Navigating Ink Stains

(a poem in two tongues)

dawn scatters across the room
to find me still tangled in strands of
ink – I struggle, half-heartedly,
to free my fingers from a dream
where you reach for me
pleading that I dive back among
the rivers of your mane,
sable and silky, until the daze of
your tenor finally breaks at my feet
against cold ceramic floor

pero la idea de encontrar
con mis labios, lengua, dedos, piel y pestañas
el arroyo de tu carne
en el mapa de tu cuerpo
que te llevara al gozo completo –
físico, emocional, espiritual —
no es lo que me pega al salir
de los sueños de nadar
en ríos de tu cabello
de tinta negra

No, dawn scatters flesh’s desire
in shards over the floor
where they stick in my feet,
while before my ink-blurred eyes hang
motes of shared truth,
growth, insight, unexpected tenderness,
laughter, song, books,
flawed but growing humanity —
meanwhile, the dream that I must
walk away from clings to me

like letters written indelibly on paths
that I tread every day
pretending I don’t feel
your voice whispering
against the nape of my neck.

~LD

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Anhelo

The sun winks
As he turns toward night,
and blush washes over
the breast of thin clouds

Thick velvet mat of treetops
are shot with shining
green threads woven
through by busy lighting bugs

I breathe air
thick with mist
of time, and think
I hear my name

I roll the base
of my glass in its
puddle of sweat
on the table

the raspy, low voice
of flayed earth
calls me across the miles

the sound falling like
grains of sand down through
leaves fish-scaled up to the sky’s
watery surface

the outside edge of my soul
misses the open arms
of desert galaxies
that echo with song

and winds adornment
around the waist
of a yearning not numbed
by spirits.

~LD

Betrayal

"nothing is real"

“nothing is real”


You strolled into my embrace
out of desert afternoon sun –
gangly and long, all elbows and knees,
bleached and browned
by summer’s long, slow touch.
Your ivory smile, framed in blurred crimson,
filled my sight and burned my throat
like moon shine.
Words stacked up impossibly,
unexpectedly,
behind surprise
and a kiss withheld
because my ankles wavered
on a tide of standing and sinking.
We were, suddenly,
perfectly,
broken.

~LD

Tuesday Teacher Fantasy

Fantastic thinking is in order this thundery, rainy, hail-ish, Tuesday afternoon. You know, the kind of thinking you do when you sit around building blocks with a little kid (or several) and talk about how great it would be if you could eat only cake (or ice cream, or froot loops) all the time, for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. Or that summer lasted for ten months and school only lasted for two. And, “wouldn’t it be the best thing?”

“I’d have chocolate every day.”

“No way. I’d have a different kind at every meal and I would never, in a million years, get bored.”

“Oh, I know! I will ALWAYS get the corner piece with the extra icing. Oh, yeah.”

Oh, yeah. It would be the best thing.

books...

books…

Today, I think, the best thing would be, once a week to pack my reusable grocery bag the night before with a couple of the books I’ve got going on at the moment; I’d grin in anticipation of the coming day. Load the coffee maker and fixin’s carefully in a separate bag. I get to school around 6:30, just like always, and I hang an appealing, artful sign on the door that says READING DAY! I grab a pillow from the reading corner and arrange it near my desk, a kind of cozy cubby there in the corner under my “Fan Club” sign and photos and love notes from former students. I’d set my books for the day next to the pillow to wait, while I set up and start the coffee.

By 6:45 I am settled on the floor with the coffee maker bubbling away comfortably on the other side of the room. Picking up the first book in the stack, I slide my finger behind the bookmark holding my place and fold the book open. I graze slowly among the words as the sun comes up behind the mountains east of campus.

Eventually, students begin to slip into the room. Because it’s READING DAY, they already know to mumble a good morning. Maybe some of them pour a cup of joe with the tiniest of splash and swirl. Maybe not. First hour students would be so lucky! They could swing by Starbucks on their way to school and get something extra special and it would still be hot, perfect, creamy coffee / tea / chai / chocolate. We’ve a routine on READING DAY! one long-established and cherished of muttered greetings and the shush shush of pages turning.

There is no studying and no one tries to. There is no last minute rush to homework, and I don’t have to check. We each have our space of floor, desk, or wall, our cushion and the book we are working on. Some of use ear buds, and some of us don’t. No devices are opened by anyone; everyone is reading an old-fashioned, paper, analog, book of their choice.

For forty-eight minutes, there are no phones, tweets, whatsapp, instagram, texts messages, emails, parents, principals, or teachers. Just twenty-five or so souls breathing across ink spilled in delightful patterns that dance across paper in story form. Our breath steams, filling the room with the vaporous forms of places and people, near and far, known and unknown, real and imagined.

The building’s bells do their thing, and students slip away reluctantly to physics, philosophy, or some other part of the curriculum, and another group of students slips in. Later, for a couple of hours I’m alone, and I refresh the coffee maker before I return to my quiet corner, where I’ve started the second book in my stack for the day.

Just as I start to feel a little restless and maybe even lonesome, the last group of the day cracks the door open and enters to complete the ritual for the week. They settle to read, until the sound of a waiting line of cars starts to ooze beneath the door, and the rattle and crash of the younger grades in the hallways begins to shiver our air. We all get a little wiggly, and maybe there are a few people talking quietly, but some stay focused until the absolute last gasp before the last bell rings to free us for the day. Students fold their books closed like hands suspended in prayer around a bookmark, before they put cushions back in their place and shoulder backpacks and book bags to make their way home.

And wouldn’t it be the best thing? Oh, yeah.

~LD

Encounters with Treasure

Some thoughts on Joyce's ribbon seeking boy in "Araby".

Some thoughts on Joyce’s ribbon-seeking boy in “Araby”.

A ribbon marks the page
where she sketched out
the verses that became
the lines on her face.

The ends of the ribbon
peek out from acid leaves,
frayed and faded
by years of exposure and neglect.

But here in the gutter —
lying next to her forgotten,
scattered-ink hand —
the shine on the ribbon

still holds the color of truth.

~LD

~

Shattered Crystal

from warriorcatsrpg.com

Time tends to break.

In the refracted light
on a raindrop I recall
my ragged fingers laced
between your polished nails.
Across the thread of time
moon milk drips
in a long, blank line
toward a vanishing horizon,
where the visions in your fading words
are still the fire in mine.

~LD

Parts of a letter: thinking out loud in the cold

The thing about art is, as Beethoven said (Is this true? Is this a myth someone told me to make a point when I was a youngling? I will look it up later. Anyway, in my head a grizzled, bitter Beethoven speaks) there is nothing new in music (or any art). There are seven basic notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, their sharps and flats, repeated at higher or lower pitches, but the combinations are essentially finite. Measurable. Maybe even predictable to an extent (enter math).

What varies infinitely (or seems to – maybe this depends, like so many things, on one’s take on God and creation) is the certain curve and weight and touch that imparts “feeling” to a piece. What varies infinitely is whether we hear the same stories that Maxim Vengerov does in an Ysaye piece (unlikely, unless we happen to have the good fortune of being one of his master class students), or some other story entirely. With good, solid study, the stories should come near to being the same, even among musicians who’ve never met, but are unlikely to be what Ysaye himself saw as he composed. (Insert Shakespeare and Harold Bloom as the expert here if you like. Same result.)

What this tells us about a text like, say, The Hunger Games is not that it’s bad, or even especially good, but rather that Collins’ perspective on things like feminism, survival, capitalism / socialism, the conflict between love and self are presented sufficiently intelligently and artistically to pull in readers who might not otherwise have considered such important ideas (if they were forced to read them, say, for class). Ideally such texts lead them to read and appreciate (if not always enjoy), other, more complex, more artful works on similar ideas.

Naturally, many young readers aren’t ready to go there (neuro-biology works against them), but sometimes readers go back to books (and other works of art) like an old friend after they’ve matured, and see the bigger ideas then. (And yes, there are more than a handful of knuckleheads who never get it. Still, my teacher brain insists there is hope for human enlightenment. ‘-)) Even Harry Potter has at least some artistic value for bringing the old Greek myth figures back to the front of people’s minds. Ok, maybe not the front, but not the pit of intellectual despair that was 9th grade lit class with Odysseus.

So reading those books has value to the extent that they open a door for readers to be intellectually warmed up for 1984, Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea, Lord of the Flies, Shakespeare, A Clockwork Orange, and the rest. I read “lesser” works because working with young intellects is part of what I’ve chosen to do with my life and I need to know how to talk to them with some authority about the big ideas in the little stories that get their attention. Sometimes such works even have the added bonus of being “fun”, which is too often undervalued.

Perhaps the fact that we read / enjoy / participate in mediocre and bad art eventually leads us to greater and greater feats of human imagination. At the very least, the mediocre and the bad may lead us to think differently than we did before.

I agree that the artist must create for him/herself. But it seems to me that the great value in art must go beyond the interior world. Visual image (dance, flat art (like painting), sculpture, film) and auditory image (music, speech / language) become ways of relating to the world and the experiences you live. Creating art is a way of making meaning out of the (sometimes) apparent meaninglessness of being human; I’d go so far as to suggest that art requires the artist to consider an audience, even an unreal one, to offer a serving of perspective (like a glass of wine on a tray) in order for the meaning to be, well, meaningful.

And yes, I know, I’ve just effectively destroyed all my reasons for not writing lately. I think sometimes that I work harder at not writing than I do at writing. ‘-) I’m pretty sure I’ll be cold and dead before I can really not write. Weaving language and words into meaning are my skin and heart, maybe even my soul. Only my ridiculous, flawed, grown-up human brain gets in the way. ‘-) Ego is a powerful dismotivator.

I loved what you wrote: “Art (in any form) is a gift from God … designed for … people who understand it to keep them happy even when everything else is shit. (I could not find a simpler and more complicated definition than that). Life is like running in the freezing cold in the middle of the woods, and art is like finding a nice cabin with a fireplace inside, to stay there forever. One who enjoys art should never have to quit [the cabin] ever again.”

Once in a while the only way to get to complexity is simply. I’d add that life is like running NAKED and BAREFOOT in the freezing cold. But I can’t help thinking that art need not be a consolation prize.

~LD

Returning Time

A sliver of moon
mocks blood
and tempts tide

I twist
clock hands back;
now it’s earlier

instead of later.
Time enough
to see clearly

errors without remedy,
fallen in burnished
shades of yellow and red

like sycamore leaves
the size of my feet
along a sidewalk.

They crunch
and break
beneath steps slowed

by a chill
in the desert
sunset that refracts

pollution
back on itself
and on me.

~LD

Carrying Desert Roses

My paternal grandparents’ home in an old pecan orchard was filled with mystery and delight.  In every cabinet, drawer, closet and bookshelf were great treasures of books and record albums and dolls and fabric, statuettes of famous works of art, dresses, pieces of old quilts and a hundred thousand fragments of someone’s delicious memory that we cousins and neighbors pored over and dreamt about and built whole imaginary lives around.

I loved rooting around in the records in the built-in stereo cabinet and playing whatever I could find that I could sing to.  Frequent favorites were Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I knew how to pull out the turntable from behind its amber cabinet door, set the shiny black record on the wheel, and place the needle on the first groove all by myself without scratching the record (usually). The music filled the living room and tickled the bottoms of my feet, rushing up into my throat as I sang and danced along with Julie Andrews, Sally Ann Howes and Dick Van Dyke.

In retrospect, I think some of our favorite places to treasure hunt we were probably not “allowed” to get into, but get into them we did. As a pre-teen, I found a paperback copy of The Other by Thomas Tryon hiding in a dresser drawer. I devoured the psychological thriller on the sly in one night that left me sleepless with terror; somehow I made it to church on Sunday morning.  In that instance, the consequence of my illicit “treasure” hunting was its own punishment.  If I remember right, I snuck the book back to its hiding hole in the dresser and said not one word to anyone, ever. I think such natural consequences were customary, though I’m sure we occasionally got a “whoopin’” or a least a good lecture when we got caught in places we weren’t supposed to be or with things we weren’t supposed to have.

The most common treasures, though, were the permitted ones. “Lora, get the placemats out of the hutch. No, no.  The good ones.  Yes, those.” And when I was older, “We need more tea glasses from the hutch.”  Or napkins, or serving ware, occasionally a serving dish or platter or some other treasure of the hutch.  It’s where the stationery and stamps were kept, and where my grandmother displayed her beautiful china and crystal. I remember standing looking up into the four framed-glass doors above the main cabinets and drawers while Grammie looked down at me — her blonde hair expertly done with a streak of white at one temple — and told me about the dishes there.  I don’t know how many sets of different varieties she had, but the shelves seemed crowded with several patterns plus the crystal. I must have been terribly young, probably barely school aged or perhaps younger. Even as a little girl, I knew what I liked, and I liked the ones with the pink flowers and scalloped edges. Because I knew what I liked, I simply asked: “Grammie, can I have those someday?” No sense of decorum, no sense of propriety or correctness.  Just the question. I can still see her face as she answered me, but I can’t hear her exact words.

a new home

The original hutch, in its new home; I stood before it as a child looking up into the lightning through Grammie’s hair, wishing over dishes with pink flowers.

I know Grammie remembers that moment, too.  I know she remembers because the Wedgewood Franciscan Desert Rose eight-piece place setting (I haven’t actually counted them, but there are more than four) has been mine since she and Pa had to move from the pecan grove.  The set languished in plastic tubs in my mom’s garage, my sister’s shed, then back to my mom’s garage, for far too many years before Christmas of 2011 when I decided I could no longer live without them in my life, every single day.

I agonized a bit over how to get my dishes home to México.  I considered shipping them.  I considered packing them in my checked luggage, carefully wrapped.  I considered putting one dish at a time in my carry on each trip to Mom’s.  I finally did something a little bit brave and a little bit daring, and only a little bit more satisfying than one plate at a time.  I carefully wrapped two dinner plates, two dessert plates, two saucers and two teacups and packed them into my carry on.  I picked the first pieces carefully because I figured if I were going to lose pieces, I wanted to lose the ones that were already cracked or chipped or otherwise less than perfect.  I wasn’t sure if they’d even let me through airport security with them.

“They” didn’t so much as ask about the dishes in my carry on.  So I boarded the plane, squinched my eyes up tight, and practically held my breath the whole flight.

While waiting for my luggage to appear at airport baggage claim, I peeked into my carry on and kind of jiggled the teacups, the most vulnerable Desert Roses, and they were whole.  Still, I kept my fingers crossed. That bag still had to go through the customs x-ray machine entirely unattended.  Two feet away was much too far.

I arrived home breathless, and unpacked my carry-on before my regular luggage.  Every plate, every cup, was as whole as my memory, maybe more so.  I set the dining room table with my treasure, as if I were waiting for company.  Dinner plates topped by dessert plates, and saucers and teacups offset to the left corners of the dinner plates.  They are the most beautiful dishes I’ve ever seen.  I thanked Grammie in my heart right then from here, so far away, for honoring a childish wish, and for still being around to hear about it, eventually, when I got brave enough to tell her how I was getting them home. I made it home with another set of twos safely this summer. And plan to bring another set of twos home at Christmas.

Photo from crystalclassics.com. Not my photo, but these are “my” Desert Rose dishes.

I open my kitchen cabinet every morning and I see the scallop-edged plates and reach past the teacups for my random gigantic ceramic coffee mug; a little thrill runs across my arm all the way to my belly button as I think of all the work, focus, and determination it took for Grammie and Pa to build the life that permitted them the luxury of a maple china hutch filled with beautiful things from all over the world, and a life that permitted them to be able to give me the gift of “my” dishes. As I pour my coffee, I center my thoughts on the work of the day, with thanks and the blessings from the cabinet over my shoulder.

Today, as I finished up my grocery shopping (tomatoes, chiles, avocado, bell peppers, milk, cleaning supplies, new flip flops), I decided to take a swing through the housewares section of Soriana. On offer in a central aisle were juice glasses with a colored base: bright blue, bright green, or dark lavender. They were typical Mexican-style glass: thick, short, and bubbled with minor flaws. I liked their slight angle, and the weight of the base – not too easy to knock over.  I considered the colors, and decided the lavender was pretty close, a nice complement to the pink of my Desert Roses.  For about eighty cents, I bought just the one in case I was wrong about the color.

I set the table for company when I got home, even though none was expected, and included my new glass in the setting.  It’s not what one might call a precise match, but the lavender draws on the pink from the plates, and turns it into something new and sunset-like.  I will get a full set of the glasses to go with my “new”, but very old, Desert Roses.  I served myself a dinner of sliced tomato, rosemary grilled chicken breast and a piece of toasted, buttered Ezekiel bread on “my” dishes. I think I’ve never eaten better in my life.

Thankfulness for the charmed bounty of my life takes interesting and intriguing forms that keep me awake, that make me think, make me remember, and help remind me to look ahead. I am a Desert Rose: born to withstand the harshest sun, the deepest drought, the wildest winds.  My roots run deep, all the way down to the richest of pools. ~LD