Fabled Lives




Story Born




She is dreaming candlelight, a night here, a night there
fire eats the beeswax, seeking air, seeking air
she is wicking, she is wicked, doesn’t dare, doesn’t dare
to care about burning to the ground.
Tones of thunder funnel close and in the lightning’s stare
she can see it all clear and feel it drawing near
she’s a hare with shining eyes, galvanized, galvanized.
The wind is tearing loose every twisted limb
the hawks and owls are hiding and the land’s beyond repair
she is waiting, we are waiting, time is bare, time is rare,
time’s unfair and we are wearing very thin.



And in the fire she cried more than six times "Jesus," and above all with her last breath she cried in a loud voice "Jesus!" so that all present could hear her.

(Maugier Leparmentier, apparitor of the archepiscopal court, Rouen, May 30, 1431)



Because Joan first denied her Voices in the face of flames,

we know she chose, finally—chose to know the writhing

skin, the seared lungs, the boiled entrails, holy agony of a

melting mind. Given a second chance to die, she decided

to be a hero of God and the Hundred Years’ War. Twice

more they burned her charred body to erase the martyred

remains, but her cries were retrieved, forever translating

our pain.



Opposable thumbs, they say, make the difference.

Laika was seared just hours into flight—another

slight young female stray, but devoid of voices

(though her name meant barker) and of choices.

Forced for months into ever smaller enclosures,

harnessed and chained in the capsule three days

till takeoff, she waited weightless for relief when

satellite, heat, and heart rate rose beyond bearing,

no witness to agony, or Jesus to justify suffering,

cremated 2570 orbits later on reentry to the sweet

air of Earth, declared a hero of humans and 1957’s

race for space. The failure of thermal control was

an awkward surprise; they had planned a poisoned

serving of food—Sputnik 2 was never designed for



                    Jesus wept (John 11:35)

The shortest verse in the bible

sums up our lot and supposedly

redeems us.

Noah, Moses, Job—

God loves a good story.

But give us another moral,

one more short verse:

Jesus laughed.





If you think I’d give the smallest joint

of any finger on my son’s left hand

for Trojan victory you’d be mistaken—

worse, for every child thrust off the walls

you’ll feel the rage of mothers everywhere.

For every cry he made before they robbed

him of his breath, I’d give my blood,

which, no, they bottled in my body safe

for conquering heroes’ rape. They gave

my child to death and me to wed the enemy

of my beloved Hector. Take me now I beg

you, drop me off the walls of Troy, New York,

or London, Telaviv, Baghdad, or blow me up

in transatlantic flight, but spare my Astyanax

his natural life.



                        For Counselor Cotsirilos, 1920-2011

The Trojan horse is deceptively named,

being, of course, Greek—much to the grief

of the Trojans.  And you, my Greek friend,

have deceived us.  I thought you would live

to a hundred but now we have only your soul

and that Trojan coffin, from which memories

steal out and seize us.  We have sacrificed

on the altar your favorite vanilla ice cream

with chocolate sauce and more seriously

sung praises to your justice and kind acts,

rarer in lawyers than hens have teeth. 

Now we throw white roses as the earth yawns,

then closes, and we are wiled with words

hollowed into effigies rolling through the gates

of all our walled fortresses.  Your death left us





Her name is honor, her word forever

so she's surprised when he appears

with his beard untrimmed, chest wider,

shoulders heavy with the weight

of the water that carried all his men

to Poseidon, their eyes glazed with salt.

Yes, she guesses she still loves him.

It's hard to remember. Twenty years

is a long time. Not long for honor—she lived

with honor. Honor is a daily event, like

war for some selected Greeks and gods.

Honor showed her what a woman is.

Faith, love, charity can't sustain you when

you're besieged by dishonorable intentions,

by rowdy, drinking, stinking suitors

who haven't a hope of knowing there's no end

to unwinding one's woven shroud. Honor

is an intimate, a sustaining force when fury

fails to straighten the spine after sleepless

nights, the pillow wet with worry for a son

safe only by Spartan standards. Then,

when the tired sun rises, it's honor

that springs the fingers into action at

the day's weaving, at the morning's mocking loom.

Honor is the common core, like the dog

that waits beside the door. Now the dog

is dead, Odysseus is here, Telemachus is turning

her away from the heap of bodies arrowed

to the floor. Can honor live with love, can love

survive the tests of self-respect? She looks

at him, at them. Yes, she guesses Odysseus

can stay.



Story Born


Brute, my mother teases him,

and he rushes us with a roar.

Napping in her lap has left me warm.

Rosie, he calls her, and spills

petals over her head by dozens,

covering me with the scent, hers.

His is sharper, a pungent huntsman

smell still with him after walking wild

in the woods. He takes no one with him

but stalks restless in the wind,

returning softened to our garden, laden

with roses, resting his head on her arm

and holding my short shoulders

against his own. I am flowers and thorn,

born of Beauty and the Beast, and torn,

sometimes, between their sweet and sharp,

between head-sure and heart-fair. Where

is happily ever after, here or there?

The castle is secure, yet leaving it,

alluring. What enchantment keeps me

restless by day but scared of the dark?


Hold my hand and walk me to the park.





I don't know how I got stuck

with this job. Easter ducks

I can imagine, chickens, even bugs—

fish understand, being oviparous,

in a way that rabbits never can.

Yet here I am, scurrying around the country

loaded with hardboiled, fragile-shelled, loudly

colored eggs. Each basket begs to be dropped.


The noses of chocolate rabbits never twitch

with interest. Their ears do not flop, softly furred.

I find no kinship with this lot, neither cotton-

stuffed toy surprises nor waxy-grassed beds

of jelly beans. What human has mismatched those

who leap and those who plop? Rabbits must nest

but not lay. I am way out of my league delivering spring.

Four legs, four feet ache, and I understand why children

break but don't eat eggs.