Sestina for my Charlotte
Had tea with Charlotte Brontë last week, in wonder at the gold and crimson
rosebud tea service. First thought her a lady of simple tastes, a plain, glass-
like figurine bent over a desk. Silly to forget about the white-hot ember
in her soul, smoldered under gazes of Ms. Ingrams and Reeds. Then, the shimmer
of the black ink, in Jane Eyre’s sketches and Lucy Snowe’s love, lights that haunt
ballrooms perused from a corner. Naturally she drinks beauty from beauty, paper
and pen in hand, analysing her works and mine—my paper
covered with double-spaced seedlings, dandelions aspiring to be crimson
roses. Teatime, then—I by the fire and Charlotte in her usual haunt,
the window seat. “You seem fond,” she said, sketching runes on the frosted glass
with her fingernail, “of the idea of flight. Intriguing.” I watched the shimmer
and flicker of the fire on my teacup. “Thank you,” I said, watching ember
fade from orange to red-black, “But tell me your secrets, things I’ll remember
coming from you, not a dead-leafed textbook. How do I make words, pencil, and paper
sing a nocturne? Or use black and white to paint the shimmer
of stars, like you can? Or make a strobing cursor transfuse crimson
and gold thoughts to cleanse rust from the soul?” Turning from the glass,
she motioned me beside her. “Don’t confine yourself to the familiar haunt,
over-plucking from sedate experience. Seek pastures new: watch and haunt
the whole world. Study your fellowmen, reading their characters by the ember
of their eyes. Before gathering the fragments, study the beauty of broken glass—
And do not shun the books! They are not mere dead leaves of paper
bound in thread and cloth! Walk their orchards and partake of what crimson
fruits you can find amid the leaves. Study and mirror the shimmer
of a sparrow’s feathers—yes, a sparrow.” She paused, glazed in the shimmer
of pale sun through the frosted panes. “But,” she resumed, “doubts still haunt
your eyes—what? Do you aspire to fame? Desire glory and crimson
roses strewn at your feet?” I swirled the tea in my cup and stared at the ember
in the hearth. “Yes. That is one thing I want,” I replied. “Then do not take up paper
and pen. Conquer all with fear and the sword,” she said. “Yes, the world will raise its glass
to you, and you will have blood red roses enough. Hear me: don’t desire that glass
pedestal. If,” she said, “you achieve lasting fame for the dance and shimmer
of your words, well enough. But if you wish to write well, know your paper
and pen are not for your blessing alone—no, be willing to be alone, a haunt
savoring life, for good and bad, and transcribing it so that none can help but remember.
Be unknown, but write well those runes in gold and crimson.”
Her apparition melts away into cold glass, and I am here, a pale haunt
alone in my bedroom, amid the shimmer of a white mid-December,
staring at digital paper, and the clock proclaims 11:45 PM in crimson.
Rosy-red doorstep and door—
the kitchen, living room,
and second-story window
shutters darker than the house,
a creamy cast—
and a sleek, dark-thatched widow’s peak roof.
and glittering rocks
tucked here and there,
gracing the lawn.
That tall black iron ivy-drowned fence unbalanced
gate thrown wide
On its own terms.
The strange little brass doorknob
perpetually Cheshire-cat grinned.
If the gate was open and we knocked on the door,
the intercom crackled
How sweet to stop by to see me!
I’m doing well, ever so well—
Sorry, can’t come down, so busy!
and off we were hustled, the flowers itching at our noses
and the gate closing
Ever so noiselessly.
Just after dusk I saw
shadows behind the windows,
But the panes spied me and down the brown curtains went.
Next day the gate was locked.
I gave it a gentle push
but it pinched my hand.
I blamed the tenant
and the rest of us whispered the ammunition.
We so expertly ignored the house
that we didn’t find out
‘til days later
the windows had closed the lights
and the house had blown itself away.
Red door shards flecked the flowers
and the Cheshire-cat doorknob
What’s a Poem?
Trouble pixies you yell at to make sense
But they tango and tangle and dangle
Their black-and-white stocking feet
Over the book-edge, laughing up their sleeves
And waft up to pinch your ears ‘til you cry
Share your tea with them
They might perch on your mug handle,
Brush up a da Vinci
or van Gogh with their black-and-white fingertips
The flush of their wings might strum Beethoven
or Zimmer in your ears
Set them on the nose-bridge of your specs
Or let them curl up in your ear
Take them for a walk—
What? you think they enjoy
Sitting in their cloth, string, and paper cages?
All day tugging at the dog-eared pages,
memorizing backwards the forward by
a creaking critic who forgot to believe in fairies.
Billy Collins, during your “August in Paris,”
No, I was not hiding away at all
when you aimed and fired your Ballistics at me
As a matter of fact, I had just had a long tête-à-tête
with a moment’s reflection of a handsome boy
Then maintained firm steady eye-contact
with a loquacious tray on the airplane,
Nodding agreeably at the clouds as they chimed in
And walked a mile in my own shoes before
I made accusations against my rotund torso.
No. I was not hiding at all.
The Wild, the Free, like Waves that Follow o’er the Sea
“Wide nostrils never stretched by pain,
Mouths bloodless to the bit or rein,
And feet that iron never shod,
And flanks unscarred by spur or rod,
A thousand horse, the wild, the free,
Like waves that follow o'er the sea,
Came thickly thundering on."
—Lord Byron, from Mazeppa
Something I love about the make of a Horse
When the Wild thing whispers by--
How Earth formed muscle, bone, and heart,
Water rushed beneath his skin,
Fire consumed his eyes,
And when all was done and seen good,
Wind roared, "Stare back into my eye! Dare!"
And danced away on Shadow in a whisper of mist.