Among the Plane Trees
At dawn the owl’s final cry
officiates. You feed the cats
with a better grasp of the present
and note the owl perched, preening
after a night of rendered flesh.
In a day or two I’ll discover
an owl pellet under the tree.
Secret bones will repose in it
like the bad dreams of a mummy.
The owl clenches against the day,
composing itself as a figure
braced against a background almost
its pattern and color. Likewise
the language we attempt to share
with each other and the world
dissipates against a background
of similar grunts and sighs and groans.
Even in the Luxembourg Gardens
I heard myself dispersed among
a raucous of wanton phonemes,
The gravel shimmered like ore.
Intersecting paths challenged me.
Benches faced chairs facing benches,
but no one sat. They walked, chatted,
ground me under their fluency.
You wonder why I weigh the cry
of an owl as heavily as the curse
of Genesis. Because that spring
afternoon on the Pavillon
my hands were talons and I clawed
myself raw enough to plant
raving among the plane trees
with my only prey myself
and all my quarrels resolved.
The Wrong Season
Winter enshrines the absence
of negotiable color. Trekking
over the Peterborough Hills
of Thoreau’s far-off gaze,
I count my steps to a thousand
and then another thousand.
I picture my abandoned carcass
discovered by hikers next summer,
a tatter of wool and bone.
At home in your homogony
of wood heat and dozing cats
and books you can read in sleep,
you count your steps to ten
and then another ten. Distance
doesn’t embrace and cuddle you
the way it does me when thinking
of Li Bai wandering China’s
dusty roads and serious rivers.
He never earned a living
despite some favor at court
because he never held his tongue,
even with his life at stake.
I could have been as reckless
if I’d had the steady hand
of the expert calligrapher.
Then even you would admire me
for a moment or two of bliss.
Instead, my clumsy holograph
scrawls behind me in the snow.
Some people might confuse it
with boot-prints. But seeing it
raw on paper they’d realize
that I’ve tracked myself all over
landscapes and pages equally
illegible, leaving only one
useless but indelible clue.
Everything points to fish-head soup. Not a menu item but a way of life. You’ve brewed it before, you can do it again. Onion, celery, carrot, fennel seeds. Bay leaf, thyme, parsley, garlic, chopped tomatoes. Saffron, white wine, tomato puree. Note the expression on the fish. They take their beheading seriously. They don’t engage in falsetto smiles the way people do when embarrassed. The fish look forward to self-effacement of the purest kind, that which leaves only the intellect shimmering in vapor. You’ve expressed a comparable desire for the infinite. But nothing is less abstract than a fish head neatly severed and packaged in cellowrap in our local supermarket. So many fish have joined the queue. So many blunt expressions have terminated in a perpetual present tense. You have my favorite recipe in mind, yet you hesitate. When I articulate my desire for fish-head soup for dinner tonight you turn and look at me with your eyes on the sides of your head. In that empathic stance you can’t see me clearly, but you can express a downturn of ecological angst. Yes, I appreciate the fact that someone has beheaded these fish with a large and authoritarian implement. Yes, I realize it could have been you or me or anyone. Yes, I realize that the fish might postulate human-head soup as an alternative. Not as a menu item but as a way of life.
The Beard of D. H. Lawrence
The beard of D. H. Lawrence fits me poorly. It doesn’t drape like a Dior gown or conceal like an African mask. The hooks that hook over my ears are fishhooks, the barbs the tiniest of insults. The fuzz of the beard itches like a woolen nightmare. Lawrence found his work erotic, tainted by original sin. He liked original sin, or at least wrote as if he did. I picture him at dusk in a seedy mining town in the midlands. The purple streak in the sky flatters his mood. He trudges up a cinder road toward a row of bleak stone houses. No thatch, only warped shingles, some flapping in the north wind. He believes in himself the way a tortoise does, slow and vigilant. I want to live in the landscape of Sons and Lovers. I want to mate slowly like the elephant and bear a book of terrible omens. Not a novel of sleek men and women having sex in ruined factories. Not a novel in which an elegant lady lifts her skirts. No, a book of gnarled and mossy dramas, slogging through mud and shallow water to reach places where strange animals breed, groaning and howling with pleasure. The beard doesn’t fit, but maybe it will later, when I’ve written that dreary book and doomed its readership to dreams of hot summer marsh.
© Dr. Francesca Dharmakan Bremner: Out of the Cocoon
Bulbous bug-eyed sneers and scowls
of totem poles frighten toddlers
but get older children giggling.
Adults dangling cameras congeal
in laughing couples lined up
at a visitor’s center adorned
with a slightly cubist thunderbird
and paintings of animals adrift
in two-dimensional spirit worlds.
We’ve arrived by ferry, leaving
a wake that persists almost halfway
across Puget Sound. Windless,
the water’s too placid to quickly
forget our slow-forged passage.
Looking back, we locate the city
by the thrust of the Space Needle,
the other skyscrapers appearing
waist-deep in West Seattle’s hills.
I’d like to walk along the beach
all the way around Blake Island
so I can gasp its entirety
in both hands and give it a squeeze.
But you fear we’ll miss the ferry,
miss concluding the afternoon
at the hotel bar where fellow
academics perch like swallows
on a wire. Let’s walk far enough
to shed the crowd. All those cameras:
I don’t want to lose my soul
to perspective gone askew—
caught as collateral damage
in a bad photo. What does the tide
have to say to this island?
Let’s walk far enough to taste
the rotting seaweed, broken shells
clattering under our city shoes.
The Sound’s too blue to earn our trust,
so we have to explore its hemline,
a slurry of sand and foliage.
Driftwood lounges in massive chunks.
A few pieces look big enough
to carve into totem poles.
They tempt me to express myself
in grimaces blue as the water,
arbitrary as the island itself.
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