Altar: Creation (a chapbook)

ALTAR: CREATION is a sampling of a few of my favorite poems from two of my collections. These poems are styled in free verse and prose fragments. I hope you enjoy reading them and please feel free to share 🙂

Acknowledgements:

“Wormwood” was first published in The Camel Saloon.
“River Girl” and “Not an Epistle” were first published in Pink Litter.
“Mirror Angels” was first published in Atlas Poetica.

1.

Wormwood

She has black dirt on her face.
The ruins of a garden plucked
for winter stain her hands.
She has scratched that greenery free
and bathed in the empty
soil, praying for next year’s harvest
with touches
of bare arms and thighs.
She rubs the flesh of the earth,
places stones in her mouth
careful of her teeth
though she knows
this is ritual.
Her tongue rolls in the grit,
hips turn the ground like a spade.
She says, “I will starve myself for the gods
so I can grow poison in the spring.”
IMG_0352

2.

Childhood’s Index

She always laughed when we caught fire.
She killed a baby bird with a sprig of holly and a cement block.
She was my best friend.
He was my first love.
He was afraid of the things I wasn’t.
He threatened to kill my rat.
She hated me but soon forgot who I was.
He threatened to kill my rat.
She asked me where I’d been in that way that wasn’t asking.
No one wanted me to be friends with her.
He also forgot about me.
He had nice socks.
She came and went and came and went.
She was the only person who always listened.
He wanted to die before making life better.
He died before I could ask him out.
He was the only person who asked me if I was okay.
She didn’t like the way I did things.
He always scared me.
He didn’t make fun of my favorite movie.
He thought I would like something that I didn’t but at least he thought of me.
He might learn how to hate me.
She made fun of my hair.
He played the yellow and wanted her to buy him cigarettes. (I wanted to give him mine but he never asked me.)
He survived cancer.
She was jealous of everyone.
He went away.
He didn’t know I could speak.
He kept poking but couldn’t make me cry.
She could spike a mean volleyball.
She lied to me.
She said I was a liar.
She believed I was going to kill someone.
He took ‘no’ way too personally.
He led her on. She never suspected.
She was the only one who read my poetry.
She let her parents push her around.
She didn’t escape.
She didn’t get Dylan Thomas.
She said the Poet Laureate of Virginia was way over her head.
She ate a flower.
He made me cry.
She could never quit smoking.
He tried to impress me by masturbating.
He slammed my hand in a steel door.
His best friend could do no wrong.
He let me play with spray paint. Later, he was embarrassed by his youthful exuberance.
He waited for me.
She hated her body.
She didn’t look like her mother.
She didn’t know how beautiful she was.
He wanted to go home.
She cried all night, every night.
She hated herself more than the people who deserved her hate.
He hated the cold.
She was born on the same day as the city.
She had bad luck.
She thought all rooftops should have swimming pools.
She had a voice like coffee and cigarettes.
He had a voice like a broken window.
She said she liked the look the sharks gave her when they cut through uncharted waters.
He was an officer who knew how to bleed alongside everyone.
He looked for things he could never find.
She looked at me and smiled.
She made hunting noises.
He slept loudly.

She felt alone all the time.

Version 2

3.

River Girl

My mother was the type of girl who all the boys said they would marry but never date. And so I am the sum of all of her pent up aggression, she bottled all of her passion up and put it into me; made me out of that crisp, crackling fire so that she could remain frigid because how else do you deal with a husband who doesn’t love you? A husband who abandons you and rapes your child because you won’t turn over or move or breathe in bed? I became the girl that all boys date but will never marry. I do not want any children. I do not want to blow a beautiful glass bobble that can break once I drop it on the floor. But maybe you can be the one who I crawl to out of the crackling river where I have thrown myself down on the stones hoping to smash my bones into a thousand glass pieces frozen in the water where I won’t feel anything anymore and when the feeling gets too much the feeling gets too much and I, for god’s sake I have no idea why, pull myself out of the water. But I do. And I crawl. Maybe, just maybe I can crawl to you and you can tell me that I am beautiful and everything is going to be okay. And then you can move on to the next girl and I can move on to the next boy until he tells me that I am the girl that everyone dates and never marries and then I can throw myself into the river again and crawl back to you again. See, nobody says that I am revolting; none of the boys ever say that I am revolting, I see this in myself so I crawl to you and then away from you. I watch you walk away, watch you dancing in the arms of another girl before you can see just how revolting I am. That’s when I turn to the next boy and drown my sorrow like I drown myself in the river every night every night in the frozen water I drown myself in someone else and I can’t understand how exactly I am supposed to die. Why am I not dying when I throw myself down into the frozen water? When my skull cracks into a thousand pieces and I am still alive? That is when I can come back to you and maybe you will give me the answer; you will tell me that I am beautiful and that I have to go, there is another girl waiting for you and her skirt is prettier than mine so I need to go but I am still beautiful and I am welcome back any time.

4.

Basorexic

this collarbone
this jugular
no escape

basorexia: n. 1. an overwhelming urge to neck or kiss 2. a strong craving or hunger for kissing (Urban Dictionary)

pieter bruegel
The Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel

5.

Twisted Myth

They say I took the most beautiful dream in the world and destroyed it. Burned it up and my useless life right along with it. I got exactly what I deserved, what Pride throws out to everyone who fails.

No one remembers we were trapped there too, blind and starving for the open sky. They said, “Give us your magic or else.”
Or else.

Bloody feathers on the floor. But our wings didn’t break and we flew away and YES
after decades of darkness I flew, unbroken, into that radiant sunrise.

Now they tell you my story with a warning: don’t break the rules or you’ll end up like me, don’t go too far or you’ll end up like me, don’t get too close to what you love and miss the most or you’ll end up like me.

Remember the stories of the heroes Bravery and Hubris brought safely home? Remember the heroes who tasted victory instead of defeat?
My story is not their story.
Now, because of me they tell you to be cautious, be wary, be afraid.

They tell you: never reach for more than what you are capable of catching; never strive to become your dreams.

They do not tell you the only burning passion I flew too close to was freedom.

6.

Key

a homeless key
a bolted door

tarnish on the morning fog

IMG_3858

7.

Get Lost Blue

The most basic instinct I had was to tangle you in my hands and tear. You inspired my soul to leave my body and my body really didn’t like that. The brick wall was real; the moss stains on the leather jacket I prized above all and now lost, streaked with rain, was real. Your lips tasted like lapis fed by a pearl-blotched hand reaching in from beyond the cage. How were we supposed to survive in a story like this? You abandoned me AND you were never mine to cling to. I ate you by mistake when I meant to eat the pomegranate that was JUST a pomegranate. You numbed my lips so when you slid down my throat with the rotting prick of a broken subway mirror I shredded myself on the reflection of that broken memory.

862090_58422a2757af411cbfba63f64392420f
Photo from: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/about

8.

Eat the Poet

If 500 people visit the house of a famous, dead poet at the beginning of the month and 834 people visit at the end of the month and secretly steal 1 item, 1334 pieces of the poet’s past life will be scattered throughout the universe, the poet’s childhood pilfered and worked down to a fine grain of imaginary tea parties and abuses, distilled to fulfill the fantasy of a strawberry almond love life salted with alcoholism and eccentricity. 1334 imaginary people will fall in love with a famous dead poet and one day there will be nothing left in that house. The next 1334 imaginary people will strip bark from the trees, the dirt caking the sun bleached bricks. No one will want to leave without tearing a memento from the fraying carcass of memory. However, no one can take anything from Jane Austin’s house in England because it is a historical landmark and must be protected. But Jane Austin wasn’t a poet. I don’t give a shit about her love life and across the ocean in 21st century America a poet isn’t worth the dust off the chapping venetian blinds or the dead pitcher plant hanging from the ceiling, grey like a shroud woven from saliva dripping down winter’s teeth, from a mouth numb from eating poets.

5
Tori Amos Gold Dust Photo Shoot: http://toriamos.com/go/galleries/golddust.html

9.

Leather

She wears the leather jacket like armor because she cannot protect herself. She wears the leather jacket like armor because she wants to fight back even though the laws of physics hate her, refuse to keep her moored in safe harbor. She wears the leather jacket like armor because she did not realize that she could sing the nightmares to sleep or run away or die. But she stands like a statue under the gorgon’s gaze, only the leather protects her from turning utterly to stone. Under the seams she can still breathe but she wears the leather jacket like armor because she is never scared when being scared makes sense. Only after the damage has been done, years later, can she feel the sweat and sting, remember what she thought was a trick of the light that carved her pretty little body in half. One side caught in the tremor riding the storm, the other huddling inside her leather jacket.

10.

Not an Epistle

I love how shocked you look when I recount something nasty. Do I love your disgusted face or the fact that you care enough to be disgusted? I don’t know.

Is it really such a bad thing that my 10-year-old self kept her mouth shut because she didn’t want her daddy to hit her? I don’t know.

When my mother was a girl the only places that were open on Sunday were drug stores. We don’t have those anymore. My grandmother would take my mother and my aunt and she would buy them magazines and lipsticks. After my mother passed the Foreign Services Exam she went in for an interview and was accused of being one of “those” people.

Do you think you’re messed up because of what I said to you? I think so.

Are we feeding off of each other in a dark room where the only thing I can feel is the cold lifting up? You taste good.

You can call it a dirty word if you want, fuck you too.

I can be made to not understand simple commands, the murmur of stones as they tumble around in a flood, desperate breathing.

I have holes in my boots and my socks are wet. I never thought I would say being alone is strange (strange is alone).

When you finally came back I told you that I wondered where you went. 2 days later you shot yourself after jumping off the bridge in daddy’s blue convertible didn’t kill you. So, where did you go?

Stilke_Hermann_Anton_-_Joan_of_Arc's_Death_at_the_Stake
Joan of Arc’s Death at the Stake: Stilke Hermann Anton 1843

11.

Joan Burning

A daffodil lashes
fire to every holy word.

All the evil barons are singing and she spins and spins.

Sodom_Monreal
Sodom’s Destruction; Lot and Daughters Escape: Montreal Cathedral mosaic

12.

Wife of Lot

What is your real name? I hate being called wife, without a name. I think you do too.
How do you feel with a mouth full of salt instead of the languid, tamarind language of your city? The city that sings to you and you the only one who hears her.
What does she sound like? Soprano or alto? Silk or broken windows? Do the cries of the market slide from her throat like tamarind or salt?
Does the gutter water taste like gutter or peppermint schnapps?
I think I could live married to my city of live lost and alone with no one but my city.

When you died, when your city died, you were looking at each other. What was that like?

IMG_1351
Benz Museum Judaic Gallery

13.

Eve

She resembles an open jewelry box singing, a wasp flutter
against the garishness of
that tree’s
TOUCH ME AND DIE! harmony with sibilance.
One eye’s the blue of a fractured abalone shell, the other
cormorant dead stopped,
wings helpless against her temple.
The alabaster lid of her skin splits like a poached egg,
bold entrails straggling gracefully.
She takes the apple–hands veined with lapis and jade–she doesn’t care
if a corpse has no need

for nourishment.

14.

Girl+Muse=

morning, we woke up
and you performed
another extraordinary miracle: wings split
the paper thin skin
taped across your shoulder blades, your wet spine
glistened through jaunty
angled prisms thatched
to your ribcage
with flayed nerves
and slippery blood vessels
and as you flew around the room you said: “No. That’s not how
it happened.”

I woke up alone.

15.

Prayer for Us Daughters

Begin when our mothers call us daughters the devil; lone shadow skittering across the wall between bookcases and all the things that should have been thrown out (including you); the detritus of corners and cobwebs, boxes piled high with canned food, laundry, years of newspapers and unpaid bills. Begin when our mothers call us daughters the devil as we evade the sharp corners and the door that opens and closes; the border between madness and our small, fractured sanctuaries. Belong to the small bed, the belongings scattered around the small bed: the junk we will denounce when we want to grow up like a desperate thing, when we say we will never be like our mothers. Begin when every gift, every meal, every scrap of clothing exist in their individual moments as the opposite of a slap in the face. Take the gifts with a smile and the moment her back is turned run like hell. Answer the phone with a courteous blush, an offering of innocence. Maybe she won’t bite. Sleep as if nothing is wrong, sleep as if you are in the safest place in the world and then try to remember how to breathe. Make believe, when our mothers call us daughters the devil, that eventually rain will fall from the mouth of the full moon into the eyelets of our bedroom windows and fill the cloven prism.

16.

Mirror Angels

my reflections and I
plot the points of our knees scratched in the floor,
we cannot hold
summer in our flimsy hands

I lay my head against the point where two mirrors join together at a museum exhibit and suddenly I am one girl split into three. This is educational. This is a sacred division of self. I whisper softly to them but they do not answer my prayers for rescue, escape. I can only mimic their arms with my arms and try to decipher the secret within our bodies.

the rough stars
join constellations Gaping-Mouth-of-Disbelief with Grinning-Face- That-Is-Not-A-Face.

I look in the mirrors and there are girls who look like me but are not me. They wear my face but not my memories. I look at us and I am so happy that at least some of us are free. When I stand they turn their backs to me and greet their secret, intangible worlds. I cannot go with them when I walk away.

17.

Agony

(There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.—Maya Angelou)

(Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.—C.G. Jung)

A body says, “Hello.”

Another body does not reply.

A body says, “Hello.” Again.

Another body does not reply.

A body walks into a bad joke. A body feels like a bad joke.

A body tries to tell the bad joke to another body and another body walks away.

A body has breakfast alone.

A body has lunch alone.

A body has coffee alone.

A body has dinner alone.

A body says, “Loneliness is not the unyielding force but the soft buoyancy of humid air that no one else can see.”

A body says, “Loneliness is not the story locked in the past but the inability to explain.” Or the inability to find someone who will listen.

A body says, “Loneliness is trying as hard as you can but still failing because (insert your beliefs about failing here).”

A body sees.

A body tastes.

A body touches.

A body feels the memories a body doesn’t want to feel. A body blocks them out. A body smothers them with a crashing wave. A body pounds them into the ground and refuses to let them breathe even for one second. A body cannot let them breathe for even one second.

A body hears a body’s fist connect with what a body cannot kill. A body smells a body’s blood.

A body wonders how a body got hurt when a body was supposed to be doing all the hurting, all the punishing.

18.

Mary Speaks

When I touched my brow to that bloody wood and cried “Praise the Maker!” the earth opened up and swallowed a passing comet, a multitude of stars, and all that was considered holy. When I told a lie I tasted the salt of spray that splashed the harbors of Babylon.

19.

Altar: Creation

To build an altar you need the familiar territory of a dry riverbed and the shadow of a nuclear power plant. You need the shrill of a siren on the air, the highway in the distance, the skull of a kingfisher and the footprint of someone you don’t love anymore. You need a stone from a hand that killed 15 people in a war far from home, knucklebones that know the fractals of a willow branch and all the sounds of breaking. You need the smells of honeysuckle, salt, and gunpowder, a piece of iron if you’re superstitious. You need the oil slick iridescence of a cockroach wing and a lock of your mother’s hair. You need the cornerstone of a place that makes you feel safe, even if that place isn’t really a place but a notebook, a sheet of paper, or the empty air. You need a poem written by someone you haven’t met yet.

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