Blue eyes

Copper-hued bricks, pepper-green trees,
a sky as thick as boiled oatmeal
and gray as a city cat, and rain, these
are this season’s prelude to the coming
of three grandmothers, each wrapped in a blue:
turquoise, aquamarine and harbor.

Waving their hands to stir up the breeze
that sets bells and nazar boncuğu spinning,
they give these instructions: stare down
anyone who hungers to poison a well.

Retreating, my ladies bless a shawl,
a dupatta sharply redolent of the indigo
shadows it cast under past summers’ suns,
one that’s soft, cool and sprinkled with stars
that smile at the sight of blue eyes
hanging from an ash-wood bough.

Prescriptive (edit 2)

If happiness is honey, tickly-thick
enough to make you choke,
if happiness is wine, a smooth swallow
and a short-lived high,
if you’re defended against joy,
and now you’re breathing faint for want of it,
the remedy is to take happiness anyway.
You already know life will trip you up
and slap your smile away — don’t
give it an assist.
If your secret is that joy’s a fleeting presence,
if you don’t like loss, and you know
joy’s as insubstantial as leaves in the wind,
the remedy is to catch it, even so.
Open your arms,
stretch out your fingers,
and catch good times as
they whistle past your ears.
Flying leaves land and crumble.
But they’re tender, too, and
when held up to the sun
offer shade in red,
green and gold.

The value of dissolution, part 2 (edit 1)

Chhoti Bahu, she of the biggest eyes and motion
most honey-like, begs you to stay.
Here is she:
bound by your space, still at your whimsy,
her desire ‘broidered and enfolded in silk,
now softened to the lateral by draughts
of sharaab, throwing petals.
How could the asking be more gentle?
You stiffen and flinch as if roses are made of flint,
as if to your ears her song
is a loud and acid vibration.
You wince under the petal-storm, duck,
lay the blame on her, and reach down to stay her.
She catches your hand. She wants a touch
of attention and respect, nothing more, just
a little two-way conversation.
You let yourself be held, then tear yourself away.
Note, you let yourself be held.
Meena Begum is never more beautiful than when she’s
at your feet in this role, her hair a river
of dark silk, made by God to cool your irritated skin.
Her love’s stronger than the laziness and self-contempt
I see in you,
and when you’re ill and honest thus, you remember her
and let yourself be gathered to her breast.
She can’t save you –
not one of us can save another, forever.
Her sacrifice is a gift you say you don’t want.
But you take it anyway.
In time, far away in some
limitless place,
her dissolution is going to soften
the harshness you learned to breath.

(part 1 isn’t written, and maybe never will be.)

Note: This is an ekphrasis on the picturization of the song Na Jao Saiyan Chhudaake Baiyan from Guru Dutt‘s 1962 Hindi film Shahib Bibi aur Ghulam. The actress is Meena Kumari, the actor is Rehman. Chhoti Bahu means little or younger sister-in-law, in an extended family setting; sharaab means wine; Begum is a term of respect, similar to the old formality Mistress.

Tere liye, life goes on…

Present moments: listening to this still — it came in via Outlandish‘s Facebook feed. I’m still a little open-mouthed at how ebrahim / @eebsofresh wraps his voice in, out and around the lyrics to make something totally new of the song — a cover of Frank Ocean‘s Swim Good.

I do wonder about ebrahim’s pronunciation of Swayze, though.

And I’m still loving Sam Sifton‘s food review writing for the NYTimes. His passion, his practicality, his understanding of audience, and of food, and the pure skill of his writing, are what get to me. In his 14th September, 2011, review of Hospoda, he achieves both connection and authority with his seemingly antithetical use of formal and vernacular voices in a single paragraph:

“Servers at the restaurant need to be schooled either in menu specifics or in the charm of copping to ignorance. Because: fluke is not a freshwater fish, people!”

As I’ve strayed across boundaries, the Visual Thesaurus has helped, bridging the quiet place where art lives, with the place of desiring to write again.

Last night NYC went from 84F/29C to 54F/12C. A faint sweet fragrance, from dry warmth contracting the wooden floors, squeezing out some of their natural resins, woke me — the first centrally-heated morning of this half of the year.

Mid-September is almost a time of straight up-and-down sun-shadows on the Earth. It’s late-tomato and early-apple time. Cheeks tingle at 5 am, if you’re out then, and hearts warm up as the season of fire and festivals approaches. That’s life, right now. Wish you were here.

The sloop on motor (edit 1)

In this story of then, long ago, there are just two of us: a man, wet through, in soaked purple shirt and running shorts, fast-walking through stands of lush trees tossing down by the river; and me, lounging against a stone parapet a hundred feet above him, watching as his fine profile and dark stride disappear into the dense rain.

The weather, from the east-southeast and pretty much right in my face, is heavy and wild. That’s an understatement. Even on the steep slope of this hill, the rainwater runs higher than my ankles.

Four hundred years ago, in the then-wilderness, dozens of stream-threads would have been tumbling down to feed the rising river. This then is not that then. Here, I’m wearing backless sandals, for the rain, and I’m weak. I worry about walking home. I might hydroplane on street asphalt, or slip on curbstones of granite and slate.

A rock-dove flies in, a few feet from my face, making for a cranny in the stone wall that this parapet overtops. The dove’s landing path is long and low, and shows the colors — iridescent blues and greys, creams and a little black — on the undersides of the dove’s wings. Its narrow, overlapping wing-feathers are distinct, against the soft backdrop of the clouds.

The dove’s passage spins out an epic moment, shaped by motion and light: an arc of bird-flight scribbled with curved muscled wings and scalloped feather-edges, traced through the inverted swoops of suspension cables of a sturdy bridge that sits, wet-footed and seemingly small, under a giant’s bow of clouds.

Then the world moves again.

To my right, clouds run below the cliffs opposite. To my left, the bridge makes its own weather, as fog mounts a hill of air hundreds of feet higher than the bridge-towers till, just above me, streams of clouds roller-coaster down.

On the river, where its north curve is lost behind a solid wall of rain, near a red-painted buoy, here comes a graceful sloop, sails down, running on motor.

Cars — usually turning north to enter the highway, or making a u-turn around the little park nearby — are stopping for 20 seconds at the dead-end overlooking the river, held by the stormy view.

Trees on the river — maples, oaks and wild apples wearing grapevine shrouds — are full and round, more so than I’ve ever seen.

The stone walls against which I rest are old and high, and very wet.

The river’s on the ebb now, even in this rain. We all are over-looked by the tall, strong bridge — hello, Brother Bridge. What’s that you say? It’s time I was leaving? Yes, yes.

Then, long ago, I set out for home again. I went with care and fear, and, once there, found myself very shaky and finally willing to be warm and dry again. The only bit of cloth dry enough to wipe the water off my door-keys was a small rain-shadow that my left elbow had made against my waist. Pneumonia sucks: I was so weak. And rain sings: my body and spirit were grateful for the rain.

Long ago, I went out to catch the smell of salt, and to meet you. I was cold and afraid. My feet were almost bare. But the rain had washed the air so sweet…

High summer, mid-afternoon

Then thank you, oh food delivery service, for running out of local peaches and cornish hens last night, so I ordered Finger Lakes plums, curried chicken salad, and home-baked chocolate cookies, instead. Then thank you again, for running out of chocolate cookies, so I ordered white-chocolate-and-dried-cherries cookies, instead. And thank you again, for offering summer juices from the upstate orchard that grows the plums.

And when your man came, he was quick and kind, leaving the boxes outside my door as I called out to him to do since I couldn’t get up from my work right away. And some minutes later on this difficult day that started so early and had me feeling beset and in need of pampering, I brought the boxes inside and unpacked them and put most everything away.

And then I had lunch. The turmeric, cumin, ginger and cinnamon in the chicken salad relaxed my breathing, the tiny plums shocked with flesh as diffusely-sugary as watermelon on the outside and as tart as lemon around the pit, and the cookies, oh the cookies!

Thank you, oh food delivery service, for being good bakers, and using pure ingredients. I promised myself one. One cookie, one white-chocolate-and-dried-cherries cookie. But oh food delivery service, you still had a mind to challenge my beliefs today. You knew what I needed wasn’t what I thought I needed. You shook the cookie box hard as your truck made its rounds all morning, and three cookies broke, and you knew the soft-hearted me, the me who couldn’t let three damaged cookies sulk, unloved, inside a darkened cardboard box, and so, yes: I ate all three.

And then I sipped some tart-sweet tingly lemon-apple summer juice from the Finger Lakes orchard that grew the plums you brought. And then, I wanted to work again. But only after giving thanks for the gifts that your last night’s minor chaos brought, on hard-bumping truck wheels, in the strong arms of a quick, kind delivery man, in mid-afternoon of a high summer’s day.

Three years three months and counting

“There’s no one like you,”
she whispered, turning away.

The leaves are flying,
rattling soft like small bones,
raining through the sun-out, sun-in light.
Their mother-trees kept them
tied to their twigs
in cold weeks,
to mend a summer-drought.

“Where are you? How is it you’re here,
and not? Why do I love you?”
she dreamed.

Somewhere, near you,
flowers are sharing themselves
with reflected light, odorous,
bright, and sleepy-sweet.
A Spanish word is softer: olor.
There’s a type of sherry with a dark taste,
long-aged, called oloroso.
Las plantas de tu (ya su, mera love) país
son muy olorosas.
Your winters are promises
of sweating and brown skin.

“Late November’s cold is greyish-clear,
like glass.
Do you still dance? Or swim?
Just now a dog is moaning
about missing owners, praying
for their safe return, crying
that she was left behind.
The Mumbai dogs, whom I love
because they sing near you,
tell me about what touches you,”
she said.

I’m healing.
Sickness made a distance between me and life.
In the void were possibilities.
My eyes are closing.
If I don’t allow them to,
I’ll cry, my retinas will detach, my lungs will drown,
my heart will stop.

You’ve given me all I needed
to make sense out of experience.
I can watch Emma Thompson act,
know what she’s doing wrong
and the probable why,
and enjoy the experience, as I used to.
Watching films now, I look at cloth a lot, and at light.
My hands know how things would feel,
how a needle would work the material, going in,
my fingers feel each weave.
I remember how we used to be
all sharply-pressed,
and now we’re not.
I don’t mourn a thing that’s changed,
except for missing loves.
Everything else cycles in and out
and in again,
the same and new.

You are my love forever.
I lose all grace when I face you with this,
I become a stumbling girl.

All art is about love;
and love is an art.
I’m still trying to learn how to do it.

© Nov ’10 Heather Quinn, all rights reserved

Norway morning

On an April morning
chill as a fjord,
a Norway maple’s whippy branches
are riding winds
in a New York courtyard
of half-lit bricks
and a third-story window
mirroring clouds dimensional as night
and an almost-imaginary
purple-blue sky.
If a family of butterflies
were tied to branches,
their wings would shimmer in various greens,
hinting of fall,
like these maple leaves
shaking with cold
in a Norway morning,
as the earth moves in its blankets of clouds,
spinning out winds,
singing of you, singing to you.

© Apr ’10 Heather Quinn, all rights reserved