The Sun, Mad Envious, Just Wants the Moon

- 1955-

out of the way. It knows that I tend to cling
to potential in the dark, that I am myself only
as I am beguiled by the moon’s lunatic luster,
when the streets are so bare they grow voices.
The sun has lost patience with my craving
for the night’s mass-produced romance, that
dog-eared story where every angle is exquisite,
and ghostly suitors, their sleek smells exploding,
queue up to ravish my waning. Bursting with
bluster, the sun backslaps the moon to reveal
me, splintered, kissing the boulevard face first,
clutching change for a jukebox that long ago
lost its hunger for quarters. It wounds the sun
to know how utterly I have slipped its gilded
clutch to become its most mapless lost cause.
Her eye bulging, she besieges me with bright.
So I remind her that everything dies. All the
brilliant bitch can do for me then is spit light
on the path while I search for a place to sleep.

Medusa

Poseidon was easier than most.
He calls himself a god,
but he fell beneath my fingers
with more shaking than any mortal.
He wept when my robe fell from my shoulders.

I made him bend his back for me,
listened to his screams break like waves.
We defiled that temple the way it should be defiled,
screaming and bucking our way from corner to corner.
The bitch goddess probably got a real kick out of that.
I'm sure I'll be hearing from her.

She'll give me nightmares for a week or so;
that I can handle.
Or she'll turn the water in my well into blood;
I'll scream when I see it,
and that will be that.
Maybe my first child 
will be born with the head of a fish.
I'm not even sure it was worth it,
Poseidon pounding away at me, a madman,
losing his immortal mind
because of the way my copper skin swells in moonlight.

Now my arms smoke and itch.
Hard scales cover my wrists like armour.
C'mon Athena, he was only another lay,
and not a particularly good one at that,
even though he can spit steam from his fingers.
Won't touch him again. Promise.
And we didn't mean to drop to our knees
in your temple,
but our bodies were so hot and misaligned.
It's not every day a gal gets to sample a god,
you know that. Why are you being so rough on me?

I feel my eyes twisting,
the lids crusting over and boiling,
the pupils glowing red with heat.
Athena, woman to woman,
could you have resisted him?
Would you have been able to wait
for the proper place, the right moment,
to jump those immortal bones?

Now my feet are tangled with hair,
my ears are gone. My back is curving
and my lips have grown numb.
My garden boy just shattered at my feet.

Dammit, Athena,
take away my father's gold.
Send me away to live with lepers.
Give me a pimple or two.
But my face. To have men never again
be able to gaze at my face,
growing stupid in anticipation
of that first touch,
how can any woman live like that?
How will I be able 
to watch their warm bodies turn to rock
when their only sin was desiring me?

All they want is to see me sweat.
They only want to touch my face
and run their fingers through my . . .

my hair

is it moving?

Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah

My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins
of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield
and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap
of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat
and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama,
repeatedly crushing it with her broad, practical tongue
until it sounded like an instruction to God, not a name.
She wanted a child of pressed head and knocking knees,
a trip-up in the doubledutch swing, a starched pinafore
and peppermint-in-the-sour-pickle kinda child, stiff-laced
and unshakably fixed on salvation. Her Patricia Ann
would never idly throat the Lord’s name or wear one
of those thin, sparkled skirts that flirted with her knees.
She'd be a nurse or a third-grade teacher or a postal drone,
jobs requiring alarm-clock discipline and sensible shoes.
My four downbeats were music enough for a vapid life
of butcher-shop sawdust and fatback as cuisine, for Raid
spritzed into the writhing pockets of a Murphy bed.
No crinkled consonants or muted hiss would summon me.

My daddy detested borders. One look at my mother's
watery belly, and he insisted, as much as he could insist
with her, on the name Jimi Savannah, seeking to bless me
with the blues-bathed moniker of a ball breaker, the name
of a grown gal in a snug red sheath and unlaced All-Stars.
He wanted to shoot muscle through whatever I was called,
arm each syllable with tiny weaponry so no one would
mistake me for anything other than a tricky whisperer
with a switchblade in my shoe. I was bound to be all legs,
a bladed debutante hooked on Lucky Strikes and sugar.
When I sent up prayers, God's boy would giggle and consider.

Daddy didn't want me to be anybody's surefire factory,
nobody's callback or seized rhythm, so he conjured
a name so odd and hot even a boy could claim it. And yes,
he was prepared for the look my mother gave him when
he first mouthed his choice, the look that said, That's it,
you done lost your goddamned mind. She did that thing
she does where she grows two full inches with righteous,
and he decided to just whisper Love you, Jimi Savannah
whenever we were alone, re- and rechristening me the seed
of Otis, conjuring his own religion and naming it me.

They Romp with Wooly Canines

and spy whole lifetimes on the undersides of leaves.
Jazz intrudes, stank clogging that neat procession
of lush and flutter. His eyes, siphoned and dimming,
demand that he accept ardor as it is presented, with
its tear-splashed borders and stilted lists, romance
that is only on the agenda because hours do not stop.
Bless his sliver of soul. He’s nabbed a sizzling matron
who grays as we watch, a thick-ankled New England
whoop, muscled to suffer his stifling missionary weight.
Earth-smudged behind the wheel of her pickup,
she hums a tune that rhymes dots of dinner trapped
in his beard with twilight. Is it still a collision course
if you must lie down to rest? Bless her as she tries
on his name for size and plucks hairs from her chin.
Bless him as he barrels toward yet another wife
who will someday realize, idly, that her only purpose
in this dwindling novella of his days is to someday
lower his heralded bulk, with little fanfare, into a grave.

Related Poems

Self-Portrait with Weeping Woman

I know why I fell hard for Hecuba—
shins skinned and lips split to blooming lupine
on her throat’s rough coat, hurled down the whole length
of disaster—I’m sure I’d grown to know
by then to slacken as a sail against
the current and squall of a woman’s woe.
What could I do but chorus my ruddered
howl to hers? When you’re a brown girl raised up
near the river, there’s always a woman
bereft and bank-wrecked, bloodied and bleating
her insistent lament. Ay Llorona—
every crossing is a tomb and a tune,
a wolf-wail and the moon that turns me to
scratch at the tracks of every mud-dirged girl.

To Spring

Dreaded season when light’s too long too soon,
winter turns to you before its work is done.
Along with snowdrops, forsythia, anemone,
along with tulips breaking out of their bulbs,
comes the long memory of the fatal spring
when I was thirty-three and my love wasn’t there,
had gone without waiting and said she’d return,
but winter’s work done, was still gone.
Absence stronger than flowers, steaming in sun,
poisoned the season, buried morbid winter
and filled imagined summer with vapors. Light,
light spring drifts in like a feather
used for torture, its touch
too much and not enough.

Lunar Eclipse

Though I marked my calendar, I’ll forget to watch
earth paint the moon gray, then black, then white again.

White as toothache, dry elbow skin, a crown of bones,
as, I imagine, a narwhal’s tusk, though I’ve never seen one.

Tonight I’d dip that tusk in my wine glass
to prevent all future hangovers, all future gloomy

moods where I pretend I’ll look up the etymology
of melancholia, but don’t. Where I pretend I need

a spouse to soothe me—but I don’t. Like—I won’t say
earth or moon—but like a shovel, I’m purposeful

but often idle. Collecting cobwebs is a passing,
though fulfilling hobby. Someday I hope to be less

shovel, more soil. Prepped for roots, for thriving—
Love, I want to say (to whom, I’m not sure),

I’ve come to a different power tonight.
This is the self stripped of alimonies, stripped of pearls.

Unforgiveable, unrelenting, cherished by no one—
not you, wife, nor you, husband. Not even you

dear moon, whom I want to see cloaked
but won’t. Clouds tonight. Bats beading them.

At least, I think so. Maybe smaller darknesses
are just that—smaller, and thus, personable.