Brave

towering pine

Some things leave no room for misunderstanding,
like your climbs to the tops of towering pines,
and your belief that you can never cry.

At age five, you dream of a woman
with wings like a bat dressed all in black.
She swoops down, grabs you, pins you in her lap,
and while hitting you over and over, she’s whispering
that it will end when you stop struggling;
so you pretend to relax until her grip loosens
and then you fight to escape, but each time
her strength overwhelms you. It takes
several beatings before you realize
she is trying to help you, she is teaching you
how to be brave—
how to be so still
that you can let yourself have no feeling
when the scratchy hands are pressing into you,
like the night lets itself be swallowed by darkness.

An eight-year-old now, you’re standing
outside their locked bedroom door, waiting
for your mother to call to you
as he yells his nonsense, rips out drawers,
and slams the walls with his fists.
When something made of glass shatters
against the vanity, her cry of surprise
convinces you to call the police.
They come and go in a flash—
barely pausing to ruffle your hair
and chuckle
that it was all “just a misunderstanding”—
and they leave you there,
to keep being unseen.

For most of the school year,
at age eleven, you are chronically ill:
the oozing, itching, grey-swollen chickenpox lesions
that make you potently untouchable,
lead to an infiltration of fevers, flooded lungs,
and swollen, piercing tonsils and ears
that hold you prisoner from the inside,
but soon you come to know your captors
as the oddly loyal, untiring allies
who keep you warded at night, for months.
Your classmates are jealous, though,
that you still make passing grades
in your constant absence from school—
on the phone, they accuse you of faking,
and you can’t help the feeling, either,
that being sick really is a kind of cheating,
like getting something you want
without doing anything to earn it.

Mom is taking you to open a bank account
with your own passbook, though you’re just twelve
(her eyes are still swollen from crying yesterday),
so you can sign for the money you’ll need to get
yourself and your little brother to the airport
to fly to an uncle you barely know in New York,
if she either goes missing, or you find her dead,
because, as she’s confided to you—
and you have no reason not to believe it—
your father vowed to kill her.
For the next three years, then (she doesn’t know),
you skip lunch at school and save the money
to deposit into the “plane ticket” account.
No, she never gets murdered,
maybe even because you always keep watch,
like the kind of parent you’d want to be would,
even after your father finally moves out
during the same summer you get your tonsils
(and the disease they harbored) removed.

You’re now proving to be a picture of health
(though you bear the hunger of indignity, standing
in lines in the school gym for government hand-outs
of peanut butter, processed cheese and expired bread),
because you can run like no one else.
You are your soccer coach’s favorite, you believe,
because you are tough, and you work the hardest.
He makes a fuss over you like you are special,
takes you out for ice cream, has you come along
on fishing trips with his sons, and invites
you over for dinner, or to stay the night,
and you never consider he’ll expect you to repay him
for these casual, kind gestures, until
he’s suddenly always touching and hugging you
as if it is his right, and even though you make sure
only to be in public places with him,
in plain sight of your teammates’ parents,
you can’t discourage his lewd hovering,
or his propositions (which he thinks are charming)
for you to fuck him in the back of his van.
Somebody should be watching!
Somebody should be watching!
People are watching, but they only see
the things that have no need
for invisibility, like the crude posturing
of a man just being a man—

just someone who reserves
the Scouts’ clubhouse through Parks and Rec
for a “team meeting” that you feel obligated to attend;
someone who waits on a weekday evening
in a prefab aluminum building
with the lights dimmed
for a fifteen-year-old girl to enter alone,
while, at home, his own kids watch T.V.,
and his wife keeps his dinner warm.

Some things leave no room for misunderstanding—

like the lust throbbing in a man’s neck,
the presumption gleaming in his eyes,
and the fact that wrongs always pile upon wrongs
in the same way he now heaps this assault from behind,
with his thick hands fumbling for your breasts,
on top of his preposterous lie;

and so when he leans in with his belly
and his cock stiffens against the small of your back,
a scream gets trapped in your throat,
and you find yourself struggling wildly—
you elbow him hard in the ribs,
then rear up and ram your head into his chin,
and somehow stun him long enough
to get away—

you get away,
but leaving yourself there
unseen in the dark
doesn’t ever feel brave.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Brave” first appeared on this blog in June 2016. It was since published in the anthology by TulipTree Publishing, LLC, entitled, Stories That Need to Be Told, a powerful collection of stories and poems (available for purchase on Amazon), and a finalist for a 2017 Colorado Book Award!

Convection

anvil-cloud-600x400

/kənˈvekSH(ə)n/ noun: the movement caused within a fluid by the tendency of hotter and therefore less dense material to rise, and colder, denser material to sink under the influence of gravity, which consequently results in transfer of heat.”           Google 

“In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water. Then God commanded, ‘Let there be light’ (…)”       Genesis 1:1-3

If     before the beginning     something
had not yet appeared from nothing     how did
nothing manage to imbibe the god’s breath
that marked the beginning of creation
(particularly since before there was something
there surely wouldn’t have been things
such as gods or breaths)? 

For that matter     out of what non-thing
was said sudden cloud burped
into the slate gray chaos that hung
in a sky that couldn’t have been there     but was
ostensibly sandwiched tidily between
the turbulent     blue water (we’ll address that later)
& the gauzier ‘ether’ that was not yet the air
for the deities who were not yet themselves?

& if     in the beginning (as the story goes)
those twin neonates     formlessness & desolation
comprised everything
that was    at the time     nothing
from where     for the love of sanity
did that ‘raging ocean’ arise? 

I mean     of the untold passions we might’ve presumed
preceded all extant matter & manner of cognizance
why did we dream up an ocean     & infuse it
with fulmination     only then to have it (not) be
‘engulfed in total darkness’     as if to deflect
attention from how much we were trying to make
out of a whole bunch of nothing?

Aside from being a bit fishy
the story does lend itself rather poorly
to proper revelation     no doubt
amounting to the non-existent body of water in question
being (or    more precisely   not-being) rightfully fraught
that antiquity could do no better than to liken it—
in its purported (not to mention impossible)
shared subsistence with nothing—
to Phorkys     the weedy-bearded progenitor of the gorgons…

Is it any wonder
the artists should depict
so much transference of hot air
as the white wisp of a ship
vanishing in the distant mist?

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Stormy Sea

This thought experiment was inspired by the (impressively copious) weather satellite video loops of convection clouds popping into existence, which my son has been tracking down online and sharing with me… just another example of the uncountable, humbling insights into the natural world that I’m sure would have failed to blip on my radar, if not for his beautiful influence.

An earlier version of “Convection” appeared on this blog in Summer 2016.

Imprisoned

dungeon

Now is not the time for my fettered lines’
titanium self-importance

Now is no time for me to claim
I know a thing or two about life
as if I were anyone’s keeper…

A “suicidally depressed” convict
serving a life sentence for murder
petitioned my psychotherapist friend to treat him:

& so it was that with all the affect of detached generosity
a wife & mother of three could muster     she rendered
a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder
even as his icy eyes ignited in her a germ of lust
that razed every trace of her in a sudden flush

Now is really not the time for idle moralizing
about prisoners     or locks & keys     as if
there were any kind of justice in poetry

It’s not the time for tying up loose ends
saving pennies for rainy days     or chrysalizing
our little     wrinkly walnut meats
of pupating cells so they can burgeon belief
in the virtue of counting the hours…

Now     the dragon is awake     blinking
in the vacant daylight of withering dreams
wagging her head in a gnashing rage

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

lock-and-key

 

Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam

9b26d-15624145_1628658950771890_6467445364445151232_n

For E9, Born December 31, 2016

1
Everything that lives
must first have been

a nameless billowing
in the silent house

of before     until its voice
yolk-forged     could wrest

a pyroclastic mouth
sufficient to speak birth’s

dialect of brokenness

2
I watched the possibility of you
cradled sixty feet high in a Slash Pine

become the birth of hope     Now

a five-day-old eaglet     you are
a white fluff-bundle of spunk

& open-beaked ferocity     You
command the ripping impulse

that strips off the fish’s silver skin
midriff to tail     with one     fierce

grip & flexion     exposing
the host’s fleshy glisten

of lipid-pink life to be flaked
& held to your tiny maw’s tip

3
Before this feeding     I think
nothing had yet been born

whose name was Tenderness

no one to bring this warmth
of tastes & swallows growing ever

heavier in your belly & on your lids
to bear you to your imperative sleep

Dream     Little One     in the haven
of your father’s stalwart breast!

Dream of wings outstretched
on the azure’s salt-breath!

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

View Eagle Cam – Live Feed Here!

Ode to Sea Bunnies

“The cuddly-looking creatures come armed with ‘incredibly long copulatory spines,’” Ángel Valdés, Ph.D., sea slug expert in NatGeo Sea Bunnies

Adorable, uh, sea slugs...

Adorable, uh, sea slugs…

So small, you might’ve remained undetected!
You wonderful creatures possess verve and charm,
all sporting accessories sharply erected
 
(your cuteness-incarnate is quite unaffected)
and poised for the pointed delivery of sperm.
So small, you might’ve remained undetected,
 
surviving the eons as nature selected,
earning maximum bang for the buck…What’s the harm
if a parcel perchance has a part that’s erected?
 
Where kits are concerned, a caboodle’s expected…
You sweet marine emblems of Easter disarm
with spirit too bold to remain undetected,
 
though vitreous bodies—with vision obstructed
by airborne banalities, vague and infirm—
still pigeonhole widgets (however erected)
 
as watertight proof our souls should be deflected
from courses and aims that outdistance the norm…
Too large for this world to remain undetected,
you hold in your quivers my hope resurrected!

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

An earlier incarnation of “Ode to Sea Bunnies” was published on this blog two years ago.

An Elegy for Birds & Bees

When a woman pretends to press her life down into a nice, tidy little package, all she accomplishes is spring-loading all her vital energy down into shadow. ‘Fine. I’m fine,’ such a woman says… Then one day, we hear she has taken up with a piccolo player and has run off to Tippicanoe to be a pool hall queen…”  Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Photo,

Photo, “Lavender Kiss,” by Kilauea Productions owner, Matthew Harper

over & over in habitual drone
i repeat a phrase in my mind that no one knows i say
because i have not told
i am saying i’m done
but this being done
is the rending burden i will never be done bearing
even though my climbing son
a speck eighty feet high in a skyline of swaying cedars
can heft the storm clouds away
from his own silvery horizon
& my seeking daughter
has tenacity enough     without me
to prize out four leaf clovers
from speciously green reaches
but i will never release
this breath of finality that i keep
choked in my throat behind earnest songs for my children
no     & i will swallow the rising bile
when the Northern Flicker perches
on our aluminum chimney top     puffed-up
so proud in those marrow-less bones
of his impervious skull’s clever     territorial ricocheting

being done happened
within my own sinew-lined pelvis
the cracked bowl
filled     drained     & refilled
with meticulously rich essences
long after anything living had been fed
the relentlessly heavy     gnawing
red slough of losing myself
to nothing     for nothing
frightened me
& so     i had the offending flesh cut out
the fossilized rind that was left is now locked
with its un-told stories
beneath eons of hardened sediments

this being done happens in spring
while i am driving alone
it happens quickly
in instants of lapsed attention
in overzealous moments of stony apathy
when windshield wipers stick unexpectedly
or when sudden     pink shafts of evening sun
transmute newborn lambs bucking fervently
for tender grass & mother’s milk
into silhouettes haunting the roadside
the being done
is all these countless     fleeting deaths
i tear into strips     soak in chewed glue
& fashion together to house myself
in a prodigal     crinkled     purgatorial prune

these tiny     stinging     imprudent suicides
should all be spirited away from their haughty blooms
& borne into the ancient hive
clutched industriously
to the undersides of fuzzy exoskeletons
there     my secret     greedy orchestrations
would become coded in sacred routines
my life programmed in dance
& propagated by ecstatic waggles & fastidious figure eights
to a crescendo of communal comprehension
of the one     seminal purpose
of the being done that shall be

done at all costs
the Queen’s Royal Jelly must be
sealed with wax in her hexagonal vaults

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“An Elegy for Birds & Bees” made its debut appearance in Slippery Elm Literary Journal, December 2015. It was a finalist in the 2015 Slippery Elm Poetry Prize, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. 

Travel By Starlight

compass-rose-wp

The map has led me to this unsought future
but I have embraced every unfolding
as an old forest treasures each new creature
born in its underbrush

Yet    in the starlight of dreams
I still resume my drive through the rural Midwest
& immerse myself again in the summer haze
of primroses     asters     columbines     & great hay rolls
drowsing along the roadside     as I watch
the day’s last sunlit ladle dip into the evening musk
& my atlas yawns the black dome’s milky expanse
until the whispering oaks & cricket trills sing me back

My life is a map on its head

East has become west & west east
for the Northern Lights always trying
to swim on my horizon     Once     I would have 
died in the breath of their luminescent ghosts
but now I know their hold on me was fleeting—
just as tonight’s reverie was no more solemn
nor less gratuitous     than mistaking
my gas fireplace’s crackle for a memory

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

travel-by-starlight

Trumplewocky

trumplewocky1

‘Twas feckish, and the irkly grobes
Did fark and fistle in the slade;
All dingly were the rectiprobes
And the dampnuts updrade.

“Beware the Trumplewock, my friend!
The bigly mouth, those puny mitts!
Beware the Tweet bird, and off-fend
The cronious Perkletits!”

She packed her poisal voice and went:
Fat chance the vapid imp she’d spare—
So quivered he ‘neath his Cheeto tree,
And feebly cried, “Unfair!”

And, as the greelish light grew pale,
The Trumplewock, with wits of wood,
Came grabbling through the femly vale
Because he thought he could!

Eins, zwei! Eins, zwei! And quick as pie
The poisal voice sliced fierce and true:
“Go flay yourself, you mawkish elf,
And burn the residue!”

The Trumplewock would rue the day
He left his diddlepot of lack.
The frankish words would haunt him ‘til
He went galumphing back.

‘Twas feckish, and the irkly grobes
Did fark and fistle in the slade;
All dingly were the rectiprobes
And the dampnuts updrade.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s unmatched feat of “glorious nonsense,” JABBERWOCKY.

My Cat is Bread

wheat-field

because     what is a purr
but the promise of nourishment realized
in the rhythmic release of the heat
that’s accumulated in pockets
with the rise & fall of her breath?

& what is a bagel
if not a nose meeting the base of a tail
& little pink berry & black currant toes
neatly tucked to sleepy chin
all curled around a heart
that holds no lack?

because basking on my windowsill
in a pretzel of scruff     limbs     salt-tang
& afternoon-sifted sun     she is keenly sweet
like a wheat field’s essence of summer wind
in the last days before the harvest     hearty
with the warmth of a freshly-baked marble rye

because whenever i’m away from home
i long for her     knowing she’s there ‘kneading’
enough for the both of us (for     let’s be honest
no pillowy provender of fleece to grace my bed
has managed to preserve its store-bought virginity
for much more than an hour)

& because     although
I realize the time she yet has with me
will be fleeting    she will ever remain
the loaf of my life

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

UPDATE: Our sweet Hannah passed away from cancer at age 14 yrs. 5months on Friday, January 27, 2017. She lived with unapologetic grace, generously gave to us of her healing energy, and died with stoic dignity. RIP, beautiful girl…

The house has been empty and strange without her, but my grief is tempered by my gratitude and awe for the magical connection this quirky, smart, territorial, eight-pound (in her heyday), dog-terrorizing wonder of a creature made with her human family. Such is the spiritually-rich and filling nature of the “Bread of Life.”

hannah-2016

Hannah, age 14 yrs. 3 mos.

My poem, “Prologue to My Birth” is up at Bonnie McClellan’s International Poetry Month Celebration

Lavender Kiss_Matthew Harper

My poem, “Prologue to My Birth,” is up at esteemed editor, translator, poet and artist, Bonnie McClellan’s 2017 International Poetry Month Celebration! Bonnie will be featuring a poem per day for 28 days following this year’s theme, “Neural Networks: The Creative Power of Language.” I hope you’ll enjoy following this rich, diverse, international network of creative voices. Thank you for your support!