Dear R, you who have asked me,
via my Service Offer (“I write personal poems”),
to “create” you a poem, can’t know,
when my second late night email
fails to elicit a prompt response,
how my certainty of rejection hammers me
into old penances, and how I tinfoil walls
and barricades against my extruded poisons.
Then when your emails resume the next day
mentioning your little white house,
a she-owl who watches you with soulful eyes
and your growing “sense of despair”
I imagine a woman of mature years,
alone, though perhaps through choices
not always made freely. So to meet you
I navigate unfamiliar and unpaved roads
parking behind a half-built barn
and a muddy old green Subaru.
Younger than I expect, you’ve moved here
to escape precisely what we never discuss.
You reference only the need for peace of mind,
and a relief from startling triggers.
Nevertheless, I understand your need to know
that spirit-familiar, the barred she-owl, Strix varia,
roosting on a white pine bough
outside your window all winter,
less guardian than too starving to move away
or predate the small animals atop the ice layer
between her and proper voles held in safety beneath.
Only when deep-freeze breaks in early March
and a shadow swoops silently across your pane,
do you know who’s won the battle,
and cheer for a raptor’s kill that saves her life.
The world, after all, is all about killing or being eaten,
which is true even in the human world
where your neighbors stalk you with barking dogs,
and talk nights, beneath your bedroom window
of that woman next door, who is not like them,
with her window salad garden and that owl.
Fearful, blind, they believe that hoot owls
harbinger death. Instead you try to see
the way a mythical Owl might see,
through cold and black of night
for clarity, for lucency, for whatever it is
that warms the living embers
and rem-embers your mind to peace.
This next poem describes the present situation, which continues…with the following explanations.
In the Greek myth, Philomela is raped and has her tongue cut out by Tereus, the husband of her sister Procne. Rendered mute, Philomela weaves a tapestry detailing the crime to inform her sister, who, enraged, takes revenge on Tereus. At the end of the story, both Procne and Philomela are transformed into birds. In some versions of this story, Philomela turns into a female nightingale, while in others she becomes a swallow. However, neither of these birds can sing.
Jerry Mahoney and Charlie McCarthy are two famous American ventriloquists’ dummies
I haven’t spoken out loud for many weeks,
bullied by “voices” to a frightened into myself silence.
Still, what does “speechless” mean
in these days of text-to-speech software,
with its choice of Vikki or Samantha or Victoria voices,
especially when I’m possessed of a blog and writing fluency
enough to speak my mind to my heart’s content?
Even so, being mute is not a manner of speaking.
Yet I tell you I can talk. Nothing physical impedes
my tongue, or locks my lips
except my brain’s hallucinated snarls,
Jerry Mahoney and Charlie McCarthy thrown
into surrounding shadows
ordering up this stoppage, blockage, blockade.
Now, like Stevens’ fire-fangled bird at the end of the mind
feathered unlucky, tarred, locked in golden cage
my voice remains only a memento
I wanted to say, but could not get out,
I couldn’t get it out, I could not get it out…