Friday, December 16, 2011

Candle I

What am I waiting for?
I am waiting for you to come down
On me, like the sun on Vermeer's milkmaid, (be starlight)
On me in my frumpy flannel nightgown,
Kneeling in my room tonight.

I'm home. You're home, sister. Cause a stir at the dinner table with the band
on your left hand ring finger (tease me that way; I forget what it feels like).
Take pleasure in collecting thoughts while picking meat, washing dishes. Blow out the candle. He's coming (could I light it again?), breathe in His fragrance with the flame.

Unpack and explain to yourself why you need all these things. Whisper, "what freedom in a room like Vincent's!" Bury your face in your grandmother's quilt: it's no crime, but a thing to be held lightly.
What is gifting this year? What can be made from my hands but a patchwork of half-thoughts and a quavering love, a few colors, a hint of peppermint and pine? What of the children enamored by bright plastic for a week, and a string of lights?

Sometimes I feel this life is too offal to be right. Is this bowl of red meat worth it, after sloughing so much white?
Our jolly old record plays, I look at the gleaming bulbs in the window. Something did happen here, in this world where someone was telling earthy jokes and someone holding out one more day, to see You born.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Debilitating Strength

I tend to take small directives seriously, moving obstacles out of pathways. Perhaps someone blind or absent-minded will come by. I never know, and so a stone sticks in my conscience like shrapnel until I turn back and kick it into the brush by the road.

I wrap a bit of glass in a lamb's ear; carry it in my coat pocket. Those who protect others will be protected.

I can't stand to smell the doubts of others. I must swallow them, and be sickened when my love is not enough. Feeding a child with dysentery. 

But there are some words I forget, so familiar etched in the backs of my hands. My few scars are faint, but clear enough to show that I've known pain. And perhaps I've made an idol of my buckled, rustling pages, but they melt heavy on my tongue, earthy and leaden like rain. 

So maybe your brother died. And you feel to blame for silence. So maybe you wake each morning guilty for your daughter, keeping her in sagging dim hotels. If I can't make it whole, let me help you make it evenly broken. 

No one believes you. And I want to. I know that I've felt more than breezes on my spine. Those white things you see are begging you silently for peace...and your eyes, selfless and helplessly seeing, crumble soft like glowing embers. A sound like breath on powder, in the burning orange.

Maybe I can comfort when... 
And try to extend some solace... 

It is getting cold. But I am still barefoot.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Memory of Birds

I reached her house and saw her sitting cross-legged in the front yard, in the shade of the big maple tree. She was looking up the street, so our eyes met at the same time. She smiled, but she didn’t get up. I smiled too, not knowing what to say, and ambled across the lawn to her. There was something small and brown in her hands that quivered slightly.
I felt tall and awkward, walking up to Eliza sitting there in the grass. She didn’t say anything until I was right in front of her, and then she asked,
“Would you like to hold him?”
I grinned and said yes. She told me to sit down. Then she placed the brown fluffy thing in my hands. Geoffrey adjusted his stubby wings to regain his balance after the transfer. I wasn’t prepared to feel how light he was, how fragile, like a handful of grandfather dandelions. The queerest thing was the sensation of his body against my fingers; I could distinctly make out his breastbones beneath the down. That surprised me. There seemed to be nothing but airy fluff and a thin membrane of skin between my fingertips and his ribs. But below I felt his round belly, warm and moist. It swelled in and out. His little feet clutched at my skin in a funny way, so I laughed, and Eliza looked at me, enjoying my initiation. I felt like I should say something.
“How old is he?”
She answered that he was probably about two weeks old. She said she knew this because his eyes were fully open but he still had baby fluff.
I was always impressed by Eliza’s solemn knowledge. Maybe that was why she charmed me like no other girl I’d ever met. She was a child, but her mind was sensible and probing. I still don’t know what she saw in me; I was such an overgrown excuse for a teenager. Maybe she sensed how I saw meaning in things, the way she did.
I gazed back down at Geoffrey, who was blinking and rustling his little sheathed wings. I bent my head to inspect them. Each feather was growing out of a semi-transparent tube, made of quill material. The tips of his feathers were free and fanning out, but the roots were still tightly bound in tube-sheaths.
With my face close to Geoffrey like that, I smelled him for the first time. It was a curious, delicate smell: eggy, sweet, with a hint of urea. I didn’t find it offensive, and leant there, inhaling for a moment.
Then Eliza shifted beside me and I saw her pick up a recycled yogurt container from beside her leg. She pulled out a small worm, took it between her fingers, and methodically tore it into three bits. They wriggled and exuded guts, but she placidly laid two of the pieces on her bare knee, and leaned over to feed Geoffrey the third. I watched in silent admiration. As her hand neared Geoffrey, he lifted his head, beak open, and flapped his tiny wings, letting out a series of sharp, shrill chirps. I could feel his whole body straining up toward that bit of worm. With the writhing morsel safely in his beak, he bobbed his head and swallowed it, his eyes pressed shut.
“Don’t the parents sometimes regurgitate the food for their babies? I asked. “Would spitting on the pieces help Geoffrey digest them?” I hoped this was an intelligent question.
Eliza leaned back and squinted for a moment in thought. Then she turned to her knee and picked up a second bit of worm, saying,
“Bird saliva is different from human saliva.”
I nodded. And I watched Eliza carefully feed Geoffrey the rest of the worm. His body was warm, and my palm sweated, so his down feathers stuck to my skin. When I gave him back to Eliza my hand felt cool in the air. Eliza took him in a motherly sort of way, and I felt something like a father. Protective, and proud, and a little in awe.

As I walked home I brushed my nose, and smelled Geoffrey on my hand

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


When I was nine, I drew spaghetti straps with blush on my shoulders and back,
Anxious to see how forbidden styles looked
On me.

That night, though safe in the black of my room, my cheeks burned
When my Dad came in to rub my back goodnight.
Could he feel the pink paste on his fingers, sense my guilt?

Silently I hoped he couldn't tell, and resolved never again to test the strength
of the gates of hell.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


"No peace for sinners,"
 He whispered as I spun by. I was too dizzy to retort, but I thought how I could have replied.
What about the righteous?
But I'm not.
The forgiven?

Gene asked my name I think three, maybe four times. Wore a mint green shirt. Smiled kindly.
Mark was weathered, stocky, dwarvish. White beard, jovial eyes behind glasses. Led me well.

Drew... I cannot be sure what the battle was. But his built arms, ostentatiously bare, were intent on showing me just how the dance could be dared to the next level. Could we manage four under-elbow twirls before the left-hand star? We did. He told me spins wouldn't daze me if I looked at his eyes. "Unless that's too intimidating..."
I smiled, took it brightly.

But I remember most the way he tried to serenade my friends and I before we left. Strange mix of self-confidence, self-consciousness. He stepped to my side and told me he'd play a song called "Princess" while the others talked. But he was bashful halfway through, stopped.

Strange mix of defensiveness, tenderness. Empathy with hungry humanity, in my heart.

I asked God to bless him as I shook his hand goodnight. I looked in his eyes.