One day you get it into your head that you want to recreate Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor scarf. Maybe you want it for yourself, maybe it’s a gift for a Whovian friend of yours, or maybe you just like making products that are easy but incredibly time-consuming.
Only problem is, a vast majority of the patterns for the scarf are knit. The last time you knitted was in the sixth grade, and your scarf ended up turning into a triangle. You are, however, pretty good at crochet—your stitches are uniform, you might have sold or given away a scarf to a friend or stranger who really loved it, people buy you yarn for Christmas, etc.
(An interjection: If you are just starting to learn how to crochet/knit, please do not make the Fourth Doctor’s scarf your first big project. It is an epic project that is fairly simple to make, but you don’t really pick up any skills while working on it other than patience. I’ve seen plenty of beloved but messy Fourth Doctor scarves on the internet, made by people who jumped a little ahead of themselves. You want your scarf to be something that you can look back on fondly and if it’s one of your very first projects, it is likely to haunt you forever. We all have to start somewhere, and the Fourth Doctor’s scarf is better left as an epic project you slowly work up to.)
I’m a firm believer in ingenuity and creativity taking precedence over “authenticity” and in the case of the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, there were so many versions of it that there really is no one, true pattern for the scarf. The story behind the scarf is that they kept sending the knitter balls of yarn and she just kept on knitting, not realizing they weren’t asking for a twelve foot long scarf. It was Tom Baker’s idea to go with it, and it’s lived on in infamy since, in its various incarnations regenerations.
Consider this more of a guide than a pattern, as the most important thing while working on the scarf isn’t to aim for some galactic standard but to have fun with it, and hopefully capture some of the spirit of the show and the man who made it famous.
Rain on the West Side Highway, red light at Riverside: the more I live the more I think two people together is a miracle. You’re telling the story of your life for once, a tremor breaks the surface of your words. The story of our lives becomes our lives. Now you’re in fugue across what some I’m sure Victorian poet called the salt estranging sea. Those are the words that come to mind. I feel estrangement, yes. As I’ve felt dawn pushing toward daybreak. Something: a cleft of light? Close between grief and anger, a space opens where I am Adrienne alone. And growing colder.
Can it be growing colder when I begin to touch myself again, adhesions pull away? When slowly the naked face turns from staring backward and looks into the present, the eye of winter, city, anger, poverty, and death and the lips part and say: I mean to go on living? Am I speaking coldly when I tell you in a dream or in this poem, There are no miracles? (I told you from the first I wanted daily life, this island of Manhattan was island enough for me.) If I could let you know - two women together is a work nothing in civilization has made simple, two people together is a work heroic in its ordinariness, the slow-picked, halting traverse of a pitch where the fiercest attention becomes routine - look at the faces of those who have chosen it.
Across a city from you, I’m with you, just as an August night moony, inlet-warm, seabathed, I watched you sleep, the scrubbed, sheenless wood of the dressing-table cluttered with our brushes, books, vials in the moonlight - or a salt-mist orchard, lying at your side watching red sunset through the screendoor of the cabin, G minor Mozart on the tape-recorder, falling asleep to the music of the sea. This island of Manhattan is wide enough for both of us, and narrow: I can hear your breath tonight, I know how your face lies upturned, the halflight tracing your generous, delicate mouth where grief and laughter sleep together.
No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone. The accidents happen, we’re not heroines, they happen in our lives like car crashes, books that change us, neighborhoods we move into and come to love. Tristan and Isolde is scarcely the story, women at least should know the difference between love and death. No poison cup, no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder not merely played but should have listened to us, and could instruct those after us: this we were, this is how we tried to love, and these are the forces they had ranged against us, and these are the forces we had ranged within us, within us and against us, against us and within us.
There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees, A quiet house, some green and modest acres A little way from every troubling town, A little way from factories, schools, laments. I would have time, I thought, and time to spare, With only streams and birds for company, To build out of my life a few wild stanzas. And then it came to me, that so was death, A little way away from everywhere.
There is a thing in me still dreams of trees. But let it go. Homesick for moderation, Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away. If any find solution, let him tell it. Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation Where, as the times implore our true involvement, The blades of every crisis point the way.
I would it were not so, but so it is. Who ever made music of a mild day?
Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read to the end just to find out who killed the cook. Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark, in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication. Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot, the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones that crimped your toes, don’t regret those. Not the nights you called god names and cursed your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch, chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness. You were meant to inhale those smoky nights over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches. You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still you end up here. Regret none of it, not one of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing, when the lights from the carnival rides were the only stars you believed in, loving them for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved. You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake, ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.
It’s not the best walk I’ve had, not by a long shot, down 86th street from 3rd Avenue to 18th Avenue
but it’s mine and I’ve gotten used to it, the spots where there is no shade in the blazing summer sun or the way the forest by the park smells just like the one back home.
But in the rain, it takes on a certain feeling, cause no one is else is walking 2 and a half miles in wet flip flops with Greetings From Asbury Park in their ears
and if they are, well they aren’t doing it down 86th street cause it’s empty nearly the whole way and the rain has been coming down for weeks now washing away the snails and the leaves that cling to the stone wall by the big houses near 13th Avenue.
When I pass our window, you are already inside, dry, though you must have been caught in it too. Your feet up on the coffee table, the orange light glowing, the cat in the window, a book in your hand, killing time, waiting for me, because I am late, and because there are drinks to be made and stories to tell, inside, where it’s dry.
Every way ends, every road, every foot-path leads at last to the hill-crest— then you retrace your steps, or find the same slope on the other side, precipitate.
I have had enough— border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies, herbs, sweet-cress.
O for some sharp swish of a branch— there is no scent of resin in this place, no taste of bark, of coarse weeds, aromatic, astringent— only border on border of scented pinks.
Have you seen fruit under cover that wanted light— pears wadded in cloth, protected from the frost, melons, almost ripe, smothered in straw?
Why not let the pears cling to the empty branch? All your coaxing will only make a bitter fruit— let them cling, ripen of themselves, test their own worth, nipped, shrivelled by the frost, to fall at last but fair With a russet coat.
Or the melon— let it bleach yellow in the winter light, even tart to the taste— it is better to taste of frost— the exquisite frost— than of wadding and of dead grass.
For this beauty, beauty without strength, chokes out life. I want wind to break, scatter these pink-stalks, snap off their spiced heads, fling them about with dead leaves— spread the paths with twigs, limbs broken off, trail great pine branches, hurled from some far wood right across the melon-patch, break pear and quince— leave half-trees, torn, twisted but showing the fight was valiant.
O to blot out this garden to forget, to find a new beauty in some terrible wind-tortured place.
Whatever happens with us, your body will haunt mine - tender, delicate your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond of the fiddlehead fern in forests just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs between which my whole face has come and come - the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there - the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth - your touch on me, firm, protective, searching me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers reaching where I had been waiting years for you in my rose-wet cave - whatever happens, this is.
If I lay on that beach with you white, empty, pure green water warmed by the Gulf Stream and lying on that beach we could not stay because the wind drove fine sand against us as if it were against us if we tried to withstand it and we failed - if we drove to another place to sleep in each other’s arms and the beds were narrow like prisoners’ cots and we were tired and did not sleep together and this was what we found, so this is what we did - was the failure ours? If I cling to circumstances I could feel not responsible. Only she who says she did not choose, is the loser in the end.
I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap, I want it too tight, I want to wear it until someone tears it off me. I want it sleeveless and backless, this dress, so no one has to guess what’s underneath. I want to walk down the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store with all those keys glittering in the window, past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. I want to walk like I’m the only woman on earth and I can have my pick. I want that red dress bad. I want it to confirm your worst fears about me, to show you how little I care about you or anything except what I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment from its hanger like I’m choosing a body to carry me into this world, through the birth-cries and the love-cries too, and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin, it’ll be the goddamned dress they bury me in.
"Things fall apart," Tide not turning. Melting away profoundly In darkness The sun.
And I, Like every other day A global world-sized wreck Glaring white, A hollowed art Flattened pastures, Facing an abandoned cave Where a tear is The only water Spilled into Emptiness.
And I Said to be a big star Whom night made sunset Believe in So what? A mere light gleam Where fate Grins its last laugh?
And I What if I had not been, My parents’ sculpture And was expecting my shadow To change its direction Running over my euphony Eclipsing me Partially Wholly And what if l jump over obstacles In the eclipsed noon
Into darkened sea waves To see terror in your Blindfolded eyes And what if, Oh trembling ones, I, Coming out In mid-eclipse, Purified my soul of you?
The land is theirs Where my sky ascends And descends Over the size of my head only Images retreat Behind my sky The blood is leeched from them And leaves me Like night lilies Mined The smell of their soil Leaves me And my sky is over my head only
A soldier waved our bus into a detour. We didn’t pass by Parliament Square that day. I’d hoped to go to a pastry shop, coins I saved for a week. Southern winds, sun shrouded in dirty clouds, red tongues of dust on windowpanes. There’d been a hanging on the square.
Sixteen years later I eat lunch at home, afternoon light, the gloss of olive oil on lettuce leaves. On the radio, whistle and boom of mortar shells, one landing on a soccer field, forty boys dead. And I’m trying to remember who wrote "to die in mid-sentence was to triumph over the dark.”
When I was seven I spent days hiding among the bean stalks. I heard my name called and felt indifferent to being wanted, unassured that the world I lived in would undo my foolish malcontent.
It’s not as dramatic now. I look out the window, people in their rooms, reading or thinking, or watching TV as if the world had stopped calling, as if we had emerged from the whirlpool of its demands with a wild mixture cowardice and courage to say unto others "I wish you did not exist."
On the day of the hanging, my father drove home, a poster of the President on the hood of his car. He tried to explain. Over and over he said “survive.”
Once I believed forgetfulness was a gift from the gods, not an erosion of the soul. Now I know enough to say this has happened before, and even crueler things— the bombardment of the ghetto as the republic ate its lunch in the park, held its toddlers, napped on lawns, smoke-sharp air fevered with the hiss of a flute.
Don’t ask. I too find myself listening to gurus who abhor coherence, who tell us language is a bucket of slop and we can only grunt and squeal. I wonder if they say this to silence the wretched who have found no words, who wave their torn limbs at us.
This too has happened before: My brother and I snuck to the car the night of the hangings. We intended to tear the President’s poster. But something held us, not a policeman’s shadow or the neighborhood spy. Not even my father who hours before had gone to sleep.
Apologies to All the People in Lebanon (June Jordan)
Dedicated to the 60,000 Palestinian men, women, and children who lived in Lebanon from 1948-1983.
I didn’t know and nobody told me and what could I do or say, anyway?
They said you shot the London Ambassador and when that wasn’t true they said so what They said you shelled their northern villages and when U.N. forces reported that was not true because your side of the cease-fire was holding since more than a year before they said so what They said they wanted simply to carve a 25 mile buffer zone and then they ravaged your water supplies your electricity your hospitals your schools your highways and byways all the way north to Beirut because they said this was their quest for peace They blew up your homes and demolished the grocery stores and blocked the Red Cross and took away doctors to jail and they cluster-bombed girls and boys whose bodies swelled purple and black into twice the original size and tore the buttocks from a four month old baby and then they said this was brilliant military accomplishment and this was done they said in the name of self-defense they said that is the noblest concept of mankind isn’t that obvious? They said something about never again and then they made close to one million human beings homeless in less than three weeks and they killed or maimed 40,000 of your men and your women and your children
But I didn’t know and nobody told me and what could I do or say, anyway?
They said they were victims. They said you were Arabs. They called your apartments and gardens guerrilla strongholds. They called the screaming devastation that they created the rubble. Then they told you to leave, didn’t they?
Didn’t you read the leaflets that they dropped from their hotshot fighter jets? They told you to go. One hundred and thirty-five thousand Palestinians in Beirut and why didn’t you take the hint? Go! There was the Mediterranean: You could walk into the water and stay there. What was the problem?
I didn’t know and nobody told me and what could I do or say, anyway?
Yes, I did know it was the money I earned as a poet that paid for the bombs and the planes and the tanks that they used to massacre your family
But I am not an evil person The people of my country aren’t so bad
You can expect but so much from those of us who have to pay taxes and watch American TV
The rules break like a thermometer, quicksilver spills across the charted systems, we’re out in a country that has no language no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren through gorges unexplored since dawn whatever we do together is pure invention the maps they gave us were out of date by years … we’re driving through the desert wondering if the water will hold out the hallucinations turn to simple villages the music on the radio comes clear - neither Rosenkavalier nor Gotterdammerung but a woman’s voice singing old songs with new words, with a quiet bass, a flute plucked and fingered by women outside the law.
It was your vision of the pilot confirmed my vision of you: you said, He keeps on steering headlong into the waves, on purpose while we crouched in the open hatchway vomiting into plastic bags for three hours between St. Pierre and Miquelon. I never felt closer to you. In the close cabin where the honeymoon couples huddled in each other’s laps and arms I put my hand on your thigh to comfort both of us, your hand came over mine, we stayed that way, suffering together in our bodies, as if all suffering were physical, we touched so in the presence of strangers who knew nothing and cared less vomiting their private pain as if all suffering were physical.
Every peak is a crater. This is the law of volcanoes, making them eternally and visibly female. No height without depth, without a burning core, though our straw soles shred on the hardened lava. I want to travel with you to every sacred mountain smoking within like the sibyl stooped over his tripod, I want to reach for your hand as we scale the path, to feel your arteries glowing in my clasp, never failing to note the small, jewel-like flower unfamiliar to us, nameless till we rename her, that clings to the slowly altering rock - that detail outside ourselves that brings us to ourselves, was here before us, knew we would come, and sees beyond us.
Sleeping, turning in turn like planets rotating in their midnight meadow: a touch is enough to let us know we’re not alone in the universe, even in sleep: the dream-ghosts of two worlds walking their ghost-towns, almost address each other. I’ve wakened to your muttered words spoken light- or dark-years away as if my own voice had spoken. But we have different voices, even in sleep, and our bodies, so alike, are yet so different and the past echoing through our bloodstreams is freighted with different language, different meanings - though in any chronicle of the world we share it could be written with new meaning we were two lovers of one gender, we were two women of one generation.
Where the neighbourhood wives, After a morning at the wet market, Sit facing the breeze To trade snatches of gossip About leery shopkeepers, The local louts, (Like that fella who’s always drilling his walls – Gives me migraine) And that mad woman Who throws things from her window. With careful put-downs they Fashion boasts, about stubborn sons, Lazy daughters, who by some miracle or mistake Always score well in class. When words falter, Gestures take over: pursed lips, rolling eyes, Animated hands adorned by bangles of Gold, jade, steel, string.
And children orbit around them Laugh without diction – Their games of tag a reassurance That there has been no hothousing Of who is unclean, unwashed, Untouchable. When they break out Into some kindergarten song, One almost believes in a generation Cleansed of skin-deep suspicions, And free from the superstitions of the tongue –
And old folks sit like sages To deploy chess pieces with ancient strategies. In a corner, a caged bird bursts With the song of its master’s pride And wrinkled women breathe, through Tai-chi-tuned windpipes, the operatic melody of the air…
All a wanton fantasy.
Eyes reveal a meeting-point For loners and loiterers: A sense of things reduced- Conversations that trickle through Brief noddings at lift landings, Teenage rhetoric scrawled, in liquid paper, On the stone-table chessboard, (Where the king used to sit) The grandiose house-selling dreams of residents Compacted in anonymous letterboxes; As an afterthought, an old man pees Under a public phone.
A place to be avoided, this, How in its vastness it devours hours. Little wonder then, Why residents rush through void decks Back to the cramped comforts of home As if in fear of what such open space might do To cosy minds.
This was once a love poem, before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short, before it found itself sitting, perplexed and a little embarrassed, on the fender of a parked car, while many people passed by without turning their heads.
It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement. It remembers choosing these shoes, this scarf or tie.
Once, it drank beer for breakfast, drifted its feet in a river side by side with the feet of another.
Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy, dropping its head so the hair would fall forward, so the eyes would not be seen.
IT spoke with passion of history, of art. It was lovely then, this poem. Under its chin, no fold of skin softened. Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat. What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall. An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.
The longing has not diminished. Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat, the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.
Yes, it decides: Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots. When it finds itself disquieted by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life, it will touch them—one, then another— with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.
Be careful of words, even the miraculous ones. For the miraculous we do our best, sometimes they swarm like insects and leave not a sting but a kiss. They can be as good as fingers. They can be as trusty as the rock you stick your bottom on. But they can be both daisies and bruises. Yet I am in love with words. They are doves falling out of the ceiling. They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap. They are the trees, the legs of summer, and the sun, its passionate face. Yet often they fail me. I have so much I want to say, so many stories, images, proverbs, etc. But the words aren’t good enough, the wrong ones kiss me. Sometimes I fly like an eagle but with the wings of a wren. But I try to take care and be gentle to them. Words and eggs must be handled with care. Once broken they are impossible things to repair.
A Poem Some People Will Have to Understand(Amiri Baraka)
Dull unwashed windows of eyes and buildings of industry. What industry do I practice? A slick colored boy, 12 miles from his home. I practice no industry. I am no longer a credit to my race. I read a little, scratch against silence slow spring afternoons. I thought, before, some years ago that I’d come to the end of my life. Watercolor ego. Without the preciseness a violent man could propose. But the wheel, and the wheels, won’t let us alone. All the fantasy and justice, and dry charcoal winters All the pitifully intelligent citizens I’ve forced myself to love.
We have awaited the coming of a natural phenomenon. Mystics and romantics, knowledgeable workers of the land.
But none has come. (Repeat) but none has come.
Will the machinegunners please step forward?
My apologies for missing a post yesterday. I’ve been going through a rough time.
What is a shadow? It is the self without a face or a name, all outline and no feature, the self on the verge of being erased. It is the incidental child of matter and light. Look how it spreads itself on the ground, weary but weightless, unable to leave a trace.
Another one of those days when we’re standing by the side of a road with our mothers, sweating in our Sunday dresses, waiting for the bus home. You stand in the puddle of your mother’s shadow, twisting your body so your own vanishes inside the darkness. I’m invisible, you shout, counting the three shadows left, then blowing me a stiff kiss. It’s cooler here too.
Is it possible for this not to be a story of disappearance?
2. After Hours
Your voice from a phone booth on a sidewalk, in the rain, outside a diner with an unreadable sign. Your voice speaking in code, coming to me in bits and pieces, syllable by syllable. Your voice doubled, echoing, bouncing off a stained glass dome, traveling through a dark tunnel where a train is about to pass. The lilt in your voice betrays you as you pretend to sell me potato peelers and non-stick frying pans. Your voice from another time zone, competing with the waves of the sea. In a letter with no return address, your voice cracks jokes and says “my feet hurt” in another language. Your voice in the tired words on my computer screen, hidden somewhere in the identical towns of postcards. Your voices like a shadow on a road.
When we were children, you didn’t care for words, you only filled pages with wide vertical lines. Beyond the page, the bite marks at the tip of your pencil, bare knees, a scrawny cat sleeping at your feet. We lived in the city and I thought you drew lampposts, telephone lines, the long, rusty rods scattered in construction sites. Your voice insisting, no, no, these are trees.
4. No Rain
I walk one block and pass a series of testaments to failure—the skeleton of a building, a half-built bridge already breaking down. On the dusty metal fence hangs a sign that promises a highway.
You were in love, you wanted out of a city that screamed abandonment.
5. Another Routine
A new mayor, a new name for this road. The man selling sweet corn at the corner makes it a point to recite all the names to every customer in need of directions. I don’t listen to him as I make my way to this place, known to me now only as the road where you last stood. I stare at its slender body, following the shape of a tree that has fallen down, beaten endlessly by the weight of buses and trucks.
6. Inside the Dark
I fall into a puddle on my way to catch a bus, and unlike a dog, I can’t sit around and lick my wounds, I have to walk away like nothing has happened. The face of Jesus looms on a billboard, but where is the comfort that can be brought? Let me watch the blind men by the terminal massage commuters for a fee, let me listen to karaoke music and stare at stall selling cheap umbrellas, let me stand under the shadow of a lamppost as is my habit, though it is evening, the weather is cool , and you are gone. If I keep still enough inside this shadow, it is as if I am not here. If I keep still enough, there is no proof you are not here with me.
Don’t tap your chopsticks against your bowl. Don’t throw your teacup against the wall in anger. Don’t suck on your long black braid and weep. Don’t tarry around the big red sign that says “danger!” All the tempests will render still; seas will calm, horses will retreat, voices to surrender. That you have this way and not that, that your skin is yellow, not white, not black, that you were born not a boychild but a girl, that this world will be forever puce-pink are just as well. Remember, the survivor is not the strongest or most clever; merely, the survivor is almost always the youngest. And you shall have to relinguish that title before long.
People talk about theater or drama in reference to everyday experience but when did the curtains ever part to reveal you sitting there next to me in our old BMW while crossing the bridge over the Stör on a clear winter afternoon with a sky like blue glass scratched as you said from all the various jet trails you turning your head to the right looking off towards the western horizon across all those flat green acres of northern Germany me glancing over at you without you being aware of it seeing you sitting there content in the warm sunlight coming through the windshield absorbed in your own personal thoughts of god knows what & then the attendant cascade of psyche-encompassing emotions that suddenly engulfed me as I caught a glimpse of the tiny set of wrinkles at the corner of your eye immediately remembering how seriously you took your fortieth & most recent birthday then me being catapulted into that crushing orbit of conceptual thinking dealing with time & age & destiny & what it means to be alive & what it means to be in love & how we all deal with getting old & the passing of time & the laying aside of certain dreams & desires in favor of various creature comforts & a predictable easiness into which we all are slipping deeper & deeper from day to day ultimately precluding even the remotest possibility of any manifestation of true happiness or satisfaction & then us coming down off of the bridge & onto the autobahn me putting the gas pedal calmly & purposely to the floor leaving what I had been thinking about behind us like the clouds of blue exhaust as we accelerated in a mechanical rush of pure power & motion the tachometer & the speedometer both rising steadily the car hurtling forward on the smooth asphalt temporarily eclipsing all thoughts of time & the passing thereof & cleanly bringing to an end the inner spectacle of today’s particular drama in a manner so thorough & final that it’s bordering on the surgical.
After we flew across the country we got in bed, laid our bodies intricately together, like maps laid face to face, East to West, my San Francisco against your New York, your Fire Island against my Sonoma, my New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas burning against your Kansas, your Eastern Standard Time pressing into my Pacific Time, my Mountain Time beating against your Central Time, your sun rising swiftly from the right my sun rising swiftly from the left your moon rising slowly from the left my moon rising slowly from the right until all four bodies of the sky burn above us, sealing us together, all our cities twin cities, all our states united, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Yes, I want to talk at length about Men- struation. Or my period. Or the rag as you so lovingly put it. All right then.
I’d like to mention my rag time.
Gelatinous. Steamy and lovely to the light to look at like a good glass of burgundy. Suddenly I’m an artist each month. The star inside this like a ruby. Fascinating bits of sticky I-don’t-know-what-stuff. The afterbirth without the birth. The gobs of strawberry jam. Membrane stretchy like saliva in your hand.
It’s important you feel its slickness, understand the texture isn’t bloody at all. That you don’t gush between the legs. Rather, it unravels itself like string from some deep center— like a Russian subatomic submarine, or better, like a mad Karlov cackling behind beakers and blooping spirals. Still with me?
Oh I know, darling, I’m indulging, but indulge me if you please. I find the subject charming.
In fact, I’d like to dab my fingers in my inkwell and write a poem across the wall. "A Poem of Womanhood" Now wouldn’t that be something?
Words writ in blood. But no, not blood at all, I told you. If blood is thicker than water, then menstruation is thicker than brother- hood. And the way
it metamorphosizes! Dazzles. Changing daily like starlight. From the first transparent drop of light to the fifth day chocolate paste.
I haven’t mentioned smell. Think Persian rug. But thicker. Think cello. But richer. A sweet exotic snuff from an ancient prehistoric center. Dark, distinct, and excellently female.
Speaking of marvels, I am alive together with you, when I might have been alive with anyone under the sun, when I might have been Abelard’s woman or the whore of a Renaissance pope or a peasant wife with not enough food and not enough love, with my children dead of the plague. I might have slept in an alcove next to the man with the golden nose, who poked it into the business of stars, or sewn a starry flag for a general with wooden teeth. I might have been the exemplary Pocahontas or a woman without a name weeping in Master’s bed for my husband, exchanged for a mule, my daughter, lost in a drunken bet. I might have been stretched on a totem pole to appease a vindictive god or left, a useless girl-child, to die on a cliff. I like to think I might have been Mary Shelley in love with a wrong-headed angel, or Mary’s friend. I might have been you. This poem is endless, the odds against us are endless, our chances of being alive together statistically nonexistent; still we have made it, alive in a time when rationalists in square hats and hatless Jehovah’s Witnesses agree it is almost over, alive with our lively children who—but for endless ifs— might have missed out on being alive together with marvels and follies and longings and lies and wishes and error and humor and mercy and journeys and voices and faces and colors and summers and mornings and knowledge and tears and chance.
Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you— Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple? I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem. I went to school there, then Durham, then here to this college on the hill above Harlem. I am the only colored student in my class. The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem, through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas, Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y, the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you: hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page. (I hear New York, too.) Me—who? Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. I like to work, read, learn, and understand life. I like a pipe for a Christmas present, or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach. I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like the same things other folks like who are other races. So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white. But it will be a part of you, instructor. You are white— yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. That’s American. Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me. Nor do I often want to be a part of you. But we are, that’s true! As I learn from you, I guess you learn from me— although you’re older—and white— and somewhat more free.
Your silence today is a pond where drowned things live I want to see raised dripping and brought into the sun. It’s not my own face I see there, but other faces, even your face at another age. Whatever’s lost there is needed by both of us - a watch of old gold, a water-blurred fever chart, a key … Even the silt and pebbles of the bottom deserve their glint of recognition. I fear this silence, this inarticulate life. I’m waiting for a wind that will gently open this sheeted water for once and show me what I can do for you, who have often made the unnameable nameable for others, even for me.
Your dog, tranquil and innocent, dozes through our cries, our murmured dawn conspiracies our telephone calls. She knows - what can she know? If in my human arrogance I claim to read her eyes, I find there only my own animal thoughts: that creatures must find each other for bodily comfort, that voices of the psyche drive through the flesh further than the dense brain could have foretold, that the planetary nights are growing cold for those on the same journey, who want to touch one creature-traveler clear to the end; that without tenderness, we are in hell.
For the Straight Folks Who Don’t Mind Gays But Wish They Weren’t So Blatant(Pat Parker)
You know, some people got a lot of nerve. Sometimes I don’t believe the things I see and hear.
Have you met the woman who’s shocked by two women kissing and in the same breath, tells you she is pregnant? BUT gays, shouldn’t be so blatant.
Or this straight couple sits next to you in a movie and you can’t hear the dialogue because of the sound effects. BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.
And the woman in your office spends an entire lunch hour talking about her new bikini drawers and how much her husband likes them. BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.
Or the “hip” chick in your class rattling like a mile a minute while you’re trying to get stoned in the john, about the camping trip she took with her musician boyfriend. BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.
You go in a public bathroom and all over the walls there’s John loves Mary, Janice digs Richard, Pepe loves Delores, etc., etc. BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.
Or you go to an amusement park and there’s a tunnel of love and pictures of straights painted on the front and grinning couples are coming in and out. BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.
Fact is, blatant heterosexuals are all over the place. Supermarkets, movies, on your job, in church, in books, on television every day day and night, every place—even—in gay bars and they want gay men and women to go and hide in the closet.
So to you straight folks I say, “Sure, I’ll go if you go too” BUT I’m polite so, after you.
History may say what it wishes in Egypt name Egypt, for me, is the most beloved and most beautiful of things. I love her when she owns the earth, east and west. And I love her when she is down, wounded in a battle. I love her fiercely, gently and with modesty. I hate her and curse her with the passion of the lovesick. I leave her and flee down one path, and she remains in another. She turns to find me beside her in misfortune. My veins pulsating with a thousand tunes and rhythms. In Egypt’s name.
And you as well must die, beloved dust, And all your beauty stand you in no stead, This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head, This body of flame and steel, before the gust Of Death, or under his autumnal frost, Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead Than the first leaf that fall, —- this wonder fled. Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.
Nor shall my love avail you in your hour. In spite of all my love, you will arise Upon that day and wander down the air Obscurely as the unattended flower, It mattering not how beautiful you were, Or how beloved above all else that dies.
It’s neither red nor sweet. It doesn’t melt or turn over, break or harden, so it can’t feel pain, yearning, regret.
It doesn’t have a tip to spin on, it isn’t even shapely— just a thick clutch of muscle, lopsided, mute. Still, I feel it inside its cage sounding a dull tattoo: I want, I want— but I can’t open it: there’s no key. I can’t wear it on my sleeve, or tell you from the bottom of it how I feel. Here, it’s all yours, now— but you’ll have to take me, too.
My mother forbade us to walk backwards. That is how the dead walk, she would say. Where did she get this idea? Perhaps from a bad translation. The dead, after all, do not walk backwards but they do walk behind us. They have no lungs and cannot call out but would love for us to turn around. They are victims of love, many of them.
What kind of beast would turn its life into words? What atonement is this all about? - and yet, writing words like these, I’m also living. Is all this close to the wolverines’ howled signals, that modulated cantana of the wild? or, when away from you I try to create you in words, am I simply using you, like a river or a war? And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars to escape writing of the worst thing of all - not the crimes of others, not even our own death, but the failure to want our own freedom passionately enough so that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem mere emblems of that desecration of ourselves?
I can see myself years back at Sunion, hurting with an inflated foot, Philoctetes in woman’s form, limping the long path, lying on a headland over the dark sea, looking down the red rocks to where a soundless curl of white told me a wave had struck, imagining the pull of that water from that height, knowing deliberate suicide wasn’t my metier, yet all the time nursing, measuring that wound. Well, that’s finished. The woman who cherished her suffering is dead. I am her descendant. I love the scar-tissue she handed on to me, but I want to go on from here with you fighting the temptation to make a career of pain.
If the angle of an eye is all, the slant of hope, the slant of dreaming, according to each life, what is the light of this city, light of Lady Liberty, possessor of the most famous armpit in the world, light of the lovers on Chinese soap operas, throwing BBQ’d ducks at each other with that live-it-up-while-you’re-young, Woo Me kind of love, light of the old men sitting on crates outside geegaw shops selling dried seahorses & plastic Temples of Heaven, light of the Ying ‘n’ Yang Junk Palace, light of the Golden Phoenix Hair Salon, light of Wig-o-ramas, light of the suntanners in Central Park turning over like rotisserie chickens sizzling on a spit, light of the Pluck U & Gone with the Wings fried-chicken shops, the parking-meter-leaners, the Glamazons, the oglers wearing fern-wilting quantities of cologne, strutting, trash-talking, glorious: the immigrants, the refugees, the peddlars, stockbrokers and janitors, stenographers and cooks, all of us making and unmaking ourselves, hurrying forwards, toward who we’ll become, one way only, one life only: free in time but not from it, here in the city the living make together, and make and unmake over and over Quick, quick, ask heaven of it, of every mortal relation, feeling that is fleeing, for what would the heart be without a heaven to set it on? I can’t help thinking no word will ever be as full of life as this world, I can’t help thinking of thanks.
Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking. Why else would the springtime falter? Why would all our ardent longing bind itself in frozen, bitter pallor? After all, the bud was covered all the winter. What new thing is it that bursts and wears? Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking, hurts for that which grows and that which bars.
Yes, it is hard when drops are falling. Trembling with fear, and heavy hanging, cleaving to the twig, and swelling, sliding - weight draws them down, though they go on clinging. Hard to be uncertain, afraid and divided, hard to feel the depths attract and call, yet sit fast and merely tremble - hard to want to stay and want to fall.
Then, when things are worst and nothing helps the tree’s buds break as in rejoicing, then, when no fear holds back any longer, down in glitter go the twig’s drops plunging, forget that they were frightened by the new, forget their fear before the flight unfurled - feel for a second their greatest safety, rest in that trust that creates the world.
But I would rather be horizontal. I am not a tree with my root in the soil Sucking up minerals and motherly love So that each March I may gleam into leaf, Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted, Unknowing I must soon unpetal. Compared with me, a tree is immortal And a flower-head not tall, but more startling, And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.
Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars, The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors. I walk among them, but none of them are noticing. Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping I must most perfectly resemble them— Thoughts gone dim. It is more natural to me, lying down. Then the sky and I are in open conversation, And I shall be useful when I lie down finally: Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.
This apartment full of books could crack open to the thick jaws, the bulging eyes of monsters, easily: Once open the books, you have to face the underside of everything you’ve loved - the rack and pincers held in readiness, the gag even the best voices have had to mumble through, the silence burying unwanted children - women, deviants, witness - in desert sand. Kenneth tells me he’s been arranging his books so he can look at Blake and Kafka while he types; yes; and we still have to reckon with Swift loathing the woman’s flesh while praising her mind, Goethe’s dread of the Mothers, Claudel vilifying Gide, and the ghosts - their hands clasped for centuries - of artists dying in childbirth, wise-women charred at the stake, centuries of books unwritten piled behind these shelves; and we still have to stare into absence of men who would not, women who could not, speak to our life - this still unexcavated hole called civilization, this act of translation, this half-world.
Your small hands, precisely equal to my own - only the thumb is larger, longer - in these hands I could trust the world, or in many hands like these, handling power-tools or steering-wheel or touching a human face … Such hands could turn the unborn child rightways in the birth canal or pilot the exploratory rescue-ship through icebergs, or piece together the fine, needle-like sherds of a great krater-cup bearing on its sides figures of ecstatic women striding to the sibyl’s den or the Eleusinian cave - such hands might carry out an unavoidable violence with such restraint, with such a grasp of the range and limits of violence that violence ever after would be obsolete.
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it