Catherine Darc

She is waiting for the death bug unaware
that she is waiting for the death bug. She is bored.
Her life remains a trick she’ll double dare,
like life did her, presenting her the gourd
of plenty when she asked it for a sword.
She had wanted war, a war to make things right.
War came and went and though her throat felt tight
she can’t remember details like who won.
She is waiting. Will the death bug come tonight?
She does not know what they’ve agreed upon.

Note: Catherine Darc, whose initials became in the late 20th Century synonymous with electronically stored music, was in her lifetime (early 15th Century) a non-celebrity.

Here I am imagining for her that she lived a long, peaceful life while hankering for the passion, armed conflict and bright, gaudy fame that was the lot of her sister Jehanne (Joan of Arc).

Renege: A Story

He’s a renegade, it says so on his Jeep.
He’s a man reflective as fluorescent paint.
He’s proud of what he has: the talk, the walk,
the replica hair-shirt that a drunken saint
gave him one time for a cocktail and a song.
Reneging not an everyday complaint
in his world, he is flabbergasted when
she stops, says going further is a sin.

He says they both aren’t married any more
than when he’d said ‘Outside’ and she had smiled
and followed him from Tucson to the sea.
‘I thought you were a priest, then, one who whiled
away his inter-sacramental hours
enjoying beauty: temples, birdsong, me.’
‘I am,’ he said, ‘both priest and renegade,
but neither knows what motivation made

me speak to you in Tucson. Was I bored?
Were spirits from a bottle in my blood?
There is something in your beauty I adored
when I had feelings, and an ancient flood
of what you call emotion made me call
the first word out that came to me. That’s good.
Analysis prevents me, quieter days,
from any action. Can this be a phase?’

‘An undertaking, while the undertaker
still disappoints by hovering offstage?’
she asks, and sitting up, moves feet away.
‘You hanker for me, but I’m half your age,
and you were born already twice that old.
Perhaps I am the ink set on the page
and spine of books you substitute for life.’
But you, not I, said No.’ ‘Don’t twist the knife

I handed you,’ he importunes. She laughs
and moving further off, she cries, and stands.
And he stands too, relieved, again alone
inside his thoughts, until one of them hands
him what she wishes he would call emotion,
as he listens to receding angel bands
and knows the moment thought about has passed,
and that soulless resurrections cannot last.

At Sea in Dreamland

These two squirrels are the size of squirrels. I find that strange.
Shep, my dog, is too big for the door
and I stand half a metre high, if that.
We’re off the windward side of Reason aboard a barge
of a houseboat with a rain-ruined squirrel as lookout
and another at the power-steering helm.
Shep barks and growls. He’s drenched and wants inside.
The tea things tumble from a pitching table.
A houseboat is not yar when it’s not home.
A klaxon awoogas! It’s time to relieve the watch.
Will I be lookout or hang ten on the rudder?
I hear a roaring surf. This won’t end well.

A White Russian Christmas

I know, when I see the white cattle egrets
tending the late December fields,
grazing like guinea fowl, gyring like gulls.

I know, when the rains drive straight across,
rinsing blood from the memories,
drenching the log where I cut back thorns
to sit and watch the birds and rains.

Behind the cattle egrets, red broad cows
stand down the horizon,
russet frames for miniatures
of empty portraits in the sky.

Portraits as troubling and graciously vague
as those of long-dead grandsons made
on future daughters by drunken soldiers
killed before next payday.

I know, but know a little rinsing
will irritate me more than cure:
the welcome of an opened door
spoiled by anxious questions.

The red cows turn their horns toward me.
Thorns fragile enough to break
on my finger’s bone, but not before,
slash back at my knife and hand.

– – + + + – – –

I let myself inside the field.
The grass, felt-pressed by sheep,
springs up around my ancient boots
mimicking marches I remember.

Marches like those being made
in Grozny on this Boxing Day
where the only wholly silence is
that of the usually vocal West.

The evil empire bombs soldiers
drunk on ‘kill the infidel,’
a draught drunk in our daughters’ blood
for so many aeons that we are glad

when an empire somewhere draws the line,
then bombs those transfixed on that line flat.
Recording both sides’ transgressions,
gods wish each side good genocide.

I walk the fields the sheep have grazed
and clean my boots in welcome rain.
I thank the gods for Gore-Tex
and pretend to hunt the cattle egrets.

Somethings

The peroxide-blonde possum looks alien strange
but she says with the passing of the seasons she’ll change
into something, into something we know of.

She grins like a fool and wears styrofoam horns
that she picked from the litter thrown down from a dorm
like they’re something, a valuable something.

She climbs down the locust tree avoiding the thorns
and follows me home watching out for loose dogs
that hunt something, and to them she’s a something.

I put a bowl down on my porch and we share my Mac meal.
She eats like a starveling with tales to conceal
about something, a frightening something.

I ask her no questions, she tells me no lies.
I give her the rest of my milkshake and half of my fries
and we’re onto something, a companionable something.

I sit in the rocker. She sits under the swing
and we talk without words if that makes any sense
about something, a valuable something.

Then she leaves in a flash of upended blonde fur
and somewhere I guess she is half up in a tree
waiting for something, an I-don’t-know something.

Unidentified Visitor

He had a scents-of-porpoise air about him,
not fishy, really, more at like detention
halls at schools that did not have a gym.
His walk was awkward, as if he was wrenching
his way through water known for salt retention.
A Dead Sea dolphin that had been seconded
to shore duty to dry out? The last enthroned id
from Freudian literature? That would be strange.
Stranger far is why we’d left the throne lid
up, and let him loose to stride our home range.

First Autumn Days

Once upon a time, back when I thought ‘muscat’ was what lived in the river behind the fields behind the house, there was a future that beckoned as only futures can. This particular future was mine, and I looked forward to it. Analysis would come later, with growing up and marrying and a vengeance. Now there was just the future.

The present, I got that for my birthday, didn’t fit anymore. Someone close had died and I thought it was my fault though it happened far away. I didn’t, really. Think about it. But I knew.

The sun shone anyway and right way through the forest edge where we kept losing the ball. The larger dog always found the ball and brought it back, sometimes days later, always wet. The sun burned the dew from the weeds and in April and September, sometimes October, we would tie our sweaters around our waists and go looking for nuts and birds and animals. We found muscat tracks in the mud, and travels and futures in all the house’s books, futures written so they flew past every time we looked in: Defoe, Carroll, Dickens; Dumas, Voltaire, Anna Sewell (lady authors had first names). Forests and books full of black bears seldom seen.

I met China, a missionary lady from there who came to visit one of my aunts, and didn’t think to ask her which part. ‘China’ was enough to know. Still is, although I’m conditioned now to think I should think it shouldn’t be.

I thought that I learned early that real life wouldn’t teach me much. That’s what I thought it taught me until real life intruded. Burst in. The beauty I found and find every day comes from nature itself and also as distilled into books and paintings and music. We are the distillers, we think.

We are the distillers, we think. We wonder why it is not ‘sometimes’ but ‘every time’ and think that’s thought. Like others, I turn my ‘thoughts’ to provenance and teleology, and, like them, achieve nothing that affects berries, birds, animals, or China; achieve only long tortuous sentences. Maybe China is affected, but where in China?

The stillness of Jeanne d’Arc as she lies in Rouen. That’s a future. They burned her. I know that. Usually I don’t think to ask who burned her. ‘They’ is enough to know. They used up their futures. A cloud of meaty smoke.

When the wind comes down from Normandy and the leaves turn tail and it’s impossible even for the larger dog to find the wet ball, we jump into our sweaters and think of futures in which we migrate to places we would sweat in our jumpers. Endless sand beaches occupy us but not really, considering how triste the tourists look doing the Sanibel shuffle in perfect weather all the daze of their unoccupied lives. They don’t think about it, but they know.

We turn our faces to the autumn wind. We sing of futures, and wonder why mayonnaise here, unlike back when, leaves an aftertaste that muscatel only dissipates, not kills.

Tale of the Gorgon Morgan Zola

Of course there are naked ladies in the garden.
The gorgon guards them as he has half the summer.
And we, sighting them, bicycle by as if,
if we keep our eyes averted, he will harden
till his menace, veiled, a cryptic, scary mummer,
gets mooted, and – the way icicles stiff
with frost will fracture when struck from the side –
then we pop him with our handlebars and ride
unscathed through the garden gates and, once inside,
acquaint ourselves at leisure with the ladies.
We listen, as the prettiest and the smallest
of them (she’s pleased we ogle her) explains
the rules – which are, when each of us has made his
peace, the one of us left standing tallest
may banish all the others to the plains
where they’ll monkey round to grind the gypsy organ
while he, new Zola, like the pirate Morgan
gets crowned the garden’s statutory gorgon.

P.S. It is sexist to depict the hideous gorgon
as usually or especially a female.
The reigning Morgan Zola’s from Glamorgan
and’s for a male a very hot tamale