Poetry


The following poems are taken from my first book of poems, WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS (CavanKerry Press, 2009) which is available on order from University Press of New England (UPNE.com) Amazon.com, or any bookstore. Some of them also come from my next book, LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS, which is currently seeking a publisher.
 
 

EATING THE EARTH

After Tyrone, the little boy next door,
makes her eat a handful of dirt
for telling lies
about where babies come from
her father says it will do her no harm.
You have to eat a peck of dirt
before you die, her father says.
He also says she hadn’t lied:
babies do come that way
She cries after her father
leaves the room and she sleeps
all night with the lights on.
Her father tells her other things,
that earthworms eat their own weight in dirt
every day and that their do-do
(he says “excrement”)
fertilizes our food.
She makes a face over that
and doesn’t believe him.
Besides, she says, we’re people
not worms.
And we’re so great, huh? he says.
Well, I’d rather be a girl than a worm.
He says nothing.
He is grown up and a doctor,
he doesn’t have to worry about
being a worm.
But she does.
That night she dreams that Tyrone
dumps a jar of worms down her shirt
and that their dreadful undulations
become hers and she begins
eating dirt
and liking it,
the cool coarse grains of sand,
the spicy chips of mica,
the sweet-sour loam become her body
as she lives and breathes,
eating the darkness.

AMBIVALENCE

Touch me. No, no, do not touch.
I mean: be careful —

if I break into a hundred pieces
like a Ming vase falling from the mantle
it will be your fault.

JUNIOR MISS

Cool as Christmas
plump as a wish
and simonpure as cotton

You stroll the avenue
mean in your jeans
and the boys applaud.

You toss off a shrug
like a compliment
with a flicker of disdain

Catching the whistle
in mid-air and
pitching it back again.

MY MOTHER WAS MEDEA

An absurd delusion, perhaps, but
I maintain she always loved me
even as her dagger pierced my chest
and I felt my breath go black and tight.
There was much aggravation beforehand
and I had never been the easiest child.
Plus, you should understand
her own childhood had left scars.
Certainly, my father was always difficult
and stirred up trouble whenever he was around.
I knew how things had to turn out
I was young, yes, but I knew:
early on I had presentiments of my end
and I felt pangs for my poor mother
when I realized she would be its instrument.
I do not forgive her. Don’t get me wrong:
there is nothing to forgive. Love
may mean murder more often than we know
and as soon as I understood this I lost all fear.
Even so, I admit I was not wholly brave:
I flinched when she approached,
her eyes full of such terrible love.
But I was not altogether an innocent victim —
I knew my death was necessary
to punish my father, and when the moment
arrived I stood forth and waited.
When the blade struck bone
my
hand guided her hand.

OUR MOTHER’S DAUGHTERS

I dreamed my mother cut off
my baby toes, the suturing so perfect
she left no gangrene, no scars, just a fine line
of invisible thread and four toes on each foot
instead of five. The job done, she left me
at the “crutches store” on Whitney Avenue
where I could find no crutches to fit
and so hobbled back toward home
alone and lopsided.
This is true, and she was a good mother
most of the time, which meant
that I never lacked for anything
she could buy, yet still I grew up lame,
disfigured (though not in any
noticeable way) and always with the sense
I had been abandoned before my time.

This has all been said before: our mothers
leave us, then or now, later or sooner,
and we hobble like cripples
toward the women in our lives
who can save us. Or else we limp homeward
knowing we will never make it back
before we wake up. And when we do wake up
we find we, too, are mothers, trying desperately
to save our daughters’ legs
by amputating their smallest least necessary
toes, taking the toes to save the feet
to save the legs they stand on
in a world where we ourselves
are not yet grounded.

THE CATATONIC SPEAKS

At first it seemed a good idea not to
move a muscle, to resist without
resistance. I stood still and stiller. Soon
I was the stillest object in that room.
I neither moved nor ate nor spoke.
But I was in there all the time,
I heard every word said,
saw what was done and not done.
Indifferent to making the first move,
I let them arrange my limbs, infuse
IVs, even toilet me like a doll.
Oh, their concern was so touching!
And so unnecessary. As if I needed anything
but the viscosity of air that held me up.
I was sorry when they cured
me, when I had to depart that warm box,
the thick closed-in place of not-caring,
and return to the world. I would
never go back, not now. But
the Butterfly Effect says sometimes
the smallest step leads nowhere,
sometimes to global disaster. I tell you
it is enough to scare aperson stiff.

EFFICACIOUS PRAYER

You know you shouldn’t,
and that it is impossible to change
yet when the sirens scream
and fire-trucks go racing in the direction
of your home, you do pray–
and who doesn’t?–
that if it isn’t your house
it has to be someone’s
but better his than yours, though for a moment
you regret the malice in your prayer
and amend it to a false alarm.
Common sense tells you
not to hope too much–
the fire is already where it is. No prayer
will change that, though you know
you should have checked the oven before
you left, doused the ashtrays with water…
No use now in praying–
Is your insurance paid up?
Is everyone out of the house?
You can’t pray for any of these either.
The rabbis say: Do not pray
that facts are not facts.
Here there is only the fact
of your gutted house, everything you owned
incinerated. You own nothing now
only cinders, your shoes, the clothing
you wear. Now you can pray,
that much is permitted. Pray you can rebuild
from your embers.

WORD SALAD

“Word salad,” a term used for the completely disjointed, incomprehensible language sometimes seen in schizophrenia

Unpinned, words scatter, moths in the night.                                                                      The sense of things loses hold, demurs.                                                                     Everything means. Numbers soldier
with colors and directions, four by four
in a pinwheel: this is the secret wisdom.
I inscribe it on sacred sheets of paper.
The Oxford Dictionary holds not a candle.
The self reduced to a cipher, a scribble,
the Eye is all, with a Freemason’s lash,
and 26 runic hieroglyphs to share
how a stitch in time saved the cat
and if a messy rock gathers no stones,
clams must surely be lifted higher
by the same rising boats. Why, why not throw
glass tomes at grass huts? It is a question
of propriety: grass is too dignified to lie down
before gloss. Whirligig! How to pull the center
back into the world? It would take all
the OED to recapture the moths, all Harcourt’s
English Grammar to pin them again.

GRANDIOSE 

He says:
I was always more important than you though
with your cutting me down to size quarrel
about just who I thought I was. I thought I was
with my long dark hair and beard and rough
working clothes John the Baptist, prophet of God
wild man of the wilderness and would have
to preach the word of a savior I didn’t quite
believe in. I mentioned my conviction to a friend
who told me to make friends with a mirror,
discover which John I really re-incarnated. Lo,
I looked and saw the more famous than Jesus
John staring with his small important eyes
behind his too small eye-glasses at me staring
into the mirror at myself, yes, I wrote the songs
you grew up on: Yesterday, Give Peace A Chance,
Eleanor Rigby— yes, I was the one you swooned
over and screamed for, yet now you only shriek
at me, taking me down from a peg on the wall.
Why do you yell, Get lost, baby? Imagine all the people
who would rejoice to see me live once more.

THis next poem, which won’t paste as single spaced though it is, comes from my next book, LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS, which is seeking a publisher now.

TYRANNOSAURUS REX

Tyrant, they called you, emperor, bully,

the first time I was in the psychiatric wing.

You finger-painted, yes, getting down on your knees

to smear pigment with stiff abandon

but afterward, in the hall, when I froze, contorting,

you let the whole world of the ward know

your scorn, imitating me, calling me “crazy.”

I seemed finally better. I came home.

But when I failed you, leaving med school,

an embarrassment and a humiliation

who couldn’t even keep work as a clerk or waitress,

you claimed suddenly “three children” not four.

Between us interposed silence for thirty years

as I learned to live on $3 a day, to write my life

into poems when I had words to share.

Years passed in “the bin” and out “on the farm,”

as I called the hospital and those programs by day

that structured my life. But hospitals shape-shift

after a dozen or more and there are decades

of my life that are lost even to memory,

each melding into another like shadows

on night-lit walls in carbon paper alleys.

One keyhole through which I see the past:

Shock treatment with its drowning anesthetic drops

and stunned awakenings. Then there you are,

standing in the seclusion room door

resuming conversation as if begun just yesterday

not thirty years before, no older, or at least

no grayer than “Daddy” again, shorter, yes,

but kinder. What could I do but respond?

I never dreamed that at eighty-three

you’d lose your fire, habanero, old Nero,

or that I, Rome, would ever stop burning.

CONSIDER THE BULLFROG

who

night and day

belches “jug-o-rum”

to a teetotaling

bog; whose noisy

lieder of drink

and bawds last all

summer long;

who nibbles

asterisks

of water striders

dimpling the surface

of the black pond

and ensnares

tangy damselflies

with the quick ribbon

of his tongue;

who after all

is not a Prince

in disguise; who

suffers himself to be

pithed for science;

who sculls

through sweet

mud in la nostalgie

de la boue; who

is Frog among frogs;

who needs no god;

who does not know

he will die.

The next poem is new, but I do not believe I will publish it before I publish the book, is this one, a “nature poem” of a sort. It was written for my writing group “prompt” on the word “song or singing” as I recall…

THE SONG OF THE ANT

“For the listener, who listens in the snow...Wallace Stevens

In those days I was always cold

as I had been a long time, mindful of winter

even at the solstice of my high summer days

always, always the crumb and crust of loss

and near-loss of everything held dear

before the saison d’enfers and the ice to come

There was always the wind

There was the wind making music,

and I, at one with the quirky stir of air

bowing the suppliant trees

bowing the branches of those trees for the sound

of songs long held in their wood

Change change us: rings of birth, death, another season

and we hold on for nothing and no reason

but to sing.

 

POEM IN WHICH I SPEAK FRANKLY, FORGIVE ME

GOMER: ER-speak for a troublesome, unwanted person in the emergency department, acronym for Get Out of My Emergency Room

So many times gurneyed in by ambulance and police escort
“dangerous to self or others,” and too psychotic
to cooperate or scribble consent, you suspect by now
you are just a GOMER to the snickering scrubs in the ER
who whisk you in back with the other disruptives
lying in bed, waiting for “beds.”

One time you dip paranoid into the inkwell of your purse
extracting a paring knife more amulet than effective protection,
they strip-search you, then, unblinking, eyeball you all night
through a bulletproof plexiglass window.
In the morning, 15-day-papered so you can’t leave,
they send you ominously upstairs.

Later, at home, the voices decree your left leg
should go up in flames to atone for the evil within,
and you listen, and you do it, you do it:
the searing flare of cobalt actually crackles.
This time you tell no one, the char too deep for pain,
until fear of worse trumps your fear of being taken away.

This is not the story of your life.
It’s not the story of your life–
but every time a hulking goon squad clamps restraints
around your flailing wrists and ankles, threatening
to prosecute you for biting those hands that shackle you,
you wonder if there will be any other

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Poetry”

  1. I am fearful for the daughter of my heart, Her voices are very loud. I love her so. as for yourself I see that I will have to drop by from time to time to say, you’re not so bad. I will say to you what I said to my daughter today, please don’t leave me.

  2. “as usual, came jokes like winter roses – / blooms for the rest of the family / but only the bite for me, / on my knees outside the family pale, / forever beyond the kingdom / and the power.” The poem has been up to this point a personal conversation — insightful, beautiful, pointed & then you utter theses lines & everything, everything changes. You could have uttered them as a Delphic prophesy.

  3. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, sara! I am pleased to make your acquaintance! It feels like so few people truly appreciate poetry today, or they only like what passes for it on the internet that i despair of finding readers who will take the time to read the poems i have ben writing and worked so hard on for over 30 years…

  4. I’m so glad you visited my blog because now I’ve found your poetry.
    This collection is really beautiful. The way they flow is so emotive. I think it’s an enormous talent to be able to move people with words. You definitely have a new fan!

  5. You are an amazing poet, Pam. Can’t wait for your new book. I wrote this about the relationship with my mother, and how we coped after my father passed. Hope you like it!

    They’re Just Flowers

    I’d had another
    pointless and
    futile
    argument
    with my
    mother in the
    living room.

    It was about not taking my
    medication. I hated
    myself for being
    pedantic and
    petit.

    She’s a woman of
    experience, and at
    her maturity
    she’s had
    time to know
    my faults. Her patience
    was tested for the
    billionth
    time.

    My mum
    was only
    being considerate
    and loving.

    The truth is
    when a child has schizophrenia,
    it is usually the mother
    who takes the
    mountain of
    responsibility, and has to
    take care of their
    loved ones.

    My head was filled
    with paranoia, and
    I thought she
    was evil, but oh how
    wrong could her
    son be?

    As I dialled the
    number I didn’t really
    understand the
    point of them:
    flowers.

    But when the
    florist
    arrived, I was taken
    aback by the smile
    all over
    her boundless face.
    In one moment
    I had said more
    than

    sorry,
    or thank you,
    expressed more
    than gratitude,
    and that of
    forgiveness.

    And as she
    placed them
    in a vase. I pondered,
    on what they
    had
    embodied, a bunch of
    fine aroma’s, with
    hollow green stems
    and colourful
    trumpets,
    maybe,

    except to her
    they
    were the
    answer to
    every
    argument we’d
    ever had,
    and, all those
    words I didn’t
    mean. To her they
    were more
    than a bunch of flowers,
    for not one
    word, that comes from a
    son’s reckless mouth,
    could fill the gaps
    between his
    heart, and the empty
    hollow stems
    of man.

    David Holloway 2014

  6. Thank you so much. What wonderful things you said about my poems… I scarcely deserve them. But i appreciate them. Thank you for passing on the poems and link as well. You are indeed a miracle!

    Pam

  7. What a poet you are!!! You write these amazing poems with so many lines of truth, of observation or your own mind and the mind of others, then squirt whipped cream on the top with a bright cherry (pit included) on top. These poems are a lot to swallow, to think about, allow us to see it from the inside as you do…at least to a very small degree. I have a very close family member with these diagnoses as you, and I have sent her your link and poem or two. I KNOW she will find much comfort in your words.

  8. Again, your wonderful way with words inspires me:
    …………………
    Lost Marbles
    …………………

    My mind shattered
    I actually heard it break
    a sound like a rock
    flying through a window
    glass splintering, crashing, falling
    in slivers all over the floor ~
    is this what they mean
    by “losing your marbles?”

    I laugh to myself
    when the untried true believers say:
    “God will never give us
    more than we can bear.”
    They have yet to learn
    this Universal Truth:
    When we have been given
    more than we can bear
    we either go insane
    or
    we die.

    “Rachel Smith”

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