Looking back: two poems

Minimal Circus
for DD

Amherst, MA

Fall 1996

One night let’s invite da Vinci and St. Francis of Assisi
to drink red wine from half carafes,
sit by the fire in this glacial room
where the soul of the world’s in orbit,
try to forget that each gift could be the last,
do anything to stave off the sour wind of wrath:
store evaporated milk in reusable cans,
keep pens and paper and candles at hand.
Late, when the guests have passed out, let’s drag the dead
weight of distraction from the living room chairs
and wait for the night to cease, for day to end,
for time’s implosion.
It’s a private affair —
the uninvited don’t even perceive the web
that cradles,
the host of characters at the table,
the guardian spirits lurking,
the unlocked doors of time collapsing,
the fire of dreams, the disguise of flame.
They can’t fathom the orgies and nectar flowing
around this house these mornings,
the bands of birds here, plump and raucous,
who are memory,
and greed.
Brother, father–
the men who didn’t know her yet
carried her body across this field
where my house now stands. She hovers.
The bell counts.
She was called back, I was called forward.

I have fallen in love with the spirits of things,
touching shoulders with the poet,
the mentor and the muse.
Wearing cotton tunics,
let’s stand on a cliff beneath the water-blue sky:
clasp hands, swan dive.
We who go like spies through the world–
we can be the winning pictures,

the lost negatives, the grateful scribes.

A la Revolucion

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Winter, 1997

It could be 1425, Spain, Toledo–
and north of here
Joan of Arc’s a girl
who will lead an army, listening
to the voices:
My brothers in Paradise tell me what I must do
How often the mind silences the heart,
the heart clamoring for a deserted place
where I can scream, be the woman, wear the armor,
bury the shield, loot
the houses of the wealthy
while they sleep, burn the city.

The cold air surprises me, the moon’s
rising, lucid.
I order coffee ice cream with chocolate sprinkles
from the man scarred with acne
who asks me,
“How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
I do mind your asking–and older than you think.
I take my change, turn to leave,
leaving him surprised.
I am tired
of that question,
tired of smiling and saying,
“It’ll be a blessing when I’m 40.”

Outside the ice-cream shop,
three dark-skinned women and a child
with smoldering eyes
wait for their ride.
They are Salvadoran.
In a dream
my Sephardic grandmother
speaks to me through the girl’s cherry mouth,
exchanging one country’s Spanish
for ancient rhymes, speaking a sing-song of riddles
in Ladino, laughing.

Torrential rain, deafening roar,
I create chaos where there was order,
timeless and ageless,
mine are all and none of the names of the world.

Let dawn never come, that obedient sister.
Let the calm after the storm choose
it dwelling place carefully.
Let the Gods smile on me — or not,
saying amongst themselves
Well, it’s about time,
as I travel into the pages
of the atlas, claiming
the rage, the woman, my belated inheritance.

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