America

photo by Elizabeth
AMERICA

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand. 


Claude McKay, 1921 

Shenandoah Literary



In This Dream  

poem & photo by Elizabeth

IN THIS DREAM

They’re here!
I rip the package,
pull sheer stocking over toes, ankle, shin, 
beyond the line where prosthesis extends my leg.
This hosiery will animate prosthetic limbs, 
transform molded resin into skin,
skirts soon fluttering along my thighs 
as I skip on these feet, 
attract with these calves, 
no longer rolling on wheels or 
hiding my legs from pitying stares. 

I will be normal. 

Yet as I examine my stockinged leg, 
I discover the turquoise seam 
marking the boundary of prosthesis and flesh. 

Deformed, dependent, tricked by desperate hope, 
I fold and cry, knowing I’ll never look or walk like others. 

Perched on a nearby boulder, my Soul-body marvels 
at the powerful wings unfurling from between my hunched 
shoulders, grief shrouding me from their luminous tips 
as they rise toward the sun. 

Thank you to the editors of riverbabble for first publishing this poem.

Lizards In?

poem & photo by Elizabeth

ARE THERE LIZARDS IN YOUR FAMILY TREE?

Do you scuttle lithely sand and stone,
peek out from rocks through half-shut lids
while others' hands are clasped in dance
beneath the bone-white crescent slit?

Are your eyes autonomous,
right darts to lips and left to toes;
as softer flesh sips steamed orgeat
do you watch the spoon, the ankles cross?

Do you begin each day with push-ups
then shield yourself from sun in shade;
when threatened do your muscles flex,
your speech reduce to a chortling hiss?

Do others comment, How cold your hands,
how dry your skin? Do you dream of
grasshoppers sweet in your mouth, or
screaming wake from the jaws of a snake?

Thank you to the editor of Something Like Homesickness: A Zapizdat Poetry Anthology for first publishing this poem.

Communion

poem & photo by Elizabeth
COMMUNION

Dividing an elementary class into 
boys on one side 
                                  girls on the other 
invites each to imagine the other group has 
                  cooties! cooties! cooties!
and leaves each vulnerable to those who thrive on power

yet united, we eliminate disease, produce
thriving meccas of cultural exchange,
launch ourselves through the universe….

If you think you’re invulnerable to ads and rhetoric,
think about a lemon—
thrust your teeth through thick
yellow skin to release zest’s 
zinging scent and swallow 
tart 
puckering 
juice.

That saliva now beading your gums is stimulated from the reptilian
brain targeted by an arsenal of ads and six-second sound bites that 
riddle information till deception sounds like truth, our sanctity 
plundered by those who weave their children in the woof of power 
while snipping out poor to be fodder for war.

Girls-boys, red-blue, hick-elite, white-colored, gay-straight…
I can keep going since division perpetuates itself and
blinds us to our need to be touched and to touch

for we are not spiders, autonomous from birth, but must be suckled 
once the thin film of mucus is wiped from our mouths; 
if we didn’t thrive on touch our exterior would be hardened shell
rather than this overlay of neural sensors telling us when to swat,
run, rest, embrace

                                                  the Pleiades in every cell,
                                                                       the bell, the smile, the knife—

yet the nourished thrive amid those with hunger that
sinks skin between bones as the body 
digests its own flesh to survive—
this inequity perpetuated through our mad divisions—

yet madness is tricky. We think of it as 
                                                   moon howling
                              running naked through streets
                                   invisible companions

but true madness skulks where plans are laid 
                               to destroy this planet many times over
          as if this could be done more than once    
          as if this is the best use of our lives

madness in the reverent joy of orchestrating Armageddon                      
          as if some are connected 
          and others not

madness in numbing ourselves to suffering
                                                in ways that cause more suffering

     but before squaring off into us and them
                        remember glass houses 
                               and heal thyself
         for unraveling the madness of this world begins with me. 
                                        It begins with you.

Yet how do we wrap around the odd ones, the violent ones,
the ones who’d sooner slit a throat than say hello?

I know only that we start with kindness and cherishing 
the children we create for they are our future, inheritors, 
providers, while we are holy catalysts for communion.

If we choose to eliminate hunger, rein in our mad greed for power,
cherish this blue planet’s miraculous life, what force could shatter 
our bond for each life is no more than kidney, cell, atom, 
of the same body coalesced from stars and seas—
dust to sky to ocean to algae to fish to bird to human, 
we are one being
                                                    the Pleiades in every cell,
                                                                   the bell, the smile, the knife—
                                 why not live as if we chose this sacred life?


Thank you to the editors of The Tishman Review for first publishing this poem.

Last Days…

poem & photo by Elizabeth
LAST DAYS OF WINTER

War settles like dust for there is no other side 
when winds blow particles from Sudan to 
Hiroshima to icy rivers that wild coho 
struggle against to lay their bright eggs.
 

On the first day of the first war declared in this century 
the Asian Art Museum opens its doors with stilt-walkers 
dressed as emperors and geishas, and with musicians 
from Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, for music and art 
transcend transient politics and borders. Even 
the museum’s map of Asia’s Buddhist centers
proclaims Tibet’s sovereignty within China’s 
yawning border. Across the street a demonstration 
swells before City Hall to protest a war 
veiled in an amalgam of virtue, misinformation
and covert interests. 


Something ghostlike transforms this city. 
While most stores close, in others clerks 
focus like compulsive-obsessives just 
to get through the day and homeless 
walk the streets as if San Francisco’s
sole inhabitants. One woman, hair 
plaited with a plethora of mismatched 
ribbons mirroring her clothes, crosses 
against red. She zigzags mostly between 
the yellow lines while drivers remain 
uncharacteristically patient as if 
acknowledging the difficulty of accepting 
war without dissolving in a despair that 
threatens one’s ever-transient 
connection with life.


Within these museum’s walls images of Buddha, 
Bodhisattvas, White Tara embody prayers for all 
sentient beings and symbolize compassion, 
wisdom, the acceptance of suffering, as well as 
our ability to skillfully control rather than be 
controlled by our mad-wraith desires. 
It’s no longer a matter of us versus them, 
good versus evil. We are all messengers of God 
and we are all godless. Energy is neither created 
nor destroyed. All those who have lived and 
don’t yet live share our bodies through the food 
we eat, the air we breathe, the cells that ferociously 
regenerate throughout our lives. Prayer wheels 
fill these halls with unbound intent that passes 
through the walls, the streets, the world: may all
beings be healthy, may all beings be happy, 
may all beings live in peace. 

Thank you to the editors of Buddhist Poetry Review for first publishing this poem.

Simultaneity

art & poem by Elizabeth

SIMULTANEITY

When you touch me—I am
breath rather than a woman breathing.
One thousand wings, a single beat,
split sky with summer rain.

Breath rather than breathing
fills the empty glass.
Split sky with summer rain
to reveal horses carved in stone.

Fill the empty glass
with wine of roses, lilac, heather;
reveal horses carved in stone
but not hands that formed their symmetry.

With wine of roses, lilac, heather,
toast grass that fractures concrete blocks
but not hands that formed the symmetry
of streets concealing streams.

Toast grass that fractures concrete blocks
beside the woman reaching towards you;
on streets concealing streams
she begs for food, shelter beyond grasp.

There is a woman reaching towards you;
her face is old, possessions few,
as she begs for food, shelter beyond grasp,
and I see you, I see myself within her mask.

Her face is old, possessions few;
she came to laugh—she came to love,
and I see you, I see myself within her mask
reflecting how the earth breathes.

We came to laugh—we came to love;
one thousand wings, a single beat
reflecting how the earth breathes
when you touch me.

Masks

poem & photo by Elizabeth

MASKS OF CARDINAL FEATHERS

                                               Drape
                                                              Me in
                          Crimson rOse petals,
                                                              garnets, 
                                                                                   coraL,
                                              RuBies
                 and feed me
                                                dragon's Blood,
                                                                                     cherries,
                                                        straWberries,
                                 plums,
        salmon,
                        meRlot
                                          then make me
                                                                            glow,
                                                   flush,
                           blush,
                                                           BlooM
                                  till I'm
                                          Rubeous,
                             carneLian,
                                               verMilioN
        as ScarLet hummingbirds
                                                                SOAR from our
                                                                                                   Mad
                                               voRacious
                                                                          heartS.
     
                              

Thank you to the editor of Absinthe Revival for first publishing this poem.

Beneath It All

CIMG5680 - Version 3
poem & photo by Elizabeth

BENEATH IT ALL

Love’s a hitchhiker,
so innocent in its leap
that it doesn’t register
torn seats or sunroofs
but simply hears
Come on in
and feels that smile
like a warm winter breeze,

but relationships
are rarely so simple:
the car must be washed
repaired, replaced
and trips planned
and changed with the
frequency of newborns’
diapers amidst increasing
conflict till compromise
shatters
like a windshield at eighty
against the centennial oak

but love, love’s not so
complicated—once stripped
of metal and fuel it
shimmers naked, senses
open to sky and skunk,
blizzards and vistas,
and is never

blind but radiant as a star
and enigmatic as a body
after the heart’s
final
beat.

Thank you to the editors of The Tishman Review for first publishing this poem.

Surprised

poem, art, photo by Elizabeth

WHAT SURPRISED ME MOST…

beneath surgery-bright restaurant lights was the unspoken 
collusion of employees and patrons to ignore the bone-defined 
man as he tapped thin-paned glass to beg for food.

He shoved skeletal hands toward his gaping mouth as if to fill the gnawing 
we could not imagine while digesting pasta and merlot rather than 
our muscles to survive as this man’s body had, his hollowed face 
pled as he mimed across the chasm of language, culture, class. 

After the waiter returned our leftovers, snug in Styrofoam, 
I took them across the restaurant, my legs heavy beneath 
reproach’s hypnotic weight from those unwilling to squander 
etiquette’s rules that insure our warmth while others freeze.

Through my breath outside, I saw him accept a dollar from two 
spike-heeled women as they scuttled from a bar across the street,
yet money’s a tool for future trade, no immediate relief for a churning gut. 

Drunk with hunger, he wavered in the crosswalk till a horn startled him
to the curb. Waving, I caught his eye, offered the bright box. Our eyes 
locked yet he wouldn’t move, suspended in a code more compelling than 
starvation, a code older than the south and dangerous as asphyxiation. 

Cloaked in privilege, I left our paltry leftovers on the bus stop bench 
and returned to the interior’s glare, each of us visible through glass walls. 
He sprinted across the street, gulped what would have been tomorrow’s lunch, threw away the box, and returned to the window beside us. 

He smiled, waved, tried to thank me, but I saw him only peripherally, 
embarrassed to accept gratitude for so little before he walked away.

Thank you to the editors of decomp magazine who first published this poem.