Carolyn Srygley-Moore is an 1984 award-winning graduate of the Johns Hopkins University's writing seminars, a Pushcart nominee, & author of the digital chapbook Enough Light on the Dogwood. Her desire to participate in Real Stories is motivated in part by a furious yet elegiac sense of friends living with or lost to AIDS, by the need to write something relative to the real world, & by the need to be a guide to her daughter through means of language.
(**all copyright remains with the author)
NOTE: Carolyn Srygley-Moore (poet, USA) and Ferama Wöbken (artist, Germany) collaborated for Real Stories Gallery to raise awareness about HIV
"This page is dedicated to Ray & Quinn, & to Brigit. & to those others, unnamed, fallen or fighting along the way"
Kennedy Center Honors, reflections
- for Tim Barrus (visual poet, USA) -
The neon barbershop sign outside the window flickers
like the sun behind the blinds
as we make love coiled upon the rough hewn carpets
We whistle on eachother's tongues
as on blades of fireant grasses
When Walt was waking the world with his poem about the double flute of the sex
the poem was at war with itself
the world was at Civil war
all a question of economy of language
I saw a dance today to that fact
a man delivered dance unto a new level of precision
& his co inventor perished of AIDS
which is what happened then. The bones did not slowly break
but at once, in a giant collapse, the ribs pelvis spine
dove in at eachother, eating. hungry. there had never before been
I saw a song today to the effect
that love is all. That should all broken hearts
yield up unto eachother's zigzags
the world would mend. & these people being honored
had at one point had lack
of a dollar for a cheeseburger // lack
of a place to sleep. The neon flickers like the snake's charmed tongue
& I am wondering, can I keep you safe
in your new hat & gloves, can I keep you safe.
& not in San Quentin, no,
but in a circlet of suture thread that glows.
Sun Ray, by Ferama Wöbken (Germany)
Wind through the ribs
The candle is not able to be snuffed, we try & we try
the wind sighs through the ribs of your sister
I found five glass angels arranged in a circle at a consignement shop
stained red a bit round the clavicles
& asked if you want me to buy them for your mother
next day I return, they had been taken
& buried like glass is buried once it is broken & swept in a dustpan
buried like cat litter & shit
That's not what I wanted to say
the wick falters in the wind, but the heart is unbroken
our sweat as it merges sculpts a shape
convex as a mirror in which myriads of faces appear
joined at the rib the pelvis the elbow
skipping across the river like light
Unbelievable the noises that fill us
when we touch & the child is nowhere to be found
we are atlas shrugged we are a landslide in Los Angeles
the noises that fill us
followed by an unbelievable stillness
an underground tunnel brought into the light
This is what I am trying to tell you
We have tried to snuff the candle
we have tried, we have tried
Le Torse, by Ferama Wöbken (Germany)
For those who believe in a future // off The Golden Belly, sculpture by Ferama
Within the woman's belly is a covenant
the sun glints from as from a stained glass window
behind which gleams not God but snow
falling. Snow where science declares
there is no snow. The memory of which lies in the falling
lies in the breasts wrecked from children's teeth
gnawing, milk, more milk
when there's no milk to be had.
She stands in a meadow, prairie, snowfield, savannah //
stands on a dam in Holland
on a nuclear waste site in Pennsylvania, her belly golden
an ark in the sun, bring them by pairs,
one on one. There is a parade in the aorta
of fire ants of elephants of butterflies
crossing womb like long distance runners
crossing spaces, race, gene, what is written
by that first chromosomal dance
by the anthropologist's flare. I dare you, ask this woman
what she has seen, is she made
of flesh or wood or iron, some of each,
ask this woman what she has seen.
I have been an outcast from birth, she says, it is not only
the AIDS that has done it, not only
being taken to the dark corner to bleed & bleed //
she is an Other, we are each of us Others,
I know what it is, to be an outcast,
to be a dog amongst men,
even as the sun glinted from my belly of raptures
of futures to come. Here's to those
who believe there is a future
even for the dying // something behind the window gleaming
like broken ambulances,
like ambulances dismantled,
like ambulances no longer needed: what are you going to do
she says, wait here to be taken,
wait here to die? We must get bread for the children
& show them, the snow
they have never seen before, show them the falling
blades of pirouette snow, learn them
to love the falling.
L' Amour, by Ferama Wöbken (Germany)
A Love Letter
Of course I will stay
like contrails of steam after the jet passes
although I went into exile sometime ago
I will stay. It is a love letter
between two who shall never touch hands or mouths or eyelashes.
Snow falls upon the branches, upon the broad backs, of those working the fields.
They stay, working. There is no choice.
I speak for nobody but myself.
I cannot speak for the dead.
I inhabit a parachute of red cloth, stitched by the great tailor.
He sews buttons on my nipples.
He weaves our eyelashes together over the globe
an irridenscent tapestry
sheltering the lost children, the disappeared, the woman
arms blown off in Iraq
for whom her children make a sandwich.
It is a love letter
for the exiled, the exiling
The crows rise in the Vincent painting. They are sweating.
Of course I will stay.
Shamane, by Ferama Wöbken (Germany)
Sun Ray, by Ferama Wöbken (Germany)
The Shaman & The Ray of Sun
Convoluted as a circus actor
convoluted as a yogi performing the lotus
for his cats
amidst the yellow winds
The sun is the white of an eye
the eyewhite of a child in Darfur
the eyewhite of a child in Africa
both parents dead of AIDS
I have twisted of my own accord
& have been twisted
like licorice tasted & tongued against my endeavor
Brown brown white has envy of color
we lie in the sun day after day & blister to burn
any color but white
I have seen the whites of his eyes up close
when he was mad
he had not even been drinking
& I know I am guilty of a butterfly's blasphemy
stroking the air like the penile shaft
of first discovery
of first language
what is more important, the picture
the written word or the spoken word
Convoluted as a circus actor
stripped of my prison orange jumpsuit
yet lamed that I might conjure
image by clay or speech
I come to you
Comparative studies // the teacher
She said you pray often don't you I said I never pray, embarrassed
though sometimes at night I would talk to trees & I just-then was
looking out the classroom window at the evidence of the trees
looking away from the spectral omniscience,wanting
to see each distinct leaf on the oaks blooming outside.
She knew she could read our minds, this woman, she said as much.
I would chalk a fortressed outline around my brain
duck my head into my book carriage, blocking.
She would announce to all Carolyn is blocking me out.
Once she said she had a vision:
Jane had bandaged hands, there was a loss there, she said
& Jane ran from the classroom weeping.
Jane told me later she could no longer play piano.
Comparative studies it was, religion, we never opened anything
like the Torah the Bible the Koran, opened nothing
beyond our hands for her to fortuneteller-trace them
our dreams for her to rain-dancer call down the rains.
She wore bright orange lipstick
that's all I remember // & dyed hair carried over from the McCarthy era
an era that imbued her: she thought
she could read our dreams our minds like common playthings //
& worse still, speak them aloud //
touch a strand of hair like a string on a guitar like a DNA sample in the laboratory
& morph it, shape-shift it, into something incomprehensible
to those on the verge of leaving the unknown
into the unknown.
The poem is for them
I avoid his name, lately, the name of the one who intervenes.
He is so many.
The face that comes to me in spiral
like the wish for patricide, like the whorling of the conch
shell. When I tended bar, I would come home
with all these faces, all these stories, & bear them in my insomniac
nights. My eyelids were sturdy
as a colt's legs. So tired, sleepless, I would watch
the faces pass through each nightmare, the axis of
each film. B movies on the black & white tv, the alley
cats mewing out the window, for some
milked heroin of nodding-off
to peace. This poem may be for them.
the hallway & insipid darknesses
they too are divine intervention, these shiney gestures
of women in hospital rooms
or no, I am in a bar. This poem may be for you.
I am the girl with long blond hair & no ass pouring drinks
then drinking when my shift had ended, scotch on ice
after scotch. The light would enter, I would duck.
Trucks would pass through rigorous alleys, I would
feel the glint, the glide, the avarice
of being nobody going nowhere,
dancing soft shoe on the sidewalk for anyone who would
give me a kiss. Or no, that poem's for you.
The hollow blue bench rained upon
The hollow blue bench in the pyramidal sarcophagus
where memory sits // leaning into
a quickening of music
quickening of despair
those instances when one looks off the precipice
& finds no indigo butterflies
nor the resemblance of love
drunk on first embalming
in trails of gods. The results
are not evident
one cannot tell what part of the food chain
consumes more than the other
in imaginings O how the dog dreams
& how I flinch at your touch's
zero I call you silly Zero
mammoth creature lowering upon me
like light upon flower
neither human nor monster
nothing I know by name
except I recognize your lips
how they sleep with the wind
how they nest with the wind
brine of plankton
mixed with lion
& metal of airplane soaring above like a timid suggestion
shiny as sequins on wet bark of trees.
g with kitchen knives I & II
When he tried to discuss it his hands trembled
visibly, he tucked his fear like a papoose
within his shirt, & went onward. One cannot describe the wound
itself, one must not make mention of the wound
as in the Sun Also Rises, one never knows exactly what
debilitates. Yes, he tried to discuss it.
I am a violent man he said.
I am a violent man. But why was never
made mention of // yes, shrapnel moons traced along the chest
yes, bullets that were never removed
but not the wound, not the actual wound.
Apples cored by knives littered the hammock where he rested
hands calm again, coring with kitchen knives.
Eyelids are frail things, they tear like paper.
Then what encourages our separation from the light?
Tie over your vision the fortuneteller scarves, red, you can still see.
Tie the pirate's patch, you can still see
the ocean stretching out like future breaths before you.
What can you deny? They will go on & on until the last breath, rattling.
As the rattler's tail rattles before the strike.
Kinnel lights a fire in the rain
to counter absence, what occurs when you let go of what is
cradled in the arms // night, an instance, light.
Your daughter's face, round, & not yet wound
the breath of her, not yet wound, laughing.
I would not have it, youth, again
Prevention, that is what I am considering
as I catapult the stones toward the fence, see if they will overarch
the metal lattice work. The snowflake stays on the tongue's rind for a time
before melting // & I watch my daughter struggle through
the youth I would not have again, should it be mounded in a bowl
with flowers. I would not have my youth again,
holding onto the doorjamb in a faint,
thinking love, love, love's lack. The moon appeases the landscape
but does not appease that memory. The streetlight
glows neon as a barber shop sign, as something wicked this way comes,
so the story goes // & what of that sense in the stomach's pit
of dread, foreboding, on going to
school, church, whatever institution deems itself
revolutionary? Prevention is what I consider
for messages evolve in darkness
as the loon call floats
& darkness is the room in which youth sleeps.
The wind tonight bears the cargo of all the cries
The wind tonight bears the cargo of all the cries
of lovemaking in this village. Men with puppets on their hands
traverse the streets with diligence to reach the children.
The children are suspicious of puppets. I too never cared for marionettes,
hanging from the doorjamb, their porcelain faces painted like clowns. No.
Positions of passivity frighten me. Rather one foot on the floor always prepared
to run, run, always prepared to run. I will not leave my face
in the mirror like a rundown memory. I will carry its thinning skin,
its tearing skin with me like a flag // of what, of the ability to recreate, to be
recreated. I mold it on the patio into different forms,
the sun hot on my shoulders. As too I mold my voice into different
unknown geometries. The wind bears the cargo & we do not thank it.
Yet in the wind, the cry is changed // the shattered violin hollow
pieces itself together again, is pieced, rather, despite the element of wood
which warps, is warped, by time.
My brother & bridges
My brother builds bridges & has crossed many bridges
& had flown many planes
& has been the architect of many a dream.
When I was a child he would bring me books of anatomy drawing
from school art class, so I could learn to draw the structure of the human eye.
There was always a wedge of distance between us, that was good.
When I got sick, he wept openly, he wept & clutched at my hospital gown
& all distances dissolved. Salt stirred in water.
The space between us is different now.
We are two moored ships, bows touching. His wife is beautiful &
dear to me. She builds bridges too.
& the book of childhood fell away like a hat taken to wind.
& I no longer draw the human eye.
& I am no longer sick enough to be wept over
as one might weep when scattering ashes. I am well enough.
I could not catch up, I have caught up, I am catching up
running out of breath, running, I am catching up
to the mercurial amalgam of what was.
The imagination sleeps in a drawer
In darkness, I descend the staircase on hands & kneecaps
seeking the footsteps of someone/ something I cannot see. I am a fool
for echoes of the imagination, I can take it too far.
A bird is slamming against the window, I see the blurred scallop of wings
against the night // it falls stunned, crow or dove, to the slabbed concrete broken
sidewalk below. What were our last words to each other this
morning? Something about who took out the garbage, or failed to do so;
nothing about which of us loves the night more....
It is not competition. & seems the bird is not a bird
at all, but a green dinosaur incarnate, proof of the regeneration
theory // that all is change. That everything human, all of life, is
change, down to the single animal cell, regenerating
each seventh year;
down to the desire to morph, shapeshift, be a creature
of filmed outer space. In darkness, I feel scales forming, scales disappearing,
in the same arm's breadth. The daughter of imagining sleeps in a drawer.
I am not asking for more than this // that you stop saying you cannot
change; that we stop saying there is no change.
Down to molecular biology, that is a lie
like this animal crow thing, stunned to the sidewalk, this dinosaur
Thing, stunned by history, by extinction & rebirth, by the hot pink
semen of time.
How we come to know, or Charlie, the perfume
Remind me about Charlie, the perfume
I had on my dresser when I was fifteen. How does one come to know
the distinctions between scents, mother, father, brother,
the dead hawk on the sidewalk. How does one come to know.
We drive by a house you call your monopoly house, it is enormous, how
does one come to know the distinction between such weatlh
& poverty, past going to bed with cramps in your stomach
from hunger. Or the distinctions between families, two fathers, no father //
the girl locked out of the house in winter.
The sky dresses us in glorious skins, skins of light, fading.
Skins of light, brightening in the dawn.
At the edge of the water, I will push you in
to the depths of fear & brilliance, I will push you into the tundral cold
then pull you to warmth, wrapped in a blanket forking a can of mustard sardines //
& you will know.
Ways to avenge onself on interpretation
Prove the human is not
essentially evil. Prove there is not only one way to the Spirit. Prove, rather
the Father embraces
I am not a scientist of any sort.
I remember biology & its arrogant teacher, slicing the fat frog open
& the Amazonian song filled the classroom with small bells.
The liquid smell.
The dissecting slice was thin as a fingernail clipping
a small boy leaves on the floor. It glowed like orange moons.
Ways to get back: love, the verb. Look out the garret window as Anne pondered
& say I know people are basically good
even as war looms, the red gash of bombs, of rotting flesh, looms
two feet away. Bearing red trumpets stuffed with lotus
in full bloom, stand on the footbridge, & salute the orange sickle moon.
Jim & I curl on the unmade bed & touch eachother's navels like
war wounds, scars. I guess they are.
Like miniature coils of gospel blues, one is avenging oneself on
an interpretation of an interpretation of the Holy Ghost.
Growing up, having grown up to believe more is there
than can be seen // more than newsprint headlines
more than tv screen blues, I glimpsed magic everywhere.
It was not a Jesus thing, really, but a sense
that the stripmall was multidimensional,
that when the clouds opened above the Colorado hillside
it mattered. The missing child on the milk carton or paper flier
stared blankly at me across the kitchen table
all my life. She is me, is not me, does it matter....
I skirt all faces for resemblance, I am eight, she is the girl inhabiting the massed
trees behind our house, the house there placed. The girl in the movie they show
at school, with the floating white sneaker & depths of strangers,
looks like her too. Me, not me, does it matter. More is there
than can be seen // I pray nightly for a father miles on miles away.
There is a rainbow oil slick in the driveway.
There is a mutter of love. There is an incidental almost-kidnapping
rather, kidnapping, certainly
much later, without love.
The woman in black at the warship's bow
didn't sleep well last night, I dreamt about falling
endlessly through a window that was not even open.
When my brother returned from the war
he spoke of nothing but oranges, he spoke of oranges openly
how to dissect them like violins, like biology class frogs.
He did not speak of what he had seen. and
When my father returned from the Pacific, he yelled he screamed
He flailed in bed in the night, my mother said later,
he spoke of a woman in black at the warship's bow, without a face.
Times are uncertain, always uncertain. Nostalgia
is but a searchlight in the prison yard, blinding to what is, what
is not. We pretend in this area that we are safe
from hurricane, tornado,
certainly we have our blackouts, our days
without heat & fire. This is a haven, a woman with Alzheimers
used to say. O, the possibilities of forgetting! I didn't sleep well
last night, dissecting guitars & the eyes of bulls
in my dreams, I awoke my hands all bloody, as if possessed
by acts unknown, stage sets of cardboard.
and I fall and fall, without force of gravity or grace, through a window not even
God forgot, & left open.