Hydra

We meant to prune the roses someday,

but didn’t. Now a single monstrous branch

bursts out of the jasmine, weighted down

by long-necked heads

untamed by shears.

 

Where one is severed, another sprouts

into a frenzy of shattered spirals

(It is a pleasure to behead)

 

Red-clenched buds burst open and fall,

and leaves behind on each lonely stem,

a naked face

a green-petalled star.

3AM

We hear the first lonely calls in the dark,

although the sea that tramples

the shell-and-seaweed littered shore

seems as distant as a dream

 

Lying in bed with you, drifting,

I see the wave-tossed buoy and clanging bell

See a fat scarred bull, neck twisted back

barking at the iridescent spatter of stars,

before diving into the black waves

 

His mate nuzzles a velvet-sheened pup

and waits out the cold hours,

the slow creeping hand that fades

angry indigo to indifferent blue

 

Outside the window, the sky lightens

shade by shade, the silhouette of

pine branches barely visible

 

Morning taps the window blinds,

creeps into the room and over us,

like a sheet pulled over our heads

Forest Fire

the

wind

slackens

the peeling pelt

of eucalyptus and

hurls pieces

of its flesh into the

swirling eddy

that envelopes the forest

remnants

a copse of corpses

sluggish the sun rises

over the cremation

and casts a red

eclipse from which the forest

shrinks away

repelled by the

recall of heat and loss

ashes

all is

ashes

trees unfold back to the earth

Clouds

We’ve grown older. We are now bindweed

tamed onto garden trellises

 

Back when it was always morning

we spread without ever touching anything

We unraveled our palms to take hold of the day

and made dense thickets of wastelands

 

Now we shield our faces from the light

 

Tragic this, how the dew stays on windows now

unmarked by sleeves to look out into morning

We’ve grown older

 

The unborn call to us from somewhere

close and faraway,

on the other side of walls

their voices sound like water

They are jays scolding from unseen branches

They will glower when they see us

wag their chubby fingers in disapproval

and write on chalk boards with rusty nails

 

And they will say:

the lost one became blind through herself

the clouds got trapped in her eyes

we were the sky on the other side

that she could not see

Season of the Bear

The old man is there as usual, haunting the stained and narrow doorway. He hunches over his bony knees in layers of newspapers and dirt and ragged linen. Skeletal wrists dangling over the crusty blanket on his lap. A small wiry dog lying next to him whines uneasily and raises his head as the bear walks by them.

Straightening, the old man reaches out to the bear. The bear, black and shaggy, flinches back involuntarily and almost overbalances on his hind legs. He huffs angrily as a group of hooded teenagers walk by them and laugh.

The old man shuffles towards him on his knees, arms outstretched, baring his cracked hands palms-up like two tattered white flags. He clutches at the bear’s leg and hoarsely cries, “If the world is on fire then why are we laughing?”

The bear roars and shoves out with his meaty arms and the old man falls on his side. The dog shrills like something mortally wounded and noses the writhing form.

“We are blind!” The old man howls after the bear.

The bear marches home the way irate old women march, in a furious protuberance of movement, trundling forward with bent head and thick-jowled glowers. His short, stubby arms swing closely to his sides. Barreling down the crowded sidewalks, he does not appear to see the world around him; the florid and artificial surroundings, the people crowding along the concrete paths. But then his nostrils twitch and his shaggy head turns and his eyes follow a passing group of long-legged clicking heels. His arm is jostled by an elbow and the shadow attached to it turns around to say something, then looks up at the bear and walks away. There is something blazing in the large heavy face, something arcane and bestial.

The bear finds himself on a bridge on the outskirts of the city. He is hesitant, in this crepuscular hour of silent footsteps and stirring street shadows, to roam into unknown territory. There are signs in the sky that tell him to run and run until the breath heaves in his side and all color and light leaches overhead. He hears multitudinous sounds of pursuit. And feels a humming of the highest frequency that is redolent of den noise, the thrum of routine and repetition and dormancy. It both beckons and warns him to flee; flee and seek shelter elsewhere, and break free of this sonorous lull. Near him, a mountain of steel walls are emblazoned with huge spray-painted words in neon green that look like newly budded branches, and he smells the bitter sap released from the tortured forms of oak trees that line the street, imprisoned in unyielding concrete.

His body tenses and he starts to lope in the direction of mountains, on all fours now, towards a dim thrum of color and sound hundreds of miles to the north. But then the wind carries to him a piercing honeyed musk. He smells the warm wafting droughts of golden syrup, sweet mammalian secretions. In sharp bursts of snorts and whuffles, his keen nose catches hold the stinging pheromones—a calling, or an invitation. He abruptly rears to change directions and with heavy tread, returns to the source of the scents.

The air in the house is almost as chilly as the night he inadvertently brings in with him. The source of the coolness stands in the entrance of the house, arms crossed, heavy lines along her mouth already twitching in anticipation for the flood of words about to escape. She pushes back a tuft of earth-colored fur from her forehead impatiently and it springs back. He leans forward to brush it away gently and she steps back fiercely. The cubs are sprawled around in the living room ignorant of the plummeting mood of the atmosphere, or indifferent to it.

The female looks up and reads the taut mask of her mate’s face, the yearning in his shiny, black eyes. She bites back her words. She holds out her paws to him, palms up, unaware that it is not the first hopeless, supplicating gesture that has been proffered to him that day. Outside, all colors slowly bleed out of the sky. The darkness closes in and triggers the artificial lights to turn on and drapes a sheet of sickly orange light over the stirring street creatures in their bundled up swaddling of rags and quiet despair. The lights flicker on throughout the concrete wilderness, and the lights in the sky dim and fade entirely.

The Artist

I am the one who stacks on bleached logs

cairns of smooth pebbles

and leave, in my wake,

fleeting spirals in the sand

Footprints glimpsed for a moment

before the tide comes in

 

With a stick

I write

monotony

in the sand

and below that

ten other words

That mean the same

 

I watch the girl

long tan doe legs folded

hands burrowing the sand

And trace the contours of her shoulder blades,

the flecks of freckles across her back,

and shade each hollow

the vertical range of vertebrae

revealed in sharp definition beneath her top

And later that night on canvas

her last look,

smeared and abstract

 

Beautiful girl

I hold your heart

(in a jar on my desk)

Tokyo

His roommate calls him imo, the potato,

just another hick flailing

in the city, caged

in his tiny shithole apartment,

the unpacked boxes collecting dust.

 

He sleeps in the closet where

the futons are kept, at night

walking back from work,

he dodges careless elbows

on streets zebra-striped with crosswalks,

the herds

of bodies all color motion murmurs

over traffic.

 

He gapes at skyscrapers

looming steel walls all around him

and sees in them the mountains

of Toyama, its swells of pine,

sees the rice fields

swaying in the narrow streets

and turns to the murky night his blank face,

the city lights bright as the stars

in a quiet dark.

Trees With Mouths Wide Open

The trees outside my window were singing. Everything looked loud like a wind going through them but I don’t remember the sounds. They kept moving back and forth like they were going to fall and if they did then the house would fall down too. It was dark and hot in my room, so I opened the window. I couldn’t see the tops, just all the trees without leaves going up forever. Then I got scared because there was nothing outside except for the trees singing quiet with their black mouths getting big and small and I thought the world had gone into them.

They were hard to draw and I got mad because I could only use the black and brown crayons. Mommy said what are you drawing and I said they’re trees with mouths wide open don’t you remember they were singing last night and she said no because I was sleeping. I said you couldn’t hear them. She said then how do you know they were singing?

Wild Parrots

They darken the sky, a cloud of shrieking feathers.

It is said that years ago, when fire flew

through these hills, a woman released from steel and flame,

a frenzied flock that rose, screaming, to air, and stayed there.

Now every twilight sounds as wings turn

To the sunset fading fire behind the oak and eucalyptus groves,

wings that falter in the hazy light, at the incipient darkness,

as unknown and unkind as a cage.