I wouldn't want to go without my cats.
Convincing reasons? See Cordwainer Smith:
cat-human telepathic bonds rout Dragons
(or Rats if you prefer). Let's Elevate
our fellow Earthlings, feathered, finned, or hairy;
leave none behind in quest of sustained life.
Can frozen sleep truly be called life,
if I won't even feel my snuggling cats?
Maybe from grave-bound years I'll wake up hairy
as any Wolfman (Robert Weston Smith?).
I'd rather be a cat. But I won't elevate
my common problems to the rank of dragons.
That's what it's all about--this quest for dragons,
our chance to save the world and preserve life.
First step's an ecological space elevator
to bioships chock-full of fish and cats.
We'll need beekeepers, arborists, metalsmiths,
and freethinkers to rig a "mailbox" if things get hairy.
But even spacetravel gets mundane. Bring Harry
Dresden, Jane Austen togs, Dungeons & Dragons,
my best friends Doctor Four and Sarah Jane Smith.
Under "essential sustenance," class "Life,
the universe, and everything," including cats
and cultural "preserves" that elevate.
One lesson's paramount: don't elevate
humans above all other shelled, scaled, hairy,
and feathered beings. Emotions are shared in cats
and chimpanzees, in humans and storied dragons.
We all enjoy the gifts of sentient life,
both "aliens" and "agents" like Will Smith.
As long as I still get to be a wordsmith
among the stars, with Arts to elevate
my mind, and time for happy family life
with close-knit kin--Mom, sisters, brother Harry,
I'll quest through nebulas in search of dragons,
then rest each night with loyal, loving cats.
We'll smith our ship as paradise: bring kin, fun, hairy
friends. For converts, elevate the mythic--heroes, dragons.
But don't forget: life on our planet's precious. We need cats.
You watery trees, why mourn?
Why hang your branches low and sweep the dew?
Why signal help, then keep your secret still?
You sober sky, why weep?
Why wrench your heart in twisted gales of rain?
Why lift my stranded spirit past superficial pain,
The wounds flowing like water to join your streams,
Then stay subdued?
Answer me, my sweet:
Bend twigs in signal, flash tender sides of leaves;
Shake off your shackles to this biped weed.
Send me a message: how may you be freed,
From probing derricks seeking something crude?
Your signals called me here in one great sweep:
Earth's blue eye begged for help, for company's
Last comfort: now I'm stuck here, too.
But senseless Earth can't speak:
Branches and hurricanes, ice caps, tigers, birds--
All clash, the world-mind helpless, divided past words.
My mission hopeless, I'm caught by beauty's lure:
I watch each life writhe, straining to be heard,
Bowed before entropy, but undeterred.
I capture each gasp, each death as it occurs,
My memory sieve salvation of a sort--
but no comfort, since you don't grasp
a single word.
Night swimming in Keuka Lake,
my sister and I
talk Thelma and Louise, and how the strong woman
always has to die--
or, seen from another angle, the only sure escape
from an oppressive patriarchy
I have to justify
Why I disliked this movie, with its unrelenting violence
against two adult females who simply want to live their own lives,
who dare to dream, to speak up, to act out.
In the popular mind, they might be Bonnie and Clyde--
another duo mythologized and maligned,
whose violent end--betrayed by the system
intended to protect all citizens
(but enforcing the rule of the rich)
remains a tragedy no matter what triumphant spin some take.
I don't condone suicide as solution
(even with friendly hands clasped and a triumphant yell)
any more than I believe "self-defense" justified the murder
of Bonnie Parker, who never fired a shot,
nor even Clyde in that moment, who'd stopped to help a friend,
caught in a trap of lies lined with love and trust,
his hands nowhere near his backseat guns.
Thelma and Louise
should have kept a low profile till they hit Mexico;
toured Macchu Picchu under assumed names;
taken up pens and transformed their life experiences into the gold
of transgressive women writers;
found sanctuary as torch singers of Brazilian jazz;
campaigned for women's rights;
become the women warriors of a new Amazon.
Where were their mentors, all those females who dared--to live?
Not Joan of Arc martyrs--radiant but still dead,
believing the lie that a woman's lofty goals can only be fulfilled
by the ultimate sacrifice--
the ultimate silencing of women who dared to dream.
My sister and I
swim now in this lake, alone in a family
that reveres its males,
all of them good and wise and worthy.
But so are we.
The strong matriarchs of our family
have praised us but vested their power in their men
despite the brains and talents of the female line.
We've sought these women out for love and wisdom,
heeded their tales, recorded their words with love,
and imbibed their ultimate message,
that to be a good woman
one must put everyone's welfare above her own.
But now, alone in the secret, dark lake,
by the light of the smiling moon,
we think of Thelma and Louise
and swim up the moon path
away from our family cottage,
determined to choose life
and stand firm against society's training
that teaches women to belittle themselves
and warns us we'd be throwing ourselves off a cliff
if we dared to make
our own way.
I floated happy as a cloud
In dreams I dared not speak aloud.
Again I dwelled where I had grown;
With childhood's eye I flew alone
Past hills and meadows I had known:
A wooded road, a hidden track.
She took my hand there. "Don't turn back,
Don't touch the freezing iron rail--
Don't mark my footsteps. Don't inhale
The fog of twilight's pastel mist,
Nor tell your father whom I kissed
On appled porch, All Hallow's Eve,
But take my sleeve, yes take my sleeve,
And tell me three for whom you grieve."
Three small white stones, as pale as milk,
As soft as chalk, as smooth as silk;
Three names like charms traced in the dirt,
Rubbed paper-thin, sewn to my skirt;
Three signs I can't read, nor ignore,
Mute witnesses to those adored
Who left me, lonely as a child,
Sans uncle, grandpa, father mild,
My mentors and protectors gone--
Alone with her, who stole my song,
Stopped up my mouth, forbade me speak
With stick in dirt or mouse's squeak,
With owl-caught entrails smeared on wall,
In short with anything at all.
Small as a rat, I could not find
Myself within the maze of mind,
Hedge where she'd trapped me while, at three,
I'd trusted strangers such as she,
Who, veiled to fool on Halloween,
Became my stepmother unseen
While Daddy thought her still his queen,
That lucky girl who'd draped his arm,
Who'd won the man his students prized--
Five decades lonely, but such charm--
Handsome professor with kind eyes.
Un-mother thought it fun to preen
In Mother's clothes, glasses, white blouse,
A skirt of dark blue plaid and green,
Grandmother's silk with metal sheen,
My mother's cheer stitched in the hem--
Now ragged from the thorns and stems
Where daily she walks down the track
With me in tow--we don't look back.
And now the part I dread the most:
But this time maybe I'm the ghost--
Stripped of my life, my heart laid bare,
The bones show through my eyes and hair.
I've lost the ones I loved the best--
That promise true, I chuck the rest,
Close eyes on life, and hold my breath--
Then grip her hand as grim as death.
This part is smeared by purple mist--
I see again what memory missed--
An iron gate, fenced round the stones--
Chalk-white, silk-smooth, they hide the bones
Of those long-loved but lost at last--
They can't be dead. This isn't past.
At heart I'm still a child of three--
And I can see through such as she.
She moves ahead, my mother's twin.
The hem I hold still pricks with pins
Where Mother sewed our nametags in--
But names define the soul within.
Inside the clothes, a grinning husk
Now mimics what a mother must--
But not her sweetness, nor my trust.
I don't forget. They sang at dusk--
My parents harmonized of boats,
Of gypsies, vines, their golden throats
The spell I lived for; Daddy's steak,
Mom's cherry pie, the gleaming lake,
A happy childhood--till, at three,
My grandpa died. Death followed me,
A giant ball to swallow whole,
Within black tar, my father's soul.
A shadow stole my mother's grin.
She drowned us both in tears and gin.
A stranger took her shell then, brusque,
And showed me graves by dawn and dusk.
I could not breathe. I could not see.
A mirror froze my memory.
And now I walk with such as she.
I step where she does, twilight prints
Marked out in grass whose dewy glints,
As I step in, match heel and toe,
Peel off and vanish as I go--
We don't exist. We're both unknown.
No trail to find me--on my own.
I pluck the grass, Mom's whistle caught
Between two thumbs that hold it taut,
Blow once, twice, thrice. Its piercing tone
But does not bring young Mommy home
Who brought me here, one winter's morn,
A secret shared by those who mourn,
A private graveyard, hidden track--
We go to save them. Don't look back.
Her hand in mine, we found three stones--
Small, flat, and round, they gleamed like pearls--
We drew their faces--childish curls,
Their smiles and glasses, names on back--
We'd keep Dad safe, his laugh our own,
Gram's twinkle, Uncle's baritone--
Three best-beloved in the world,
We'd hide them well, and never mourn--
On this, my mother's life was sworn.
But we forgot to guard her own.
She doesn't know. I've never said.
A demon lives inside my head.
I know the truth. I watch her grope,
Frantic to find the thread, the track,
Her name, catch brightly fluttering hope.
I hide the bird behind my back.
It struggles, bites me red and black--
I won't let go dear mother's life--
I crush its powdered wings with love--
My fault, this fear and hate, this lie--
There's no way back for such as I,
And nothing strong as mother-love.
She stole the stones. My mother-not
Crept through the house by night, and got
Each treasure--pillows, pockets bare,
Each guardian, and then its spare.
I feared to tell. Thought memory wrong.
I played in silence, got along,
Kept secrets, hid, and grew up fast,
Stored Daddy's laughs--each might be last.
Child-clumsy fear and loving greed,
I hold the spells but let her lead.
At heart, I'm still a child of three.
Mom's voice insists, within my mind,
That we have just the stones to find--
She knew I'd come. She'd whistle me
Among the graves, lakeside retreat,
Our hidden home, a one-way track
Into the past. I don't look back.
She's not there, holding out her hand,
A daisy chain, a yellow land,
High meadow filled with buttercups,
Snow White's round globes of lamps, the steps
Of marble, grout as soft as clay,
The college where my brothers play.
Grandfather's sandbox, apple trees--
Dad's treehouse, crown vetch, Danny's bees--
Our first tuxedo cat, who fell
To save us from ensorcelled mouse--
The first foray sent by the shell.
Piano notes ring through the house--
Mom plays; I'm on the bench between
Her graceful hands; I turn the page--
She's here--the shell looks back at me--
Around the graves, I rip her sleeve.
She turns in shock. I have her, then.
Release the bird, a purple wren
Plucked from her hair once, long ago,
Under the day-moon's magic glow
Before goodbye and horrorshow.
More birds fly down and strike her head,
As bright as blood, these phantoms dead,
Then sink into the graves to hide
While she screams murder, clutches eyes--
I scrabble in the dirt to find
The spell she cast to shield her heart--
The souls she stole, their marble minds
Turned coal, a coat of death's hard rind--
I polish hard, breathe life, rub free
Their names. I find it wasn't she--
I stole the stones, rendered them mute
When Mom called in her substitute.
She left me. Hole carved in the dirt,
The banks steep as my heart, my hurt,
My heavy hand--not mine at all--
A traitor as it rises, falls,
Digs holes for each, symbolic, small--
Child-sized, just like my little call
From bed for Mom, a cry as tart
As this my wail. This is my heart.
Dust and the mist--ash of lost days--
My mother stands amid the haze--
My mother fair, heart on her sleeve,
Her fading eyes so full of grief
For one who let her heart be torn
By false illusions, bitter scorn
I should have known was never earned--
A lesson Mother thought I'd learned
Before the bottle's color turned.
I cast down stones and, shaking, stand
And look across the battered land--
They stand there, loved and lost, distinct
Though only spotted when I blink--
Between the stones, the graves, that space
That ripples, water-thin, misplaced,
A void that leads to other days:
Grandfather. Uncle. Father dear.
My heart breaks, seeing them so near--
A little stretch--I turn, I fold--
And now I'm shivering in the cold.
Here are the stones, three slate-smooth tiles,
A childish scrawl, their names, their smiles,
Their hair-curls, and their dotted eyes--
These ones I treasured as a child--
No Mom. Not her. I felt betrayed
By baby sis. I would not save
This little heart, child-mother, mild--
Instead I stripped her guardians bare
And, hating, let her brave the lair
Of life alone. A savage place,
My little heart, a frozen space
That I myself deprived of light--
Stuck in a winter I designed,
Built ice-fort high--my mother's mind
The wind that whispered mournfully,
Blew in at chinks, tugged conscience free
Until I walled in darkest night
To flee the guilt, her heart--my fright
So deep I couldn’t see the web
That spun me fast and safe and dead.
I grab her fast. That graveyard track--
So narrow, thin. We don't look back.
We run, my mother faltering, slim,
Her little hand withered and thin,
The years I lost when hate spawned blight,
My heart abandoned in the night--
Or so I thought. My haze of fear
Now rises, fog-like--purple mist--
I see her hazel eyes shine clear--
Bright mirror, love--the way she kissed
That baby's head, my hand, the eyes
Of little brothers, Daddy's ties
Before she tied them ready-made.
The mirror cracks. The autumn fades
Around her eyes; my heart grows still--
A field of waving daffodils
Where once we wandered hand in hand--
Not lonely, we. And life was grand.
The shell cracks wide. Her hand grows firm.
We cast stones till they crack and burn--
The gravestones fiery, crumbling, sand.
Real mother freed--illusions gone--
Her heart a prisoner all along
Inside my fear of grief and wrong.
The ghosts dissolve. The graves are free.
The dead still live and love, but we
Are blocked yet from eternity
And have this breath to live, believe
That love can conquer bitter grief,
Scale walls, chop time, and build relief
Through joy, not grudges deeply trenched,
Nor from dead loves enshrined and drenched
With tears and prayers, with hopes and dread.
She smiles through tears she'll never shed.
My old life bleeds upon the snow.
We fly. We soar. Three things I know.
My dead are dead. It's better so.
I won't stray long on memory's track.
My mother loves me. Don't look back.
Friends? What need? My android wife,
her fluid face fantasy-
fresh with my TV love-life--
witty, loving company--
collaborates on upkeep,
novels, art. Her open lens
shows me, unasked, my soul-deep
ache for independent friends.
Saint-Exupéry told the truth
couched in a child's tale
so that those grownups who saw only a hat
would not scoff and dismiss out of hand
the important things he had to say.
Reading his elevating flying memoirs
like Wind, Sand, and Stars, it's easy to feel
the same voice, the same hope--
just with those gritty details
adults understand, as important
in earnestly reaching his audience
as the illustrations in The Little Prince.
Reading the pilot's war memoirs in Flight to Arras as a teen,
I worried for him, scared stiff
by the descriptions of anti-aircraft fire
(those towering clouds of dangerous beauty),
or mechanical problems while flying so high the pilot couldn't get enough air
on the ship-fed oxygen supply to exert the needed force on the controls--
imminent death which Saint-Exupéry described
in terms of the thrilling beauty of staying alive.
Even his earlier mail flights carried so much danger, with pilots lost--
so much beauty, seeing the lights twinkling below like stars.
For me, the grim realities of flight did not negate The Little Prince--
instead, I became more certain
that everything Saint-Exupéry said was true:
that same sincere voice, that never-lost child's wonder
at being alive. The mystery for me
after reading the pilot memoirs
was how anyone so skilled, so in touch
with life and death and fortune and possibilities
could simply disappear in wartime,
never--as far as was known then, in the 80s,
to be found--an unfinished story, unsatisfying--
an ending (the only ending of his) I did not believe.
A few years ago, his plane was found--
mystery solved, for some. I'd wanted to know,
and yet was almost sorry--
aside from the renewed love and attention expressed for the man
who'd touched my heart so much
I wanted to learn French just to read his words.
Yet somehow now, like the reality of his pilot narratives,
the finality of pieces of his plane scattered along the coast
makes me even more certain of his ineffable end:
for to fly back to the stars, the Little Prince
must leave his shell behind.