A Reading Zoo

We were animals,
Our fifth grade a colony
Divided by our teachers
Into a pecking order.

We were classified:
A taxonomy of pre-teens
Stickered with some native bird
According to our calls.

We were heard:
Our words trilled or died as
Benign smiles and nods marked
Anthropological work: ticks, crosses.

We were a kingdom
At whose apex I was permitted
Books, their names escape me,
Their insides: hollow trunks.

We were herded
Apart, some to the savannah’s
Far reaches, the flightless,
Separated from prying eyes.

We were taught
But these were not flying lessons;
I would realise years later
They only tracked our flights.

We were attended
By braying crowds of teachers,
Or worse parents eager to
Lunge upon each misspent note.

We were beaten
Until our audience was sated
That we had grown averse
Or fearful of this eating.

We were readers
Before, but as I glance back
I wonder why these cages
When we should all fly?

(28 February 2015)

Out of Time

Old foe, lost lover:
are you lonely, do you weep?
Try as I might to leave you,
with all your time-worn aliases,
we are still other-bound and
will not come unchained.

Master and slave, villain and victim,
peddler of opposites
your face appears in every mirror,
photos speak an inescapable truth.

From where you stand, refusing stillness,
everything abandons you, the solitary
runner pursing an unreachable horizon
and I wonder whether you are ever lonely,
to be ever doomed to your path.

So we are both trapped. (Are we?)
When do you sleep? Where?
Who is waiting for you?
What colour are your tears?

I have more questions for you
But I fear we are out of time.

(11 & 22 February 2015)

Craft Lessons

He appears in velvet robes
Within the cloistered tent flaps of
Some iffy carnival sideshow
You ventured into unknowingly
Though unsure of his talent or
Occupation before you can quit
That sudden déjà vu
This throned figure issues
A flimflam of questions
Sizing every possible dimension
To ascertain your momentum
The possibility that you might
Fit his creation
Years in the making and
As this unsubtle surgery ends
He thinking he has found a gem
Fantasises in soliloquy
You see his salivating dreams
Writ wide upon that feigning face
When he begins to offer offspring
This modern matchmaker wears only
History’s enduring attire
Repeated in his caricatured desires
That cackle in the empty space
Your hurried turning sires
Only a lesson on this dark place.

(22 February)

The Stand-in Girl

Come to think of it, I have only seen
Her silent moments
Contemplating her brittle youth,
Eyes turned to faraway thoughts
Where she never knowingly subscribed
To this mild-manner imitation of servitude.

Some second-rate Mephistopheles
Offered this deal, surely, but what
She forfeits to her temporary masters
Can hardly be sufficient for what is
Given in return.

What deal is this?
What passes for a year of life?

Her bedroom light remains
Past the hour when darkness eases
Its heavy weight, or so I guess:
I never look, just wonder,
Imagining all the nights she spends
Enclosed there, cradling a mobile,
A tit-for-tat of traded cries until
A toddler stirs
She must go,
Must she,
Until it ends?

One late afternoon I saw her beating
Stubborn tiredness, washed sheets
Against the railings upon the balcony.
Another morning she leads and trails
Her charges through winding streets.
Adrift, unmoored, we cross unnoticed.

Does she smile?
Not even, I think, when a taxi departs
Bearing her away this one night,
Though I may have read
Relief on those lips,
But for the fickle patterns of the light.

(20 February 2015)

That one hour when

dozens of imprints overlapping
(coffee glasses, tea pots, cups, mugs)
add their print to this wood’s
stains of conversations past

I imagine their lives intersecting
circles, like the very ring marks
not solitary tree years
embracing dark autographs

we intuit
from and to each a story
from whose lips poured forth
moments precious or time evaporated

lines between sips
promises and deals brewed
romances kindled or doused
here engraved in memory

as if this table might house
a gallery of a thousand lives
offering barest glimpse or
scratched reflection of that

one hour

(3 February 2015)

A sudden composition

To this unanticipated orchestra
Add a bee’s vibrating G
Violinist invading first chair
Wings blurring like a bow
Tracing one string’s path.
Comes wind to lead these cups
In resonating tap-a-tap in E
Grazing saucers, spilling notes.
Then percussion-mad an engine
Fires its tune ending
And our tree conductor
Leaves in silence.

(February 1, 2015)