Rue

No news here since the last famished
liberation, I’ve settled in silence
and the odd letter, embroidery
no one can see. When all you wanted
was bright bonnets and quaint skirts,
you got a skint knee and rue
prim as trimmed whiskers
to pass on to me along with
the magic of wash-and-wear.
Now we know you were the brave one,
now we know what that cost.
I’ve not forgotten how you sewed
my clothes–a velveteen collar on
a little coat, a flowery button on
a sleeve–or how your mother
made a quilt from what was left
of all you’d made for me. If only
you’d taught me gratitude and
how to scry unspoken expectation,
I’d not be so sorry now for all
the things that then I didn’t know.

Lines

cave painting horses BW light
a mark, a line, a here, a there
here and not there, there but not here
other lines–shaman’s lines–
for the unseen elsewhere
the neither here nor there
lines for things that move
through time and space–
food that must be chased and
other animals to do the chasing on
red lines for women and men and
our hands or visitors from other tribes
with impressive headgear
things we ran to or ran from
multiplied to put them inside time
lines for things remembered while we
waited for better weather
lines to call things to us, to worship
to cast spells, lines to hinge hopes on
to plan for crops or battles
lines we drew to plant a future in a past
dirt with gold in it or deep bruise blue
horses limned so precisely in motion
they’d break your heart to ride

image: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/september-2011/article/prehistoric-cave-paintings-of-horses-were-spot-on-say-scientists

County Line

Like mist the county
rises, or maybe more like
the undulations
heat makes in time.

At a bend in
county line road,
in the shade of a mimosa:
policemen. One lounging
on an idling hood,
another tossing pebbles
at an innocent tire.

Anything come up out
that swamp they say
gonna pass through here.
The future is happening.
We got time.


Chapter 12: My First Friend

12

My First Friend

When I entered the public life of public school, I noticeably became a loner—that kid at the edge of the playground studying her shoes or walking back and forth on the periphery as if in some invisible cage. The first friend I ever made on my own was Ouida St. John.  We were in the same mathematics class and shared the distinction of being the only students in the class who had only a rudimentary clue about the subject matter no matter how hard we worked on our homework.  Somehow we migrated—perhaps the teacher migrated us—to the back of the room, and as long as we were quiet there, the teacher, who had openly given up on us, let us do as we pleased.  So we passed notes—Ouida’s were almost impossible to decipher—or, when other students were engaged in noisy math games, we chatted without fear of getting black marks for conduct.

Ouida was the most fascinating person I had ever seen.  She had red hair that was so thick that it was often matted—now that I think about it, she looked like an uncoifed and otherwise unkempt Little Orphan Annie.  She had large eyes that were the color green that you sometimes see in opals.  She lived on the Gold Coast, an isolated and impoverished area of town near the river—when we had to drive through the Gold Coast, Matu always made us check to see if our doors were locked.  And if that wasn’t enough to make her an impressive character, for I thought of her as living a kind of frontier life, I learned also that her mother did not make her bathe every day and brushed her hair for exactly two minutes and then stopped whether it was tangled or lopsided or not.  But what made her most impressive was that her father had once seen the devil in the family bathroom.

Ouida was rather blasé about the devil, but she was afraid of all domestic animals, especially dogs, and thus extremely impressed that I had a dog named Wolf.  I could have told her that Wolf was so extremely gentle and good-natured and smart that he had practically been my nanny, and since he was very old in dog years by then, he didn’t even get around very well anymore.  However, I was desirous of impressing Ouida, and in my first foray into outright lying, I told her that Wolf had killed my parents when I was a baby and had raised me in the woods until I was five years old and a band of gypsies found me and took me to Matu to raise.

I didn’t want to let on that her father’s sighting of the devil was extremely thrillingly scary to me, so I stretched out my questions about the event, nonchalantly asking how tall the devil was (about three feet), what color he was (the color of cooked crab), and how he behaved (he just stood there and shimmied).  I suppose that she was doing the same thing, for her questions about my life with Wolf always cropped up a bit too casually. At any rate, I wanted to keep close to Ouida in case the devil showed up again and had something to say this time.  After pestering Matu about it for weeks, I was allowed—probably because Matu was distracted–to invite Ouida home with me after school.

As we gangled up the walkway to the house, Matu stepped out to greet us and looked as if she had been slapped.  But Matu could regain her composure more quickly than most and smiled at Ouida and welcomed her. Quida was careless and managed to knock several things over within a few minutes of entering the house.  She took one look at Wolf and screamed bloody murder, which sent Wolf up to my room where I later found him under the bed.  When Matu gave us a snack at the kitchen table, Ouida chewed with her mouth open, smacked her food, and wiped her mouth with her forearm.  Later she reared back and let out a long, multifaceted belch followed by a sigh of satisfaction.  These things—which only added to her mystique and my admiration—must have driven Matu wild.  I noticed that when Matu was leaving us to our “tea” she raised her hands head high, palms inward and slightly shook them.  I had no idea what that might signify, though I was to learn what it signified thoroughly and at length later that evening.

When we drove Ouida home, I could probably have heard Matu grinding her teeth if I had not been sitting in the backseat so thoroughly engaged in a discussion with Ouida about the offspring of humans who had mated with bears and foxes and the recent abduction by aliens of one of her neighbors.  (Ouida was a regular font of things such as these).  As we drove up a narrow muddy potholed road to her house, her mother stepped out onto the sagging porch, and while I saw a glamorous exotic woman, Matu, I’m sure, saw a disheveled painted whore.  Ouida got out of the car with her heavy book bag and her mother shouted, “Where the fuck have you been you little bitch?!”  I was so unaccustomed to hearing such language that I leaned up toward Matu and asked, “Is she talking in French?”  But even as the question left my lips, I didn’t need to know the words to understand their attitude and intent, and I was gripped with fear that Ouida’s mother might hit her or knock her down.  She didn’t (although, Ouida reported to me, she did both several times later).  Instead she walked up to the car, grinning with a big fuchsia-pink mouth and gray teeth and said to Matu, “Why, Miz Ridley, I didn’t know my girl’s with you.  I worry so when she’s not home to do her chores.”  Matu muttered something—I thought perhaps she was speaking in French—and the woman nodded and headed back to where Ouida was waving from the porch, and we slowly pulled away.  When we got onto the main road, Matu began to drive much faster than I had ever seen her drive before.  She was also in a rare state for her: speechlessness.  I wondered how, if Ouida in fact had not told her mother where she would be, her mother knew Matu’s name.

Matu and I had several rounds about whether I could go to Ouida’s house or Ouida could return to mine.  Nothing she could say about Ouida’s parents or where Ouida lived could impeach the character of my friend in my eyes.  And Matu didn’t have the high moral ground on this one either.  She was caught between her notions of social hierarchy and propriety and “breeding”– after all, the laudatory phrase “well bred” carries with it the notion that the only excuse for bad manners and bad thoughts is congenital defect–and her ostensible belief in the things we were taught about social equality in church, where we were told that Jesus loves the little children of the world red and yellow black and white, and in school, where we learned that all men are created equal.  Matu couldn’t quite find a way to reconcile these things to my satisfaction, and I was as stubborn as she was, thought not as practiced at it.

What could Matu do?  If she thwarted our friendship, she would have to defend her actions in ways that directly conflicted with the moral standards she proclaimed to adhere to.  If she allowed our friendship to develop in its own way, Ouida and I might tire of each other as we grew and changed, but Matu would have thought that improbable.  She knew that my affections were true and strong and all the stronger for being seldom bestowed.  No, she would have thought it most probable that Ouida would be more and more in our lives—birthdays, holidays, perhaps even vacations—and that it would then become her duty to teach Ouida proper manners and so forth and thus, in effect, by letting me be friends with Ouida, she would have yet another child to raise.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter in this case, although conflicts of this nature would repeatedly rise up as the years passed.  Matu was freed from whatever quandary she was caught in when Ouida’s mother was found stabbed in a motel and Ouida was whisked off by a distant relative to live in another state.  We corresponded a few times, and I treasured every belabored and smudged letter.  But my fascination with Quida could not withstand distance—particularly distance from the site of the sighting of Satan—and I never knew what became of her, nor she me.

ooo

 

 

© 2021

 

Cut

bloodletting luttrell psalter crop strtch

between walk and fall
the little skin wants
a cut that can’t be crossed
a between wide enough
to breathe in even if
there’s not much living
on the other side
just more red edge
and less convincing
resurrections
hurt seeping back into
every place you cut
to let it out

_________________________
image: detail, Lutrell Psalter, British Library http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_42130_fse007r

Doll Dreaming 14

in the doll’s house
the doll’s dolls are dreaming
they’re awake
so little difference
nightmare and day

climb the stairs
you’re in the basement
pick up a phone
you’re gripping a knife

farther in takes you
farther out
no telling which till
there’s no going back

when the doll’s got you
looking out or looking in
stage light is
the only light you see

the demon isn’t dreaming
he won’t leave without the girl
he’s working the closet locks
cursing them like a mortal man
as if words could do and undo

sudden light
the girl’s awake
an open door

and all kinds of places
where the doll
cannot go

 

 

 

 

Doll Dreaming 13

woman little men schembart carnival 1590 public domain rev - strtch mod

Dolly Dum-Dum

the doll has men
a bird-man
a yes-man
a hench-man
a made man
a man with a mighty big
something for beating

she counts on them
when she doesn’t want
dirt to show on her
little dolly dress

the doll’s men
think they owe her
when she owns them
they think they
think the thoughts
she thinks for them
think they’re aiming
when she aims them
where she wants them to go

if they get out of line
she has the kind of whip
they can’t see coming
but mostly they stay
wherever she pleases:
long chain, short leash

when she’s got her
spook on hard like now
they’re her special forces
they’re her posse
pony up, boys
it’s time
to ride somebody down

the doll’s men are dreaming
they’re stand-up men

the doll is measuring
how far their ambition
lets her knock them down

_____________________________
image: Public Domain Review: http://publicdomainreview.org/2013/04/11/radical-fashion-from-the-schembart-carnival-1590/

Doll Dreaming 12

12. In the Doll’s House

the guy is bored
he’s slow
and alone
can’t move in that
shiny sharp
hardware
he wanted so much
and where’s
the damn doll

the doll has been busy
refurbishing the racks
reforging chains
sharpening anything
with an edge

and spooling out
extravagant wordage
about her busy
whereabouts
about how busy
her busy self is
where she’s busy
being busy now
where she’ll be
being busy next

the doll is not
into information
her creatures know
her notifications
are threats

she moved the girl
into a supply closet
a few days back
there the girl now
searches in the dark
through dirty rags
and dusty stuff
no longer
whatever it is

no key
but a dress
and a gun
things
without agency
she thinks
her only hope

the dress fits better
than the sack
but the gun
might as well be
a safety pin
and no
she doesn’t know
about the demon
yet

the demon is asleep
in the green room
dreaming the girl
isn’t there

the house dreams
it’s a peony
its walls frilling
in the air

…………………………………………..

Where

This is the place where no one seems to go—

black sky, raining, glistening wet black street

vast empty parking lot, yellow light on

blank industrial building. You will try

forbidding doors until you find one that’s

unlocked and enter something the building

could not contain: lush verdant gardens, fields,

a sky that’s always the time of day for

setting out. People here seem to know you,

you feel as if you’re impersonating

yourself—such camouflage, weightless, clear, free.

Doll Dreaming 11

11. Door Dreams

the door is dreaming
it has no side
what goes in goes out
or rather there is
no way out
the doll’s confabulations
are the only real thing

trying to escape
one enters distances
where familiar things
limn one’s demise
a chair becomes a whole
country of torturers
a kitchen knife a
killer’s blade a sink
a place for drowning
a place to sleep
a smothering bed

many ways
to the same end
still the doll would
rather wrecks
invasions
conflagrations
quagmires
of distinct proportions
like texting mobs of
easily pissed off men
to make people
stay
where
she
puts
them
so inch by inch
they are nothing
and she is
everything

the demon is dreaming
not of capture
but of things set free
novel concept for
a sworn snare
he even weeps to know
what waits when the door
shakes from its hinges
a battered gate
an endless chain

to long for freedom
then to fear it
containment
being everything

…………………………………………..

…………………………………………..

Doll Dreaming 10

10. The Room Is Dreaming

the room is dreaming
outside itself
it cannot contain
or rescind
locked inside too long
there’s no more outside
no matter
how much room
the room has or
what room you’re in

the doll can make you
think the room is everything
can make it so tight
even the body has
no space left inside
can make it so large
that being dissipates
nothing in here
nothing out there

but something
always escapes
her needling
her hacks
turn on her
in her dreams

the doll demands
impossible recompense
from creatures who have
never done her harm
demands the last
rib bone and pin
she gets on
like a ratcheted clamp
to get her off
you have to
lose some skin

the doll is dreaming
she is looking out
but her mask is always
looking in
sizing her up
cutting her
down to size
no room large
or small enough
in the end

…………………………………………..

…………………………………………..

Doll Dreaming 09

09. Doll Parts

the doll’s favorite part
is when you think you’ll get away
she knows you won’t
you know you will
there’s nothing else
to know

the doll rules
the doll’s house
but the doll knows
only what she’s made
marble, rubble
dreamer, doll
the doll herself
a dangerous thing

you are dreaming
you are the girl
the girl is dreaming
dreaming, dreaming
the demon is away
a threaded needle
an unexpected blade

the doll is standing
out in the rain

who is standing
behind the doll

…………………………………………..