Because you see the skull
glaring back in the mirror
like a traffic light,
you think you see
You see yourself a visionary.
If I try to look
beyond the skull,
you think I’ve missed it.
I look out my office window
and all I see are skulls,
even in the daylight. You
wait until it’s dark,
and miss the gray redundancy
of funerals while you squint
in the yellow haze
of your cheap electric light.
But that’s your way.
You walk into a churchyard
with your plastic sack
full of straw-men and equations
wrapped around your neck.
You smell dirt,
so you think the air
is made of dirt,
and you leave,
afraid to breathe.
Hildegard von Bingen Consoles a Skeptic
Line the decomposing days up end to end
across the velvet dusk. Burn the brickwork
of the tower, and the spiral stairs
to the finite clouds.
(Ash in the earth. Ash becomes the earth.)
Burn the sound, the air, the light that burns
within your head, that bursts the skull
apart with pain, with vision. Burn
until the smoke and ashes
red the coming dawn,
then breathe it in
so it becomes your air, your life.
(Ash in the earth. Ash becomes the earth.)
Separate dead ash
from what has died, and remember
that what burns to ash
cannot be burned again,
that what is earth was once of blood and flesh.
Flesh took form from ash
and then consumed itself with fire
of the soul within. Ash
in the earth. Ash
returns to earth.
What has burned returns, and what returns
will rise again.
Three Days After
The city gleamed on the horizon. The sky
was an impenetrable gray. You did not speak.
An angel stood between us – flaming sword,
glimmering gold armor, face concealed in fire
as we tried to face each other standing
on a charcoal-colored slab of rock in the Nevada desert.
Since your burial on Friday, I had prayed
to see you any way I could, but when I closed my eyes
and waited for a vision or a visitation, only darkness.
Now here we were, and I could barely see you past the blaze
of this imposing force, the fire and the terror,
the metallic glare of blade and armor, the blinding sheen.
I longed to touch you, but I could not move
except to tremble, tried to speak to you, to ask you, why
must it be here, like this, why can we not see each other,
why do you not say a word? but an inarticulate dry gasp
was all that left my burning throat. The angel answered
in an ageless, sexless voice as cold as lead:
From this point on, you will not see her anymore
except like this, with me, a wall of fire separating day
from darkness of the living flesh. And if you see her,
you will not recognize her as she is until it is too late
and she has vanished back into the realm of light.
At that he stepped back, pulled up his sword
so I could see you better. You looked at first
much as you always had, your black silk dress,
your shimmering gold scarf – but your face looked empty,
motionless, pale, your eyes as if stitched shut.
The angel came again between us, his fire
eclipsing you completely. He stood silent, blazing. And I
stood back against the gray,
and cursed his brightness.
The Death of Saint Joan
You did not see a win. The voices blazed brighter than the fire that burned you. Then they stopped. You did not see a win, but waived your shimmering sword against the glare of sun, crown, miter. Fire. The black smoke from your burning body fouled the dimming sky before your dying eyes. You did not blink, but watched in front of you the beggar’s cross, two fastened twigs held skyward by a shaking, unseen hand. The fight was over. All the guiding voices, silenced. Men who held the keys to England’s throne and heaven’s gate had signed your writ. You could not have seen a win.
History is written by those fools, the winners. How they’d love to sanitize you, make you sane, prop you up as practical, mainline. Pragmatic farm-girl with a social worker’s sense. Civic minded. Middle-class. You and I know better. You, my beautiful and butch protectress, my warlord of the gallows and the sanitarium, with sharpened blade, with glimmering quixotic drag, screaming at the sun your stubborn creed, your visionary doom. You, who did not see a win, but leapt, soul first, into the fiery arms of darkness, waiting for an unseen light to catch you.
Chain, embers, shadow. Ashes
on the ground.
Soot and bone dust on the ground.
Dried twigs and branches
singed to scattered fragments,
black and brittle on the ground.
Here the heretic of voice and metal
burned in the waning daylight
while collaborator churchmen, stunned,
watched in muffled horror flesh
reclaimed by fire to eternal void.
Now, the silence of the dusk.
A dagger of white stone
stands up out of the heap of cinder
and charred shackles.
A long dagger of breastbone
sharpened by the flames,
flanked with ash in the growing darkness.
Night. All that is left – heart
become bone, become sword.
I will not see tonight. I will not raise a blade
to silence and the moon of black unseeing fire.
I will embrace the ashes. All I know
is dust that stops all speech, the choking silence
of the final flames, the heart that would not burn,
the desecrated ashes scattered in the unclean river.
My voices are the heretic, sealed
in a metal crypt beneath a sanitarium,
the shrinking daylight screamed to silence
by the burning of the keys, the beggar’s cross.
The fight is over. I do not hold a key
behind the black sky in the smoke of silence
and the burning gallows of the body.
I will embrace the ashes on the ground.
I was eating one clear night on the hood of my ’83 Buick the Body and Blood of Christ. Not some bowdlerized symbol, mind you, I mean the fleshy substance of the soul in all its agonizing glory, body of unending matter, and of spirit without start or end, and of time collapsed into eternal light beneath the steely moonlight of December in Las Vegas, frozen night pierced with light that poured through stippled punctures in the fabric of the dark. I had not planned it. I only wished to drown the garish noise left from the day. I needed a drink. I drank the wine I found, and that was all. All that is seen and unseen, maker of all that is seen and unseen, burned and trickled down my throat; throat, soul, and self-transformed into the Mother of Creation’s womb as that dark penetrated me, consubstantial with the flesh and fire she bears, Buick rusting and ephemeral beneath the weight of earthbound flesh. I saw that the food was good, the wine as sweet as blood, as thick and effervescent with the heat of life.
When I got back, I found the only one awake, beyond her recent death, the dying light of her apartment burning through the pre-dawn dark, sitting up in what was once her deathbed, golden scarf around her neck, drinking brandy-and-espresso as she waved me in. I told her everything and took a drink. She told me, what you saw is what you’re drinking now, no more or less, and what I drank before your birth, before my own. The wrinkles on her face looked chiseled and eternal. You do not know what you have drunk, she said, but you will die from it with gratitude. Tell anyone you want, but it will only sound like silence of the dark. I tried to ask her what she meant, but all that came out was the shimmering dark music of eternal silence as she slipped back into her celestial night.
Alone and drunk, I stepped back out into the growing dawn and climbed into the shadow of my Buick, a symphony of darkness on my trembling lips.
I completed my MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. My poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Gargoyle, Pensive, SurVision, Maintenant, Zymbol, Poetry is Dead, ABZ, Fjords, San Pedro River Review, Four Chambers, Snail Mail Review, Enizagam, and The Café Review. I teach creative writing at Scottsdale Community College.