BY BARBARA JANE REYES
WHY I HAVE NO PAINTINGS ON THESE WALLS
For Carolina San Juan, Carlo Ricafort, and England Hidalgo
Because I have not decided what makes a gold leaf star dust sky cerulean blue.
Here again this same inhabiting of someone else's flesh:
Songs of sparrows. Music of crushed rubies.
Dissolved into the goldening of autumn.
Because you have no in-betweens, but lack nothing.
Smoke and its opposite. Love and its opposite.
Because of the charm of investing in lies.
Ease and its absence. Urge and its absence.
India ink seeping skeletons into skin.
Making like "forever" was never there.
Because illusions of beauty obviate sweetness.
No paintings on these walls:
No gauge, no claim, no honeyed words.
Without a smile, a dislocation:
Breaking of bones and bread.
The color of fire at its coolest state.
Wonder and the ochre of its tarnishing.
Never knowing the perfume of lilacs and sorrow.
Living lackluster as slow death.
Because these sparrows shall feast from my hands if I remain still.
Because there is an art to this willingness to bleed.
The silence and starkness of these silvered stars.
Here, residing spirits are playful. The moon proceeds to fullness, creeping higher in tonight's blueblack sky. This sacred space soothes our afflictions with its laughter and light, birds of paradise, rust fire orchids jutting out of polished agate, deep pulse of brass bronze crafted agong. Kali warriors dance, sliding rattan sticks struck upon warm concrete. Fire and water agong bellows, bare feet shuffle earth and air. Here, guardians rest in corners, split balsa wood, jade, coral, and saffron. Heavy hollow resonance - hear - I tap my heel, touch earth. Rattan sticks whirl earth and air, red tassels and bamboo suspended above entryways. Energy flows here in unimpeded streams, feet shuffling, stories remembered - come, listen - rushing dodging sliding open hands across wrists slicing air. Shadows and form strike, recoil, and twirl; rising spirits awaken in closed eyes and careful stepping. Flat of palm upon warm shoulder - follow - this wordless receiving and offering and smell of garden, these colors I know in evening light and bay breeze; native metals mined and forged in circles of firelight, shifting footing stealthily. Fire and water rhythms, flat tip of rattan taps earth; full lungs release musical rivers of women's laughter.
After Kenneth Tanemura's poem of the same name
We awaken in Banaue, as the fog lifts itself marvelously, revealing terraced rice paddies through the open bedroom window of our temporary home. I scribble poem after poem here, ceaselessly capturing every moment of another vagabond summer. With his smooth arms wrapped around my shoulders and my face tucked beneath his unshaven chin, with the plain white sheets of our tiny bed bunched at our feet, shrouded by mosquito netting draping the narra wood floor, we wonder if there are still quiet corners in my ancestors' archipelago where we may spend next season.
Cradled between his knees in a galvanized metal tub barely large enough to fit the both of us, I light my cigarette and he methodically washes every inch of my rapidly growing hair. In the afternoon, he settles at his ancient mahogany desk, fountain pen poised between thumb and forefinger. Scratching its well-worn gold plated nib upon coarse cream colored paper, he insists upon writing the most tormented of memoirs, but I have the habit of casually plopping myself down in his lap, straddling his torso, my bare feet dangling just a couple of inches above the floor. I insist instead, we have a lifetime to which we can look forward. He rolls his eyes at me, mutters tantrum, privately reveling in my intrusion.
UNTITLED WAR POEM #1
i will try to remember rustle of silk color of midnight stretching horizon monsoon music poet plea for beauty whisper of women whose eyes kohl rimmed glitter river's edges so that i may forget i will try to remember emerald sheen of banana leaf thickets mermaid story in song verses carved polished bone and seashell hands weave into whispers iridescence dragonfly children slipping silver pins from my hair stillness marigold morning sky vastness azure cerulean indigo turquoise so that i may forget i will try to remember water smooth stone time passage wisps of spirits residing knots of ancient trees liquid copper translucence forest whispers never alone sugared tongues blooming hotness unfurling unnamed sadness such sadness such sadness drum beat anthem blaring sadness march on no place for memory smoke billow jetfighter piercing mourning sky
The usual longing brings me to this bruised symbolized awaiting touch place. The scent of hunger, of an unnamed marble statue lying prostrate upon marble leaves, may linger on my skin. Still. Notwithstanding, an illusion of danger could be a matter of semantics or a simple to-do list. I prefer not to quibble over specifics. Today: special editions of love. Today, my horoscope tells me change is in the air: Get a haircut (not on your life). Go on a diet, though I've already lost fifteen pounds as my cosmology's gone out of whack. Of course you've noticed.
FOUND IN KEARNEY'S VOICE
I was a hustler, a sharp-tongued interloper.
I was an aspiring Elvis.
Poetry is everything (and everything is poetry) when sometimes all you hear are lies.
I was an alcoholic morose romantic.
I wrote crap. I wrote in opposition to the one who would dictate the word.
I would go home and wait to hear the voices, because the alphabet was one of the greatest mysteries.
I was absorbed with lust. I believed him because there was nothing in him but poetry.
When did I crawl out again, after I held out, after I fell apart?
I've never cared about the zeitgeist. Poems in continual streams. I've never declared alliances.
I had nobody to impress anymore, and I was free. I didn't care for their particular viciousness. My language came from everywhere I could get it. My obligation had always been to say what needed to be said.
I have been accused.
I couldn't have.
Now I only write when I have to. Poems tumble out of me; starting with the roots, I tell my life in discontinuous extended meditation.
How poetry gets stamped out is offhandedly cruel. There are ways to stay alive. Poetry is not one of them.
It was just deathly being cordially disliked.
I do not believe any poet has the right to brutality. It's encroachment.
I know some things in the human realm. I don't know anything else. This is how poems move among the population. It is socially dangerous, these notebooks full of penciled poems.
I say, Thelonius. I say, Billie Holliday on vinyl.
When I finally fell apart, I was running through Manhattan Beach being pursued by imaginary assassins. I had cracked ribs. No one would see me.
Snaking through dreams; there is no romance to it. Slough of despondence. A peculiar sense of being haunted all the time. The practice of the outside.
A door in the sky opened up that day,
Hitting the brakes right at the edge of a cliff,
Mescaline-laced sunflower seeds on my tongue.
I heard a voice drift, "My father was Bishop of the Windward Isle,"
And then I lapsed again.
No words on the precipice of my tongue.
I believe in Revelation; I do not mean Saint John.
At the peak of insanity, the idea of water. Synapses of memory. Template of language.
Lyrics as a code to crack.
Simplicity of sunlight
Where my fontanel
Could once breathe -
Do you think this is
An invitation to a face
That has witnessed
The colors of death
Without hope of renewal?
There is something mystical here, tinctures
Of starlight I sift with my fingers. My
Afflicted muse feigns dispassion; in his
Monosyllabic tones I recognize
Wonder, inventing a new lexicon
From the birth of stars. I sing to burn this
Blistered throat, a disdain again returned
To desire, unjustified, unfettered.
There is something mystical in the fire
Of this dying star in this silent sky.
My afflicted muse, this collective breath,
This rhythm innate, is my offering
To you. I sing to burn this blistered throat
So that you may hear me. I invoke you.
i am holding up these falling stars,
knowing there is nothing to forget
but a heart bursting through flesh.
feast and famine, he whispers -
this long slow burn
for the loveliest poem to blossom
from these bleeding embers.
BONES POEM #2
he makes skeletons dance
this silence of magic
older than us all