphors for brave
or one thousand words for “soft” but the truth is
lions aren’t brave
no more than rabbits are you wouldn’t run either
if you were four hundred and twenty pounds of teeth
and claws and muscle
and if you were four pounds of fur and twitchy ears you’d freeze
just like I do see the truth is
my heart is an organ
pumping blood through my body
it’s all just blood and bones and tissue
it all yields
if this is a poem about me then I am not brave
if this is a poem about you then I hope that you are
if this is a poem about anything else under the sun
I am not fit to write it now or ever
not when everything I am made of yields
pick your metaphor or take the literal but it yields
I yield
I give in all right I cannot save myself with words
neither rhyme nor ruin can save us when there is nothing in me
that cannot be broken

I.
When you were ten, you raised you chin and dried your eyes,
nodded when your father touched your shoulder
and called you Lightning Rod.
Both feet on the ground, you clenched your teeth and swallowed the storm.
By twelve, your footsteps turned sand to glass.

II.
By sixteen, rubies and pearls fell from your lips when you spoke.
You held them out in your cupped hands.
People called you a treasury and picked through your words,
looked away from the lines on your palms.

III.
By twenty-two, you’ve stopped talking,
learned to spot the hopes that fall from people’s pockets.
You dig your fingers into the flesh of your inner thigh–
terra incognita.
You are a hostile climate, uninhabitable.
They draw maps and do not return.
You tried to tell them stories of time and changing seasons.
For weeks, they wore the diamonds you choked on.

IV.
They wear glass beads and ruby rings.
When lightning strikes a tree or a child,
you tell yourself they shouldn’t have been out in the rain.
You tell yourself they miss you when you go away,
and watch them deck themselves in pearls.
You come with bright things in your open hands,
take nothing and leave no empty space when you are gone.
They miss the jewels, the stones, the simple things.
Never the voice.
Never the hands.

Final TweetsThe first thing I did was Google it. If it was a hoax, some kind of sick joke, someone would have spotted it and called it out–probably with a headline beginning with “Don’t Worry, Guys”–and it would be all right. The world would turn on as it should. There was no such headline, though, and no such person. “terry pratchett dead” only turned up more articles like the one I had just read, no one told me not to worry, and the world became a little darker. A cloud moved over the sun, and stayed. We will have to be content with less light now.

I did not gasp, or weep, or shake my fist at the sky. I looked at my partner across the room. “So…Terry Pratchett’s dead.” My mouth was dry. They made a little noise between a gasp and a cry. “Yeah,” I said. We sat in silence. There was nothing else to say. He has always said everything so well.

Later, when they left to run errands and I was alone in the apartment, I read more. I read the announcements coming in, the things people were saying about the man who had meant so much to all of us. And what they said–what I saw–were stories. They told stories. We…told stories. We repeated his words, the ones we had learned by heart, and we wrote our own. We wrote about Death, his own beloved anthropomorphic personification of our fears, and how he had come to Sir Terry Pratchett in his last hours. Speaking as he always had, in ALL CAPS WITH NO QUOTATION MARKS, Death had spoken to him, gently, respectfully. He greeted Death as an old friend, and they went together into the dark.

Then I allowed myself to cry–ugly, unpretentious sobs. No less than he deserved. Sir Pratchett told us–told me–that stories matter, and we believed him so entirely that we knew no other fitting way to say goodbye to him. We want to believe that Death really did come for him, his own Death that we have all secretly hoped will come for us when it’s our turn, and that the end was peaceful and dignified. We tell the story because stories are still our best way of making sense of the senseless. We tell it because we don’t know that it’s not true. We tell it because it is, because we tell it. He had been there for me–for us–when we most needed him, taken us by the hand when we were lost and told us that the story has rules, the story has strength, that the story will go on even when everything conspires to destroy it. That we are part of it, and you are part of it, and I. That we keep it alive in the telling. Even if everything is dark and terrible, even if we can’t see the good, it matters that we believe it exists. “It matters,” he told us, taking our shaking hands in his. “It matters.”

I’m crying now as I write this. It’s not enough. It’s not enough, and I never said thank you. I’ve said nothing about how his characters gave me things to aspire to, and to fear becoming. I’ve said nothing about the dry absurdity that made my mother laugh so hard on the bus through a dodgy part of town that she had to close the book in case someone sitting near her took offense. I cried, then I laughed at my cat, now I write and I cry again. When I know how, I’ll write him a story to say goodbye. I don’t know whether he would have approved, but I hope he would have. I don’t know whether he knew how much brighter our lives are because he lived, but I hope he did.

Pulse

last time it was like this I was twenty minutes late
last time reset the clock
I had to apologize
last time it was like this you forgave me
I don’t remember what I remember
the thud of my knees hitting the kitchen floor
the vice of your hand on my jaw
turning my head
someone sobbing stop, stop
or I was laughing
or the time I didn’t say anything not a damn thing I didn’t say a word
I came back wrong this time
I came back forgetting
just like last time
like the time before that
every time this sound
my blood runs through my veins
my blood breathes ragged
my blood rattles locked doors
my blood wants out

While you dream, I am walking a tightrope through the winter sky.
I look down,
and your breath still holds the night up. I look down,
and I fall.

Under the sun of some other faraway,
you smile in your sleep.
Forget me not, Spring-weaver.
Forget me not,
forever the best of me.

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