[poem] Afternoon Run, for Mel Holden

Mel Holden, by Paris Johnson

Afternoon Run
for Mel Holden

Yesterday, listening to red leaves crunch underfoot
And recollecting that first time we kissed,
I thought I detected a faint vibration
At the center of things, a cadence
Like breathing or the rhythms of love
That keep our pace on the path,
Regulated and wild as two beating hearts.

– Kevin Griffin Moreno


 

A track star in high school and college, Melton Holden’s university years were interrupted when he was drafted during the Vietnam conflict. Despite no formal training in computer science or business, he had a successful career with IBM managing large government contracts for the IRS, DHS and DoD. He enjoys being quietly amazed by the diversity of people he meets.

Mel Holden - photo by Jessica Keyes

Photo by Jessica Keyes

 

This poem is one of seven 49-word poems written as part of the Autumn Leaves Project, a multi-part, intergenerational art and performance exhibit conceived and curated by Baltimore artist and activist Peter Bruun. Each of the seven poems is dedicated to a member of the Autumn Leaves Chestnut Group, and was performed by students of Muse 360 Arts at the Chestnut Group’s event on October 14, 2014. The event was hosted by Pamela Eisenberg and Kevin Griffin Moreno. Portraits of the Chestnut Group members were painted by artist Paris Johnson.

To learn more about the other groups, writers, and artists associated with the project, visit the Autumn Leaves site.

[poem] Artificer, for Harriet Lynn

Harriet Lynn, by Paris Johnson

Artificer
for Harriet Lynn

Being yourself is simple. It’s as natural
As the wince Ella Shields would make
Backstage, when she unbound her tired breasts.
So hurry up, put on your face
To face the crowd; press the flesh,
Keep them guessing, try to keep moving
And just let gravity do the rest.

– Kevin Griffin Moreno


Harriet Lynn founded Heritage Theatre Artists’ Consortium in 1994 and has served as producer/artistic director since its inception. She has produced and directed numerous museum theatre, oral history performance projects, and living history programs. Since 2005, Harriet has performed her one-woman cabaret based on the life of Ella Shields, a Baltimore-born male impersonator who sang in dance halls across the U.S. and Europe from 1898 until her death in 1952.

Harriet Lynn - photo by Jessica Keyes

Photo by Jessica Keyes

 

This poem is one of seven 49-word poems written as part of the Autumn Leaves Project, a multi-part, intergenerational art and performance exhibit conceived and curated by Baltimore artist and activist Peter Bruun. Each of the seven poems is dedicated to a member of the Autumn Leaves Chestnut Group, and was performed by students of Muse 360 Arts at the Chestnut Group’s event on October 14, 2014. The event was hosted by Pamela Eisenberg and Kevin Griffin Moreno. Portraits of the Chestnut Group members were painted by artist Paris Johnson.

To learn more about the other groups, writers, and artists associated with the project, visit the Autumn Leaves site.

[poem] Pear Garden, for Alvin Eng

Alvin Eng by Paris Johnson

Pear Garden
for Alvin Eng

Falling leaves shower all the pear garden:
Funny pinks, small greens of fierce delightfulness.
Painted faces peer through the bower wall
To hear Fragrant Princess call her scholar.
Hey: while falling lasts, let’s fall free,
Let’s clown together in the flowering breeze
Before we all leave, like the fall.

– Kevin Griffin Moreno

 


Alvin Eng is a native New York playwright, director, performer, and teacher in the Department of Theatre at Goucher College in Baltimore. Among his interests are Chinese opera and the poetry of Gertrude Stein.

 

Alvin Eng at the Autumn Leaves - Chestnut Group event

Photo by Jessica Keyes

 

This poem is one of seven 49-word poems written as part of the Autumn Leaves Project, a multi-part, intergenerational art and performance exhibit conceived and curated by Baltimore artist and activist Peter Bruun. Each of the seven poems is dedicated to a member of the Autumn Leaves Chestnut Group, and was performed by students of Muse 360 Arts at the Chestnut Group’s event on October 14, 2014. The event was hosted by Pamela Eisenberg and Kevin Griffin Moreno. Portraits of the Chestnut Group members were painted by artist Paris Johnson.

To learn more about the other groups, writers, and artists associated with the project, visit the Autumn Leaves site.

[poem] Remington Avenue Love Story

Remington Ave graffito

 

I miss you Caitlin, but it’s not working out.
You slunk off and I’m sick of waiting around
for your skinny butt, shipwrecked eyes, smoking hands,
silver triangle dangling down your soft throat.

Your mom wouldn’t stop crying when I dropped by
after work. She sobbed that I had just missed you.
I stared hard at a puddle, summoning your face
from among the reflections, gave up. Ghosted.

Plummeting toward the gutter of sleep, I scryed
us missing school, huddled in a dank culvert,
dowsing for each other, menthol tongues working.
Only that once. Shit, you whispered. My mistake.

Little miss selfish, little miss narcissist,
piece of work, you can never escape the past.
You carry it around with you like a snail,
slick salty tracks I try to read like entrails.

Caitlin, I cast you out. All my sage is burned,
I remained in the grove until the mist cleared
and the moon sank and all my charms were wet ash.
We’re a missed opportunity. Nothing works.

7 storytellers. 7 portraits. 7 poems. 1 unforgettable evening.

Autumn Leaves

The Autumn Leaves Project presents

The Chestnut Group

An evening of intergenerational art & storytelling

Tuesday, October 14, 2014
6-8:30 p.m.
Area 405
405 East Oliver Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

Free and open to the public.

Featuring:

  • Seven elders reflecting on living and dying
  • 49 magnificent portraits by local artists
  • 49 drawings by Peter Bruun
  • Seven poems by Kevin Griffin Moreno
  • Performances by Muse 360 Arts
  • Slideshows of images contributed by each elder

What gives your life meaning? How do you think about your own dying or passing?
What do you have to say to young people coming after you? What advice would you give your 21 year-old self?

Inspired by his own journey through the aging process, artist and activist Peter Bruun invited 49 adults, each over 49 years of age, to share their responses to the questions above. Peter divided these 49 elders into seven groups named after different types of trees. Each group was then matched with a portrait artist, a writer, a youth arts group, and hosts responsible for organizing a series of storytelling, performance, and visual arts events during autumn 2014.

Join hosts Pamela Eisenberg and Kevin Griffin Moreno on October 14 for stories and reflections from the Chestnut Group’s diverse and fascinating elders, including a refugee, a radio host, a former inmate, a college professor, and more. The evening will include an exhibit of drawings by Peter Bruun, portraits of the Autumn Leaves project’s 49 older adult participants by Paris Johnson and other local artists, performances by youth arts group Muse 360, and poems by Kevin Griffin Moreno.

Visit the Autumn Leaves website for more information about this project, including dates for the different groups’ events and FAQ.

Autumn Leaves - The Chestnut Group - 10/14/14

Portrait sketches by Paris Johnson

 

Some towns in Pennsylvania along I-81

1180px-I-81_(PA)_map.svg

[This is an altered version of an earlier entry which was originally posted to an older and now defunct blog.]

Pleasant Hills, East Hanover, Manada Gap. Deep rumble of roadway spindling off behind us, a shup-shup-shup of mile markers flickering in the slipstream.

Union: not to be confused with Union City, up near Erie, which used to manufacture powdered milk until the plant shut down. Nor Mount Union, territory of my ex-wife’s extended family of stolid Mennonites and Methodists, near the start of the Standing Stone Trail with its Thousand Steps.

petro

Irving

Ravine

Frailey

Frackville, which calls to mind the scourge and boon of hydraulic fracturing, but which was actually named in the 1860s after one Daniel Frack. According to an 1890 edition of the Frackville Herald preserved by Schuylkill County historian Lorraine Stanton, the town was home to a brothel known colloquially as the “horse shoe” or “the house with green shutters,” which was

…presided over by one Nellie Reilly, an exile from Shenandoah. This beautiful (?) siren with her hooked nose and crooked toes, elongated form, toothless gums and twisted back is assisted in her nefarious traffic by one ‘Dolly,’ a fille de joie hailing from the excessively moral village of Pottsville. However, on festive occasion when railroading is slack, other nymphs to pave are invited to partake of the feast and assist at the beer tap where lager flows in unlimited abundance, license or no license. [more]

Mahanoy City is believed to have been caught up in the violence perpetrated by and against the Molly Maguires, hard-eyed and hard-handed descendants of Hibernian “ribbonmen” who struck fear into the hearts of Protestant landlords in the 19th century. In Pennsylvania, the Mollies mined anthracite, black diamond hot-blasted into iron. Their story is one of labor, capital, gunfire, union busting, rebellion, infiltration, betrayal, revenge, and murder.

About seven miles away is Tuscarora State Park, Tuscarora meaning “hemp gatherers,” because of the Tuscarora people’s use of dogbane (apocynum) in sewing and rope-making and hunting. Apocynum is also an anti-diuretic, so they probably used it for that, too.

Delano. Quakake (“kwah-KAH-keh?” “kwuh-CAKE”? “KWEY-cake”?). Hazleton, where Nathan once bought a bag of deep fried peanuts and ate them, shells and all, over the course of two days. At the Unimart truck stop, I saw a trailer hauling carnival rides in the shape of paunchy dragons, one of which fixed me with a wary plastic gaze as the sunset ignited the mountains.

unimart

Drums, Nuangola, Mountain Top.

Sugar Notch and Ashley.

Wilkes-Barre, east of the Endless Mountains and home to the Mohegan Sun “racino.”

Avoca was named after the river in Ireland, or possibly the town. In “The Meeting of the Waters,” Thomas Moore wrote:

Sweet vale of Avoca! how calm could I rest
in thy bosom of shade, with the friends I love best,
Where the storms that we feel in this cold world should cease,
And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace.

roadsideamerica

Duryea

Pittston

Moosic. We stop for dinner at the Panera on Montage Mountain, which is advertised as a ski resort. From the interstate it is a sad, wet drive to the strip mall, where we stand in line with overstimulated teenagers who so clearly want to be bad, but have nothing better to do on a rainy Friday night in Moosic, Pennsylvania, than order broccoli-cheese soup at the Panera and slurp it sulkily.

Darkness over Lackawanna, “river that forks.” Names that conjure Sacred Harp songs in the dark: Lenox (“The year of jubilee has come…”) and New Milford (“If angels sung a savior’s birth on that auspicious morn…”).

cruisers

Moonrise over North Knob, elevation 2,694’ and a remembered fragment of Gary Snyder:

dust kicking up behind the trucks — night rides–
who waits in the coffee shop
night highway 99

Sokei-an met an old man on the banks of the
Columbia river growing potatoes & living all alone,
Sokei-an asked him the reason why he lived there,
he said

Boy, no one ever asked me the reason why.
I like to be alone.
I am an old man.
I have forgotten how to speak human words.

nighthighway99

Great Bend. The name of the town comes from the sharp turn made by the river marked “Sasquesahanough” on a map by John Smith, he of Pocahontas fame. Sasquesahanough in turn from “Susquehannock,” an Iriquoian-speaking people whose name, like so many names given to native peoples by, was not the one they used for themselves, but rather a derogatory Algonquian appelation: “people of the muddy river.”

Deep night now, and the hills and waters fade into the slipstream as we cross the border into New York.

We raise Rochester by midnight.

 

Buck Knife

buck knife

It took my father nearly four decades to commit suicide. He picked up the bottle at age 17 in Lubbock, Texas, and died of an alcohol-induced heart attack at age 55 outside Baltimore, Maryland.

One thing you can say about my dad: he was persistent.

~~~

Tighty Whities

popMy mother discovered her husband’s body in the dingy, one-bedroom garden apartment where he had been living since their separation some months before. She had gone there to check in on him and bring him some food, found him sprawled out in the bathroom, called 911, and then called me.

As soon as I heard her voice on the phone, I knew. I told my boss in a strained but otherwise calm voice that I needed to take the afternoon off because “I think my father’s dead.” For whatever reason, the expression of shock on my manager’s face sticks in my memory more than many other things about that day.

I arrived in time to see men in official-looking windbreakers zip my dad’s corpse up in a body bag, his pale legs and tighty whities disappearing into black plastic, just like in the TV shows. I didn’t cry. I don’t think my mother did, either. We focused mostly on practical matters. We are very practical, my mother and I.

~~~

Buck Knife

pops501

Things I inherited from my father: his temper, his wanderlust, a nearly new toaster oven. Also this pocket knife, which he used to carry with him on the hikes we took through the Vienna Woods each Sunday morning when I was a kid in Austria.

He also passed on to me a deep affinity for both storytelling and poetry. He was a huge sci-fi nerd, back before those things were even phrases in the common lexicon. He couldn’t wait until I was old enough to read Tolkien, so that he could have someone to geek out to about it. We would memorize poems and songs from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and we would test each other’s ability to recite them when we hiked in the woods together.

On those walks, a stand of birch trees with silver bark and golden leaves would become the borders of the enchanted forest of Lothlorien. This pocket knife would become the dagger Sting, glowing blue along its edge in the presence of orcs, and like the elvish warrior heroes we fancied ourselves, we would chant:

A Elbereth, Gilthoniel
Silivren penna miriel
O menel aglar elenath
Gilthoniel A Elbereth

Sometimes we got lost in the woods. We’d be so busy tramping around Middle Earth that we’d stray from the path and have to find our way to the nearest town, where we would call my mom and ask her to pick us up. One of my happiest memories is of the day she drove out to meet us for lunch at the little gasthaus where we’d ended up.

We ate out on the terrace and I remember a deep blue sky and bright sunlight and french fries and my mother’s smile.

gasthaus

~~~

Eraser

The ability to tell stories came as naturally to my father as breathing, or as naturally as drinking, at least. He grew up in the panhandle of West Texas, the scion of a long and distinguished family tree of drunken bullshitters in the grand old southern storytelling tradition.

During the nearly three decades he worked for the U.S. government, my dad lived in nearly a dozen different countries. He had the best stories about his friends and other people he met in his travels.

He told this one about Schuyan, a Hungarian instructor he had when he was studying to be a U.S. Army linguist. Schuyan, your stereotypical absentminded professor, always had trouble keeping track of time in class, so he would constantly look up at the clock over his desk.

eraserSome of the students discovered that if you hit the clock with something, it would advance the time by five minutes. So the students took to throwing chalkboard erasers at the clock every time Schuyan turned his back, to the point where they were getting out of class earlier and earlier each time.

One day they had a test, and after Schuyan had finished handing out the work books, he went to the back of the class and pulled out a bag full of chalkboard erasers, which he proceeded to throw at the clock, one after another, while the students scribbled furiously to finish the tests as their remaining time dwindled.

There was a difference between the stories my dad would tell about other people, which were typically funny, and the stories he told about himself, which tended toward the grim. His stories about himself were all about being unloved, unappreciated, unwanted. They were about how everyone was out to get him, and how the world would be a better place if he wasn’t in it.

He was like George Bailey from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ only Clarence never would have gotten his wings if he had come down to save my dad. Instead, the angel would have just ended up getting depressed and drunk with him, muttering “Fuck it, you’re right, dude, it’s all hopeless.”

~~~

The Calm, Cool Face of the River

skyline

That same bleakness bled into the poetry he liked. One year, my dad got me this copy of Langston Hughes’ Selected Poems. It’s a great collection, full of jazz and anger and passion, but my dad’s favorite was one called, ‘Suicide’s Note,’ which he read to me in its entirety over breakfast one morning:

The calm, cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.

I was eight.

~~~

Treachery, Defeat, Humiliation

As I grew older, and my dad got drunker and darker, I realized that stories we tell about ourselves are not a listing of chronological facts about our lives. We create our stories in order to retroactively justify how we ended up who are right now. We choose those facts about our lives very carefully. We embellish them. We make a lot of them up. And then we say, to ourselves, and others, “See? This is why I am who I am, and there is no way it could have turned out differently.”

I inherited my father’s love of storytelling and poetry, but I chose to read different poems than he did.

One of my favorites, by Jorge Luis Borges, is about a guy in a train station at night who suddenly hears “an infinite voice” from within him listing all the wonderful, miraculous things that the poet doesn’t appreciate about the world: “chessboards, galleries, skylights, cellars / a human body to walk with on the earth…”

Hermann-ArminiusThe inventory even includes “treachery, defeat, humiliation,” which are described as “the ancient nourishment of heroes.”

That phrase haunts me. My dad was always going about treachery, defeat, and humiliation – not as the “nourishment of heroes,” but as weapons that had been used against him throughout his life, by his parents, his bosses, his wife, his only son.

Slowly over time, with mounting horror and sadness, I came to understand that my father didn’t see himself as an elvish warrior hero with a magic sword. He saw himself as Gollum: a bitter, abused, misunderstood creature who’s treated poorly by everyone he comes across.

Just as Gollum had his “precious,” my dad had his family-sized plastic bottle of vodka, and he clung to it until it finally dragged him down into the pit of doom.

~~~

White Clouds

wienerwald

A couple of years after he died, I came across a poem by Zbignew Herbert that I wish I could have shared with him. Not that it would have saved his life – he’d already crafted his story, after all – but maybe it could have communicated to him my belief that there are other stories to tell.

not for the stone wreath of Troy do we implore You o Master
not for a plume of flame white women and gold
but restore if you can to blemished faces goodness
and put simplicity into our hands just as you once put iron

send down white clouds Apollo white clouds white clouds

Sometimes I imagine myself as a time traveler, going back to meet my father at different points in his life. I’d meet him in that shabby little apartment of his the day before he drank his last bottle of Listerine and collapsed on the bathroom floor. I’d meet him walking among the birch trees of the Vienna Woods in the autumn, pretending he was in Middle Earth. I’d meet him on the dusty flats outside Lubbock, Texas, just before he latched onto that precious, poisoned bottle of self-loathing and despair.

I would read him Herbert’s ‘Fragment.’ And I would look him in the eyes and touch his arm and tell him: This is your hero’s weapon. This is what you use to beat back the darkness. Now let’s go slay some orcs.

Little Deaths: A Visit to the Most Macabre Gallery in Baltimore

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

One Sunday evening in November 1896, Lizzie Miller found her neighbor, Maggie Wilson, dead. Alerted by the sound of running water, Ms. Miller opened the door of the dark, cramped bathroom and saw Ms. Wilson face up in the bathtub, fully clothed, her legs dangling over the side. The spigot was on and water flowed in a continuous stream over Ms. Wilson’s face. Her blue eyes were open.

In a statement to police, Ms. Miller reported that she had heard Ms. Wilson entertaining two men that evening and that “there was a lot of drinking going on.” She also recalled that the deceased had been prone to seizures.

The grim tableau, as Ms. Miller described it and investigators found it, is preserved in meticulously detailed miniature in a small gallery on the third floor of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) of Maryland. The replica of Ms. Wilson’s death scene, along with 17 other, similarly morbid dioramas, comprise the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

One of the strangest and most strangely moving attractions in Baltimore, the Nutshell Studies were created by Frances Glessner Lee, a would-be physician and self-trained pioneer in the field of forensic sciences. Barred from pursuing a medical career because of her gender, Lee channeled her considerable inherited wealth into endowing a department of legal medicine at Harvard, and her extraordinary eye for detail into producing painstakingly exact recreations of scenes of homicide, suicide, and accidental death.

(There are several good essays online that offer greater insight into Ms. Lee and the Nutshell Studies, including this one and this one.)

A visitor to the Nutshells gallery assumes the role of the first investigator to arrive on the scene. After a brief orientation by an OCME staff member (usually Bruce Goldfarb, the department’s resident authority on the exhibit), one is encouraged to pick up a flashlight and examine each diorama for clues. As with an actual crime scene, every detail is potentially significant.

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

In the study featuring the unfortunate Ms. Wilson, an empty glass and a liquor bottle lie on the rug. Was she poisoned? The position of her body is curious. Did she have a seizure while drawing a bath and collapse backward into the tub, where she drowned? Or was she murdered by the men her neighbor heard in the apartment? The corpse shows signs of rigor mortis. Was she deposited in the tub post mortem?

Another Nutshell shows a young woman lying dead in a closet. Her throat has been slashed and blood covers her neck and the front of her floral print dress. Her hands appear bound. At her feet rests a suitcase, giving the impression that she had been packing for a trip. A long-bladed knife lies in front of her, its tip stained red. A plaque below the display case explains that the incident occurred on June 29, 1944.

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Officers took a statement from a man who claimed to be her boyfriend. According to this witness, the deceased was a prostitute named Marie Jones. After a night spent drinking in her apartment, the man said, Ms. Jones grabbed his “jackknife,” shut herself in the closet, and presumably slit her own throat.

Seven decades later, with scant additional information provided, his story still rings false.

When I first read about the Nutshell Studies, I thought I would find them entertainingly campy, another example of Baltimore’s storied “quirkiness.” But there is nothing kitsch about them. The depictions of Ms. Wilson in her bathtub and Ms. Jones in her closet elicit not amusement, but revulsion and pity. Each exquisitely crafted diorama eloquently conveys the horror, pathos, and strangeness of untimely death.

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

In his seminal 1991 book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, David Simon says something about how actual homicide detectives, unlike their fictional counterparts, rarely ponder the “why” of murder; instead they concern themselves with the “what” and “how.” An examination of the Nutshell Studies reveals how elusive even those pragmatic considerations can be. As the name implies, many of the cases depicted in the exhibit are unsolvable, and what solutions are available are unsatisfactory. Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest hypothesis is generally the best one, but homicide and suicide defy such logic.

In one Nutshell study, a man is found shot to death in a remote cabin where he met his estranged mistress. Using inductive reasoning, one can infer that either: a) the woman shot him during an altercation; or b) overcome with rage and grief over the dissolution of their relationship, he shot himself.

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The facts, according to the actual case history, are more bizarre: when the man stooped to pick up a cigarette, the pistol he was carrying fell out of his jacket, discharged accidentally, and blew a hole through his torso at point blank range. The bullet was found lodged in one of the rafters directly above his corpse.

What a ridiculous and improbable story. Any reader who encountered it in the pages of a mystery novel would sneer at its implausibility. Yet, as far as investigators were able to determine, that is what transpired in that cabin in the woods.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are chilling because they force us to confront how little we know about the way the world works. Each tiny crime scene challenges our assumptions about human relationships. We know what is expected of us in our roles as lovers, as spouses, as friends, yet here in this little gallery we see evidence that on occasion something happens between people that confounds those expectations in the most horrible way.

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

That something is the fly in the ointment, the rustle in the dark, the twist in the gut. When we allow ourselves to think about it at all, we pray that it never happens to us or those we love, aware of how little control we actually have over the way things unfold. “The whole of human history / seems to be the story of men who kill,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his poem “Murderer [Part I].”

…of murderers who light their cigarettes
with trembling hands,
and of poor, unlucky kids staring into the eyes
of those who bring them their deaths.

The other uncomfortable realization that confronts a visitor to the Nutshell Studies is that most of the victims in the cases are women: the prostitute in the closet; the teenager bludgeoned and stabbed in a parsonage; the wife at the foot of the stairs. And even when they are not numbered among the dead, women are so often the ones caught in the wake of a murder or suicide, left behind to pick up the pieces of shattered lives.

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Suddenly I heard: Murderer! Murderer!,” Malaparte goes on in a subsequent part of the same poem.

It was the voice of a woman, terrible,
the voice of a sister, desperate,
the voice of a mother, of a lover.
And at that moment nothing could have been more terrible
than that voice of a woman,
that voice of a mother, of a sister, of a lover, crying:

Murderer!

Humans are experts at pattern recognition, but we tend to discern those patterns in retrospect. We move through our days and nights responding to circumstances as they arise. Occasionally we pause, look behind us, and connect the dots. In this way we construct narratives out of our lives and meaning out of our deaths. That is why we are so drawn to murder mysteries. In detective novels and true crime stories, the author forges order and coherence out of the chaos and pain of an untimely demise.

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The Nutshell Studies teach us that reality is under no obligation to adhere to narrative conventions. The death we encounter within their glass boxes is shocking and nonsensical. It is broken glass and gas fumes and sticky filth. It is numbness and tears and an ache in the chest that never goes away. It is a caesura that has no place in the poem.

A Glossary of Favored Words: A

Cedward Brice 2013

Aleph Start here. Tame and modest, aleph encompasses the infiniteness of god. Aleph is the ox head at the door that contains all points in space. Borges and Rabbi Akiva. A glottal stop.

Acacia Fire resister, whistling thorn, tree of life. Cradle of Osiris’s coffin, crown of Christ, blazing before Moses on Mount Horeb. Pulp that cures rabies, smoke that repels demons and pleases the noses of the gods. Ingredient in incense and the ark.

Acacia - Le Sahara

Alcazar Segovia, Sevilla, Toledo. Hard, proud syllables like a snarled magic spell. From al-qasr, castle; originally castra, a legionnaires’ camp. In the basement of my parents’ house, it shone in black velvet moonlight.

Alcazar Segovia

Alia All things; the ascent; the right to return.

Allegany When Mike went to Germany and I lost my best friend (not for the first or last time), I would drive two and a half hours to Allegany County and pull off the road at anything that caught my attention. I walked on Dan’s Mountain and ate a grilled cheese sandwich in Flintstone. Allegany sounds like far away, like western foothills of green brown. Van Morrison sang one morning in May / here on my mountain / You’re gonna stay / come and go with me / to the Allegheny, and I listened to him on the tape deck of my 1986 Ford Escort while flicking cigarette butts out the window and marveling at how loneliness could make me feel like all the doors and windows in my head had been thrown wide open to make room for the crossbreeze. Perhaps Lenape: oolikhanna, “beautiful stream that flows in the hills;” or perhaps not. They came here from distant parts.

Amok A tiger spirit captured in Malaysia and carried back to Europe in the hull of a wooden ship that shuddered and splintered as the demon crashed against the bulkheads. Sweaty Portuguese sailors squirmed in their hammocks, dreaming of bright knives in dark fists.

serat damar wulan

Amours
When he begins to tell his love,
Through every vein my passions move,
The captive of his tongue:
In midnight shades, on frosty ground,
I could attend the pleasing sound,
Nor should I feel December cold,
Nor think the darkness long.
– Isaac Watts


Angel Comforter, messenger, sword of flame. To Rilke you were terrifying; to Pinsky you are too barbarous for heaven / And too preposterous for belief on earth. In Austria, you caught me when I fell from a tree. In the sad and solitary darkness of my apartment, I called upon you to frighten away the creeping things on the other side of the door. In the hollow square I felt your hand upon my shoulder as I beat out the rhythm of the notes, my right hand rising and falling in time to your dreadful wings.

angel

Antler Tool and talisman, sharpened against a tree or shorn with steel cable. Dancer at the edge of the campfire.

Apophatic
Who is it that stands before me, the emperor demanded.
I do not know, came the reply.

Did he chuckle when he said it? Did he proclaim it, eyes blazing in defiance? I like to think he whispered it. It doesn’t matter anyway; he probably never existed. And yet, and yet, I remember a cold morning in Litchfield when I was falling asleep on my cushion and Adam struck the bell and I was the one who rang.

Alpine Gold-shot white – “albus” – spiraling up stark against deepest blue. Butterflies like droplets of blood on snow.

alpine glaciers c 1915

Apricot Long vowel. Brown sunlight at the back of the tongue.

Atrium Open space in the center, collector of light and air, blood intake of the heart.

atrium

Aubade
I know my leaving in the breakfast table mess.  
Bowl spills into bowl: milk and bran, bread crust  
crumbled. You push me back into bed.

More “honey” and “baby.”
Breath you tell my ear circles inside me,  
curls a damp wind and runs the circuit
of my limbs. I interrogate the air, 

smell Murphy’s Oil Soap, dog kibble.
No rose. No patchouli swelter. And your mouth—  
sesame, olive. The nudge of your tongue
behind my top teeth.

To entirely finish is water entering water.
Which is the cup I take away?

More turning me. Less your arms reaching
around my back. You ask my ear
where I have been and my body answers,
all over kingdom come.
- Amber Flora Thomas

Augury A lone swallow flutters against a low line of clouds. A stubby finger finds a bloody button in the steaming slickness of a squirrel’s stomach. What does the water say? What do the stars? Fuck the future. Just tell us what to do, what not to do.

rock heart