January 21, 2009

Freaking Love and Other Oddities (Photo by Clare Coco)

(a double sestina)

Summer barely gave way to fall the year
snows filled up the Truckee mountain pass
and was the sun’s first day in Sagittarius,
in San Carlos Mexico, one thousand miles away,
That the stars bode well the birth of tiny Lucia Zarate
No bigger than a mouse was she, yet live she might.

Elephant ballerinas and ripped men of great might
The Big Top swept her up in her twelfth year,
the greatest star of small dimensions, dona Lucia Zarate
The little girl missed her home less as time did pass
She dined with carnies and wiled her nights away
with freaks born under the sign of Sagittarius.

But JoJo the dog faced boy was not a Sagittarius,
In this he differed from the tiny General Mite
This and he stole the fair puppet girl’s heart away
still Barnum planned a miniature wedding in a year
yet imaginary engagements could never pass
for the likes of love between JoJo and Lucia Zarate

So step up for the nuptials of the Pygmy Lucia Zarate
general admission to bans of these Sagittarians.
The wedding invitation is your circus pass
Have some cake, catch bouquet or garter, any guest might
For Barnum’s take in smalls is big this year
Until the night Lucia and Jojo run away

And on the night Lucia and Jojo ran away
The dog faced boy pledges his heart to Lucia Zarate
They make a pact. They’ll marry in a year.
Back at the big top the freaks and Sagittarians
keep company with the jilted General Mite
And promised him his heartbreak soon would Pass

Touring alone, dona Lucia traveled the Truckee Mountain pass
Locals and miners dug for days to clear the avalanche away
Many souls saved by merciful God in his wisdom and in his might
The engine steamed to life, it left without the lifeless Lucia Zarate
and whistled away under the Harvest Moon in Sagittarius
Afterward Jojo the dog face boy left the side show for a year.

For freaks and oddities through this world will pass
Exhibited but still unseen, as one such as Lucia Zarate might,
Born in the year of the Cock or in the sign of Sagittarius.

Jojo (the-dog-faced-boy) was born on the cusp of Aquarius,
he lived his life in places where it was cool to be a freak:
the circus, San Francisco, and shimmering New York City.
Jojo played the fiddle and raised homing birds,
he spoke Russian and several other languages.
and made his living as an oddity but knew better than most

That the oddest ones he knew were more ordinary than most
Which made sense to him in this strange age of Aquarius
And in a world where difference sometimes transcended language
Jojo thought of his grandfather’s love for the puppet-girl freak
And so after Grandpa Jojo and Lucia, he named two of his birds
And launched them with his secret desire into the dawn of the city.

The two birds carried Jojo’s intention to the city
As if wings bore magic and imparted enchantment most
Upon the slanted eaves of loving possibilities lit the birds
Above the statue of the water bearing granite Aquarius,
In time Jojo and his intended would recall this day as a freak
that love could be spoken in such unspoken languages.

For who and how we love is the private language
of country birds or those from New York City,
Jojo knows that who he’s with does not make him a freak
And to know such love makes him more fortunate than most
Yet even in the modern age of open-minded Aquarius
There will be those who fear the difference of such birds.

The hearts of those in love tremble like the hearts of birds
As they desperately search for an expressive language,
For love can hide the truth or bear it like an Aquarius
O especially when the Scorpion Moon hangs over the city,
And the one you cannot have is the one you want the most,
Such insanity could make an ordinary man freak.

Jojo (the-dog-faced-boy) to some he was a freak,
He built his nest with extraordinary and colorful birds,
His blood was red and heart was as true as most
And he pledged both in several languages,
Gave up his home and fled the bustling city
to be with his one true love in this age of Aquarius.

Some wonder at the freaky happenstance of love spoken in different languages./Or how it is that homing birds find their way back to the city, when clear returns are lost to most,/Perhaps their wings recall a roost upon the granite statue of the water-bearer Aquarius.

January 09, 2009

Day Twenty-six

Bear first appeared in Willows Wept Review (Spring 2012)

Day Twenty-one
Bear likes the way I let ladybugs walk on my fingertips. There are hundreds of them in the cave we’ve decided to stay in for a while. Most are dead or dying. Bear loves them. He eats as many as he can. I am using them to teach Bear to count.

We found this place when we wandered up a steep pathway lined with pines. If there weren’t trees to prevent my falling, I would never have gone that way. Bear says it never occurred to him to think of falling and he doesn’t think he’s ever seen a bear fall, unless on purpose.

The path leads beyond the pines and along the face of the mountain. I wanted to turn back but Bear discovered the cave. From late morning until late afternoon we are in direct sunlight. It is warm and I’m sure this is why ladybugs live here.

Day Twenty-one
I’ve set up housekeeping and Bear loves to watch. I made a pine broom. I sweep the hard dirt floor. There are bones from the bodies of small animals that came here to be eaten. Bear is happy about this. He tells me this by carving an X on one of the tiny skulls. He says that a mountain cat must have lived here and that her maternal power and the power of her eating small animals fill the place. All of this is still in the cave and don’t I feel it?
“No,” I say.
Bear will not let me take the bones out of the cave. He lets me arrange them in a pattern around the cave’s perimeter. He says he never thought of that and that I am a clever witch.

Today he showed me how to find winterberries which keep in the snow banks. He also showed me how to mark the cave so others know it is ours. I can tell he is preparing me. He wants to sleep.

Day Twenty-six
Bear fights his instinct to hibernate and eats everything in sight. I sometimes wonder if he’ll eat me. He says we are from the same clan. We both have changing eyes and brown hair. And sharp teeth and wit, I say. He does not laugh at my joke.

He is like an overtired child kept from his nap. He won’t talk with the birds or watch the moon. All day he wants me to tell him what I see. I write him this poem:

Today is beautiful gold-eyed bear.
Today can be dreamt if one sleeps.
Today wakes on the shores of tonight.
Today is the day the gold-eyed bear.

Tells me his name. It is Bear. It is tree. It is heavy-footed hungry beast. Bear says it is so and with an ivory claw he carves a circle in the breast of a pine tree. That circle is how I know what he says, what he means, his name.

Day Thirty-one
Bear tells me about tree-ghosts. Not trees haunted by people, he says sniffing. What a nose, I think.
Tree-ghosts stand in the place where their tree once stood, sometimes forever. Apparently tree-ghosts are part of the reason why branches grow as they do and why certain animals move around in the forest in certain ways. There is something to see everywhere you think there is not.
“What can’t you see today?” Bear asks.
“The end,” I say.
“It’s been here forever,” says Bear.
“The beginning.”
“It follows the end. It’s where you are from.”
“The spring,” I say.
“You can’t see that because you are standing on it.”
“I can’t see what is behind me,” I say.
“Turn around.”
“Or what is before me,” I say.
“You are always arriving there.”

Bear stops; he presses his muzzle to the back of his paw and bites his wrist. (Damn fleas.)
He asks me, “What do you see today?”
“The snow prepares to melt.”
“You don’t believe it will,” says Bear.
“I see that you love me.”
“But worry that we will part.”
I change the subject. “I see mountains on our path.”
“You dread the climb,” he answers.
“I see what you give to me in what you take from me.”
Bear is pleased! He strokes my face, forgetting his ivory claws. I will always wear the scar of my thoughtfulness. I am alive in that moment again: Bear’s apologies, his great coarse tongue on my face, the heavy stink of his saliva. He does not allow me to wash my face.

Day Thirty-three
I realize the journey is about things not immediately seen along the path.
Bear lets me build a fire. He trusts me more than he fears flames. He is drunk on fermented apples and full from eating things he sniffed on our path: a cocoon, a spider, pine berry.
His fur is golden. In the firelight, it looks like an aura. In his drunkenness he shows me his swagger. He stands on his hind legs and extends his claws. He bares his horrible teeth with a rumbling slobbery growl.

Day Thirty-seven
We walk the path beyond the cave and over a narrow passageway.
“What are you so nervous about? You are making the snow melt. It is too soon,” Bear snarls. “Will you just forget to be afraid of heights?” He says this by nudging me up the pathway. There is a sheer drop for a time but soon the way retreats into the woods.
I am not nervous. I am not.
Some pine forests are dark and damp with exotic mushrooms and mosses and swallows flying. This wood holds the afternoon sunlight and breeze magically. Whole families of cardinals and many types of woodpeckers live here. Both are fun birds, according to Bear.

Bear says that the pines here are majestic and tall because they feel great about growing in a sunny spot. They are always trying to reach the sun. He points out different shapes in the pine and shows me how to hide should an enemy approach. I stand perfectly still. He is right; a wintering cardinal comes to sit on a branch just above my right shoulder. Bear says the cardinal and the pine both love the sun. How else would you get that particular red and that particular green? Back in the cave, Bear asks me to tell the story of the cardinal as I know it. I recite a poem.

Harrumph! Bear is snoring! Later he tells me that this is the best compliment a Bear can pay a poem, to fall asleep upon hearing it. This is so true, says Bear, that poem and lullaby mean the same thing to bears. He tells me this by running his claw down the side of a tree to make a long squiggly mark.
Bear says the world is perfect the way it is.

Fishing Upstream A Linoleum Block Print By Jessica Stuart Harris


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