You May

You may know our secret history but not
its secret plot, our words though what we say
no longer lives in them—so close to see, so
close to not. You may know us if you find
beneath knotted jungle our dilapidated
temples and winged bridges, our fortresses
with gates of woven iron, but will you see
in our universe of slide the places where
we found our mortality? Unknowable
now those complex scrims so like the real thing
they thrilled us from afar, or our enemies,
soft-footed, but unable to resist comment
on their stealth, coming in loud as the geese
that flew in from our fairytales, their burdened
skirts and later immolation. But still
to be known the umbral armature of
last words and last things, and the monster that
lives along the river in whose shadow
children, and sometimes lovers, disappear.

 

 

 

 

Bottom Baboon

single hatpin bw mod 6

One had to wash up after meetings just to feel human again.

The unit boss was a stodgy little thing with a closet full of personae. There was the prissy schoolmarm persona concocted for most of the email she sent us, though “sent” doesn’t convey the way she issued it forth, sometimes in wave after wave, as if she’d been saving it up. That little persona sometimes held hands with another one, a coquette who wore fancy hats and longed to be admired, and there was another one she seemed to imagine as a Victorian woman of letters with a long, slow hatpin and a lot of time on her hands. Her missives seemed to assume that we were pets of a sort–often bad pets–with no lives of our own, and thus always interested in hers.

My Dears,
Autumn is upon us, and I have yet to take my cozy winter shawls out and my somewhat trendy though purposeful rainboots still sit in the back of my closet, a bit dusty they are, though everything else in my tiny closet is neat as a pin awaiting the munificent and beguiling change in weather, which seems to be arriving sooner than I’d anticipated this year unlike last year when it arrived with the Perseids, those glistening ladies who swarmed in last November’s sky. I watched them from my sturdy balcony, drinking the special tea that an adoring friend sends me from China, accompanied by my faithful Esmerelda who could not see the magical fireworks of nature in the velvety dark sky because her eyesight, alas, is failing although she still greets me with excited little leaps and yips of joy whenever I return home from work, which, as you know, is often late in the evening because my duties as your leader are so numerous and so time-consuming . . .

You had to scroll through lots of that kind of thing to parse out or get to whatever it was that you needed to get to in addition to admiring her person and enjoying the glimpses she set forth of her fascinating life.

. . . Just as season follows upon season, monthly reports are due on the last workday of each month—that’s the last workday, NOT the last day of each month. Unlike the season, which seems to be arriving unseasonably sooner than even I had anticipated, your monthly reports are sometimes arriving at the last minute or, unfortunately–dare I say it?–late. Some of you have of late–no pun intended, tee hee–been forgetting that when paperwork is not tendered forth at its appointed time, all is not right with the world even if the seasons go on, wistfully, perhaps, in their fleeting and inimitable if somewhat relentless and casual way without our notice. If you cannot submit required paperwork when it is due, I shall have to take the unfortunate and regrettable step of docking your otherwise generous pay, and I shall have to go out of my way to do so, or rather, I shall have to ask the Dean to go out of his way to do so. Nothing could make me less happy than taking such drastic action, and I’m sure you do not want to make your ever faithful and humble leader, me, unhappy.
Cheers!!!

She may have actually thought that we were grateful for her personal ruminations and thought them charming and witty. And some—perhaps many– of us may have. But I always felt as if I’d been pinned down and slapped around. After the first year of it, just seeing it waiting there to be opened made my lesser self run all around in my mind slamming doors and kicking children.

Of course that may have been because by then I had gotten to know the constant behind her miscellaneous personae, that unpredictable and snake-mean little person who was endlessly busy not so much being the boss as showing us that she was the boss and nobody was the boss of her. When she lobbed email at us or corralled us into the protracted performances she called meetings, the several fancy fussy little beings boiling away inside her couldn’t quite agree on why we needed to be bothered but all agreed that we should be bothered often. And at length. Some of us more than others.

Tatting away at her computer expanded opportunities to circulate and bestow her queenliness. The missives constructed for mass consumption (unlike those aimed at individuals and sent by regular mail and sometimes even registered mail to contaminate your home) always started with “dears” or “my dears” or “dear ones” and ended with “cheers,” words that began to look unsavory or even threatening when one paused to reflect, as I often did, on the contempt in that familiarity, or paused to reflect, as I often did, on the fact that she enjoyed having everyone in thrall and that she really could, and did, punish anyone who didn’t enact the appropriate excitement upon seeing her perambulations through the cubicles or seeing her planted firmly and troll-like in the nearest possible exit.

She had an unerring instinct for primitive–and very effective–forms of intimidation. At some point even before I was singled out for special treatment, I realized that she didn’t really smile: she bared her teeth. She wasn’t quite as good at the subtleties of impression management as she probably imagined herself to be. Everyone pretended not to notice, though no one should be faulted for that. If she thought you saw it, you yourself would be in for the kind of relentless micromanaging that makes it difficult to get any work done, the kind that had nothing really to do with your work and everything to do with her compulsion to tell you over and over that she could do anything she wanted to you and there was nothing you could do to stop it.

The fiefdom she maintained needed helpers of course, and she was a tireless recruiter. She’d beckon someone into her office or catch them off guard in the supply closet and in a flimsy approximation of casual chitchat she’d bring someone’s name up and slide it around in some faint praise before tarring it into place with some drummed up flaw or offense, and if you refused to participate in this, well, there were punishments. One must admit that she had a talent–though perhaps it was just a lot of practice–for turning innocuous or even good things into bad things. By the time she was advanced to a sort of permanent overlord position, she had turned a group of amiable and otherwise intelligent people, some of whom might even have been thought of as one’s friends, into a mob.

It’s hard to sit in a roomful of colleagues most of whom will no longer even look you in the eye and to know your part is to be the baboon at the bottom and to know that part of their part is not to be the baboon at the bottom by helping her make you the baboon at the bottom. But what’s even harder, perhaps, is to catch sight of your own face over the sink in the women’s room—one had to wash up after meetings just to feel human again—to catch sight of your own face and to know that if you didn’t know what it was like to be the bottom baboon, you yourself might be one of them, sitting in the smug seat of the sycophant, enjoying the high end of the pay scale.

Days Out

Three days out we lost the steering
soon after we fell ill:
it ate up all the edges on the map.

The boss locked down to scribble
crazy snares and lob them out
for stumbles in our way.

Our instruments failed in pairs–
some kind of voodoo someone said
but we were past remarking

so much was so the same.
She ditched our last provisions
then beat us with her cane.

 

 

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

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 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

…………………………………………..

…………………………………………..