1. Penelope among the Circes
If this be balm, lass, how spin out flax
not wool? How work your loom? Annex
what’s left to yours, with a common door
strong as knots of wood binding our years.
Out in the country the boys kicked up hell
driving all the other angels out. Love, annul
this bone belongs to you if I anger the party
so they set upon us slavering beasts of prey.
Paula, Howard said, is vivid in memory. Do
you recall "the dawn swim in the pool below
the balcony, where we three stripped down
to underwear" and you never saw her again?
I don’t remember. Had I drunk too much?
Were the roots still clinging to the larch
once I arrived so far north the poetry
was no longer fresh to jar my memory?
I remember nothing, my friend, unless she had
not arrived and I still wanted to join her in bed.
I smoked dope all day and by night ate rice
with slivered almonds, orange juice for thirst.
I spun out of control. It was a Sunday, I roared
until they came to town with chains, threatened
to do me in. They let me go. You had gone away
already. I telephoned. You had gone away to stay.
Paula, I loved the breasts you swore were too big.
I loved the way your feet rode out of lovely legs
to stay upright on the deck, what your sailor
father bequeathed you. Yet your gentle laughter
I loved more. The wilderness our hearts cut down
still stands where it was in shadow far from town.
You found him in the city playing his saxophone.
To save your life, what would a man need pawn?
Honey, you can’t smoke what you’ve been shooting,
he said. Kick. Blood curdles. Your syringe is no good.
He goes downtown, brings her back a marriage ring.
She wears it everywhere, it’s all she needs of God.
Don’t shy from a dream, lass, there are too few,
and all are lost upon waking if you try too hard.
Don’t write them down. Go live them. Wyrd
are the crones who try to keep your man at Sea.
You have to beat your brains up to
but not including the usual pulp,
do a lot of dancing around the point
for days, weeks, months, years,
talk a lot, do nothing, try to sleep
on your own and not be afraid
to dream. Again. What you did once
left the door open wide to any
in this cold-hearted hell of the only
world we shall ever have, and in
he comes if you let him. He knows
his way around. He does nothing
but lead you, let you know he knows.
Knows everything you need to forget,
what you knew carved in memory
you lose in the offing. Never forget
the lovely life is friendship reminds
you once you lived among the living
while you were dying, just the way
you set it up–right?–and so many
human beings tried to stop you
from slow suicide and you didn’t
need to do it quickly, not then . . .
Now you’re glad you put it off
and did all you could to quench
your thirst for what it was
flowed through your veins. Here
you are, even though the demon
still hangs around your shut door
and pounds incessantly, clamoring
to have it opened and invited in . . .
What save us is what we remember.
(8 November–December 5 2010)
copyright 2010 by Floyce Alexander