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Lady Red

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. 

Stunted Growth

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.

Puzzles and Pedigree

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.

Dear Plato

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. 

Blindly on the Road

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.

A Day in the Life of a Childlike Chancellor

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.

Nor Gilded Monuments

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.

Marionettes and Masters

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.