Poem to Start the Week #29: Climbing You

I want to understand the steep thing
that climbs ladders in your throat.
I can’t make sense of you.
Everywhere I look you’re there–
a vast landmark, a volcano
poking its head through the clouds,
Gulliver sprawled across Lilliput.

I climb into your eyes, looking.
The pupils are black painted stage flats.
They can be pulled down like window shades.
I switch on a light in your iris.
Your brain ticks like a bomb.

In your offhand, mocking way
you’ve invited me into your chest.
Inside: the blur that poses as your heart.
I’m supposed to go in with a torch
or maybe hot water bottles
& defrost it by hand
as one defrosts an old refrigerator.
It will shudder & sigh
(the icebox to the insomniac).

Oh there’s nothing like love between us.
You’re the mountain, I am climbing you.
If I fall, you won’t be all to blame,
but you’ll wait years maybe
for the next doomed expedition.

 

Erica Jong

Poem to Start the Week #28: The Death of Santa Claus

He’s had the chest pains for weeks,
but doctors don’t make house
calls to the North Pole,

he’s let his Blue Cross lapse,
blood tests make him faint,
hospital gown always flap

open, waiting rooms upset
his stomach, and it’s only
indigestion anyway, he thinks,

until, feeding the reindeer,
he feels as if a monster fist
has grabbed his heart and won’t

stop squeezing. He can’t
breathe, and the beautiful white
world he loves goes black,

and he drops on his jelly belly
in the snow and Mrs. Claus
tears out of the toy factory

wailing, and the elves wring
their little hands, and Rudolph’s
nose blinks like a sad ambulance

light, and in a tract house
in Houston, Texas, I’m 8,
telling my mom that stupid

kids at school say Santa’s a big
fake, and she sits with me
on our purple-flowered couch,

and takes my hand, tears
in her throat, the terrible
news rising in her eyes.

 

 

Charles Webb

All the Little Lights

So yes, I thought I’d go ahead and get myself a little bout of bronchitis just to make things interesting.

What can I tell you, it’s great. I’m not getting any sleep, I can’t breathe, and I’ve coughed myself into this constantly pain ridden-creature who can barely sit up in bed, never mind walking, sipping and thinking coherent thoughts. My ribs ache, my chest aches, oh and it feels like I’m growing a new limb in the back of my throat, one that spends its day rhythmically punching me from the inside. Just as demented as all my other limbs have proven themselves to be in time.

I’ve taken three days off from work this week. This from someone who’d only taken two sick days in total during the last four and a half years in this country, humanity!

I pretty much dozed all through Monday, barely dragging myself to the kitchen to put the kettle on and rest my head on the counter while the water heated, then back to bed and dreams of my mother washing my hair in the bathroom sink when I was a kid, her hands rubbing and turning my head expertly, like she was rinsing vegetables for soup.

Despite another sleepless night, Tuesday found me in better spirits. I managed to make it to the living room, where I spent the day on the sofa, wrapped in all the blankets we own (three), drinking industrial quantities of camomile tea, reading National Geographic and messing with the remote. Towards noon I actually found it in me to deal with this years’ batch of holiday cards, and then, motivated no doubt by the small stack of ready to be delivered red envelopes on the coffee table, I decided I’d actually get out of my blankets and sort out our Christmas decorations as well. It’s worked out fine, more or less, mainly because we’re not decorating a lot this year. The tiniest tree in the living room, a wreath centrepiece on the dining table, and window lights. I’d managed to put half the lights up before I succumbed to a coughing fit that got me feeling dizzy and short of breath, and only passed once I lied on my side for a minute or so, counting my breaths.

So our place sported a slightly depressing, half Christmassy look for a day or so.

On Wednesday I actually put some mascara on and traipsed to the train station, determined to finally make it to work. Just my luck though, every other train turned out cancelled due to, wait… for… it… shortage of drivers.

Assuming they all got some form of debilitating bronchitis, I decided I’d be caring and understanding for once, and eventually coughed my way back home and into bed. Later in the day, I finally managed to hang the rest of the lights in the window, which I must admit has made me feel a lot better than the gallons upon gallons of sweet tea and mountains of Strepsils of the past days combined.

I’m loving this time of year. Despite the zero snow situation, the psycho coughing, the driver-less trains, the seriously disgusting way in which I’m being treated during my last days in the office (I will not rant about this. I. Will. Not. Rant!!!).

Christmas is in the air, despite all that. And it makes me happy that we’re enjoying it in our new home, and away, just the two of us, and in the company of wonderful friends. I’m happy that we’re making it work, that we’re trying at it, despite the difficult year we’ve had and the sort of unsure times waiting for us ahead. And I’m feeling great! OK, not right now. Right now I’m still pretty much the zombiest I can be, though I’m proud to report that I have managed to make it to work and eat a couple of biscuits without feeling my throat peeling raw.

All in all, life’s good. I’m off home soon, just in time to turn the Christmas lights on as it’s getting dark. We’ve wrapped and labeled all of this year’s presents, and they’re now stacked around the living room, waiting for people to arrive. Our red enveloped cards are making their way to Romania, different corners of London and faraway sunny places as we speak. I’m planning to try my hand at some homemade mulled wine tonight, so that I’m not caught unprepared when the time comes. Then it’s homemade bun-less burgers and greens and, if I’m feeling particularly rebellious, mince pie. Lights blinking in the window. No rush, no worries, no drama.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’re ready. We’re absolutely, no doubt about it, ready. Bring it on, Christmas!

Fabric

I used to own a green scarf.

I can’t remember if I’ve told you this story before, it was the green of the first grass, bright enough to hurt the eyes. A bitter color, I imagined, one you’d sink your teeth into and feel it seeping through the membrane of every cell, stirring juices around. And I was wearing that scarf, for the first or second time ever. It was winter, and I was very young, or at least that’s what I’d say now. Back then I thought I was old enough for anything and everything.

The city felt like it was growing from me, from a stray seed stuck to the sole of my boot, and not the other way around. I walked the streets like they were of my own making, I faced the endless parade of people and buildings like I’d invented them, I and no other, and they were there for nothing more than morning entertainment on my way to wherever I was going.

By the fountains, I ran into this man I knew.

In retrospect, he was just a boy. We’d met on a bus, if you can believe it. For years we’d been taking the same bus from our home town to the city on Sunday evenings, often sitting together, our elbows touching through layers of fabric.

The lights never worked. On the bus. We’d ride through the snow for a while, leafing through papers or looking out the window, until it got dark and there was nothing left to do but try and sleep or stare into the night and think your life over. We never spoke. We nodded when we ran into each other at the bus stop, and one evening he offered to help as I was trying to push my embarrassing, overstuffed suitcase into the luggage compartment, and introduced himself.

So I knew his name now, and he knew mine, and when we met by the frozen fountains that morning, in full light for the first time ever, me wrapped up in my apple green scarf six times over, cheeks flushed from the cold, his name was right there for the picking like I’d kept it close at hand on purpose. I rolled it expertly in my mouth and said hi.

He said hi back and smiled. Half a second later we were walking past each other in opposite directions, but I knew. Something was beginning.

Remember when every little thing felt like the beginning of something extraordinary? Like anything could happen, and probably would, because you knew, you just knew you were meant for great things.

That’s exactly how I felt as I was walking away from the fountains that day. We’d meet again, I knew it. We’d run into each other a few more times, by fountains and museums and random newspaper stands, my curls perfect in every way each single time and my lips painted his favourite shade of plum. Then we’d finally go out for coffee. I’d be charming, didn’t my mother always say I could be terribly charming when I wanted to? I certainly wanted to now. He’d fall in love with me, of course. We’d be perfect together, one of those couples you feel have got a secret too valuable to share with the rest of the world. “How do they do it?”, people would wonder, sometimes out loud, and we’d just smile and he’d lean in to kiss my cheekbone.

I wore that scarf every day for months, well into the spring. He’d noticed it, I was sure, the sheer greenness of it, and would now see me from a distance. He’d run to meet me, I’d be charming, cheekbone kissing would ensue.

*

My favourite scarf these days is black, white dotted. It’s not a metaphor this, green to black, young to old. They’re just colors, and not meant to mean anything. There’s no lesson to learn.

It works well with my red winter coat, that’s all, the scarf. The most special thing about it is that the moment I saw it in a Mango shop a few months back, it made me think of the sky at night. A proper one, stars and everything, unlike what I normally see in London these days.

From my home town too, you couldn’t see the stars. When we were small, my sister and I spent our summers at our Grandpa‘s house, and I remember I’d fall asleep in the swing every night, out in the open at the edge of the field, despite being grounded for it time and time again. I just wanted to look at the stars. I thought God covered the planet with a large black umbrella at night. And that the stars were nothing but tiny holes in its canvas, worn thin from so many centuries of using, through which sunlight seeped through.

I check myself in the mirror one last time before I’m out for the day. Everything’s in its place, and somehow not really in its place at all. Also it seems that as I grow old, my eyes, if slightly more wrinkled at the edges every time I check, grow bigger. Or maybe the rest of me is getting smaller. I do feel it, sometimes, when I walk the streets of this city. Like I’m the morning entertainment, a tiny one at that, and not the other way around. It doesn’t sadden me, how things have changed. But sometimes I catch myself expertly knotting my scarf in the mirror, my fingers moving of their own accord like they’ve slipped out of my reach and become better at dealing with life than the rest of me is, and it hits me: I was a kid once.

Poem to Start the Week #27: The Portrait

My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

 

 

Stanley Kunitz