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Poetry

There’s such a thing as end-time pilgrims, disciples

of the hoard—water, a tightwad inventory

 

of canned food to outlast the famine foretold

by Hiram’s dream. Life will go on, skimpily

 

and in secret, no seasons and no art,

no poet to lament the end of days.

 

They’ll arm themselves to the hilt, tracking things

to hate or kill. That is their lot, survival

 

their only offering, preservation

of the cherished self. No looking back, except

 

to see the bullets take root, to glory

over blood, a blackish stain on the flank

 

of anything that moves. With the world stilled,

they mistake God’s silence for God’s anger.

 

—————————§

 

I rest, ecstatic, inside God’s silence,

but more than that I revel in his voice,

 

delivered, perhaps, as blot-all darkness

bearded by time-lapse clouds. Call me angel

 

of the overlooked, my halo made of weeds

and the feathers of grocery-store birds.

 

Hoppers, I named them, for the way they hop

rainbow puddles with french-fries in their beaks,

fine with traffic but terrified of me,

scaling zero to transfixed in an instant.

 

Can a woman be a whirling dervish?

If so, I accept. I tilt my head sideways,

 

I spread my arms, embrace the butchered world,

and stumble through the music of the spheres.

 

—————————§

 

I’d argue stumbling is a type of praise.

If you don’t look down you never miss birds

 

thrashing in treetops, weaving shoelaces

into their nests, forcing lesser sparrows

 

to parent imposter young while they soar,

motionless in a pantomime of flight.

 

Pantomime Man, on Royal Street, frozen mid-

stride, in tuxedo cut-offs and a top hat—

 

he smells money. His hustle? Photo-ops

of himself high-stepping with tourists.

 

Handling a stuffed gator and my toddler,

he poses, and they both freeze while I get

 

my shot. The magic over, his foot drops,

and pigeons scatter, a slow-motion labyrinth.

 

—————————§

 

World Labyrinth Day—an excuse to wander

without people stopping to ask if they

 

can help me find the treasures I have lost.

If someone asks, I seek the hands of statues

 

broken off by time, the attention span

of church builders, their labyrinths a type

 

of pilgrimage—devotion to the far-off,

impossible dream of a finished thing.

 

Imagine a life spent untangling

the geometry of curves, enabling

 

seekers to bump against the edges

of the holy. You’d be untouchable,

 

with a throng gathered to watch you work—

silent, still, swallowing giggles and prayers.

 

—————————§

 

My head’s so crowded with giggles and prayers

I’m called irreverent, mistaken for drunk

 

because I’m goofy with a bloody mary

at Mardi Gras, before the roller-derby

 

running of the bulls. Feast day every day.

I’m ready to take to the streets, parade

 

behind coffins or icons made of corn.

What shall we feast today? How shall I praise

 

our patron saint of floods, the Cajun navy,

rescue boaters cruising river streets, shouting,

 

pulling a lady from her sunken car

and then going back under for the dog?

 

You’ll know to grab what you love most when

the boaters ring a bell as they approach.

 

—————————§

 

Who among you can hear a bell’s voice

travel underwater? I dare you to say so

 

because then you know when the wafer wall

between other days and feast days wavers—

 

you’d know the chimes: a sacramental wind

in prayer flags, or dogs barking. You’d know,

 

and you’d be obliged to respond in kind.

It is lonely work, to open your mouth

 

with no one listening, a reflection

of the natural world, its glory trampled,

 

plastered over with barnacles of neglect,

set down in layers at the speed of pearls.

 

Underwater time. That’s how it starts—

with barbs of grit, like fishhooks in my mouth.

 

—————————§

 

Strange words, as though I swallowed a fishhook

and now I gasp, renouncing all but life

 

to be cut free. The fish I’ve ruined—mullet

and perch—enough to fill a wing net.

 

I took every tremor seriously.

Fooled by micro-leviathan nibbles,

 

I reeled in baitfish, golden shiners.

The underwater tug of each son’s birth—

 

they fought being yanked through a wound, they wailed,

their first battles in life lost. I wasn’t

 

a milk-gushing mother. I was afraid

to touch them. I had no words, no tears,

nothing but shudder and blood to my neck.

An unseen hand pulled their names from my throat.

 

—————————§

 

An unseen hand pulls these songs from my throat.

No one listens. They stare off into space—

 

my children, students, maybe God tunes out,

payback for all those times I shut my ears,

 

vetoing the madness of midnight poems

out of laziness. Too busy with nothing

 

to open the notebook, jot the freebies down.

I’d jump awake if the house were on fire

 

and never look back. Why not when God strikes

with seizures of clarity breaking through

 

the brain’s electric mush? Epiphany,

inspiration, communion with the living God—

 

call it what you want, but erase your resting

bitchface and boredom’s snarl—the spirit’s alive.

 

—————————§

 

I look bored, but I’m filled with the Spirit—

thus speaks my son, zombified in church.

 

He moves his lips, creases paper cranes from corners

of the service sheet. That counts as prayer, I guess,

 

not a creed but close enough—to zone out, stare

at what you want through so much haze

 

that it appears. The ass-in-seat approach

to religion. I understand. Sometimes

 

all you can do is show up, stand and kneel

on cue. The words and answered prayers will come

 

or not, storms unleashed from blackened skies,

or they trickle drip by drip, barely enough

 

to whet the faith. Those days, I tell myself

I feel amazed. I force myself to dance.

 

—————————§

 

Amazing universe, all dance and dazzle—

sometimes there are no words. I have to point

 

to simple things—the hummingbird’s polite

sipping of the iris, bird smaller than

 

the orb spiders stitching golden webs,

dew-laced, draped over ditches the duration

 

of my commute. Of course I yawp about it.

I woke up hoping for ordinary,

 

but I tangled with mystery instead.

I can’t see straight, can’t keep track of it all.

 

Once more, starlight slants through me and I’m shocked—

a deer caught in dwindling dawn. I’d make

 

a fantastic carrion bird—clueless,

cocky, every roadkill meal a banquet.

 

—————————§

 

I’m a believer in makeshift banquets

with enough of whatever to go around—

 

gnarly excess zucchini, deer sausage,

the jambalaya pot holding as many

 

servings as there are guests, invited

and uninvited both. It’s like magic,

 

or tact, or the manners my mother taught:

when the food runs low, fill yourself with bread.

 

These words were not her personal credo,

but a phrase cribbed from the White Trash Cookbook.

 

Meant to be a gag gift, not prophetic,

but the holy—who knows where it blows?

 

Same with wisdom. Can you be a wise man

and taste nothing from the altar of riches?

 

—————————§

 

I confess to counting weekday riches,

keeping score though I claim to have renounced

 

the bullshit gospel of prosperity.

I pledge myself to a different plenty—

 

shaking it with the blues-tent tambourine

ministry and joining the all-faiths choir.

 

I score my chatter with a constant hum

and a heave-ho shifting of the body.

 

Highly recommended. The weeks my vision

abandoned me I looked through a blanket

 

of haze and wept eye drops in the back of church,

the stained glass reduced to an opal blur.

 

To sing, I followed along with voices

chirping from the mouths of perfect strangers.

 

—————————§

 

Dear ones, perfect strangers, in dreams I’ve wept

silent tears for my Medjugorje lies.

 

I never climbed a mountain on my knees

to see her, but said I did, like everyone

 

who pointed to nothing and called it her face,

heart shaped, raining goodness from the clouds.

 

I believed in statues with flood-stained smiles

but never saw miracles, was never healed.

 

Instead, I took solace in ordinary

things—paper umbrellas in my coffee

 

and walking the clamshell labyrinth of graves

looking to scrub the most neglected tombs.

 

How embarrassing, to genuflect

to ghosts while weeds swallow your footprints.

 

—————————§

 

Did weeds erupt in my footprints as foretold?

Not over time, but the instant I moved?

 

Maybe not, but I do see tiny worlds

in stones, the landscape jasper that I clasp

 

at my throat so the desert walks with me

and I become a mystic of daily life.

 

One morning I woke for a museum pilgrimage

and saw nothing but saints—peasant saints

 

peddling their wares, gaunt creatures, their faces

illuminating prisons of darkness.

 

Gilded versions of under-the-sink martyrs,

aglow, crucified to pillar candles,

offered their thorn-braided hearts to me,

a pilgrim marked by the stone at my throat.

 

—————————§

 

There are the end-time pilgrims, disciples

of God’s silence, and then there’s me, ecstatic,

 

ritualistic in my stumbles on ordinary days,

on World Labyrinth Day, with a stone in each hand,

 

my head crowded with giggles and prayers

and the sound of bells rung underwater.

 

Strange words. As though I swallowed a fishhook,

an unseen hand pulls these songs from my throat.

 

I may look dead, but my spirit is alive.

I’ve worked myself into a state of amazement

 

at what began as a makeshift banquet

of weekday riches. I call on you to testify,

 

perfect strangers, that I weep for no reason,

and my footprints fill with flowers as foretold.


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