Despondent Ataraxia1

Tie a rock around your ankle
And tell me what the mermaids say.
Sing their song in perfect rhyme
To stop the coming of the day
When you can’t tread the icy water
Any longer and your lips attempt to pray
The words you used to know so well
As you sink below the bay.

Upon your head the rain flies down
As light as a sparrow’s wing,
Gliding against a frosted window pane
You’re lost in what the mermaids’ sing .
Arms heavy with salty memories
That collect in ancient wounds and sting
With the bitterness of lemon twists
Like leeches, attack and cling.

Floating yet at the same time not
As light dies and the coldness grows,
Water seeping slow and soft
Steals the warmth of your winter clothes
And lifts your arms up and oddly out,
Mermaids watch you: torn yet froze,
Knowing they can’t save you, all
Swim down the deep to decompose.

Tie a rock around your ankle
And tell me what the mermaids say.
Sing their song with soaking lungs
As water drowns the coming of the day
And you won’t tread the heavy water
Any longer as still lips refuse to pray
The saving words you knew so well
As you sink below the bay.


Dear _____,
from Birkenau, a love letter

Give me something
Let my, this heart, pretend
What my mind knows is not real
If only for a moment,
please

whose hands are these?
they do not look like mine,
these hands chafed, gripping a gray handle
belonging to an iron shovel
pushing and pulling
digging graves upon sweet nature’s face,
the hard blades of my shoulders almost breaking
through the thin skin of my back
my clothes: the black sleeves and hem once whole
now are rags, like torn butterfly wings
fluttering in this ashen breeze
pretend to believe

that I can still see your face
lying next to mine
on a sea of down and linen sheets
far from the smell of decay
and burning flesh floating as easy
as the smell of daffodils once did
in our springtime.

pretend to believe
that I can see your face

can you see mine?
the sunken hollows of my cheeks
bright by comparison to the charcoal circles
punched underneath my yellowed eye sockets?
my shaven head, ripe with puckering scars
where once my nails searched hungrily for the lice
feasting on my burning scalp?

The scraping of metal against solid rock
keeps me awake.
Digging, digging, always
digging, my life hinged upon the breaking of the earth
pushing and pulling the muck and mire up and out
the blood and sweat and stench of those
before me, shame and hope clothe my naked heart.

I can see the blue sky above me,
it is no longer my friend
that vaulted sky of night:
stars shine like multi-faceted diamonds of stellar ice,
diamonds like in that necklace
you once gave to me.
I remember your hands –Strong hands –
draping it low along my curved neck.

My neck is thin now.
Withered, like the rest of me.

digging, digging
I must keep on even though
my collar bones stick out like knives
cutting into the morning fog.
My complexion is riddled with sores that weep
the tears my eyes have so long ago forgotten

stay with me now, my memory,
of a face that can’t
won’t
be forgotten- your face.

I take my raw hands
raking my bald head
with jagged fingertips
covering my eyes, my mouth, my face
pretend
they are your hands, caressing my bruised cheek
your hands wrapped tight around my brittle body
be careful not to break me,

“just please don’t let them break me”
fragile words whispered into an even more fragile ear

Give me something
Let this, my heart, realize
What my mind knows cannot be so
If only for a moment,
please

Know that I love you.
Still.


Missing in Action

I saw your shadow rising with the dawn
Shrinking at noon
Fading soon at twilight,
Gone.

“Hey,” I say
“He’s not coming back”

I flicked the end of my dying cigarette,
The ashes swirled and the smoke curled as
I hurled those cold words: their didactic wings unfurled,
Borne upon the dusty winds;

My syllables stretched and twisted their grammatical arms
And iambic legs, crashing,
Flickering in the night, flashing,
Clicking and clunking past your body,
Scraping their naked knees against the warm asphalt;

They go screaming past you in a verbal assault,
The last of the gunslingers they were,
(and so was he)
Vowels punctuated and puncturing,
Blazing forth from sandalwood
Guns, tempered by time,
Polished by the heat of a thousand suns
(or is it sons?)

but you

You just blink and stare
And stare and blink
Into the sun
Into the moon
Searching the silent shadows.

I watch the grass grow around your thin feet,
Wanting to, but never moving.
Your eyes question the horizon,
Where your mind replays his voice
And the way his booted feet once left tracks
On the road, borne away by the dusty winds,
As you stand there torn, with silvered shadow
Waiting for something and nothing the same.

“Wake up, wake up,
And go to sleep,” I shout
But your eyes stare on ahead of me
Because you keep the past
In your pocket and his picture
In a golden locket
Lying against your sunken chest
Where a heart used to be.

Why can’t you see,
That he’s not coming back?
Your legs moving mechanically always
Pacing and pacing and pacing
After his ghost that you’re forever chasing?

Is there still a heart beneath that chest?

My pointed words fall on your deaf ears,
Dulled by your silent shield of hope,
How is it not worn down
By the winter winds, the torrents of spring
How has the rust not rusted you out, too?
Those metal tags dangling like
Some ancient queen’s forgotten earrings,
The jewels of love left to rot in the sunshine

Yet,
Still

I continue to watch that devil-grass
Yellowed with age,
Forever rising,
Clinging and climbing up Around your thin, sockless feet-
Blistered by wind, by the summer’s heat,
Swollen with flood and rain,
Calluses hardened by time and pain.

You’re holding onto something
That’s really nothing
But you wish it to be all the same,
And etched upon your lips and in that hollow
Space beneath your throat
Are the inkless words you painstakingly wrote:
His long-lost remembered name-

The sun kisses the moon
And again all too soon,
Your shadow floats on down the road.

I see in your eyes
That nothing and that something
And silently wish your pain away,
As sky blue turns to black then into gray
I know that your shadow will always stay
Carved upon that road in dust and blood and hope.

“Wake up, wake up,
And go to sleep,” I whisper
As you slowly dissolve in front of me
Because you kept the past
In your pocket and his picture
In your golden locket
Lying against your sunken chest

NOTES

1 Ataraxia: a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety, tranquility