They made you pay for bread
For sky earth water sleep
And for the poverty
Of your lives.
—Paul Eluard, from “Victory for Guernica”, Selected Poems (bilingual ed. trans. Gilbert Bowen)
In the museum of modern art,
we wanted to see the details—
up close. Moving inches
past the official stand-here line,
we needed to know
how exactly did the artist
capture the depth of pure fear
in the subject’s hyperrealistic eyes.
We knew that fear, frequent and embodied,
from our own ensnared lives
as daughters born from violent men.
The movement of color showing,
with excruciating precision,
how endlessly hollow
the projective space is for deception
like transparent fingers, pointed and sharp,
foolishly optimistic that escalation
is a proven strategy for peace.
The past beats inside me like a second heart. —John Banville, The Sea
From football to cult rallies on glacial plains,
America excels at strategies of deterrence.
There is generational learning behind knowing
the difference between submission and giving.
Release is forbidden.
Americans’ reflective accolades penetrate the best
as fervent belief converts to trembling devotion.
The point being none of this is supposed to make sense.
As true as death, reality always fades.
“Some days in late August at home are like this,
the air thin and eager like this, with something in it sad and nostalgic and familiar…”
— William Faulkner from The Sound and the Fury
Its salience starts inside you —
an intersection, a portal, a punch.
Greed is an expression of fear,
that kind of penetration measured
by depth, loss contextualized.
A landscape of insatiable memories
bordered by anodyne forgiveness
and tectonic imperfections.
Take comfort in knowing
plants turn light into sugar.
Tell me what you notice, and why.
I want to cross reference
my slanted smoky sunlight
with your details to create
time stamps, a rescue map
dispersed into winks of blue.
walking through high waisted
grass sprouted hills
our faces slack with hustle
we laughed like stuffed animal heads
over stories about how snow has energy
shedding syllables as we hurried along
this resistance against recursive nature
(we walk upright for a reason)
not remembering how much our bodies work for us
only sensing how much we fight against it
knowing drama and karma can feel differently
bent backwards until fragile as blue
we maintain stillness
despite insincere throats
affecting the slant of our inner lives
these threads connecting codes
native realizations that community
now definitely includes you
Who will touch me in the middle of this war. — Zaina Alsous, from “On Longing,” A Theory of Birds: Poems
in the darkness, I whisper red sky at night
this ancient prayer breaks
its positive predictive power
when the sun rose red, again
highly sensitive weather machines
translate falling ash as snow and rain
smoke spreads heavy in the amber colored night
in the darkness, I whisper red sky at night
What a savage year. Calendar time and actual time disassociated. Let go or be dragged. I got dragged and then I let go. In this protracted state, I mended critical boundaries and broke open new patterns. I made the days useful to me. I wrote about cowboys while breathing in fire. I listened and was seduced. I transmuted silence, my way. Drowning in manufactured violence and drama, we held each other longer and tighter. I saw urgency extract exquisite ideas and leave behind ghosts still in motion. Recognizing that glitch, I give myself infinite permission to fail, to risk, to revive. I still believe revolutions are frenetic desires and armor myself contextually. Curiosity is my ideal pace. I follow cats and poets. I came into this world greedy. I need reminders when my body grips fear: be awake for soft pink sunrises and orange suns floating into fading darkness. It is my responsibility to source these personal validations and ritualize inspiration. Reflex grace. Find balance in distractions and create sacred ceremonies with your hands on my hips.
“As if a tenderness awoke, a tenderness that did not tire, something healing.”
— Sylvia Plath, from The Collected Poems; “Three Women,” (1962)
I was born into an isolated, literal Evangelical culture. A place where time was on always on trial and faith was righteous as pride. Our promised future had already been written. We were urgent. The rapture was past due.
All of us who knew even a fraction of the story internalized why Jesus hadn’t returned. Acts of a vengeful god are common and welcomed in this scenario. It was also true when you knew the ending tipped in your favor, knowledge became seductive. A blessing disguised.
To have learned about the world this way feels like a subtle theft. Trauma works that way too. False recognitions bound to real sounds, smells, touch, twists of phrases, and, if lucky, fading re-creations. A true con.
Decades later, I am still carving an existence that is receptive to invitation. There are no answers inside all these non-moments of relentless judgement. That clarity is its own rushed reality. Adapting gracefully to change is an ancient sermon. This is a map to all this undoing.