Baby called me Rusalka,
having the same number of syllables as my name.
Moonlight tossed me in a river to awake
fins from my toenails
to bird-sing to the handsome until I am unalone
as clean as the banks of a landfill.
Our child would nap in a basket of ripe fruit
strung to a willow and birch
description of me, “perpetually wet from something”
golden by dusk though with a jade sunburn;
hair so long
would sex a rainforest’s feet if it had a pair.
Suicide on the tip of one’s tongue
now saltwater buoyant on the roof of a mouth
I was out of wedlock,
mother anchored my wrists with tangly fieldroots
right below our old tire swing
Baby simply meant I touch
everyone with my laugh, and it makes them dead.
I pierce the muse with Jade eyes
Smashed into blue dreams
Never end this road
Fall into the cobbled roses
Let the tragedy
Begin its dance
On its own
I can search for you for days
In a perfect summer
I can feel your breath
Glisten on my skin
As I taste you on my tongue
Less of the memories
Fade like the sunset
On a new day begun
I carry you in my heart
As an angel carries you in its arm
I sleep on a shadow
And wish on a heartbeat
Let me into your dreams
And carry the stars away
I pierce your blackened heart
With the spit
Of my rusty blade
your body is my habitual enclave,
I know the roads, the routes, the rails,
the way it sparks in the night, how it creaks with the sun.
I coast your body like a map,
the compass in my palm quivers, the needle
whirls and swivels, disoriented, north left behind.
instead I will globe-trot through your anatomy,
with no concerns of foreign lands, with languages
of gibberish and people unfamiliar.
first, I will plunge into your shoulders,
gape at the brawn, the vastness,
compare them to the beautiful mountains seen in Colorado.
next, I will huddle in the wool of your torso,
stealing a quick snooze,
submerged in the berceuse of your coronaries.
afterward, I will drift among your hands,
skipping among the grooves,
stumbling upon the calluses.
then, I will float among your lips,
stealing speckles of salt while playfully
greeting your lingual.
and, and, and, my darling, this adventure
will exhaust me.
so I will traverse back, through your lips, your hands,
your torso, your shoulders, until
I come to my favorite monument.
they are waves full of sapphire, clashing among
charcoal thunderstorms, dancing along
fields of jade.
two orbs of magnificence (and mine)
you will smile, and ask how the journey was,
and I will reply, as always:
or hide from
let him say what he says
and don't hold onto the
belief that he'll follow through.
don't try and change
because of want to be's
"like someone else"
"how I should be"
"what they want from me".
let him say what he wants to say
because he'll let you stay, without glances.
yet it seems there are all of these chances
he gives and then rips away.
he wants to play.
he wants to hide.
some day we'll find balance,
for now it's a windblown tree
dancing with leaves, and he's
too busy for me and my blue.
distracted from the things he
claims he wants to do. writing
of nothing that isn't about all.
doesn't slow down enough to
let himself breathe, yet I touch
his arms, his shoulders, his spine.
leave him to his own work, and
he sends me off to mine. I guess
the distress is something only I
inflict, if it's me who accepts his
lack of interest to communicate.
dry mouth coughing coffee
morning darling never loved you either
it is okay we never made it
we died on the shore of yesterdays dreams
one mine, being yours, and a jade vase
soul crusted, enveloped, encased
There's a girl in the mirror
And she's not me
She's a Princess in the mirror
With pretty curled blonde hair
And the softest blue eyes you ever saw
Hands of dainty white
Dress of sea-blue
A crown of emerald and jade
Sits upon her head
She isn't me only an illusion
Just a dream
On the other side of the mirror
i looked out my window
and saw the fresh green leaves
blooming new on the trees
and i wondered when that happened
because last time i checked
the world was barren
and my heart was cold
if i can miss
the steady change of the earth
to a bright jade green
what else have i failed to admire?
Silently I watch the muse
I rest my elbow on the slithered edge
Sit upon the shreds of an unborn memory
Contemplate into the darkness of an unformed heart
Yet to beat a still life into the pleasure of these tears
Held in an upturned palm
And I ground those tears into dust
I licked remorse from your skin
Soaked in silver petulance and tasting of almonds
Leaving my mark upon your cheek in the form of a scar littered in rust
Staring into hollow eyes of jade casting no reflection that is mine
I can see until tomorrow in your dark refractions
Nothing of today coated in sin upon my furrowed brow
Longing for the smell of your perfume
Drawing deep breath in hope of remembrance
Less than a glimmer of the life hoped for
Less than a life lived in that heartbeat
Less than a life shed in those tears now ground to dust
Ive lived less of a life for not knowing you
They were lounging on the white sanded beach crusted over with bits and scraps of broken seashells. They were lounging in the hot Santa Anna sun baking in the ultraviolet rays. They were lounging as if they did not have a care in the world and like they were a million miles away from the everything's that had contaminated their lives up to and ended at this point.
There was the buxom Chéri Ann trying to forget the trial coming up in the next few weeks that had been a long trying time coming. She laid sprawled out stomach side down on her beach towel feeling the sun tan her back. Her hands were busy rolling a tea stick but her eyes were looking past the girl in front of her; also laying down on a beach towel but on her backside; at the waves crashing effortlessly into the surf. Her fingers expertly broke up the green leafy bud that smelled of lavender and coffee. She placed them in a rectangular piece of rolling paper and still looking ahead of her towards the sea, rolled it into a medium sized stick. She took it to her lips lighting it with a lighter that she pulled out of the sand and inhaled its jade smoke. She held the smoke in for what seemed like an eternity and blew it back out onto the small flame still burning at the edge of the sticks tip, snuffing it out. She smiled and she passed it to her left where David who was wanting a cold beer and a cigarette after the past few days and also lying prone but facing away from the sun declined and grabbed it and sat up and forward and passed it to Heather who was the girl lying supine in the view of Chéri Ann. He grabbed a pack of cigarettes from his shirt lying beside him and pulled one out. He lit it. He took a drag and inhaled. He blew smoke out of his nose for a second before switching and blowing the rest out of his mouth in floating O shapes, sending them off towards the light blue sky.
Heather's face was enjoying the feel of the suns rays burn her face and bring out her freckles again. She was smiling. She took the stick from David who had sat up on his beach towel and leaned forward and arose her from her splendor. She still smiled. The tea stick went to her lips and she inhaled with a soft peaceful sigh. She smiled bigger. She could not remember her life before and nothing existed before and she was happy.
The sun shined down. The ocean was blue and the waves were crashing into the surf still with white foam beading on top of the waves. The sand was still white and littered with broken sea shell fragments.
Heather passed the stick to Bob sitting on the sand writing in his leather bound note book with a shortening black number two pencil sharpened to a point with a three inch strip of fine grit sandpaper and the edge of pocket knife passed down to him from his grandpa who got it from his dad who got it from his grandpa and so forth for another generation or two each on the day of their deaths. Bob sat facing the sun but looking at the cursive being written on the white five by seven lined notebook paper thinking not of anything but the words being written. He stopped writing and put the pencil down in the note book and closed it and laid it on the sand and took the joint and inhaled and held it and took another hit and held it. He exhaled. He took another hit and held it for a shorter time and breathed it out thru his nose. he passed it back to Chéri Ann who took another hit before passing it to Heather and he grabbed two beers from a cooler sitting next to him on a communal large sized beach towel that Chéri Ann had packed. He tossed one to David who caught it without looking or any warning at all.
Sometime alcohol screams to the blood in us.
David and Bob both snapped off the tops of the bottles in unison with bottle openers attached to their key rings. They saved the tops for Heather who made decorative art with them. They both drank them. Feeling the coolness of the liquid go down their throats and cool their stomachs. The cold amber felt good against the hot sun. They inhaled the beers and opened two more a piece and inhaled them. A breeze started to pick up.
It took him a week to master thought-diversion. He would leave home to walk to work and the moment the door was shut it was as though she followed him like a shadow on snow. If he wasn’t careful the ten-minute walk would be swallowed up in an imagined conversation. He had already allowed himself too many dark thoughts of tears and silences. He saw her befreckled by weeks in a light he had only read about. She would be a stranger for a while, a visitor from another world (until she gradually lost the glow on her skin and the smell of Africa became an elusive memory). He was frightened that he would be overwhelmed by her physical grace enriched by southern summer and the weight of her experience, having so little to offer in return. So he practised thought diversion: as her shadow entered his consciousness he would divert his attention to China of the Third Century and what he would write next about Zuo Fen and her illustrious brother.
Sister and brother Zou gradually took on a fictional life. This he fuelled by reading poetry of the period and his daily beachcombing along the shores of the Internet. He built up an impressive bibliography for his next visit to the university library. Even in the Han Dynasty there was so much material to study, though much of it the stuff of secondary sources.
One morning he took down from his library shelf Max Loehr’s The Great Painters of China and immediately became seduced by the court images of Ku Kai’chih. This painter is the only artist of this period of Chinese antiquity to be represented today by extant copies. There was also a possible original, a handscroll in The British Museum. It is said Ku was the first portrait artist to give a psychological interpretation of the person portrayed. Before him there seems in portraiture to have been little differentiation in the characterization of figures. His images hold a wonder all their own.
As David looked at the book’s illustrative plates, showing details from The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Palace Ladies, the world of Zuo Fen began to reveal itself. A ‘palace lady’ she certainly was, and so possibly similar to the image before him: a concubine reclines in her bamboo screen and silk-curtained bed; her Lord sits respectively at right-angles to her and half-way down her bed. The artist has captured his feet deftly lifting themselves out of square-toed slippers, whilst Zuo Fen drapes one arm over the painted bamboo screen, her manner resolute and confident. Perhaps she has taken note of those admonitions of her instructress. Her Lord has turned his head to gaze at her directly and to listen. Restless hands hide beneath his gown.
‘Honoured Lord, as we have talked lately of flowing water and the symmetry of love I am reminded of the god and goddess of Xiang River’.
‘In the Nine Songs of Qu Yaun?’
‘Yes, my Lord. The opening verse has the Prince of Xiang say: You have not come; I wait with apprehension / And wonder who makes you prevaricate on your island / When I am so splendidly and perfectly attired in your honour?
‘Hmm. . . so you favour this new gown.’
‘It is finely made, but perhaps does not suit the light of this hour’.
‘Let the Yangzi River flow calmly, / I look for you, but you have not come.’
‘I gaze at the distance in a trance, / Only to see the grey green waters run by.’
‘Honourable Companion, I fear you feel my mind lies elsewhere . ‘
‘I know you ride the cassia boat downstream.’
‘Indeed, my oar is of cassia and my rudder of orchid’.
‘I fancy that you build a house underwater, thatching it with a roof of lotus leaves . . .’
‘Well, if that is so, drop your sleeves into the Yangzi River and present the thin dress you wear to the bay of Li.’
‘I am in awe of my Lord’s recall of such verses . . . I love the Lady of Xiang’s description of the underwater house . . . with its curtains of fig leaves and screens of split basil.’
‘But will you send me all the spirits of Juiyi mountains to bring me to your side . . . will they come together as numerous as clouds?’
‘My Lord, my nose perspires . . .’
‘I offer my jade ring to the Yangzi River / and yield my jade pendant to the bay of Li. / I gather galingale fronds on an islet of fragrant grasses, / still hoping to present them to you. / If I leave, I might not have another chance. / So I’d rather stay here and linger a little longer.’
‘I gather the powerful roots of galingale / hoping to offer them to you who are still far away. / If I leave, I might not have another chance. / So I’d rather stay here and linger a little longer.’
‘Even though your nose perspires and your nipples harden . . .’
‘Kind Lord, you have taken the wrong role in the dialogue. Surely it is the Plain Girl who gives such advise to the Yellow Emperor.’
‘And I thought only men read the Sunujing . . .’
‘You forget I have a dear brother . . .’
‘With whom you have read the Sunujing! . . and no I have not forgotten . . . he sought permission to travel to the Tai mountains, some fool’s errand my minister states.’
‘He may surprise you on his return.’
‘Only you can surprise me now.’
‘My Lord, you know I lack such gifts . . . I hear your sandals dropping to the floor’.
‘I sail my boat ever closer to the wind / and the waves are
stirred like drifting snow.’
‘I can hear my beloved calling my name. / I shall hasten so that I can ride beside him.’
She seemed so child-like in that singular room of the garden annex. Her head had buried itself between the two pillows so only her ever-curling hair was visible. Opening a small portion of the curtains drawn across the blue metalled-framed French windows, he gazed at her sleeping in the dull light of just dawn. Outside a river-mist lay across the autumnal garden where they had walked yesterday before their tour of the estate. Unable to sleep he had sat in their hosts’ kitchen and mapped their guided walk in the rain, noting down his observations of this remote valley in a sprawling narrative. On the edge of moorland it was a world constrained and contained, with its brooding batchelor-owned farms and the silent legacy everywhere of a Victorian hagiographer and antiquarian. As he wrote and drew, snapshot-like images of her intervened unbidden. She both entranced and purposeful in a physical landscape she delighted in and knew how to read. Although longing to lie next to her he had sat gently for a moment on her bed, feeling the weight of her sleeping form move towards him as the mattress sagged, his bare feet cold on the stone floor. He placed his poem on the empty companion pillow, and returned through the chill of unheated rooms to the desert warmth of the Agared kitchen.
Lying in your arms
I am surprised to hear a voice
That seems in the right key
To sing what is in my heart.
After so many dark
To express this love
That drowns me,
Suddenly come up for breath
(after floundering in
the cold water of night)
to find there were words
like little boats of paper
carrying a tea light,
a vivid yellow flame
on the black depths,
floating gently towards you . . .
Oh log of memory
record these sailing messages
So carefully placed, rehearsed,
Launched and found complete.
Knowing I must not talk of love,
Knowing no other word
(feeling the shape of your knee
with my right hand),
knowing this time will not
come again, I summon
to myself one last intimacy
before the diary of reason closes.
Zou Fen often wrote about herself as a rustic illiterate, country-born in a thatched hut, but given (inexplicably) the purple chamber at the Palace. As the daughter of a significant officer of the Imperial Court she appears to have developed a fictional persona to induce and taste the extremes of melancholy. Otherwise she is mind-travelling the natural world from her courtyard garden, observing in the growth of a tiny plant or the flight of distant bird, the whole pattern of nature. These things fill her rhapsodies and fu poems.
As a young man Zuo Si had wild flights of fantasy. He imagined himself as a warrior. In verse he recalls reading Precepts on the Art of War by Ssu-ma Jang Chu. With a scholar’s knife he writes of quelling the barbarian hordes (the Tibetans) in their incursions along the Yang-tze. When triumphant he would not accept the Emperor’s gift of a title and estate, but would retire to a cottage in the country. Then again, as a student scholar, he describes failure, penury and isolation ‘left stranded like a fish in a pond, without – he hasn’t a single penny in his account: within – not a peck of grain in the larder.’ He was never thus.
Like all good writers sister and brother Zou were the keenest observers. They took into and upon themselves what they saw and gathered from the lives of others, and so often their playful painted characters hide the truth of their real lives. David looks at his dishevelled poetry and wonders about its veracity. He always thought of Rachel as his first (and only) reader; but what if she were not? What would he write? What would his poems say?
I lie on my back in her bed.
On her stomach, her arm on my chest,
She props herself against me
so that I see her face in close up.
out of the window
I don’t think I have slept at all,
My own bed was so cold.
She warms me for a while.
I’ve been thinking
what to say to her,
and now I am too weary
I am in despair,
Yet I ache with joy
At having her so close.
I wish I knew who I was,
What I could be,
What I might become.
A voice tells me
that such intimacy
will not come again.