The third volume
The Oaxacan Trilogy
obsidian 22 cover









Obsidian 22

is dedicated to
Barry and Susan Dennis
who kindly lent us their house
on the Ellerslie Road, Prince Edward Island,
filled the fridge with Malpeque oysters,
and thus gave me the time, space and energy
to complete this manuscript.

Obsidian 22 (2007) is the third collection of poems in the Oaxacan trilogy and follows At the Edge of Obsidian (2005) and Sun and Moon (2000).

Other books and chapbooks (C) by the same author include, in reverse chronological order:

Land of Rocks and Saints
Birthday Suit: The Making of the Movie
M Press of Ire
Granite Ship
At the Edge of Obsidian
An Ongoing Online Quevedo Bibliography
Fundy Lines

Though Lovers Be Lost
Sun and Moon
Proceedings: 4th Atlantic Universities' Teaching Showcase, 1999 (editor)

On Being Welsh in a Land Ruled by the English
Iberian Interludes
In the Art Gallery
S ecret Garden
Broken Ghosts
Last Year in Paradise

Towards A Chronology of Quevedo's Poetry.


Obsidian 22 begins with a verbal description of ten photographs by Tina Modotti many of them taken in Oaxaca, Mexico. It continues with a series of poetic photographs, metaphors and images taken from the streets and squares of Oaxaca. I love the stark black and white contrasts of Modotti's photographs, but I miss the esoteric triggers of word and verbal wit, the mind pulled this way and that way in a search for understanding.

Where Modotti uses visual imagery, I offer a series of word images in the hope that my own black and white contrasts will sometimes cause a vibrant jerking of the verbal heart strings. Neither Modotti nor I can bring you the sounds and smells of Oaxaca. The pungent odour of the first drops of rain falling into dry dust, the tang of waxen candles burning in the cathedral's dark, the high notes sung at the altar by the old woman, dressed in black, who still sings each day, on her knees before the golden altar in Santo Domingo: these things are beyond my talent to recreate, as is the bustle of the abastos, the bickering of rooftop goats, and the barking and growling of the dogs who patrol the azoteas  at ear levelas castillos burn, waterfalls of fire flow down church, and fireworks claw upwards into the sky to wake the sleeping gods with their noise and sparkle.

Nor can I draw that knife edge slicing sun from shadow, heat from cool, what  becomes in the verbal creativity of Octavio Paz, solombra, with its combination of sun / sol and shade / sombra, all in one neologism, like the heads and tails of a two-sided coin, for you cannot have sun without shade, nor, save in the case of a double-headed, two faced coin, heads without tails. Other things that escape my ability to describe are the salty, sticky taste and smell of sweat, the heat and heaviness of the midday sun as it falls vertical from the sky to rise again in waves from concrete and tar, the roughness of hand-hewn stone, the hardness of cobbles beneath the feet, the visual impact of the revolutionary bullet holes scarring the church where Benito Juárez was married, the smoothness of silk contrasting with the harshness of tares in hand-carded wool, the elasticity of the back pack frame, with its pattern of wool held in place by the forward push of the weaver's feet, the golden yellow of the flor de calabaza as it floats on the surface of the bowl of soup or lies among Oaxacan cheese on tortilla and  quesadilla. Such things are the substance of daily reality, but their taste, smell, and sound is impossible to capture in words or in black and white photographs.

Always, there is something missing. And this is the Catch 22 of the book's title: how much can we include? How much are we forced to leave out? How close can we get to an imagined reality which is more imagined than real, more creation than actual fact? I can bring you the virtual reality of image and metaphor, of history and myth, of personal experience and observed fact, of rhythm and ritual ... or can I? And if the attempt is always doomed to failure, should I even try?
We live in a world that is now without poetry. We live in a world that has forgotten the great myths and has replaced them with a mass media that often falsifies so that the master's whims will be known to his multitude of followers. We live in a world in which the power and glory of words is used not to delight and educate, but to manipulate the mind. We live, in other words, in a treacherous world of lies and deceit, the world of Descartes's evil genius, for not everything is as it seems to be and we have been misled to such an extent that some have called these times the Age, not of Enlightenment, but of Endarkenment.

This is not the world in which I want to live. My chosen world is the quiet corner of the street where the leaves dance to the wind's tune, then fall asleep. It is a world of mystery and dream, personal perhaps, but observable by any who have the eyes to see and the heart to sit still and listen. Is it a real world? No, of course it isn't. It exists only in my head and on the page. Perhaps one day, if you travel to Oaxaca, you will see the things I have seen, and remember the thoughts I have thought, the words I have written, the world I have attempted to describe. But my world is as unreal as the words from which it is woven. It is as unreal as the chemical solutions which, when applied to photographic paper, produce, as if by magic, Tina Modotti's photographs with which this visual and verbal journey begins.

For it is a visual and verbal journey that we make together, you and I. It is a visual journey into the heart and soul of a verbal fabric that is woven from chance words, chance encounters, lucky and unlucky dreams, visions of a vanished time and place. Vanished, because, as Heraclitus wrote: "We can never bathe in the same river twice." And thus we must snap our photographs instantly. We must make instant poems, instant choices. And having made them, we must stand by our work and say, with Jean-Paul Sartre: "L'homme n'est rien d'autre que ce qu'il fait." And this is what I do, not for a living, but for the fun of it, for the sheer joy of creation: I weave words into patterns, I elaborate thoughts and images, I attempt to create a new world from the old, a new world forged (in both sense of the word) from a word magic that will tempt, suspend, and entertain the mind, maybe for a second, maybe for a minute, maybe for an hour, maybe for a day.

And if I fail? If this book, these words, these metaphors and images, form a network of failures, what then? Should I never have set out on the journey? Should I never have taken that first step from my door to yours? There lies the Catch 22 of Obsidian 22: what exactly can we capture? What trophies can we bring back from the great game in which we observe and imitate a changing reality that is ultimately always uncapturable, always too personal, always metamorphosing, always beyond the reach of our minds and our fingers? The pleasure is in the effort.
A long time ago, when I was practicing to be a judoka, I learned by heart the following lines:

'The more you strive,
you cannot reach it;
the hand cannot grasp it,
nor the mind exceed it.
When you no longer seek it,
it is with you.'

Perhaps, poor artist, I have striven and sought too much and for too long. I can only bring you those things of which I am capable: the virtual reality of image and metaphor, of history and myth, of the touristic vision of a modern Mexican city, Oaxaca, that has its roots in a darkness that precedes Christianity. For this world of ours is old, and older, darker powers than ours still dwell on this earth: a pinch of salt thrown over the shoulder, index finger and thumb pinched into a magic circle that wards off the evil eye, the traditional hunchback – el jorobado --, carved from jade, who packs our cares and troubles into his hump and carries them away ...

... as I have been carried away, on this tide of creation that ebbs and flows, a virtual sea, a wave of autumn leaves that washes up to my door, then falls asleep, golden, brown, peaceful in the vacuum that is left by the wind’s sudden absence. So, for a while, while you are reading this, avoid all shadows, do not step on the black lines that divide sidewalk and pavement into squares, do not crush the dry bones of a fallen leaf, avoid black cats, make sure the crow flies on the correct side of the road ...

Tolle lege, et vade mecum.

Raison d'être
Ten Photos by Tina Modotti

banners read backwards
light flows through them
silhouettes their letters

sermon in the street:
anonymous sombreros,
yellow suns eclipsed
shallow shadow rings
circles within circles

sun scorched hands clasp the spade's handle
dry leaves dance to the sweeper's rhythm
washing laid on a dry river bed
or spread over rocks
sunshine rebounding off sheets and shirts

a baby's arms spread to either side
fists full of skirt
this crucified Christ child
bound tightly to his mother's hip

quesadillas cook on a hollow oil drum
the baby's soiled clothes are changed
but there is no water

a purgatory of puppet strings:
barbed wire tugging at this man's wrist

a water jar balances on a roll of cloth
a halo lighting this woman's head

a tiny child eyes closed
sucks at the fountain of life
found not in Florida
but here in Oaxaca
at the mother's breast

the cemetery fills with flowers

listen to the wind as it dries
the bones of conquerors and conquered
and mingles their voices

the dead are resurrected
in their children's smiles

Puppet on Sundry Pieces of String

Dusk settles early over streets and squares.

Shops turn on their lights:
garlands of colour,
lifebelts and lines
thrown to despairing shoppers.

The moon draws a mantilla over her face;
now there is no lantern in the sky.
The unexpected cold draws fine threads
through bone and marrow.

Limbs twist and jerk:
a body dangles from an open window
dancing on thin air.

Now we can step beyond the bounds of time
where there are no clocks.
Hairs stand erect:
thin wires pointing the way to fear.

The hanged man treads air
as sad wingless insects buzz
their unending dance across the sidewalk.

Round and round they whirl,
blunt stumps of shorn wings furiously rowing.

Once upon a time, moths circled in the lamplight,
flashing their flourescent colours.
Where are they now, those angel wings,
those painted eyes and angelic faces?

A door snaps its sudden match
and lights up the street.

I cross the threshold from death back to life
and a waiter dressed in a devil suit
serves me mescal.
Around me: an eruption of devils and imps;
they dance to ancestral music from below bare hills.

My watch has stopped.
Time hangs frozen on my wrist.

I hear the tick of the death watch beetle
gnawing at my body's house.

The hanged man has stopped shaking his feet.
He turns into a día de los muertos skeleton
strung from a balcony.


That morning, there was a rent in the universe.
A gelid wind shook the mountains.
An earthquake threatened to bring fire to the volcano’s snow.

Tiny red faces peered from clustered branches;
crab apples lodged in their strip-jack-naked prison in the tree.

"Por todo mal, mescal."
The barman offers me a drink: but I turn him down.
"¿Y por el bien?" "¡También!"

Bitter lemon in a glass bound cage:
when no canary sings, there is no safety in the pit.

Leathery wings fly menacing on the breeze.
They flap into the attic,
and tear, sharp-toothed, at the child's unprotected throat.


It's like an old-fashioned, slow motion movie:
disbelief is trapped, frozen in midair,
frame by silent frame as the earth shakes.

The universe's veil is torn apart and the face of a cruel god appears,
Huitzlipochtli, with blood red eyes and a flayed man's skin.

Faces peer through the great hole ripped in the graveyard wall
as ghosts break out from their compound
and move in all directions like an unsettled herd.
All through the night, we hear their cries and high pitched voices.

We have built no altars.
We have spread no golden flowers.
Tables are bare: we have prepared no food.
Tonight, outside in the street,
or inside huddled around a fire, nobody will be safe.

We wait for the after shocks the brujo says will surely follow.


My body has forgotten how to walk in the woods.
I can no longer remember
how to sit in silence.

Feel the dry leaves crumble earthwards:
see how they shred themselves
into carpets of golden grief.

My live clay panics as it is broken
then remodelled on the potter's wheel.

Second Chance

Yesterday, they tied his tongue with thin blades of grass.
Today, they sew his lips with spider webs of dust.
How can there be a tomorrow when sorrow
lays fine layers of sand and silt
along the highways of his heart?

Now the sun is a daisy ringed with fire.
Bird song throngs the branches,
tiny claws clutch at the heart.
The tree's harp thrives with live-wire melodies.
Cicadas saw at their one string fiddles.

Morning strings its seven-seamed rainbow.
Sun threads itself through a needle's eye of cloud.

Wild shadows inhibit the heart's dark cave.
Can worlds be rebuilt with words
or must they be constructed
with wild bricks and silence?

The thunder of cracking an egg:
an omelette made in an electrical storm.

Midnight stands speckled with mysterious stars.

Morning dreams are twisted
by a stubble of remembered dust.


The handy man from a vulnerable village
whistles a venerable tune.
His broom holds back a sea of leaves
and sweeps them into tidy waves.

Bird on the cobbles beneath the tree,
he twines a new string of sunlight:
beads of song around the morning's throat.

Misshapen pearl in my infinite prison of shell,
I am devoured by a confusion of time and space.

When my dictionary dispenses phrases,
I weave them into wordless tales.
Tremulous goats bleat on rooftops,
tethered for what nocturnal tigers?

The world becomes flesh:
I grasp at hidden meanings
words released from their cages of flesh and bone.

Squeezed Orange

Clock greets the hour with hammer blows,
echoes angled from a quivering anvil.

Rooster crows his thick, rich cocoa rico:
morning brings its smell of roasting beans.

Squeezed orange:
glass fills with a golden liquid
as fierce and sweet as sunshine on a branch.

A wasted globe, this orange bath robe,
spent and exhausted,
soon to be transubstantiated.

Sun Block

Last night, I got caught between two mirrors.
They stole my soul, flashing it back and forth
between the black holes of their empty spaces.
Now, I am a man of glass, haunted by shadows.

These shadows steal my words away, like gypsies,
until I have nothing left to say.

I go to the brujo and he takes my wrist
squeezing it between finger and thumb,
pursuing each heart beat down its thin red lane.
He breathes fire into my eyes and I become
an eagle soaring on wind-ruffled wings.

I rise to the sun and return with my feathers all aflame.
The exact name for everything created is tied to my tongue.

The brujo plucks a feather from my wing and I am a man again.
He dips the feather in my blood, and orders me to write.
Words of fire descend. They burn wounds into my flesh,
turning old scars into the freshness of flowers.

Doing Yoga on the Azotea

Trapped in this wet, clay rag of a body clamped fast in its earthbound snares,
my spirit grinds its teeth as I stretch to face the sun.
Hummingbirds surround me, fanning my face with a whirr of wings.
If I stand still long enough will the world forget that I am here?

"Three thousand larks were sacrificed so the Roi Soleil
might devour one lark tongue pie."
Now no larks rise twittering
over vanishing commons in the cool morning air.
Vaughan Williams captured their one last song in plastic furrows
where the spirits of those strange incarcerated birds still sing.

I do not want these hummingbirds, my colibrís, to become extinct.
I do not want them to become as silent as a skylark,
as dead as a dodo, as passé as the carrier pigeons
that once thronged our northern woods
and darkened our skies for three whole days.

I once saw a photo of a man.
He stood on top of a sixty foot pyramid of buffalo skulls.
The snap was shot through a narrow hole in a metal tube with a single flash
of gunpowder from behind a black cloth screen.

"3,500 carrier pigeons were shot in a single afternoon.
1599 buffalo were slaughtered in a day by one man on a horse
who had 1600 bullets and only one missed shot.
Their carcasses littered the plain, like spent and empty shells."

Buffalo survivors now gather in tiny herds.
They no longer shake the earth with their thunder,
but quietly graze in zoos and on buffalo farms.

I want to bend lower and lower
until my head is buried in the azotea's flowers.
I do not want to see the extinction that surrounds me.

Low Tide

At low tide, when the river flows out,
crabs scuttle under cool rocks
or bury themselves in sand.

Sea gull spears one with his dagger.
He inserts the blade of his beak
and shucks him like an oyster.

When he turns him onto his back,
he exposes the crab's soft white belly
to a merciless, untamed hunger.

Tightrope Walker

Level with angels and vultures,
bearers of fire,
he walks fine lines of worn out wires.

Beneath his feet, weeds choke the crops,
ploughed land turns to sand,
cows and goats go hungry,
and his family flees the farm.

Step by step, he slices the sky
into intimate pieces of knowledge
he can never use on earth.

When like Icarus he draws too close to the sun,
we put his broken puzzle back together.

Our fingers burn as we touch
each smouldering piece.


Burnt leaves, all thumbs,
hitch clumsy rides
on the wandering wind
which whirls them away
on their copper-crazy jig.

Painted wooden ponies trot round and round,
herded in circles by the urgent grind of the fairground hurdy-gurdy.

Mothers and fathers,
reduced to dark holes in mesmerized faces,
stand in stark circles of staring eyes.

The leaves are back again.
They board their sidewalk carousel
and whirl themselves round.
Dizzy, they crawl into silent corners
and sleep in their many-coloured coats.

The short straw of my life has been drawn and quartered,
chopped into a thousand pieces,
to make how many bricks?

Jackdaw gathers glistening rings
and thread them on memory's fingers.

Thin smoke round an evening chimney:
I curl up like an old dog,
and whimper in my sleep.


They have lives of their own these leaves.
I met one once on the back seat of a bus;
he was as happy as an elf in autumn as he went to see his cousin
still thriving on the tree at Tule.

I met another leaf curled up in a tortilla.
The merry fellow took a sliver of jalapeño
and was beamed up on a sunbeam
through the sky's open door.

The tree's verbiage, they are,
thick on the tongue,
lively in the mind.
They conjugate fresh beginnings to new ends.

Gathering in past participles,
they age thick on ground and tongue,
wax lively on the wind and in the mind.

Lost! Lost!! We are all lost and drifting.
Yet still the leaves flood forwards
claiming to hold the secret
that will open the world like an oyster.

Soon they will cloister themselves in dark doorways.
Soft-eyed people collecting silk winged butterflies,
they will spider-web-spin a multitude of lies.

But when evening comes and that last wind blows,
not one will remain on the sullen branch.

Stripped suddenly naked by the jack-dance wind,
down they will tumble, cradle and all,
to join their fellows grumbling in the gutter.

El Árbol de Tule

Limed in a wedding suit of white, the great tree escapes
waves its branches wildly, and stumps down the road.
Its keeper catches it and binds it in a suit of iron railings
so it will not escape again.
Now it wanders forlornly round its pen,
hiding in corners, never quite where you expect it.

Children flash mirrors of polished tin to set the tree's spirit free.
I glimpse an old man with a face all lines and creases, like an ancient map,
sitting half-buried in the trunk. He is resurrected by light's fiery flame.

He speaks of buried treasures from a long-lost manuscript
and sends me out in a log-boat across a troubled sea.

Old Man from Arrazola

The skin of his hands is heavy and thick,
the leather pelt of a working animal.
His finger nails are claws.
His bare feet poke from car tire and leather:
rough hewn sandals he has carved for himself.

His toe nails are clavos, nails and claws of iron,
a climber's spikes gripping the earth.
Cut off from the man, they protrude from a bestial hoof.
For a moment, horned and tailed, he prances in a devil's suit:
black smoke and orange flames.

Now his eyes are as clear as the water he drinks from my bottle.
We sit on the temple steps at Monte Albán,
in a narrow line of shade which deflects the sun's obsidian blade.

Shadows are fine-lined slashes
bisecting the dust,
dividing the day into hot and cold.


Water seeks its final solution as it slips from cupped hands.
Does it remember when the earth was without form
and darkness was upon the face of the deep?

The waters under heaven were gathered into one place
and the firmament appeared.
Light was divided from darkness
and with the beginning of light came words,
and The Word, and the world.

The world of water in which I was carried
until the waters broke
and the life sustaining substance drained away
throwing me from dark to light.

The valley's parched throat longs for water,
born free, yet everywhere imprisoned:
in chains, in bottles, in tins, in jars, in frozen cubes,
its captive essence staring out with grief filled eyes.

A young boy on a tricycle bears a dozen prison cells,
each with forty captives: forty fresh clean litres of water.
"¡Peragua!" he calls. "¡Super Agua!"

He holds out his hand for money
and invites me to pay a ransom,
to set these prisoners free.

Real water yearns to be released,
to be set free from its captivity,
to trickle out of the corner of your mouth,
to drip from your chin,
to seek sanctuary in the ground.

Real water slips through your hair
and leaves you squeaky clean.
It is a mirage of palm trees upon burning sand.

It is the hot sun dragging its blood red tongue across the sky
and panting for water like a great big thirsty dog.


The bruja turns her rain stick upside down.
Rain drops patter one by one,
then fall , then faster and faster
until her bamboo sky fills with rushing sound.

An autumnal whirl of sun-dried cactus
beats against its wooden prison walls.

As we look heavenwards, rain gathers,
then falls in a wisdom of pearls, cast from dark skies.

The scales fall from my eyes and land on the marimbas,
dry beneath the arches where wild music sounds,
half-tame rhythms, like this rainstorm
released by the bruja's magic hand.

¡Ay! ¡Ay! ¡Ayeres!

Ocho Venado was here last night. I offered him a glass of mescal:
he wanted to pay for it with chocolate beans,
but I can't remember if I allowed him to, or not.

We prepared quesadillas with golden flores de calabazas
which, like the magician he is, he drew from his sleeve.

It was midnight: a star fell down the chimney and landed on the fire.
The cat and the dog stood up and gave us a vision of the world
we humans lost a long, long time ago.

Nueve Viento arrived and told us how he had sat
below the salt at the long table spread beneath the tree at Tule.
He talked with Cortés as night drew its long blue cloak around the caciques.
They smoked a peace pipe, then broke it into pieces
so it would never need to be smoked again.

Thoughts slip and slide and spin their wheels.
I can no longer change gear,
nor keep pace with the slowest or the fastest.

Ideas are lost, messages are hidden,
symbols slide past like ghosts on a snowbank,
white in the moonlight, so lovely and so bright.

Sometimes an obsidian knife slices my mind in two.
Snowflakes invade my brain, coating it with the thinnest layer of fiery ice,
stripping me of my memories.

Sometimes I know I am losing my mind.
Tears freeze in my eyes, then fall to the earth as stars.

Night of the Azabache Virgin

This is La Virgen de la Soledad, a princess-saint
chosen by the people to represent them.
She wears along black night of a dress
silvered with the planets and stars of sequins.

Cesta on head, a flower girl worships at La Soledad's shrine.
Her basket is filled with heavy stones.
Her sleek black hair is laden with carnations:
blood red wounds, floral stepping stones across her head.

La Virgen de la Soledad wants her people
to keep the gods awake with salvoes of rockets.
She wants the stars to dance defiantly in their orbits
like her people did last summer at Guelaguetza.
The world was blond then, sustained by soft white lilies
and the flaring crests of birds of paradise.

The danzantes of Monte Albán toil not, nor do they spin.
They flourish, tormented, in their prisons of hand carved rock.
Their pre-platonic dance steps send the planets
meandering across a meaningless sky.

Don Nadie

At midnight, squads of black shadows take over the zócalo,
Nobody asks them for a match;
nobody asks them to walk down the alley to a cheap hotel.

Dogs sniff the wind; beggars pretend they are not there;
but the brujo from Yalalag sees things that others cannot see;
"¡Hermanos!" he smiles: "I too have lost my way!"

Who is the one who leaves this place and returns to all places,
all places being one when the hands on the clock
stand to attention at midnight and the owl calls?

No! I am not sane; nor will I ever be the same again.
I think I know who I am, but I don't,
not even when the death mask covers my face,
and the razor blade draws its thin red scratch
across the dry husks of my soul.

Day's death:
the soap burns as pink as an evening sky.

Seven Lean Years

Light a fire.
Begin with the glow worm of a match;
let that small flame smoulder;
breathe life into shavings and dry bark.

Stars will reach out and a new spark will be kindled
to walk among the constellations.

The tianguitzli are a herd of seven goats.
Above the sacrificial mound,
goats on my roof graze grey with age.

I pull the bandage from my eyes:
my heart shrinks down to the size of an orange pip.

Thin spirits slide through a gap in the cactus fence;
they wander a burnt out landscape
with a rickety painted horse and scrawny cows.

Ladybird Princess

A wicked wizard locked her in his castle in the zócalo.
He forced her to sell balloons to children,
tethering her like a donkey in this oubliette.
Sometimes, at night, she lets her hair down
and catches shoals of starfish in a net of light.

Once upon a time, a dream mouse ran up the clock of her hair.
Now she is afraid of rodents, afraid that the zócalo rats
may climb into paradise and play in the battlements of her skull.

Last night I dreamed she came to my window
and rattled her chains against the shutters of my head.
She begged me to let her in and when I did,
an immensity of stars fell to earth in all their frosty glory.

Today, one by one, she sets her prisoners free.
They rise on desire's wings and climb over the rooftops.

Ladybird princess:
what songs do you sing as your children fly home?


Eyes alight, their faces on fire, they sit in streets and squares,
silent, patient, as they have always sat, as they will always sit.
A long, slow grief fires the ashes; a flame burns beneath petal and comal .

Can you understand the weight of the pésames grinding them down?
Dust motes cling to the rack and pinions of wings that want to fly:
giant wings which stop them from walking.

Will one word of wisdom turn like a well-greased key in a lock
and set them free like the sun at six o'clock?

On the cathedral steps, white clad angels waggle wings and harps.
Devils, dressed in red, wave tridents, blow diabolic music from conch and clay.
Four year old eyes lost in an epicanthic fold of oriental mystique.

Their grief is not my grief and so I bleed in vain:
nochebuenas, tulipanes, flowers of crimson blossoming,
flowing from each open vein.

Kingdom of the Blind

Will I ever forget the king, his one eye,
the strength of him graceful in his bruises and blood,
lying there as I burn with a shame that tells me
I am not strong enough to stop the beating,
to reach out a helping hand?
I walk away and leave him, bruised and battered.

When I myself fell, my clothing must have scourged his nose.
Yet he offered me his beauty: a wrinkled, skin-and-bone paw of a hand.
He raised me from the gutter
and lay a cruel cross of kindness across my back.

Now, when I look into my other face,
his single eye before me in the looking glass
explodes in a riot of sunshine.

Oranges and Lemons

Frosty fingers fumble at my ribcage.
The great red gong of my heart is an orangutan,
swinging like a pendulum or the clapper on a bell.
A live coal thrust among my body's ashes
it sparks light and warmth.

The myth of the Empyreum strides the night no more:
solar space glows with black holes pierced through its Platonic fabric.
Harp strings are silent: no great musician; no celestial choir.

Wild waves of church bells pound iron hammers;
the Old Squaw sea-stack rocks with the rising tide in my head.
I pinch myself a midnight of black and blue
and awake from this neo-platonic madness.

An old woman binds my wrists with a skein of wool,
winds me up into a ball, and reels me in.

Sad crickets chirp in rhythm with the universe.
I wake to bird song, to the joy, not of apples,
but of oranges and lemons on branches in this foreign land.

Familiar Dream

The ghost train comes puffing down the abandoned track.
We stand on that old iron footbridge leading to the sands,
our faces vanishing in memories of cinders and smoke.
Now only the inflection of the chères voix qui se sont tues
hangs there in that opaque space.

The salt sea crests: I walk naked on my childhood beach,
wearing only mysteries of light.
Sea gulls rock and scream, raucous on an invisible summer wind.
The sand between my toes scratches at my memory.
The gritty grind of its mill stone grist fills my socks and polishes my feet.

Ghosts wander through the room in which I sometimes sleep.
My pillow case is stuffed with the dry winter coat of a long dead bird,
sacrificed so I can rest in peace .

La Mano Mágica

He spreads out the rich silk tapestry of another man's world:
gold and silver threads, as thin as this ice on which I walk.
Midnight: the sky sewn with sequins and stars.

At sunset and sunrise, the horizon flames: fire burning down to the bone,
yet the heart left living, a phoenix grown from grey ash.
Old swords open fresh wounds, red flowers grazing in my hair.
Wind's footprints cool my scars; a dark spirit broods.

Snow geese: an arrowhead aimed at the fish eye sky.
Fingers pluck snowflakes from night's oncoming flood
each crystal gives birth to a perfect star.

Outside my window, a ladder leads down from the sky:
and angels descend.

My daughter makes snow angels in the stubborn snow.


In the square, a stone conqueror,
drafted in from another world,
brandishes his sword at pigeons.

A pair of then squat on his head
and gift him with guano.
Is this what we will become,
statues in a square,
fit only to be blessed by birds?

Tiny fingers in the photograph album
trip over faces.
They consider our frowns, our smiles;
but they cannot recall our names.

"L'homme n'est rien
d'autre que ce qu'il fait!"

Now they will never know
the deeds of their family

Life is a Dream

We lie down like the dogs you think we are and whimper in our sleep;
but we dream of strong children: as tall as trees, as fast as the wind.

One day, we will rise up like the sea. Thus it is written in our temples,
and in the wild eyes of the danzantes, smiling in servitude
from their tortured contortions engraved in stone.

I look to the hills: the mountains close ranks; passes are shut;
great stones roll down; the earth shakes; I am afraid.

I turn at night to see tiny fingers scratching words of warning,
in frost, across my window.

When I wake up everything has changed.
Grapefruit still dangle their golden globes in the patio tree,
but a thin film of dust lies everywhere, radiating light,
clogging the eyes of dead men walking the streets
in search of their daily bread:

"... ce bourreau sans merci ..."


A bat, baked as black as charcoal,
hung on the fireplace brick until it was done,
How long did it hang in that dark space,
longing for sight of moon and stars,
for wind song under its wing?

Flies live out their nightmares in the spider's web;
spinning upside down, they are hung up to dry.

On sand bars, at low tide, tiny claw marks:
migrant birds cutting the beach to shreds,
then stitching it back together again:
itinerant tailors with sewing machine beaks.

Explosive presence of predatory volcanoes:
now we can all be equal
as fine dust rises to block the sun.


Four deer run across the road through my head,
then stop and stare at me.
A leaf falls from the tree
and turns into a blank page of snow.
A deer hide beaten flat on a stone
gives shape to my thoughts.
The wilderness sprouts footprints:
flowers wander with a random promise.

Can we bend reality like a stick in water?
I whistle: and a white wolf bays at the moon.
Once upon a time, there was a beaver with a diamond tail;
he gnawed at the tree at the root of the world
until the entrance to the underground caved in
and dead spirits walked the night.

A fire red squirrel sparks at the feeder,
turns his back on the snow and bullies wild birds.

Blood seeds bleed on the sackcloth mountain ash.
An American Goldfinch points an accusatory beak.
Snow funnels past his puffed up eiderdown body.

The cat's round green eye stares out of the window
willing the world to end in darkness.

Somewhere, far off, a god plays black and white music.
Icy fingers scale up and down the notched ivory of my spine.


They ejected us from villages where we lived for four thousand years.
We travelled dusty trails with our water bottles, our canvas tents, our blankets.
We are our own beasts of burden, packing our portable lives in plastic bags.

Perhaps tomorrow we can be together again with our back-strap frames,
weaving memories and dreams into one seamless fabric:
reds and blacks on a cloth of gold.

Until then, we are dust and shadows and one day we will vanish
like the shadows we are, unseen in the dust and dusk,
our names forgotten, the letters which form us as empty as our birth place.

You who read this, you who sift my work between your hands,
you who pretend to admire the warp and the woof and the solid weave,
you will never begin to understand.

Listen: they are calling me, and you do not even hear.
You cannot understand their words.
You do not even know how to pronounce my name.


Once, I was clay on the potter's wheel;
when I broke, I returned to the earth
and grew again as a tree.

Now I am a broken branch,
plucked by the autumn wind:
driftwood delivered to the carver's hand.

A young girl gives me a fresh paint skin;
then come stripes and gaudy circles.
From what dark pages of a half-forgotten manuscript
does she copy my thoughts?

The brujo buys me and carries me away.
I live with him till his time runs out
and he abandons his village
to seek solitude in the hills.

His skin is too heavy for his frame.
He begs his gods to send a wind
to blow the cobwebs from his body
and sweep him clean.

When the sun shines through his ribs,
it opens the cage door to his soul.
His heart shines out like a sacred fire:
a lighthouse lantern in his chest.

He uses me to kindle fire,
and sacrifices me to the cleansing flame

Together, we soar to the skies.
When the sun hides his face behind a cloud,
we return as rain.

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