The robin sings with great cheer, chirping delight in sunny Spring. Plumage puffed, he knows no evil, nor heavy hearts, nor harsh constraint. The caged bird dreams only of freedom, yet the free bird exults without care.
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The wolf was always the master of scarlet threads woven into the prosody of words, was always the prowling king of nightwoods filled with poetry and dark where, under a harvest moon a little girl wears knowledge like a crimson dress and bears her pallid flesh to stars and canine tooth alike: sometimes, we all must stray from trodden paths, plunge head-first into forests only to emerge, something secret ripped -- something underneath, unseen yet ultimately changed.
My mother says when your basil blooms cut it back, cut it in half, cut it right above the eyes. She too cuts, runs around the house snipping and snapping unorderly, unruly growth. What my mother loves, she cuts. What she dislikes, she plots to kill: massive monsteras and bulging begonias kneeling in dark attic corners unwatered, unwanted, impossible to kill. I doubt houseplants require such discipline yet, like her, I shrink under the weight of lessons learned, later embodied and when my basil blooms I fetch my clippers all the same.
It is to be expected: Ancestry plucked from the lush meadows, Granite ravines, those lazy summer slopes sprouting strawberries and thyme. We are all farmers here. The second part, a mystery: Geography, an Alpine rift? A wetland, clinging clammily to inhabitant and name alike? A vowel shift, linguistic oddity, spelling gone awfully awry? What’s in a name? A girl by any other name is still a girl and origin runs deeper, does not reveal itself as lightly as sibilants from a babbling brook.
I wish I could write you a poem. I have been trying for over a decade. This is not it. We met when I dreamed I was a butterfly: an accidental bump, a less accidental clink, a general willingness to fall into anything that promised to be soft and warm, for a moment, for a night. You were not a philosopher. You were, instead, a mathematician working for the casino, employed in the probability of loss. It should have made you a cynic, but it only made you a person inhabiting an apartment that seemed too big and too empty to fit you. It was a non-disclosed cemetery for the ghosts of your past. Your mother’s dancing shoes. Your father’s photography. Your Bluebeard’s room filled with knickknacks belonging to the one who got away, not stashed in boxes, but arranged as if she had just gone out for smokes. It embarrassed you, that obvious loss which had taken place entirely without your calculations, but I felt there was enough space for the three of us in the echoes of the night. We talked about Tolstoy. You kissed me, clumsily, and I kissed you back with dutiful passion. You remained, irritatingly, a perfect gentleman. It made me anxious, your steadfastness. The way you wrapped me in a blanket and your arms. You were full of restraint, fuller of intent. You left the tap on for your cats so they could frolic in the tub. When you read Russian poetry to me, the syllables became incantations. Desire, not impatient need for distraction, blossomed in my belly then. We kissed – this time slow, slow, slow, tentatively, the way one kisses when touching another soul. The morning was stark and sober. My spells had failed, and the sight of breakfast was terrifying. I never ate, then. As a result, I was always cold. I thought of strays while you watched me leave. How, once they accept an offering, they become fat and dependent. A couch is not a suitable place for a feral feline. Maybe you knew that. Maybe that is why you left the tap on.
Once sight galloped away into a night thickly impermeable as bullet-proof, black glass. Now the soul measures distance darkly: The conversation on the road, the stuttering of the engine fragments of scents, sounds, fury. Voices tinged in different shades of boredom as they ring up my orders in rest stops smelling of bacon grease or apple pie or a combination of both or nothing at all. Wherever we go, Jack plays the same song on the rusty radio over and over and over again. He is, himself, older than the trees. An uprooted oak with a whiskey voice and the odour of tobacco settled neatly in his folds. As he drives, his heavy fingers tap the steering wheel without rhythm, without reason. Sometimes we stop, and Jack asks me for directions. I cannot see which is the road less travelled. One path heads into the undergrowth, the other leads to Oz. Back in the car, John Denver sings of heaven while I want to go home but find myself lost and home out of sight.
Get up, have a cup of coffee From a golden plate eat toffee Read the newsfeed, post on facebook Pay attention to my good looks Draft a tweet, say I’m a hero State that Covid rates are zero. At noon be ready to appear For an address that won’t steer Any matter, any small thing But I am the Alpine young king Without fail, in flawless slim fit I will show them I have true grit. Then, at night just call my cronies And discuss it with the homies That all evidence is shreddered, Thus another crisis weathered. Grab my stolen gold, hurrah! I’m done redeeming Austria.
I remain neatly alphabetised. She knows her ABCs, but time digs deeper, bends her shoulders, carves her face, drops ash where once was wheat. Soon, her cherry lips will stop shaping the syllables of me, and my voiceless name will dance under the crimson ocean of poppies in Flanders, at night.
Soft winds create sunlit swirls, petalled vortices busily curling around spring. But April is moody and soon clouds start to lament and wet bloom, burdened, meets soil.
This the darkness holds hostage:
all that begs definition or form,
all that strains to be born,
all that yearns to transform
from puppet to man,
all those who are lonely,
all those who mourn.
This is dusk’s magic:
half-fleshed supernovas that light
the space behind eyelids shut overly tight,
real, they are, real like the glow
of scrap metal flies
whose taste sticks to the palate like lies.
But o, the beauty, the beauty, the flow –
electric burnt neons, sparkling and cold,
specks of emerald, sapphire, topaz, wood dust and gold
warm shivers suspended in night’s breathless hold…
Old fairy tales end as they can:
Pinocchio never grew into a man
but his methodical, wood-fingertips ran
across skin as wan as the moon
mixing in its deep craters joy
with truth so coy it might as well be a ploy.