- Vol. 07
- Chapter 07
How often can you see the child –the young child, the baby even – and the older, steadied adult to-come, both at once, in the very same face? A short-lived, complicated tremulation between the more settled stages. Youth means someone is still growing. Against long-dead linwood they are still doing so much powerful growing. Soft, soft gentle growth becoming ever-coarser, bolder, out-reaching hair. Limbs. Glands. Open and flooded with liquid aspirations. A life is about to take on new colour.
(Adolesce was a back-formed verbbriefly prevalent in the early twentieth century. I would like to adolesce. But the verb seems not to have taken).
Sheltering in place has been hard on me, even in a city like Los Angeles, with its lush mixed foliage, impossible to control, and its almost painfully lucid wide western skies. It casts me back to childhood years of fear and yearning, when my sister and I were homeschooled after her first brain surgery when she was six. I remember the loss of her streaked hair, always partly tangled, was also a suspension of everything: our ability to play outside, or play together at all, how we imagined the future, how we saw ourselves.
I suffered from depression for so long it came as a shock when it lifted; that happened when I started to travel and felt—in spite of missed trains and missing hostels and thefts and endless cultural humiliations—bolstered by the world.
There was the world of languages. There was the world of men. There was the world of treasures, like the griffin from the Palace of King Darius I the Great, moved to the Louvre, a creature who emerges from faded blue and yellow bricks, dashes of light across its face from the windows looking out onto the Rue de Rivoli. A lion’s head and forelegs, the ears and body of a bull, two curved horns pointing in opposite directions. The hind legs of an eagle; massive, graceful wings. Feathers and their shadows. Curled tendrils of hair along its chest, and the culminating swirl of its slender tail.
There was the world of water, the urban world, the world of food: fragrant dill and fragile apples. Ginger root like a good witch’s gnarled hand. Freshly hunted mushrooms, pert or rubbery. There was the action of flicking my fingers over the ridges of flesh under their caps as I walked home from the market, the reaction of the shivers I always got.
What worlds there will be when this is over I don’t know. Like the child in the portrait, who also sits in Los Angeles now, I have taken to wearing amulets around my neck.
Lovingly they traced your face, remembering your days, after your death so early
your eyes, they knew –
your face, they knew, would speak across centuries and seas whisper on and on from Alexandria’s harbour Egypt in your youth, Egypt in my youth (were our hopes similar?)
young poet I studied then, young whole words, back-street words: fledgling-hopes, revolution-hopes, down the years ancient and fresh echoing from Alexandrian streets
dashed against the rock-black corniche
your smile, almost playful shadow of a grin face made up for death
face made up ready to party (that’s what your lips tell me)
in death our lives go on
The beauty of a mummy case, the soft contours of your body polished wood
cupping a history revolution-hopes remembering your days faces in a museum on the street
mirrored in your necklet
flesh in my dreaming beyond bodies
sister-brother, your face translates beauty
your smile knows itself your smile, sparkling gold and eyes we know in our memory-sleep
In the many nights
I spent with sacred texts
I never could forget
the charming taste of darkness
After years of training
To undock my future past
Echoes, lying, my breath
A special kind of sadness
You painter from afar
who seeks what I once saw
don’t turn your soul to stone
but live, and love, and mourn
It’s not this hairless head
Or my unsullied eyes
The truth is unforgiven
It’s pain, and fire, and lies.
Obituary image of you
clicked at table
while we guffawed—
almond eyes seeing
what we refused to see.
round your neck
a conversation piece—
almond eyes seeing
what we refused to see.
We agreed bald head
suited your erect carriage
and you guffawed—
almond eyes seeing
what we refused to see.
And your whites shone
like snow at kohl arrows
almond eyes seeing
what we refused to see.
Quarantine Day 52.
Julia decided she needed a haircut. Taking her father’s electric trimmer from the cupboard, she pressed the vibrating blades against her head.
The first clump of hair fell like autumn leaves, a delicate dance to the white basin beneath. Julia was horrified, but her father had taught her never to leave a job unfinished, so she committed to her task, repeating the gesture again and again, leaving only two small tufts at the top of her head, for comfort.
Resembling a round cactus, Julia decided as with all things in the past, she could not see behind her, so finding no need to contort herself in an attempt to trim the hair at the back of her head, she stopped.
What surface wears bare Mona face,
this Lisa prim, primitive grace –
wide orbit for mascara eyes
and almond shape of nutty paste?
Is this an ancient, classic screen,
papyrus rush or cardboard cream,
a misty brushstroke incomplete
or rusted by patina time?
Twin tufts, a hint of gorget bead,
dun, olive smudges, blotches tan,
complexion of the paint not skin,
apparent taint, shines flesh within.
Her sight controls from first account,
above flat zygomatic arch,
despite the chin drip, fuchsia mouth,
highlighted skin on cartilage.
So are we Greek, of Carthage root,
or Roman, hair-crown smoky blue?
No, Aztec, Quetzalcoatl queen?
What does it matter? Portrait sheen.
You are my past,
were someone else's future.
Your deep, wide eyes hold knowledge
I fear to gain. Give me heart to learn
your suffered experience, to hear clearly
your life's story. My woman's narrative
is nothing if you are erased, denied
by my closed ears. Without you
I will float, unmoored, downriver
be sucked into whirlpools.
Herstory, Ourstory will be
subverted by History
and I will lose you
time and time
He could be one of my sons, or a friend;
smudge of guy-liner, man-bun going on.
"Where’d you get that hair-cut man,
the place with the big window?
They saw you coming."
Picked up the necklace on his travels
blessed by this monk he met.
"It’s an amazing place and the people
are so friendly, I’m going back
when this is all over."
Did he travel too, hang out with friends,
did they laugh at his hairstyle, slap
him on the back and go out for beer?
The ancient Egyptians had beer
and friends and mothers
and plagues and death; just like us
except with added afterlife.
Through centuries, under times dust, all that remains now is your image.
A reflection of youth, forever frozen.
No words, no name, no history.
Nothing marked down to tell of your deeds, or dreams, or passing.
Just a fading portrait, where your life filled eyes stare out.
Yearning for your tale to be told.
At nineteen, our lives filled up small wooden dorms,
our digs a past convent, all stained glass of fishes,
and an old airy chapel where we did our stretches –
I don't know how much of my softness you saw.
We had pudding each night with thick custard or cream,
I'd sleep stuffed and angsty, then wake to loud squirrels.
I wore awkward blouses to candlelit dinners –
at your tie and blazer, I would burn up with need.
I'd written a story the previous summer:
two girls fall in love on the south coast of France.
The earnest narrator had my curls and inked hands
and sometimes I wondered if I could just become her.
Her lover, I gave olive skin and warm wit –
she was so much like you, who I hadn't found yet.
There have always been the dead.
Paleontologists still sift fragments,
find and catalogue bones from times
when memory was made of flesh
and withered even as the body
shed all but its mineral wealth.
Sepulchral rites, a portrait, a history,
confuse immortality and dust,
embalm the empty vessel,
exchange swirls of pigment for blood,
words for breath.
Bits of ourselves dance in the wind,
collect in the seams of the earth.
A child laughs, then turns to go.
between stars and earth,
skimming boy and man,
in a memory,
a chalk face
washed away by the rain.
a kindling murmur,
your spark is now
buried in ash
and your words
have thinned to smoke.
Seeds of thought
yet to shoot,
your frail roots
before the blush of blossom,
while the nubs of wings
banked your spine.
And so I will complete you:
with golden wishes,
polish your fragments
Read more >
Black pearl eyes look out onto the world
The canvas captures this early you.
Only twelve at the time,
I wish I could have told you then
that the good days will outweigh
the bad, but feeling shadow moments
will make you stronger.
On the day of the portrait,
an unsettled, can’t sit still feeling
fills the room.
Seeing the paints co-mingle on the palette,
in a sea of color spectrum swirls,
provides the comfort of things
that meld together and form something new.
I remember sinking into the chair
and feeling more at ease.
Each day we begin anew,
recreate the tender self,
move through the world
with a knowing sense
of how we fill space and time.
Leaves never grow on trees
This is one of the secrets that Max Ernst detained in his art
It reminds me, the secrets of Gino De Dominicis or
the lust lost boys lovers of Caravaggio.
Artists don't push boundaries,
They just step aside the world.
Appearances are just an appendix of the reality
What about the Ultra-reality?
Tu es le Héros Depravé
In planimetry techniques
Crux Tibi Lux Mea
Mio grande maestro ribelle
Artists don't push boundaries,
They open doors
in your mind
for letting us see that
Leaves never grow on trees.
She was no young Frida Kahlo,
Uni-browed painter and proletariat
Labeled surrealist by her peers
Even though she hated it.
Thought instead she painted truth.
More likely Etruscan maiden
Born of plenty in Umbrian hills
Where mirrors held spiritual secrets
Feasts flowed with wine and trill
While musicians picked their lutes.
Perhaps an image of classical Vegoia
Goddess of divination on high,
Predictions found in sheep entrails,
Or, patterns of birds in flight
As predictions, road maps, proof.
She wears a necklace, clasped with amulet,
Innocence emanates from hopeful eyes,
Oblivious to the final outcome,
Annihilation, that in her future lies.
Symbol of humanity and of youth.
A people whose only remnants now
Are faded paintings inside tombs.
Eternal houses carved in hillside rock.
Like Egyptian pyramid dwelling rooms.
Underworld. Ancient image. Black noose.
The children died quickly in the last plague.
All we had left of our son was the portrait
we’d commissioned before we buried him.
Those big eyes follow me around the room
as I sweep or prepare the evening meal.
They are not his eyes. They’re the ones
he has now, eyes that sweep across Elysium
or Heaven, depending on whether you ask me
or his father, who has taken up that newfangled
god incarnate. What I know is that our boy is
gone and nothing, no mere man on a cross,
resurrected or not, nor the old gods of my youth
can bring him back: I cannot speak his name, will
not unsettle the spirit behind those painted irises.
The slim, moonlight dappled cats slip like shadows through the darkness, about their secret business while the daylight world sleeps. Fat, old drop footed Taia in the kitchens throws things at them but the cats belong to Bastet; Taia has been in the family since she was my age, or even younger. Hard to believe she was ever a girl – a slave and daughter of slaves, but the cats are free and go where they will.
I watch them, wide awake and thinking about my future, the ink still drying on the marriage contract. My sisters tease me, saying that the Goddess of Beauty must have been looking the other way when she bestowed her blessings and why would anyone want to marry me? They have no more sense than the sacred temple geese that cackle and hiss with nothing important to say. I have met my intended only once before and he struck me as dull as floodwater mud – a pleasant enough smile and easy on the eye, but not much intelligence. Perhaps love will come later…once we get used to each other.
Rising from my couch, the fine linen gown whispers encouragement – a few dabs of myrrh, lily and cinnamon perfume from mother’s alabaster flask as I twist my hair back with a gold clasp and fasten her amulet around my neck. The rest of the household sleeps, cradled in the arms of Nut, Goddess of the Night Sky. Only the cats watch me slip out into the courtyard, relishing the warm, scented air. They go where they will and so do I, all thoughts of my wedding day forgotten. Hopefully, our married life will be long and happy but for now, I do not want to think of him. For now, the night is mine and that is enough.
It starts with the eyes because it always starts with the eyes. Where else is there to look that will give some hint of what lies within? What has happened to you? Where have you been? Where is life taking you? Where do you want it to take you? Where is the one calling to me? Are you that one?
And though I have said it before—that there is a difference between reading out of something and reading into something—in truth, I am still trying to figure out what it means, where that line is between what I want to be and what it is being presented to me. Because not every opportunity has been an opportunity to grow and learn. Sometimes I have settled for running away from my life, from the truth—and I have used eyes like yours to do it.
What is it that I feel justifies such cowardice? Only my own weak will to say what needs saying and do what needs doing. You have been one and then another and then the next one after…but you have never been for me.
These eyes of yours see out from the page, from the wall—even out from both nightmare and dream. But they never stop asking questions I cannot answer in the moment. It’s all so ingloriously confusing. And some might call it love while others call it lust. Still others would call it innocence yet maybe too indifference.
When should I stop reading what’s there, when should I stop asking if it’s me doing both the asking and the answering. But I could just ask, right? And what happens then but the next step in all this endless unfolding of the endless “now”—you speak and I must then reconcile what you say is so with what I perceive to be so. And then all those who came before you, they speak in that special language only experience tutors one in. And then, too, there is what I want to happen, what I want to be the truth.Read more >
Lately I’ve been thinking about portraits. The stillness demanded of us.
I have a friend who is taking photographic portraits from a distance. It is the necessary distance. She does not go closer; this is her approach. The faces are not as important as the pose, as the background, as the light. They are portraits that bear individual names, but they are not portraits of people; they are portraits of distance itself.
Where the photograph is simultaneity, the painting is duration. A record of looking, a tracing of time. No portrait can be serendipitous to be true.
The desired proximity. The full body? No, the face, close up. Feet can only take you so far, and what is a torso for but posture? Just the face, unfurrowed. Facial recognition technology of the ancients, innocent; a record of existence. A face whose name doesn’t matter. A face beyond reproach.
For a face beyond time, in time, a look—buried, a mummy beneath, a mother behind. A body, contained. A distillation of years—how many? Too many, or not enough? Time is both countable and uncountable.
Time is a kind of distance. They say we will be better, when the distance is bridged. When we can move, when we can see up close again. But the technology of seeing remains. The eyes of the portrait, unchanged.
Let me be alone for a second, without the absurd
of our century’s documentary noise—the real face
of chaos, without our millennium’s repeatable transfiguration—
the passion of chaos, let me see if I can get up, let me be a guide
of my aspirations, let me hear a song of solitude,
let me feel the language of my heartbeats, where you are
the cause of all the heartbeats, when you are the effect
of all life. I can understand people who don’t understand me,
but I cannot sympathize with those, or forgive, who can live
without silence. I’d like to share silence with you now, and its harmony—
the nature of floating silence. I think I understand you
and I am calling you, right now, after all these centuries,
after all their distance. I love our distance—I love its silence,
our silence is what our freedom is, our freedom is what our ideal is,
our ideal is what our life is, our life is what our heart is.
When they shaved your head, you cried.
They sent photos.
A circle of faces smiling down at your silent screaming.
I was too far away to hear you.
I had to settle for a screenful of tears.
Your beautiful mother, pearls dripping against the darkness of her hair
Holding you against the pink roses and gold thread of her blouse.
Your little moon face
Raised to the burning blue sky
As she tenderly cupped your chin.
Steadying your head for the stranger’s scissors.
It’s only hair, I think.
And I think of all the times I held the softness of your head
Under my palms.
Slumped against me, asleep on the sofa.
In the next photo, you are standing on your own two feet.
Your tears are gone under the sun.
One hand is raised to your head, fingers pressing into eggshell skin.
A vermillion swirl on your forehead.
Yours is the smallest, baldest head I have ever seen.
A jolt of alarm
Rush of grief for your curls.
But your eyes are the same.
And so is your little incredulous smile.
Clouded and lost
Tufts of hairs
Marked as sacrificials
The preparatory censer
Swung by the bearers
As the Shamans haul the igneous
Souls out from the burning coals
That mark patterns on the ceiling
Yet to be deciphered
A staff is hard pressed against the
Of the propitiatory offering to unimpressed Gods,
That leaves a ruddiness where the blood
Collects in a huddle
Making the flushed face all the more ashen
In comparison to the excitable look of the Gathering crowds
That await an answer from the macabre
Play of the elements
As the gold locket glints when the leaping
Flames come closer to her;
The one who in the past had mothered
These very folks
After the Crown had passed to her
From her husband's funeral pyre,
Though now it looks all muddled
As she grasps for her life
Clutching her dignity
Read more >
dark, dark eyes – my face rendered by the painter
shows me gazing down through the ages
seeing my bloodline continue
rape? or loving coupling?
woman birthing a child
pain, blood, fear
our destiny flowing through eons
earthquakes, tidal surges, wars
a child born with blue eyes!
father’s genes or mother’s genes – does it matter?
closer and closer to my face becoming yours
to your picture – skin so pale, covered with light brown spots
hair golden red and eyes that took the blue from the sky
my great, great, great, great, great
“I go like a god to meet my maker,
Horus-shaven – that’s a bold marker
of true devotion, designed to spark a
divine blessing. And if I’m no looker,
so much the better!”
“Lobe and lip and eyelash observed.
I note the subject’s clavus curved
around his young shoulder, his nerved
fervour that I’ve preserved – improved?
So much the better.”
“’Encaustic on linden wood.’ And under
his chin, an amulet; his gender
seems plain. Time has been tender
with this face. Were the gods yet kinder?
So much the better. . . .”
Brown eyes glare, fixate on walls
gaining renewed appreciation for
communal cobwebs & scientific
certainty of social justice between
eight legged architects, sticky silk
nets, now hosting mere exoskeletons.
From spiderweb construction sites,
Gretta glances though bay view
windows, noticing squirrels race
around her front porch & mud
swallows build nets under eves,
nature unhindered by quarantines.
Gretta’s black pearl choker highlights
her long neck, not kissed by outsiders
since lockdown began; long bangs now
cropped & shaved, shaped like postage
stamps; her thick, coarse bun emerging
from a smooth, shadowy, feminine skull.
Stark reflections today belie pure beauty
tomorrow; with or without the benefit of
artifice, she’ll mingle among the masses
mouth showing teeth, laughter replacing
pensive pondering, accepting a new normal,
anxiously waiting on Amazon to deliver earrings.
family files find fit to reveal
a non-amatory complaint
a chant beyond their ken
—my kin can't grasp that, alas,
no lass no lad no body
so though you may be keen to explain
to be one behind and active in campaigns
to caress the make, the rest of the clan
to unravel an analysis, a brotherly take
others still think otherwise
no less than wholly, no more than size
not led astray by words, deeds, or leads but
staid in their ways, with confidence of such
if gladly off the cuff while on the mark to find
threads of necessary needs, and mindful relations.
You will find in the halls of Hades a spring on the left,
and standing by it, a glowing white cypress tree;
— first two lines of the Petelia tablet, Orphic Inscription 3rd-2nd Century BC found in gold necklace, British Museum
I find a spring, if you can call it that,
A little clear rill, cold as new fallen snow.
The cypress, like a thick torch of wool fat
Burning in the cliff’s undercleft borrow.
I clutched my new-shorn hair,
My weeping mother above oh oiseau,
My little one.
But I wait here for the god,
The one who turned back,
Turning myself away
From no uncanny thing.
ΚΥΠΑΡΙΣΣΟΝ is only one of the names
I was given by men, catacombs and tumuli,
Pyres and coffins; they so easily disclaim
Mortal soil, as brief as droning honeybees.
This girl has luminous deep brown eyes, and bushy eyebrows, one thicker than the other. Her dark hair is tied tightly in a bun, showing off her dark complexion, and the black rope hanging from her neck dons a shiny square stone. Her raggedy white top gives off a reflection in the sunlight.
She reaches for me.
Her touch is illuminating.
Gradual. I remember the exact word the doctor used, mom pulling me tight against her as if to stop me from falling. Your hair loss will be gradual. But when I saw clumps in her hairbrush and handfuls on her pillow, I knew there’s nothing gradual about cancer. He said it over and over again: most side-effects will gradually disappear, and recovery is a gradual process, ‘why the hell did you wait so long’ lingering in the air.
Back home, she gave me the ‘don’t think of me as gone’ look, touching her hair, rage burning inside me, unpronounced, yet so very loud, then got undressed. Took dad’s electric shaver from the drawer, adjusted the motor speed for a powerful shave, and handed it to me, Let’s get it over with.
Fixed on her soft, smooth skin, my eyes didn’t see a gradual cell destruction or a breastless woman, but the beauty that still remains.
Once the illness was brought to their attention –
Once the illness was recognized as physical, not metaphysical –
No, that’s not right – 500 years further along.
No, that’s not right – the other way ‘round.
Once the waterwheel of the mind recognized the clouds passing overhead, the fragrance of baking bread –
Once the metaphysical illness was seen for what it was –
Once we convene about the progress of the illness –
Once we analyze the President’s address –
Once we read what the tax code says about capital gains –
Once we read what Jefferson thought of Native Americans –
Once DNA –
Once DNA elected to be at war with itself –
Once DNA devoted part of its strand to ruling the land –
Once we saw that wasn’t half the story –
Once we see this isn’t even half –
Once we notice how obvious it is that time travel will manifest as a phenomenon of the mind, at least at first, which might almost exactly coincide with the last, the great concurrence they’ll call it, a threshold we’re carried across –
Once that happens – Read more >
Oh child of my childhood, child I once was—
how fortuitous that you should arrive
at life’s doorstep three quarters of a century on
to remind me of who I once was before
I was swallowed up by the multitudes;
the layers, the divisions, the categories,
that designate my place among the wild
scramble, the experience of all living things.
Drinking you in now I see myself before
the rendition, innocence streaming from
my eyes, a tinge of fear for all to come,
You there, glowing among the choir, a boy
or a girl, with an uncertain voice, male or female,
treble tones unsure if the future would be
forever falsetto, or reach higher or lower,
with certainty for tenor or soprano.
I willingly volunteered to wear the many masks,
borrowed identities, worn to be loved, faces
of whim to fit in, to become who I or others thought
I should be, while you, forgotten, stayed steady
refusing modulation, the origin of concentric circles
at the center, branching out into a lifelong tree
of events that left me lost and humbled. Along the
way, somehow, we let go of one another’s hand.
They tried them all,
the amulets and potions
of their time and place.
Some worked for a time
but death overcame them
in the end
their ungodlike mortality.
They were buried like treasure
with their treasures
from this life
readied for the next,
living on only in memories
which faded like funeral flowers.
It was not enough.
So portraits were painted
on the bindings of mummies
or the wooden lids of coffins,
stone effigies were carved
for the rich and already godlike.
It’s democratised now.
Ceramic portraits carefully
incorporated into gravestones,
likenesses to be viewed
down the centuries,
glimpses of a life passed,
a brush with immortality.
For a change, this month, I’ve delivered my submission
in reverse, responded blind, pre-invitation. The words
came first, verse then vision. I wrote them down one
hour before I saw three [eyes] in the picture.
I left a gap between those brackets to fill in later, when
something said, in my head, that some odd detail in
May’s image would gift itself, for me to use, to complete
this the first inverse ekphrasis I’ve produced.
Have you ever heard the saying
that swans will sing when jackdaws
are silent? But their clatter continues,
a blatant pecking inside my head.
I hid all my glittering treasures before
their princess landed on the windowsill,
greedily eyeing my bejewelled
looking-glass. I left a dish of purest olive oil,
to lure and catch the avaricious bird
before she pecked the golden hair clip
and the rest of the feathery curls
from the shiny skin of my scalp.
David walked into the kitchen, put down his schoolbag with a thud and waited. When his father looked up, his head jerked back. An instant later he was on his feet and in front of David. They were almost the same height now, but not quite. The slap sent David reeling back against the bench. The cupboard handle left a bruise that lingered for weeks, transforming from purple to blue to green to yellow.
David bowed his face towards his chest to protect it, but he didn’t run or cry. His father grabbed at the tufts of hair sticking out in a tidy line down David’s scalp. The mohawk was just long enough to grasp tight despite the stickiness of the gel. He yanked David’s head back and spat in his face.
They both panted. Their eyes clinched coldly, David defiant, his father despising.
His father let go and walked over to a drawer. He took out the poultry shears. Roasts were special treats, and his father would carefully chop up the body. Drumsticks, breast, thigh, wings. If David got the wishbone he would suck it clean and slip it into his pocket when his father wasn’t looking. He kept the wishbones in his bedside cabinet, saving them up. One day his father had found them and thrown them out. “You’re disgusting!” he had yelled. As he chopped, the edges of the blades pinched at David’s hair. It fell in clumps onto the floor. Just a few clumps and then it was done. “Clean it up,” he commanded. Then he returned to the kitchen table and his paper.
David didn’t shave the jagged line down to be even with the stubble covering the rest of his head. He wore it proudly, as though it were even more punk than Sid Vicious. And when his hair had grown a little, he used his father’s electric razor to mow the sides, cultivating his mohawk like a delicate garden.Read more >
He had completed his pre-dawn ablutions
Dipped his frail, young body in the cold village pond
The daily routine over the years having inured him
Of sensations that come easy to a boy his age.
His dark round eyes had learnt to filter the filth
That his guru called all things sensuous.
That's the price you pay to be a seasoned sage.
"Sacrifice nether desires at the altar of devotion,"
He was taught by his teacher when he reached puberty.
"Let your mind be the receptacle of beauty,
Put the hunger in your eyes to divine rest
For a practising Rishi that is the course best."
He has stopped stealing cursory glances
At the milkman's pretty wife
Who comes to bathe the buffaloes
Each noon, a stick in her hand,
Her hair covered with the end of her wet saree.
Resting her tired soles on the boulder by the water's edge
Staring into the distance, at who knows what.
She talks to him sometimes with sisterly warmth
A sense of awe in her gaze at his stern aura,
So unlike a child on the verge of manhood.
He averts her gaze, looking down at his feet
Pressing his lips tight to mute his racing heartbeat.
They painted funeral portraits in some antique cultures and made statues, not afraid of a likeness that would tear them up. They didn’t want to forget, to consign their dearly beloveds to sanitized holes in the ground and best not thought of again because it’s upsetting and who wants to be upset? Grief was on-going in those days, a fact of life.
All old people died, many young ones and flocks of children and babies, but that doesn’t mean they got used to it. There are portraits of middle-aged couples, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians standing close, leaning into one another, a toddler with a kitten, a young boy with a dog, same as your neighbours, same smiling eyes, same sorrow.
We think they were inhuman, those ancients, that they spent all their time making human sacrifices, thrashing slaves, feeding Christians to lions, making talismans out of human body parts. Maybe they did do a bit of that, but who are we to cast stones? Remember genocides? They loved their children though, and their children loved their pets, just like ours. The ways of the heart don’t change with the passing of time, melting of glaciers, erosion of cliffs and so much water under bridges.
Maybe if we were to dig down deep, beneath the veneer of sleek sophistication and over-indulged wealth, beneath the layers of cosmeticked self-satisfaction, we might find the way to look at a child and see just a child, to see each small death as a reason for grieving, and in doing so, discover a smidgen of the humanity of those antique barbarians.
Child, we bear witness
To the canvas of your youth
Upon which your parents
Anointed their hopes
About which your parents
Hung their fears
Over which your parents
Layered protective prayers
Child, we see you
Gaze as open as a mirror is smooth
Untouched by Time
Who’s harsh tick would have carved out lines
Unblemished through Power
Who’s influence would have eroded your soul
So unprepared for Life
You could only be preserved in death
Once small and precious and warm
You are no longer remembered...
You are no more.
The earliest of all
the signs we left,
before even the knapped stones
the handprints and animals
on the deep cave walls,
were the bones
laid carefully to rest
that had been strewn with flowers
that bore traces yet
of precious red ochre
the only ones
who bury their dead with honor
and protect the relics
This mummy portrait
part of that long history
the sweet faced
wide eyed boy
remembered in his beloved
the way he dressed his hair
the garments and the ornaments
All say – here is one we loved
one who will be missed
one who was himself
distinct and unmistakable,
one of our own. Read more >
Every legend starts with a myth. Every
legend turns that myth into a map. But
not every legend trepans that map in, so it
becomes infused into every scale inch of them.
Should have known that when we saw
your eyes flecked with leopard spots.
Should have known that when you changed
your name to Humboldt, and got a sail
as your new choker, which would only
billow open when the destination was clear
and the adventure could not be put off any
longer. It’s not that we will not miss you.
It’s that we worry that the world will miss
you, and we don’t want to be reminded of
you by every jungle, volcano and river
named in your honour. Take this compass.
It will return the youth that never fitted you
like power, expanding frontiers now will.
If I could come back – resurrect, awaken, ring the bell
attached to my toe, peel back the oils and wraps,
look about my room of gold, silver, amethyst,
and attendants – I would tell you. Tell you it moves
swift like the Nile and without borders.
It doesn’t care if you are a handmaid or king,
it comes to kill. All the perfumes and pageantry
can’t erase the fever, the sores, the coughing.
And it comes on the talons of the Phoenix
time after time. And now is the time. Again.
Seek to tame the devil,
Shear his horns,
Cull his breed with a gelding knife
A mute enemy made servant
This was my mercy
Witness the marks, the scarred skull
The imprinted darkness
Reflected in that dead eye
That sly eye, mirrored by you
Your bastard secret
Unashamed your shame smiles
Curls the lip at my pride
Your passion made flesh
A cuckoo in the nest
To be disposed of – soon
No angel touched you, your fall
Pre-biblical, no cover story
To free you from your cross
Your penance, this portrait
Of an unwanted child
I bundle my smiles tender, forgotten bliss
Etched between my lids – I'm wondering
Who do you dandle when I'm gone,
Who do you deceive with love?
I have shaved for death – it is done.
I have swallowed the pain with cups
Upon cups of tears; you'd know this
If your hands were on the door,
If your heart had the fire that heaven
Was made from but you know nothing.
So let's remember her with silence,
Her bow lipped smile our only present.
I will not drown you here but further
Where the rapids of your nonchalance
Show teeth of rocks, you must fall
On your knees, weep, your eyes bleak –
You must miss her curved fingers
Holding your thumb with questions,
Her eyes lit with your drunken smile;
You must, you must.
The rains gossip on the window sill,
Stoppered dribbles of barely held words.
I listen to lovers quarrel & music
Almost sweet like bodies kept too long.
You step in time through the thin walls,
Your grief almost satisfying but
She is river deep black & fast between us
Read more >
Like mine your eyes do not see straight.
They wander inwardly.
But here we are. We’ll have to wait.
We’ll have to take what’s not so great
As what we hoped would be.
I tend to miss the crucial things
Like those who pass me by.
Forgive my failure to have seen
The spirit through your eyes.
In The Third Reich of Dreams Charlotte Beradt retells the testimony of Sophie Scholl’s cellmate, to whom Scholl recounted a dream she’d had the night before her execution. In her dream she is carrying a child in baptismal dress – Scholl herself was not yet twenty-two – when they come upon a precipice. She is able just to set the babe safely on the other side before falling into the depths. Scholl interprets the dream as an allegory for the sacrifice trailblazers make in service to the realization of their vision. Beradt compares this episode to the dreams of heroes in classical dramas, and footnotes with further examples from Madame Julien in the French Revolution, and Bismarck. She emphasizes its transcendent quality and the question of conscience with which she is preoccupied throughout the book. I am reminded of the visions of saints: Joan of Arc, teenaged martyr who at puberty began having visions that inspired her military campaigns which led to French victory and the end of the Hundred Years’ War; Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals who preached to birds – Sir Stanley Spencer’s humorous Saint Francis and the Birds, rejected by the Royal Academy in 1935, is among my very favorite paintings – and who is said to have received a vision on Mount La Verna followed by the stigmata from which he perished; and Boethius, Roman philosopher statesman who wrote his Consolation of Philosophy while under house arrest awaiting execution for treason. In his treatise Boethius describes how, in the throws of grief, he is writing melancholy verses when he is visited in his cell by Lady Philosophy, who consoles him. The book reports their dialogue on various topics including free will, morality, human nature, justice, fortune, and the life of the mind. This last, says Lady Philosophy, is the source of true happiness, since it frees us from the abuses of chance and injustice. I’ve spent some time in pursuit of the things of the mind. Lately my reading ranges across novels, dreams collected from citizens in Nazi Germany, allegories of social ills, essays on animal consciousness and, more and more, diaries and biographies of women’s lives. Read more >
After all we did.
Everything executed correctly,
the amulets obtained with diligence, with love
always with him, always.
We were not careless.
We listened, obeyed instructions
followed orders and advice.
Nothing was omitted, neglected.
Wait – you saw his hair? We shaved him,
offering praise to Isis. We placed our son
in the hands of her son.
And those robes? So fine,
the cloud-cotton of the great Nile.
We soft drape him, swaddle that flesh,
those bones, those eyes, that smile.
No expense spared – Jasmine,
Yet now, after all, his journey begins.
Fingers fumble as eyes close. No need to resist heavy lids.
Yours watch. Always.
Finger find key pads as light dims. No need to resist natural clocks.
Yours persist. Always.
Rotary phones, land lines, coiled cables, elastic black PVC cords.
Preserved in concrete buildings for futures
to query. Always.
What happens when the phone rings yet no one answers?
Do you watch me count –
first eight, then nine, then ten rings. Quietly. Always.
Upper and lower lips dance in unison as background
tunes stream. Sinatra. Frankie. Mercury. John.
Like old times. When I’d wait for your slipper
clothed soles – navy plaid base, woven fairy-tale pink
threads – frayed, no matter – to putter ten steps to the right,
plod eight steps down the hall,
then pounce – one, two, three – on the red lacquer phone.
Hello. Operator? Can you help me? Please.
Screwed tight – twist right, clockwise,
in four rounded corners – then lock.
Perched forever – under moonlight, music, and mind –
above the hallway half desk
and your yellow lined notepad – three by five.
Two Bic pens to the right, one black and one blue.
An always sharpened, never used No 2. To the right.
Preferences for indelible ink persist. Always.
A carved glass bowl of chocolate buds, wrapped in glimmered silver,
in the bottom right.
I see you as you were, as you are, as I’ve always hoped to be.
Etched in a mind that no longer thinks on its own. Read more >
Preparation for the session begins as the golden hour approaches. The light is perfect and I am anticipating a successful photo shoot. Today I won’t be painting your portrait but I will capture the moment through the lens. You arrive with a shy demure walk and we chat briefly about the session.
I try to make you feel comfortable but there is uneasiness about you that I can’t put my finger on. The evening light is perfect and you look stunning in that soft glow that highlights the right hand side of your beautiful face.
The camera is on and as I look through the lens I see a slight distraction in your right eye. What is distracting you at this time? Are you anxious? It's almost as if your mind is elsewhere.
Where are you, my Beautiful?
Is the hint of purple under your right eye, which you tried to disguise, telling me a story?
Are you seeing the “virus” in the atmosphere and feeling the fear that seems to be penetrating every pore and sapping all the joy and well-being from everyone you love?
I am feeling your pain and the lens is only highlighting the awfulness of the situation the world finds itself in.
small reverse place created magical confidence of high adult
shaved with golden pointed tool white narrow amulets
black lock of woven leather rare brush marks encaustic mantle
customary visible injury container in black resin
single wax eyelashes purple spells staining white wrappings
devotee of proper left & proper right goddess quickly finished
A found poem using words from the website entry for Mummy Portrait of Youth at the J Paul Getty Museum
Sometimes when I sleep, my mind turns over
And flips through yellow-stained pages of a past
Full of your beautiful eyes browsing my face.
I feel your stare and the world I found and lost in your eyes,
You were my anchor, my feet, my home in a sea of angst waves.
In my sleep, you are here still, in shaking weak arms,
You are here, your giggles bustling with joy my heart palpitates,
You are here, and it feels like nothing changed, no pain
No bruises to my heart, no sea of tears, no dark canvases,
You are here, and the rainbows are written when our hands interlock,
When I’m on your back, being carried, all is well.
But you are gone, time swallowed you away,
And I lost the world in your eyes, I lost the warmth,
The tenderness of your touch, the world of your love,
I’ve been left a shell of old memories, of distant songs
And echoes of your giggles that still ring in my ears.
I lost you, and I lost the world in your eyes.
Max Factor. This was how I was christened. I had been given a name. This became my name. I was me, Ms Factor, Ms M Factor. Cosmetically, I understood for the first time what it was to be called. Into that face I looked with huge almond eyes and the deep line of the eyebrow. Whilst posing for my portrait the artist left me with a scalped head except for two revealing tufts of black in the middle of my forehead. This was to be my significant feature with the black eyeliner, representing another meaning altogether. I appeared half complete, bejewelled neckwear and clothed in a cream tunic. Time, Ms Factor, said the artist, time is the essence.
When first you came I bundled you in blankets and wandered down to the wide shores of the river, its dark waters cooling and away from the dust that got under my eyelids.
You reached fat hands out towards the reeds, and in the wind they bowed for you. When you were still crawling I muttered spells under my breath as I stroked your curling hair. I wrapped you in incantations even as you grew strong, and wriggled free from my kisses. I imagined you slipping down side-streets in the dusk and asked the goddesses to be kind. Was there a debt to be paid? A child so singular, who could not be tamed.
When they told me you’d drowned I did not howl like the other noblewomen. I found that I joined you underwater, sounds and lights muffled, limbs adrift. There were people to sort out the particulars. The wine served at the ceremony, which of your finest gowns to adorn your flesh as you travelled away from me forever. I did not bleat a single order. When I opened my mouth, it filled with river-water.
The day came and they paraded you through the sunbaked streets. The wind whipped up dust, swirling in my skirts and settling on my damp skin. They showed me the painting, waiting for the motherly weeping. I cared for it as I care for the stones underfoot, the coin in my purse. Cold, insignificant things. What I would do for your laughing face etched into the living palms of my hands. Your eyes shining eternally, your soul whispering to mine throughout the ages. What I would give for you to know my love will not cease for a thousand years.
brings elements of surprise
as the spirit shines through
you must always be who you are
a version of truth in the eyes
at a depth unfathomable
even more than a millennium after the face
holds its own authenticity
embellished only by its own disguise
tufts of hair only false eyes
equidistant from full lips that never kissed
cannot disguise sadness
even from this distance
where the human still survives
the art is complete
This is what you get for chewing gum in bed
he yelled while frantically searching for the scissors
Fortunately for my ears he couldn't navigate
the kitchen drawers after drinking his breakfast
and his lunch
So he settled for the electric shears
still painful, drawing blood and scratching
but less likely to remove an appendage
or require another trip to the emergency room
Too tired of this to be scared anymore
I know Mom is no help, she never is
Been passed out on the couch since
God knows when.
Silently I let him remove my hair,
hoping not to provoke him
at least not more than usual
I avoid eye contact, but don't conspicuously shy from his gaze
Tomorrow, tomorrow will be a better day.
Into these liquid eyes rivers of light
once carried oarsmen on gilded barges,
kings processing down rush lined waterways
masons toiling with mallet and chisel,
peacocks fattening in palace courtyards.
So much, so much, and more - but wait: for now
my woman comes with clean tunics and balms
to moisten my skin. For I am precious.
Why else would my image have been captured?
I couldn’t know such painting would fix me
in limbo, as a conduit for light
to flow through my wide brown eyes into yours.
My secret artist resides in heaven.
Still, I have time and my balm. I can wait.
The wig-maker has run out of hair. His suppliers have dried up due to unprecedented circumstances. He trims a coal black lock from a wig ordered by a sultan, awaiting collection in person. That could be a long time. The sultan won’t notice. The wig-maker has to decide what best to do with the small patch of hair in his palm when a whole head requires covering. He decides on two small horns at the top of the forehead. A channel to other species who graze in fields and recline in rivers, oblivious. The rest he assembles in the nape of the crown in a tumbled bun suggesting abundant tresses above. He studies his polystyrene manikin. The bare skull between horns and bun can be easily covered with a decorative headscarf.
There are no more orders. Orders have dried up due to unprecedented circumstances. Still, he places another dummy on his work bench. What kind of wig to make when there is no hair and there are no orders? He gets out his sharpest scissors, chops off his own hair and uses it to make a wig for himself. Then he turns to his wife and children.
When the wig shop re-opens, customers will find the wig-maker and his family recognisable but newly aligned.
I know those eyes. Heavy lidded kajol framed & smudged into a brown-black deep. Strong eyebrows sweeping across bone. Those eyes could be my mother’s eyes; they could be my own. Map a person’s face. How our faces suggest many continents and eras and yet how we cling to a fixed time and place. Limited to the scope of our life. This girl’s face has occasioned a portrait. Has she just become a woman, undergone a rite of passage? This time in her life marked with paint by an unnamed portrait artist.
I close my own heavy-lidded eyes. I see this girl-woman squatting on the ground a rock in her hand, drawing in dirt. Behind her a village. A woman, one of her mothers, carrying a vessel of water on her head. The village is the color of the girl-woman’s dress, the girl-woman’s dress is the color of the village. Shades of brown. Those who belong to a place inhabit the place in their skin and clothes. Other kids, her own siblings, are playing in the village but she chooses to draw in dirt. The only time she can be alone. I see her so clearly, the girl-woman carrying a baby half her size into the kitchen, longing to return to her drawing.
I see this scene so clearly because I have seen scenes like this before. In a film I can't recall: a girl carrying a child too large for her to carry into a dimly lit kitchen.
I’ve decided this child is a girl-woman instead of a boy, because I see the necklace and amulet, I see the gold fleck of jewelry in their hair and I decide, girl.
I see long eyelashes and kajol rimmed eyes, I see my mother eyes and my own and I think girl-woman. But this child could be a boy, a boy-man.
I’ve decided she’s lonely because I recall my own girlhood loneliness.Read more >
What can be imprinted on the back of eyelids?
The rise of civilisations?
The fall of empires?
Or nothing of such interest?
Nothing that will be written about, nothing forged from grandeur.
The manifestation of normality within an epic,
no thought of odyssey or pilgrimage.
To stare into the reflection of these eyes, is to glare at a time that does not exist.
There are no gods here anymore,
just ashes upon dust upon dirt.
Life used to be absorbed through these dulled irises,
an unknown existence like yours or mine.
No tombs to preserve, just the wind to carry their stories,
in the very same way that it carries the sand over dunes.
The gods did not build the pyramids,
it was you and I,
them and us.
This is my barcode
it was always predicted,
in the wild apocalyptic ravings of prophets
my dad was one of those
he said I would be bought and sold many times
because nobody would want me for very long
my eyes could curdle milk he said
I put my barcode on the counter to be scanned
shopkeepers give me stuff
my credit is good – look I even have
a scrap of gold strung from my neck
and another in my hair
these are surplus decoration
given me by those who have used me
to get their shopping
because they haven't got their barcodes yet
and gold is useless against food
People are afraid of me
because of what grows there
stamped on my forehead
but I am the future
even though I look like
a picture of mosaic
risen from the shattered past.
O father! What came over you that night
that fateful night!
when you slipped away quietly to lead an ascetic life
did my mother's youthful allure
not make you hesitate
was my cherubic smile
not enough for you to stay back
why were those questions so important
that forsaking us became necessary
that wisdom you gained after renouncing the world
mother and I paid a heavy price for it.
These child-men always touch me most,
My heart lays open, cut deep with pain,
In my life, countless numbers I have painted,
Rendered the likeness of men and women,
But children, these child-men, their sister kin
Always, they break my heart,
I shape and smooth sweet linden,
In which love and wisdom reside,
Grind pigments from stone to powder
Heat hard wax fluid, mixing fast, painting swiftly
Firmly, taking care to burn, this child-man,
Into a form that best represents his brief life,
Lived in dedication of Isis, honouring her son,
Newly come to manhood, a fine wound clavus
Lifts him, as the pallium stoops, his left side down
Weighted, the responsibilities of his life now temple bound,
A face in repose, large eyes wide open, drink in the world,
As I craft my art, in close watch, these things I see,
His lips upturn, as he gently smiles at death,
A love of life I best express, by glinting playfully his eyes
Engaging, he looked forward, planned ahead,
Saw not, yet accepted, welcomed in, that coming of his end,
And so to honour him, I fill his face full bright with life,
Filled by love, by joy, smiling peacefully at life yet to live,
Contemplate his sarcophagus, a memento mori,
Speaks to the future, a reminder: let not one day drift by.
Living in a hip and historic, geographically isolated small town in the Pacific Northwest is a unique experience, and even more so on an eerily quiet Sunday, as the mandatory COVID-19 stay home order nears its sixth week. Lockdown blues? Not a chance, up in my river view perch in Astoria.
A portrait of a young girl takes me back to Recoleta Cemetery, where Argentina’s wealthy and powerful rest in style. On a beautiful sunny morning in Buenos Aires, City of Fresh Air, I spent hours strolling in an eerie labyrinth of statues, coffins, sarcophagi, and crypts, rich in a variety of architectural styles, when I stumbled upon the tomb of Rufina Cambacérès.
The beautiful socialite daughter of a well-known writer and an Austrian actress was mistakenly buried alive on her 19th birthday. According to some accounts, Rufina was in her bedroom dressing for an evening concert at the Teatro Colón, when her best friend confided that Rufina’s boyfriend was her mother’s secret lover. It’s a tragic story of love and betrayal that led to Rufina’s having a fatal cataleptic attack and her premature burial.
A few days after the burial the cemetery caretakers reported the coffin had moved. When the family opened the coffin, Rufina’s face was covered with scratches and bruises in a desperate attempt to escape.
German artist Rich Aigner was commissioned by Rufina’s mother to build the marble art nouveau tomb with exquisitely sculpted orchids and a soulful statue of the young girl opening the door to the crypt. Her grave and tragic love story attacts thousands of visitors, some leaving flowers. I was told some people report seeing a young woman wandering near La Recoleta at night. Is the mysterious woman in white Rufina Cambacérès? Nobody knows for sure.Read more >
you can begin to carve it out of me:
I am rendered a scuff.
the big eyes canvas a plan to carry on
but they only mottle and rattle blankly
with my goatskin and rag cheeks
I gum my tubes together as they swell purple
I plug my guts as their sweat dries
I weld my mouth into a pin
I sear the crown of my head
my pig-tongue lashes gulp
my vulva squeaks
my ptosis warbles
my ears twitch their wonky symmetry
I am tunic’d, scratched, ossifying potentialities
their legs splayed for entombing
I shave them gone from the root
my cold follicles carry the rough dune
the soft tufts gnarl in between
I look into me and curl foetal
I sit tight and compress
my whole edifice shatters
the big eyes falter
they beg questions:
what else can I skin
what else can I bury
what else can I end
In the field where the
Mona Lisa’s face has aged.
She has wrapped her head
In golden pollen
Left over from last year and
Adopted Spanish blood
To smooth the wrinkles from her cheeks.
In the field were the
Mona Lisa’s colors have changed.
She has woven a dress
Blessed with tears and
The milk of Egyptians
Donned memory of her ghost daughter
To renew the smile on her face.
In the field where the
Mona Lisa’s spirit fades.
She has wrapped herself
In canvas and
Flown back to her gilded frame.
Horns, they said. You’re growing horns.
First they shaved me. You have a good-shaped head, they told me—not every acolyte looks so pretty and so bright eyed. They tied charms in the love-lock they left for fortune, and to use as a rope to anchor me if I tried to stray. After they had washed my scalp clean of fuzz they oiled and perfumed my breasts and shoulders, dressed me in gold finespun, made me stand before them for inspection. That was when they decided that the horns should go. Poor horns—they were barely formed: stubby, fresh young growth—I was only just coming into my new stage, after all. I hadn’t yet found my true self. These little lumps were an augur of the change that was building within me, cell by dividing cell. I was still damp and ruffled like a fledgling’s pinfeathers; I was at the point were I was all things at once—furred and feathered and hairless, bird and animal, fire and air.
Did they think that by taking my horns that they would tame me, take from me my many possibilities? I was still a wild thing, but even I knew to hold my tongue, to wear the scars silently, to wait for new growth. To wait for my moment to emerge, to reveal myself.
To show my true glory.
When I saw myself
with one sharply focused eye
the other dull, turned away
from what he wanted
his brush working
over my glistening scalp
when I saw this
I asked why his people
came with their investigations
their interest towards our kind
when I asked this
he rasped his pale moustache
the interpreter mumbled
about my beauty, my necklace
with the golden clasp
I asked again
this time about the land
my father said they took
our old men corralled
into the forest clearing
the interpreter said again
how grateful I was for this care
how I would sit again
in the White Master’s tent
She sits and watches
She has learned to stop attending to the world
It does not attend to her
She is, at best, an inconvenience.
Like so many before her,
She has learned the intelligence of stupidity
The beauty of plainness
And the screams of silence
You may paint her
But you may not see her
She will make sure of that
Ask no questions
Fear no replies
For she does not belong
Who am I, really? Who am I looking at? Who shaved my hair off? Who painted my face? Who drew the kohl around my eyes? Who put the necklace round my neck? Who called my name? Who kissed my lips? Who took my clothes off? Who made me a woman?
I've been here for a long time, searching with my eyes for all the answers. So, let me repeat:
Who are you, really? Who are you looking at? Who shaved your hair off? Who painted your face? Who drew the kohl around your eyes? Who put the necklace round your neck? Who called your name? Who kissed your lips? Who took your clothes off? Who made you a woman?
It could be a picture. It could also be a mirror. Those eyes, those eyes, they could only belong to one person. Who?
My mother feeds me scraps of stories from her first honeymoon like sliced meats. The saltiness of the sea water in her mouth, the flesh of the hotelier’s jowls quivering at the reception.
I ask her about the sandals on her feet, the way the dress was tied at the back of her neck. Double knot? Bow? I want her to describe in detail the jasmine in the air, the light falling on polished tile. The face of the child who took her bags to her room. The moment he turned and she noticed his lashes, the way they grew so thickly that it looked as if he had applied little-boy mascara. The trinket she bought from a street vendor. The bonfire on the beach at night.
Under the smoke, there is a man, I know, with hands wrapped around her ankles. I do not ask about this first husband, but insist, again and again, that she tells me of the time on that trip that she buried someone up to his neck in the sand. Stop there, I hold up my hand every time she gets to the moment when the tide begins to rise. I savor the pause, lick my lips, feel the little tongues of water creep, creep.
This feeling of dread, these are supposed to be times excitement and celebrations.
All to be suddenly taken away, like a rug ripped out under our feet.
Will this scar me, or make me stronger?
Just the not knowing causes this vicious cycle to seem never ending.
Being alive should be a sliver of hope, but yet it seems like just existing.
Hopefully, this, will be just yet another test, and this page will soon be turned.
I’m ready for my new chapter.
'Image by unknown artist':-
Could you be unattributed
Goya, Picasso, Dali; a copy
By an admirer/understudy?
World weary right eye,
More optimistic left eye;
Heart shaped visage,
Neat nose and ear lobes –
Half smile or wry grimace?
Why two black marks
By hair scalp? Curious!
Gold addition of value
To modest dress outfit.
Finished face/half done
Appearance of surrounds,
'Dirty protest' of rough
Paint splatters and strokes;
All in all, an enigma.
And so, at last, the day has come
I stand before the temple
With my father and with my mum
The temple of Isis, the second born
Who gathered up mutilated Osiris
And resurrected him to life
Isis, who bore and suckled
Horus, Hawk of Light
The conqueror of Set
Isis, Queen of Heaven
Mother to us all
Who guides us to paradise
Today, I become yours
Mother, father a final hug
See the priests call to me
I step forward
No next to which this builds, no twist.
No thereafter in the here and now.
No outgrowing this. No embarrassment
at what endeared you to your mother.
And later, no shame
for being ashamed. No timelessness
as cultivated trait. Nothing hard won. No daylight
opening to make a then from now. No place
for godless wonder. No commemoration
for your prize collection: scarab shell, insect wing, a fail-safe
hiding place. No first love to change these things
to metaphors. No tremble that isn't animal, that doesn't
fit the palm. No heart that isn't heart, no nothing that can't be
dissected in the grass. No jurisdiction beyond a garden.
No weapon that isn't wooden. No command.
No conquest of the father, and no fathering. No dawning
body, no issuing like a smoke plume from yourself.
No fickle trying on of masks. No first love
to pull from underneath the nail your whole
life. No echoes later. No leaving this as origin story.
No choice of what to leave behind.
No squirming under the painter's eye,
no outrunning the setting down.
No answering back. No ha-ha. No cloth
pulled from beneath a meal that doesn't leave
each thing smashed across the floor while guests
scramble under tables
for the disappearing foot. No finding you
in cupboards, caves, and forests – Read more >
A dusting of dark at the top lip
the first down of his manhood;
his smooth skin still a child’s.
Capture his liveness now as babies soon perish;
this clear-eyed boy thrives, his eyes wide
open on a white gold world.
Fringed in fine lashes and finery burnished;
tribute to Isis, pure from head to toe,
peeps from under her guardian wing.
I, his mother, dare to paint him for her –
his scalp unscarred, his mind still clean –
and offer my boy, whisper my prayer
to deliver him safe to posterity,
as an amulet for the people
in all his gleaming beauty.
We have found ourselves having fun with hair. This was borne of necessity. We had both needed haircuts when the whole thing began, and it wasn’t long before we started playing barber.
We began with a scissors to get the hair out of our eyes. Then you slipped on my fringe. The lopsided cut made us laugh and laugh. I did the same to you and we could hardly breathe; it was the most hilarious thing.
That was us for a few days. If people noticed on the video calls, they didn’t say.
My hair was tickling my ears, itching to be cropped up a few notches. The scissors beckoned. You were happy to oblige and I returned the favour. Your hair that had seemed silky was like bristles cut short. I liked it.
The next day, there were fixes to be done. You have to see how it sits for a while before you can even it out.
At the same time that I was learning about your hair, I was learning about your body. There were things you liked that I hadn’t known about.
When you introduced clippers to the bedroom, I understood immediately. We said, let’s go slow. When you began to shear, I shivered all over.
Again, I returned the favour. We agreed it was the best we’d ever had.
We were hooked. However, it soon became apparent that we were working with a finite resource. We were grateful to everyone on the video calls for pointing this out.
So, we started rationing: starting at the crown with a tightly cropped tonsure and radiating outwards each night. Controlling ourselves, when we could.Read more >
The room is cold. It’s half open, exposed to the winter sky, gaps where there should be walls. For the light, the artist tells her. It’s a studio, he mutters, my studio. She’s never seen anything like it and her eyes roam the cluttered room, sorry, studio, while she shivers in the breeze. Stop looking away, he growls from behind the frame where he stands with his boards and paint, half hidden. He shouts – look at me!
She flinches and tries to look at him, but it is all so strange to her. He lowers his voice, tries to sooth her, to convince her to stay still, to focus on him so he can finish this commission. He suggests that she imagine she's a lady, in her finest gown, reclining in a courtyard. She thinks, a lady, yes, I can imagine that. She feels the weight of the gold at her neck, resting at the base of her throat. Gold! She wants to reach up, stroke the smooth metal with her rough fingers, but dares not move.
The artist found her in the market. She was calling out the price of the flat breads in her basket and he decided that she would do. A close enough likeness to the dead lady. A baker’s slave will be a lady for a day, he said. He ordered her to follow him. Only if you buy all my bread, she replied.
So here she is. Her hair combed, twisted and pinned. Eyes painted with kohl. Lips rouged with pigment from the artist’s palette. A gown of fine-spun cloth draped over her shoulders. If her mistress could see her now, she thinks, gold at her throat. Gold in her hair. Gold!
Imagine you’re a lady and these fine things belong to you, he repeats. The slave girl smiles. Yes, she can imagine such a thing. She can. The artist looks up from behind his board. No smiling, he growls, the dead don't smile. She imagines reclining in a courtyard, in her finest gown. Yes, she could be a lady. She bites her cheek. Feels the heavy necklace at her throat. He shouts – stop smiling!
You are different, of course, yet something in your eyes reminds me of the children I saw in the museum. Perhaps it is the charm around your neck, put there to ward off unseen dangers, perhaps the hint of gold still clinging to your hair. Perhaps it is simply the sense that you are looking at me across the bridge of ages, from a world that I can only fail to comprehend.
There are three of them there in that museum, in a small town of cobbled streets set high on windswept plains. The churches there are bright, extraordinary; dashes of lavish colour built to taunt the sky. The main square is lined with colonnades and scattered with pigeons, whitewashed cabildo perched on its southern edge. The sun is hot, air noticeably thinner, the dust that spreads away from the town a deep, throaty red.
The children are there in that town, that museum, hunched in the same positions as centuries ago. Only one is on display at a time for the visitors, safe behind walls of smoke-coloured glass. They take it in turns to entertain the hushed tourists, showing off their smooth cheeks and wide-set eyes, beads and braids and skin as tough as leather, little limbs ossified like coral strands. Their clothing is warm and built to withstand the weather: woven shawls and fur-lined boots. Each is different yet disconcertingly familiar, radiating an uneasy sense of peace, as though death is something they have merely slumped into.
I know – because the display boards told me – that they were drugged before it happened, homebrewed alcohol curdling in their veins. They weren’t awake in the moment they were buried, placed cross-legged into shallow graves, heaped with stones and sand and soil and prayers intended to bring health or rain. Read more >
This bay where they brought me
was blessed by time they said –
the sunlit centre of the world.
Light sparkled on the surface.
I looked down. It caught my right eye,
held it there –
the water surface chopped with blue and green.
If this was heaven –
this scattering of light-seeds
I had seen – then it was linked
to a different shaft of light
that travelled upwards,
reflected in my left eye.
I think they made me queen
because they saw the motion
of the twin trajectories of light,
the spindle of our world and
embodiment of all men’s prayers –
marriage of earth and heaven –
in my sight.
She’d a face like a buttered cracker,
unevenly brown, dimpled and tasty
in a salty way
with eyes like two black olives on
delicately piped icing.
The band I bought bore the house emblem,
and draped elegantly about the flawless cocoa
which formed her neck and seemed to pour
over her shoulders.
She wore her hair in a traditional manner,
which the women of the house
sought to emulate – in part.
None were so adventurous as to shave the crown,
leaving only two small square-ish patches
aligned with nostrils
above lips which had earned her the run of the villa.
The fresco artisan unveiled the imperfect reproduction.
Vesuvius out-shouted me,
its scalding rage dwarfing
any I might have conjured.
Listen to the ambulance as it speeds down
the street to the hospital six blocks away,
siren gasping for air as the passenger.
Wild honeysuckle does not know it should wear
a mask, clothesline long gone because of the stain
of blossoms yellow and pink on white tee shirts.
Ash and mulberry overarch to where Concord
grapes once grew on the arbor, where the shirts
now hang to be bleached by the high desert sun.
Does nothing know it should hold its breath?
How do the boy’s eyes render me hopeful
in beeswax burned in wood?
How am I grateful for the bloom of spurge
that can make a cow sick enough to drop
to its knees on the way to the river?
Thick black curls falling
to the floor; I watch
the pile grow, throat
I think of saying, 'Stop.'
'I've changed my mind.'
Eventually the girl
in the mirror is exactly
as I wished: two squares
marking her hairline,
a tuft of curls at the back,
Her eyes watch me
in the glass, rimmed
with kohl and larger
somehow. Her eyes say:
what have you done?
Silently I reassure her:
you'll see. This is who
you wanted to be.
Under my palm
my skull is soft and close,
raw skin of a newborn
I see your numinous body
alone as a snow-capped mountain
far off in an endless horizon.
Swim through the air
where silence reigns
like a fish under water.
You don’t need a voice
or have to have to hide
to win a place in the
cacophony of the future.
Move closer to me, and
I will keep writing to you
long after I am gone.
My name is Aahmer, but my friends call me Osiris. I am a child of the moon. I dream of the future. I think about the future. How long will it last? Will I and my family be forgotten? Will our names live on? My great uncle, my grand-father’s brother, was indeed great. Surely his legacy, his achievements, will last and last. He was King Djoser, and it was to honour his memory that the earliest pyramid was built at Saqqara. I am proud to belong to his family. An artist in the Court painted my portrait last week to celebrate my birthday. But how long will the painting last? One moon, one hundred moons, three thousand moons? If you see it, think of me. I sat still for many hours as the pigments were ground. My head was shaved in the manner appropriate for a member of such an exalted family. I was dressed in my finest clothes.
I believe in the future. I dream that one day, when the moon is full, someone, somewhere, will look at my portrait and say ‘Look at this girl. Is she not beautiful?’
In an affront to tradition, the prince chose the woman he would marry from a selection of portraits sent into the palace. His advisors begged him to consult a matchmaker instead, but the prince was mulish in his stubbornness.
‘But what if the images are falsified, Your Highness?’
‘If the one I choose bears no resemblance to her portrait, she will be burned to death.'
Not a week later, the prince waited in the lavishly decorated throne room, salivating as the smoky scent of roasted meat floated in from the banquet hall next door. He displayed no emotion as his bride stumbled towards the throne, her thick eyelashes spidery with tears, a cloth doll clutched in her tiny balled fist.
Living a customary society as I do, I ask myself where the deepest pleasure is to be obtained – modern or the traditional existence. I am readily a victim of deriding by the modern urban trends, who fall short in understanding the psyche behind culture and traditions we are bound to oblige in a traditional culture like myself, unlike the metropolitan fellow being. They would readily ruffle my rustic peace and belief systems with reverberations of the world. If other country folks meet me in person, they would probably ask me if I have seen this or known this music, or play or pictures, I would probably be obliged to reply dwelling in deep thoughts, appearing as a boor to people. The episode leaving me distorted from my centre. My centre of peace, closing me down with an insinuating sense of superiority level, a tingling sensation of dominance over my existence. As the westerns continue to live power and isolated society; disconnected and agitated, I continue to live in my world. Perhaps I should not let myself be concerned about notions and interests of the world and focus on the deep source of content my soil brings me with evidence of a determination to live and experience life’s fullest.
The shaven headed girl
And the long haired boy
Best friends for a year
He sits by the fire telling of their childhood adventures
While the new generation of children sit and listen
“But what happened, Grandpa?”
“Why didn’t you marry?”
“Maybe they did.”
“They couldn’t have.”
“Where is she now?”
“Does Granny know her?”
Grandpa Elijah lights this pipe and sits back in his rocking chair
He pulls out a golden ingot
Inscribed with hieroglyphs
“Some stories will never be told…”
My dear boy.
I cannot feel. Without your doughy warm skin to hold close against mine, where is the incentive.
I cannot move. Without you to chase and toss gleefully in the air, what is the reason.
I cannot laugh. Without your irresistible giggling to spur me on, where is the purpose.
I cannot sing. Without your whimsy and melodious presence, what is the point.
I cannot breathe. Without your joyful life spring, where is the source.
I cannot live. Without you, what is the meaning.
I can see.
I can see the hope in your history,
Limpid, liquid eyes
Luxuriantly framed by your silken youth.
Childish innocence gazes at me
From your captured past.
Your hope for happiness
Plays gently at your lips.
Hope is a future.
Hope is our shared future.
What was your future,
Sweet, handsome boy?
Could you see what lay ahead?
Or did you just hope?
He stared at the picture and the picture stared at him.
He thought about what she was thinking:
She was daydreaming, her right eye wandering off into the distance, losing her focus.
She had regrets, her haircut, bald but for a bun at the back and the two little bits at the front; what had she been thinking?
She was tired, bags under her eyes, her lips pursed, trying to look awake, she hadn't got enough sleep the night before.
He wondered what her life had been like at that time. He looked at her, she looked at him.
He thought she might be wondering what his life was like.
He liked this painting.
I just can’t go back to school like this. I just can’t. I’ll be crucified by everyone. This hair experiment just did not go as planned. Short feminine pixie look was the plan. Victim of a terrible head trauma was the result. I want to die. Skipping school is not an option. I have no option. Only despair at the situation and my lack of foresight.
I’ll be the laughing stock for weeks. Maryam and Co. will seize the opportunity to despise me even more. Maryam loathes my lack of conformity. I don’t toe the line and she doesn’t know a world beyond the line. Luke and his two numb-nut sidekicks will find as many new insults that their monosyllabic vocabulary can muster. Miss Jarvis and Mr Reed will undoubtedly enjoy the fodder I present to them. They are the worst of all the bullies. Using me as the butt when the day in class is slow.
I think long and hard about my predicament. I conclude they are far more fragile me. I am the one that feeds their egos. I give them the opportunity to believe they are smarter, wittier, and prettier. I elevate their pecking order. I have withstood them and return for more on a daily. I suffer these bullies for their sake not mine. They are weak. They are fragile and cheap.
My fortitude grows as I look in the mirror. I feel power and defiance as I take off the t-shirt. I put on the retro tea-dress, the hobnail boots and add a ribbon festooned with flowers to my head.
Flowers and colours and abstract prints. And a badly shaved head.
I stare at myself in the mirror. My eyes igniting the fire in my belly.
You’ve got this.
If you lean forwards your eyes look bigger
Tilt back and it’s your lips
Find the light
That will shrink your nose, your pores, your
Focus your eyes behind the lens
and stick your tongue to the roof of your mouth
and then a filter
A moment of hesitation – Post
a jolt in your stomach
just below that bit of tummy
that just won’t budge
no matter how many sit ups you do
Scroll back through the camera roll
Delete the embarrassment of trying too hard
A look to camera
and back again
Maybe one day
you’ll capture yourself
to be outlived in galleries
And truly considered
She is an anthology of old Indian tales, the kind of tales they agree with.
She can’t utter words though. With big round eyes, she is allowed to be looked at; she can’t see though. With a battered soul quivering inside of her, she’s as still as a dusty painting hung on a wall in some indifferent room of a fort in Jaipur. She has holes carved out on her forehead to hang a board which says ‘Taken’; like those in front of public monuments, government heritage sites and ancient exotic buildings, ‘Do not harm! National Heritage. Please do not take pictures.’
Her hair did not fall off suddenly. It was cut because her husband died of fever. Her ears have holes but are bare, so is her nose. Her clothes are pale like her husband’s corpse. She has a black thread stuck to her throat to pull her voice in if it tries to spill out of her eyes.
Her eyes still speak of apathy and agony while she laments over the dreams that died. A white cloth wraps her like bare walls without a roof. Her walls are bare just like her eyes. She cannot write a word.
Stick a road-map of culture on her forehead, the kind of culture they approve of. She can scratch it every time it itches, but she’ll have holes carved right there; shallow and empty, just like her almond eyes.
A moving ghost that we can’t see
Has stained our world with death.
It roams around perfectly free,
While I run out of breath.
The stains cannot be taken out,
the ink is in too deep.
Voices break into screams and shouts,
For those they could not keep.
A moving ghost that we can’t see
Has stained our world with fear.
They try to catch it as it flees,
I know my end is near.
A modern form of hell is made,
where we are never free.
The ghost lives in a lifeless shade,
its right here next to me.
A moving ghost that we can’t see
Has stained our world with strain.
Many trying to find the key
to break its unseen chain.
And when they do take out the stains
because we know they will,
Enjoy the time of broken chains,
the ink will one day spill.
Such wisdom in those eyes – penetrating my
trembling psyche – they stare unblinking and focused
On me – I translate kindness but also firmness.
I interpret – Go and put your house and soul in order.
Raise the drawbridge of your mind – locked in and scared.
Beyond all sane reason – sun streams in my newly appointed
study resurrected from its spare room blues – the epicentre
of my sheltered life – protected from stray viral bullets
until the real world assaults me in every outside space or
changed shop – people rationed like wartime but without
the camaraderie – necessary and strict front lines.
Decent foot soldiers obeying instructions from above.
For my wellbeing and for the sake of others.
Unmasked we avoid face-to-face contact as if our lives depended on it and a smile is like manna from heaven.
Write, Utu. You still train to be scribe, but write, however imperfectly you can, even as you draw my likeness with trembling hands. Write for a time beyond tomorrow, for tomorrow I will be gone.
It is vain of me to think, on the eve of my sacrifice, of all that will persist after my end, of all that will remain after my departure.
I am arrogant for a slave girl. It is a just decree, then, that I shall be gone sooner than the rest. They must teach a lesson to those who oppose, those who question.
I am young yet, but my mind had often wandered afar, thought upon great matters, lingered at the shores of belief and possibility, of all we are taught since birth, and forced to believe, or lose our life. Their words place a curtain upon our thoughts, and most do not stir the gossamer to peer beyond. The veil is sheer, but they take it as absolute. A muslin flap they mistake for a concrete slab.
As we have often whispered when we met in the moonlight by the Euphrates (o sweet Euphrates!), our murmurs never louder than the music of the river, we both have stirred the veil, and looked beyond. Perhaps, after that seeing, after that knowing, there is no path of return to these chambers of the blind.
I will die with my head held high. I will die with the painted symbol of this other pair of eyes that can look into other horizons, just above the place where you kissed me. Your gifts that I held in secret, today, on my last day, I wear them with pride, the amulet and the brooch in gold. Today, I have nothing to fear, for tomorrow, I will be gone.Read more >
I was trying to figure out who I was—
I asked the helix, but the re-
sult had too many answers.
My eyes empty with darkness—
they transform the void into
everything that has gone before.
I am ancient history—full
of the journeys of ancestors
through extinct forgotten lands.
My face is marked
with both my mistakes
and my surprise.
My names have been lost
and then found again, bones
unburied and then interred.
My words are hybrid forms, re-
assembling into both—the voice
of crow and the singing of stars.
A cross-eyed boy is nicknamed "goldfish",
Girls tease him for his crazy hair;
But trust me, they would be astonished
If they only knew the cross he has to bear;
His dark wide eyes have seen a broken bottle
In his father's drunken swaying hand,
The hand soon hit his mother's face, neck, bottom
And from that day the boy's eyes have for ever moved apart;
Next thing he knows – an orphanage
Gave him a lanyard; ID above, his name below,
Called it a sanctuary, a safe place; a cage;
The lanyard is a collar for a dog;
They shaved his head to kill the pests,
But he asked them to leave just two short strands;
"One for Mommy, one for Daddy," he says,
"Alright, but if you swear you'll follow all of our commands."
His ugliness is full of sentimental beauty
Seen only when we carry out our human duty
Of curiosity, acceptance, deep true love.
Love, love. Love.
We all try to hide from the Intruder
the one who sweeps in on wings of infection
or insurrection…of accident or some evasive
Fayoum is anywhere and everywhere.
Faces saying, “I was here!” speak with eloquent
eyes. This one, so young, speaks of health and wealth,
but not currency enough to pay off the Intruder.
Your portrait seems unfinished. Was the demand for
artists so great that your face was rushed into the grave?
Your soul reaching through eyes alive with the
captured sparkle of a life interrupted…
Lips full with youthful promise…Even the gold that
adorns your head and neck was not enough to buy
another day. Yet, your eyes cross rivers of time and
speak today, dispelling words like ‘ancient’ and
‘foreign’, ‘centuries’ and ‘final’. No words are needed in
your gaze. In turn, I also gaze in silence, except for the
scratching of a poet's pen…
And in the warmth of your skin I feel a pulse that matches
Those kohl-rimmed, expressive eyes hold secrets
of tales untold and prophecies profound.
Swathed in your armor of silence
your serene smile stays strong
through everything that stands in your way.
Maturity is not counted by the number of candles on your cake
or the furrows on your forehead and calluses on your palms
It is the cloak you wear so well – it is your second skin
made of dreams and memories.
Clouded by the maturity of experience
you grow in dimensions unknown to man,
reach startling heights and widen the expanse of your heart
encompassing everybody and everything
while the innocence of youth still shines through bright and pure.
we stood face to face only two paces apart
he looked broadly familiar perhaps a tad more
as we nodded in unison eye ball to eye ball both smiled of innocence laughed without sound
I sought to say something suspect he tried to utter
but nothing oozed out probably just as well
then I telepathed humility love and peace to all men
blinking as I motioned for he blinked too
my ears started to ring octaves above Middle C
shook my head to clear he seemed to empathise
as I inhaled a deep breath his gulp reciprocated
sensed he caught my pain clandestine now exposed
I wanted to confess wanted him to know first
as it happened years ago but could well recur
for I discerned déjà vu seeing beauty among nimbus
in plains of pareidolia in the annuls of utopia
sharing a special moment from only two feet apart
feeling his presence like the brother I once had
but managed to explain he echoed every word
hope he understood as much as I re-invented
then I proffered a finger to confirm our duality
but nobody was there just my marled old mirror
Out west, wheat-belt country is also the country of the ancients,
where the rusted water tower on the land is the earth stone well.
Your missing face flaps in the wind from the tower’s iron supports
and your name passes from person to person along cobbled streets.
The skull of a fallen crow makes its bed in the field of wheat,
but maybe it’s the remains of a chicken; your birthday surprise.
Dust and dried blood are what’s left of the crow’s feathers,
but the feather quill helps you write your numbers; I II III IV V.
Echoing through the country silence the tone of tin can against iron,
is gladiators, bathed in sweat with swords clashing at battle.
Your cherished rag doll face down in a ditch can’t help you now,
nor can the clay figurine with broken limbs that will soon be dust.
There’s a gentle breeze unsettling the empty rocking chair on the porch,
but it passages softly through the legs of your low wooden stool.
The lone magnolia tree has given up on painting with fresh flowers,
but fresh flowers sit in a stone vase longing for your swift return.
Newspapers cover windows, veiling emotion and casing conversations,
while worried words are being had between the mothers on the ostium.
A telegraph pole stands erect in the distance. It connects to nowhere
and there is nowhere for your winged messenger to rest over the ocean.
The wail of police sirens in the unseen distance gets slowly louder
and crowds are beginning to gather with long sticks and pitchforks.
It’s best that I say goodbye to you now, for the storm is gathering pace
and soon you’ll be out of sight both across time and across place.
‘A huge cloud rose up and nearly swallowed me,’ said the fifth blind man. A lull descended over the seven men huddled together under the raised apse of the basilica. He was the second to last blind man to tell his tale, just as the wind outside tore through the trees with inflated bellows.
‘It plunged on us suddenly after the crack from the mountain,’ he continued in a husky voice, and then the fifth blind man cleared his throat. His voice became husky whenever he was tense. ‘Like a pillar of light that seemed to thrust through the ceiling and melt into the moonlight coming through the windows.’
The second blind man was someone else who lost his sight that day and every now and again, while listening he would pull his tunic up around his neck and shake his head as if agreeing with what was said.
‘It was a terrible day, that day my wife was taken from me. My last image of her was immobilized, in the dark corner of the room. Her cracked, dehydrated body twitching in silence.’
‘I then looked up at the ceiling and through the dust, millions of flicking lights sparkled like the silver surface of a lake. My eyes at that moment grew dark forever, but then suddenly she was there, beaming with her beautiful smile and making no lament.’
In a world where innocence is threatened,
where all that is rare is coming to an end,
this keeps me safe from all harm—
my shield, my armour, my good luck charm.
Charged with mantras, its magic can’t fail
be it sorcery, witchcraft or some spell,
virus, sickness, disorders and disease,
malice, ill will, and evil conspiracies,
twists of fate or plots hatched by man
can cause no hurt, thanks to my talisman—
rock-solid defence, a vital safety net;
they don’t know the power of my amulet.
You look at me from privilege
and make vapid remarks about my appearance:
how irregular my features,
HOW BIG MY EYES
Are you some scarlet-cloaked escapee
from an old fairy tale?
Do you think you can judge?
My jaw is misaligned from a heavy fist,
my skin blotched from burns,
and my eyes bulge from when my skull was broken.
See the ruby platinum around my neck,
and in my hair?
I still do well as a whore.
As a child, I hid in a cardboard house with my stuffed animals; we talked for hours and no one heard.
As a child, I practiced cartwheels that crumpled in the grass; cool sharp blades prickled sweaty skin.
As a child, I put on makeup and tried to be pretty.
As a child, I pretended to do everything right; if I was perfect no one would ever be angry.
As a child, I pressed the pedals of my bicycle against the hot wind – escape!
As a child, I watched long-haired boys jump into the lake next to our 'No Trespassing' sign – breaking the rules.
As a child, I daydreamed of waking up in a different body and starting all over again; I would do better this time, I promised.
As a child, I watched the sun set from my grandmother’s picture window; “red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”
As a child, all I needed was my best friend; why did she need anyone but me?
As a child, I craved the wrath of a thunderstorm; to watch the sky, safe inside.
As a child, I didn’t wish for a brother or sister; I didn’t know anything different from alone.
As a child, I wanted most of all to be an adult; adults didn’t need permission.
As a child, I didn’t know the hardest permission to get would be my own.
Twice removed from mother's womb
Berated breaths, tales ending soon
I asked for a copy of the script
Unaware of its encryptions
Visions guiding to and fro
Movements, magic, wisdom's glow
Subtleties I noticed then
Now I fully comprehend
For me, oh my, these borrowed eyes
Stir deep emotions brewed inside
The souls that had to grow up fast
Will be the ones drawing the maps
Civilizations come and gone
Reconciling, holding on
Treasuring the peaceful scenes
I dare explain these memories.
At a seminar on Christianity and art,
a woman compares the stark white walls of
a North American Protestant 1800s church to
a gilded, ornate, icon-filled Byzantium church.
Wood paintings remind me of icons.
The simplicity of
the white walls in
the one contrast with
the storytelling icons throughout
the nooks and crannies of
Old paintings on wood look a bit like icons.
Old paint and wood conjure the aroma of incense and musty stones.
Old memories of churches encrusted with music to the detriment of all other
old and new art forms.
What is lost in the banishment of images?
What is gained by the Muslim use of calligraphy as adornment?
What is there to be learned from the unnamed artist and iconographers?
The visual art of storytelling has become
the prime mode of narration in
the digital age.
The priest and artist of old knew
the power of visual arts to tell
You will see me.
Shy I am not!
I am more than I appear.
Your veil of ignorance
perpetuates my patriarchal reality.
Yet, hides my strength.
You will hear me.
Suppressed by deep male tones
My agentic voice is rising.
I read. I write. I pray. I sing.
My secret literacy empowers me
and guides my transformation.
You will watch me.
My hope of overcoming inequity
nurtures my discreet actions
and redefines my purpose to your astonishment.
For blinded by prejudice,
You miss my invisible resilience.
They washed away the dirt from off your face
like mother used to
back when you were small.
The details of your face
in a light that once shone on it.
yes, something you might once
have laughed at,
that a painter in your life
with such skill,
but you are not.
Your life is gone
but your face
and looked upon
by the children of your children's
in an age that would have stunned you.
They speak gibberish,
and pass you round
to gaze at this immortal,
stuck in an age long gone.
She weaves a courteous curious dance,
Scrawling glittery webs of memories and time,
Molding past lives in this paradigm,
Hoping light will gift her another chance.
If only time wasn’t dirt poured away
From the chipped glass of our soul,
A life half-spent not keeping her whole,
She’ll just stare and hope for yesterday.
The contoured depth of her eyes are
Vulnerable pools of tranquility.
Encased in treacherous skin that age has denied
No trepidation of humility
She is an anthology of old Indian tales, the kind of tales they agree with.
She can’t utter words though. With big round eyes, she is allowed to be looked at; she can’t see though. With a battered soul quivering inside of her, she’s as still as a dusty painting hung on a wall in some indifferent room of a fort in Jaipur. She has holes carved out on her forehead to hang a board which says ‘Taken’; like those in front of public monuments, government heritage sites and ancient exotic buildings—‘Do not harm! National Heritage. Please do not click pictures.’ Her hair did not fall off suddenly. They were cut because her husband died of fever. Her ears have holes but are bare, so is her nose. Her clothes are pale like her husband’s corpse. She has a black thread stuck to her throat to pull her voice in if it tries to spill out of her eyes.
Her eyes still speak of apathy and agony while she laments over the dreams that died. A white cloth wraps her like bare walls without a roof. Her walls are bare just like her eyes. She cannot write a word.
Stick a road-map of culture on her forehead, the kind of culture they approve of. She can scratch it every time it itches, but she’ll have holes carved right there; shallow and empty, just like her almond eyes.
My father is busy sleeping in the church
stone cold on his marble bed.
He has a strict face but he has fought battles
a knight in shining armour, my lion warrior.
My mother has a rota and while she sweeps
old dust from the flagstones I creep into his corner.
He has no shield, but I can wipe his face while he
is sleeping. Sometimes I stroke his toes, wait for
I follow his cold curls with the finger that fits into
his knuckles that are gripped and waiting.
When I am older I will make him a sword made of wood
because I have seen a picture in a book of a tree that will
and I will write some words on paper, fold them small
and hide them.
When it is mother's turn to sweep the new dust
I will take my message and tie it to father's pointing finger.
“Okay, it’s done.”
A contract: Offer, acceptance, consideration. Sign papers. Look each other in the eye. Man-to-man. Shake hands. Agreement finalized. Collect payment.
“Should we discuss the fine points?”
“Not now. I’ve gotta go. By the way, you’ll be told when it’s time to leave.”
It was never like that. Merely assumptions, hopes, nesting doll dreams. “I want—” “If this happens, then—” “You will do—” “And, I will receive—”
Money stolen. Pennies at first. Literally pennies — three of them hidden under a divan cushion. Then quarters, followed by a learning period secreting cartons of cigarettes and cases beer out the back door. Then multiple items of clothing from an employer. Cash from the registers - surprisingly easy, keep the receipt, void the sale, extract the money, place in pockets.
On hiatus for three years. Years spent honing his alcoholism.
Then more cash. Make a sale. Save the receipt. Take the money. Void the sale. Place ticket in till. Keep the amount minimal. Do it every day at different times during the day. It accumulated. Worried about being discovered. Time to leave.
More schooling. Additional skills. Learn about kiting. Earn license. Gain experience. Study loopholes. Collect salary. Collect fees. Endorse on back. Deposit checks in an out-of-state account. Destroy client files and account cards. Cash on demand. His own printing press.Read more >
She’s done well for herself – escaped
that earthy prison, that skein of passageways
Daedalus designed to keep her father in.
Not that she’d known it at the time –
hadn’t realised what else there was – sky,
these airy rooms, colour, softness, lack of stench.
Scrubs up well, they say as they dress her,
(discreetly tucking in her tail), drape scarves around
her face. She’s still disconcerted – it was too sudden.
One minute playing in the dark, Father rampaging
distantly (not that he’d ever harmed her – loved
the horns on her head in fact) following that thread,
emerging blinded, snorting in strange air.
But she’d stood ground, set her nose at them.
They wondered where she’d come from – she
wondered herself, turned it over, pondered.
But that was then. Now, they recognize her lineage,
royal and immortal, treat her accordingly. Aphrodite
takes an interest – she calls her Aunt these days,
admires her style. It’s not the creature’s fault, they say,
marvel at how ordinary she is, (especially now they’ve
sawn off her horns) how well she’s taken to domesticity,
taken her place among the women, weaving a cloak
to cover her alien self.
- Not now, honey.
- But mom, look!
- I’m having a shower, give me a moment. What’s up?
- Dad cut my hair while you were out. He said it was high time. And then he liked it so much that he decided to paint my portrait. He’s been watching that new reality show, you know the one, with painters. Do you want to see it? I can slide it under the door.
- Sure, if it can’t wait.
- I used your make-up, sorry about that. And borrowed your necklace.
- But… but…
- Oh right, your nylons too. See? My hair is just in hiding. It wasn’t cut.
- Uhh, girl, you sure know how to scare your mother.
- But mom, this is your son!
On the bright side,
My family must surely have been wealthy
To keep me young forever
Here in ancient technicolor.
Painterly, I wear only one lock,
One strand of golden blackness
With which to regard my cold forever
Tethered to the brown ligature
Of the frame. I live
In the stillness of fame,
Of Egypt, Rome or whatever grand city,
Of a life shortly stricken
From the record of Thoth
By a quick cough.
Queen Isis, how could you? I thought
You were meant to protect me.
The amulet I wore
Was an assurance that you wouldn’t forget me
That you wouldn’t let me die
The way Horus did. Yes
Horus comes back in the end,
And in a way I’m back after all,
But back in the way of never having lived
Much at all. Before I am made
It was a long time,
Since that child walked on earth wearing a bouncy ponytail
And a white cotton embroidery lace dress.
(Not a care in the world)
Words mixed up in her mouth like chewed tutti-frutti bubble gum;
Half sentences breaking softly between folksy lullabies.
And life has taught me (since them)
That life is a train running fast… carrying dreams (and chains),
Which fly out of its open chattered windows.
Her small feet walked always beside mine,
Over shards of luminous burning coals,
Flowers growing from the cracked pavement.
Behind her inked shadow,
The phosphorescent full moon danced
Dizzy amongst the radiance of newly born stars…
Telling stories (once lost in time)
Warm whispers carried in the gentle summer breeze,
Names of forgotten ancestors, spelled around the sparkling fire.
Ahead of her, stood the entire world,
An open page to be filled with blood and laughter; lies and poetry; facts and fiction
Mixed with the sounds of her unborn baby.
Greetings young visitor
From distant times
and different climes
How strangely you appear
With your direct proud gaze
and demeaner of confident ease
How odd we must seem
Alas you should not alight
You are not guaranteed here
Your very manner marks you a target
You see as yet we cannot guard
safe our own precious youth
Their innocence is too soon
harshly ripped asunder lost
Stay you there at rest
peaceful encased in that moment
Pray we that someday soon
we may gather multiple such
moments that our young
can build their lives with