Category: Epic


Psyche Revived by Eros' Kiss by Antonio Canova

Psyche Revived by Eros’ Kiss by Antonio Canova

Eros falls from a sunlit chariot
into a sea of destruction
adrift in the salt-sting
of an inner exile

golden wings beating
swift as the whirlwinds
of a tempest roaring
melancholic around him

loosing breath and bearing
his desire broken upon
the craggy shore
he pines for her
transforming love

butterfly wings alight
liberate her longing
she dreams of moonlit nights
the salt-sting of his kiss
ravaging tempest of bliss

transformational encounter
a consummate release
his true nature
centers her in the
splendor of their love

reunited after trials
wounded and contrite
she is awareness
wed to his glory

enlightened cosmic sight
immortal soul revealed

she breathes life into the circle
he lights the internal flames
forever entwined in flight
iridescent wings lift lovers
to yet unknowable heights


‘I am Indra, the king of heaven;
of the senses I am the mind;
and in living beings I am consciousness.’
(Bhagavad-Gita 10.22)

Vrtrá, asura ahi (demon-dragon),
whose name embodies
one who encloses, obstructs,
a thief, inveterate hoarder,
fetid breather of greed
with immense thirst drinks
every drop of water in the world
most precious source of life,
leaving death in his sloshing wake

God of thunder and rain,
mighty Indra, wielder of vajra (lighting)
representative of the East, master of elements
Agni (fire), Varuna (water), and Surya (sun)
warrior of courage and strength,
astride Airavata, divine cloud-white elephant,
five-headed Ardha-Matanga,
vows to free humanity of Vrtrá’s evil:
disease of consuming chaos
curse of asat (nonexistence)

Emboldened by soma (draught of immortality)
driving Airavata’s thundering charge
through Vrtrá’s ninety-nine fortresses,
Indra strings indradhanushya (the rainbow)
with vajra striking the dragon’s belly –
splits it wide open releasing a deluge of water
rain falls from lavender skies to bloom the lotus
all beings rejoice, sing sacred songs,
to mark the end of the spiritual drought

Linked to the dVerse Poets Pub Poetics Prompt Whatever the Weather: http://dversepoets.com/2012/07/07/poetics-whatever-the-weather/ hosted by the boundlessly talented Stu McPherson

Polaris

Wikipedia Commons

Niveous Skies

This story is a wind
Arriving from the sun
Magnetospheric particles collide
Birthing aurora borealis,
Prismatic ribbons of light

Forming above the Kara Sea
Past the Nordenskiöld Archipelago
Magnetic fields demarcate
These lines of extinction
Drawn in distant reaches

Siberian land of the polar bear
Seal-hunter at the edge of sea ice
Maritime transmutative shamans
Mythic shape-shifters
Become human at home

Breathed into being by Daedal Spirits
As foretold Polaris is born
Guiding star of a lost tribe
Daughter of Ursa Major,
Resplendent mother of the night sky

Artemis

Polaris bundled, newly formed
Left on Artemis’ threshold
Raised with the knowledge
In the summer of her third year
She must journey to a place
Beyond her imagining

Artemis, Wild Woman, warns
Of the myriad dangers:
Ice Wraiths with hypothermic
Breath spread madness
Treacherously thin ice floes
Carrying everything far out to sea
Sloughing glaciers sending
Animals to watery graves

But the worst fate
To be enchanted by
The siren call of Hearth Fires
Pernicious creatures, specious promises
Desire demons that consume the soul
Paralyzing monsters that trap
An eternity of wasting away

As Polaris grows she learns
Of the fantastical menagerie
Artic animals of special powers
Sagacious and far traversing terns
Narwhal that know the secrets of death
Their songs, talismans against the end
Caribou that resonate harmony
Trickster foxes with capacious minds

Around the home fires
She begins to understand her human form
Its drives and intellections
Streams and sanctuaries of creative flow
She prepares a fitting place and learns
The 1000 sacred names of snow
How to be invisible in her bear cloak
White on white, moving like the wind
Across this icy land

She explores, tests her strength
Contemplates being, leans into life
Scrying colored lights in the dark
Feeling the warmth of midnight sun
Pulse of life deep within calling her forth
She awaits the catalyst, transformation
That will initiate her quest
Her journey to the source

Novaya Zemlya

And so she waits breathing
Beauty into the world
Sings new songs of awakening
Her streams becoming rivers
Roaring across her inner landscape
As the Kara flows through
Baydaratskaya Bay to feed the sea

In the Spring of her third year
Prowling the northern borders
She arrives at Novaya Zemlya
Ice-scoured fjords, narrow inlets,
Guarded by skerries
Upon the wind is a melody
Like none heard before

Lured closer she learns too late
Of the infestation of Hearth Fires!
Their radioactive contamination
Lairs in nuclear submarine reactors
Half-life remnants of the Cold War
Becquerel bravado still feeding evil
Melodies turn to piercing cries
Polluting her sanctuary of creativity
Poisoned, weakened, she seeks counsel
Artemis, now contaminated cannot aid her
Sends her to speak with the narwhal

‘All my songs have been stolen by the wind
My mind and purpose are clouded
This hunger for art is now insatiable
Artemis is also sickened, please help us’
The keeper of death’s secrets
Intones into Polaris to discern
A cure, ‘This pollution is a fire
Malevolent psychic complex
Devouring your spirit,
Only the aurora borealis
Can heal your wounds
You must now journey to a place
Beyond your imagining’

Midnight Sun

‘How will I make it
Carrying this burden of disease
Though these vast wilds?’
‘You must learn to trust
Overcome your fear and begin
I will give you this iolite amulet
When the time comes you will
Know its purpose, now go’

So Polaris, invisible in her bear cloak
Walks along the path that
Will take her to the edge of
Everything she has known
The nights become like days
She remembers little of life before
Forgets why she is searching
Loses her sense of direction
Beleaguered and exhausted
She digs a den beneath the snow pack

Taking off her bear cloak
Visions of her inner life return
There were sacred names
Hands that made things
A riverbed; was there a river?
Her voice croaks a broken song
She burrows deeper
Ice wraiths gather seeing
That she does not wear her fur
Stalk and whisper frosty exhalations:

‘Sleep, sleep little one
Stay, tell us your troubles little one’
Polaris closes her eyes dreaming
Of the song the Hearth Fires sang:
‘Come rest here by the fire
You are so very cold,
This will warm you from the inside’
She is offered a metal chalice
Peers into the cup
Blue flame dances within
‘Drink it, we will care for you’
One sip and the song’s melody
Transforms to piercing screams

‘You are in our domain
Your passion is now ours
We have marked you with our wounding
Stolen your music and laid claim to your life
All your days you will wander lost
Unable to mend your inner being
Your voice will bear our fire!’

The wraiths combine into one
Circinate being, move in for the kill
Wolves, drawn by the whispers
Snarl, growl, and destroy the Wraiths
Wrap Polaris in her cloak
Curl their white furred bodies
Round her in a healing circle

Sanctuary

“We are powerful hunters
Have found you hidden here
Saved you from the Ice Wraiths
Yet even we see that your wounding
Goes deeper, a censoring that
Stole your voice, your songs
Disease spreading through Artemis
Burning all it touches
We will guide you to the aurora borealis’

So the Wolves take her to the farthest point
‘Here we must return to our lands
Tonight in the liminal space
Earth and Sky unite and you will speak
Through the prismatic lights to the
Daedal Spirits that created you
Returning to Earth to share your healing
Curing the North of this radioactive plague’

Polaris waits, tries to craft a song
For the approaching ones
But the fire scorches her throat
Weeping and weakened she clutches
Iolite amulet to her heart
Night’s curtain falling she looks
Toward Ursa Major
Niveous sky clears as the
Lights gather, sweeping in spirals
Vortex of blue, green, and red

Daedal Spirits speak
‘You are ill, contaminated by
Man’s industry, Hearth Fires
Severing your connection to
Our creative flow
We are the source
You must clear the channels
Let the eutrophication of the river end’

‘How do I remove this poison?’
Daedal Spirits swarm about her
Lift her into the space between
Earth and Sky, singing harmonics
Trembling from the sound that
Resonates within, her iridescent amulet
Pleochroic iolite radiates prismatic light
Polaris sings her own songs joining the melody
Hearth Fire no longer igniting inside
Passion and meaning coalesce
She is returned to Earth

‘Remember the sacred names of snow
Run with the Wolves
Quell the Hearth Fires, banish them
We did not create you to be constrained
To be beholden and broken
Be wild, allow the river to rage’

This poem, which was begun on day 22 of NaPoWriMo concludes today and is linked to Victoria’s excellent prompt on allegory (how serendipitous); http://dversepoets.com/2012/04/26/dverse-poets-pub-meeting-the-bar-allegory/

Midnight Sun

Wikipedia Commons

Niveous Skies

This story is a wind
Arriving from the sun
Magnetospheric particles collide
Birthing aurora borealis,
Prismatic ribbons of light

Forming above the Kara Sea
Past the Nordenskiöld Archipelago
Magnetic fields demarcate
These lines of extinction
Drawn in distant reaches

Siberian land of the polar bear
Seal-hunter at the edge of sea ice
Maritime transmutative shamans
Mythic shape-shifters
Become human at home

Breathed into being by Daedal Spirits
As foretold Polaris is born
Guiding star of a lost tribe
Daughter of Ursa Major,
Resplendent mother of the night sky

Artemis

Polaris bundled, newly formed
Left on Artemis’ threshold
Raised with the knowledge
In the summer of her third year
She must journey to a place
Beyond her imagining

Artemis, Wild Woman, warns
Of the myriad dangers:
Ice wraiths with hypothermic
Breath spread madness
Treacherously thin ice floes
Carrying everything far out to sea
Sloughing glaciers sending
Animals to watery graves

But the worst fate
To be enchanted by
The siren call of Hearth Fires
Pernicious creatures, specious promises
Desire demons that consume the soul
Paralyzing monsters that trap
An eternity of wasting away

As Polaris grows she learns
Of the fantastical menagerie
Artic animals of special powers
Sagacious and far traversing terns
Narwhal that know the secrets of death
Their songs, talismans against the end
Caribou that resonate harmony
Trickster foxes with capacious minds

Around the home fires
She begins to understand her human form
Its drives and intellections
Streams and sanctuaries of creative flow
She prepares a fitting place and learns
The 1000 sacred names of snow
How to be invisible in her bear cloak
White on white, moving like the wind
Across this icy land

She explores, tests her strength
Contemplates being, leans into life
Scrying colored lights in the dark
Feeling the warmth of midnight sun
Pulse of life deep within calling her forth
She awaits the catalyst, transformation
That will initiate her quest
Her journey to the source

Novaya Zemlya

And so she waits breathing
Beauty into the world
Sings new songs of awakening
Her streams becoming rivers
Roaring across her inner landscape
As the Kara flows through
Baydaratskaya Bay to feed the sea

In the Spring of her third year
Prowling the northern borders
She arrives at Novaya Zemlya
Ice-scoured fjords, narrow inlets,
Guarded by skerries
Upon the wind is a melody
Like none heard before

Lured closer she learns too late
Of the infestation of Hearth Fires!
Their radioactive contamination
Lairs in nuclear submarine reactors
Half-life remnants of the Cold War
Becquerel bravado still feeding evil
Melodies turn to piercing cries
Polluting her sanctuary of creativity
Poisoned, weakened, she seeks counsel
Artemis, now contaminated cannot aid her
Sends her to speak with the narwhal

‘All my songs have been stolen by the wind
My mind and purpose are clouded
This hunger for art is now insatiable
Artemis is also sickened, please help us’
The keeper of death’s secrets
Intones into Polaris to discern
A cure, ‘This pollution is a fire
Malevolent psychic complex
Devouring your spirit,
Only the aurora borealis
Can heal your wounds
You must now journey to a place
Beyond your imagining’

Midnight Sun

‘How will I make it
Carrying this burden of disease
Though these vast wilds?’
‘You must learn to trust
Overcome your fear and begin
I will give you this iolite amulet
When the time comes you will
Know its purpose, now go’

So Polaris, invisible in her bear cloak
Walks along the path that
Will take her to the edge of
Everything she has known
The nights become like days
She remembers little of life before
Forgets why she is searching
Loses her sense of direction
Beleaguered and exhausted
She digs a den beneath the snow pack

Taking off her bear cloak
Visions of her inner life return
There were sacred names
Hands that made things
A riverbed; was there a river?
Her voice croaks a broken song
She burrows deeper
Ice wraiths gather seeing
That she does not wear her fur
Stalk and whisper frosty exhalations:

‘Sleep, sleep little one
Stay, tell us your troubles little one’
Polaris closes her eyes dreaming
Of the song the Hearth Fires sang:
‘Come rest here by the fire
You are so very cold,
This will warm you from the inside’
She is offered a metal chalice
Peers into the cup
Blue flame dances within
‘Drink it, we will care for you’
One sip and the song’s melody
Transforms to piercing screams

‘You are in our domain
Your passion is now ours
We have marked you with our wounding
Stolen your music and laid claim to your life
All your days you will wander lost
Unable to mend your inner being
Your voice will bear our fire!’

The wraiths combine into one
Circinate being, move in for the kill
Wolves, drawn by the whispers
Snarl, growl, and destroy the wraiths
Wrap Polaris in her cloak
Curl their white furred bodies
Round her in a healing circle

(Note to reader: This is the beginning of a longer mythic work that I’ve been releasing and will continue to release in sections over the next several days as part of my NaPoWriMo commitment. Each day a new section will be added so if you’ve read some of the sections all you need to do is go to the end of the last section you’ve read to find the new addition.)

 

Wikipedia Commons

Niveous Skies

This story is a wind
Arriving from the sun
Magnetospheric particles collide
Birthing aurora borealis,
Prismatic ribbons of light

Forming above the Kara Sea
Past the Nordenskiöld Archipelago
Magnetic fields demarcate
These lines of extinction
Drawn in distant reaches

Siberian land of the polar bear
Seal-hunter at the edge of sea ice
Maritime transmutative shamans
Mythic shape-shifters
Become human at home

Breathed into being by Daedal Spirits
As foretold Polaris is born
Guiding star of a lost tribe
Daughter of Ursa Major,
Resplendent mother of the night sky

Artemis

Polaris bundled, newly formed
Left on Artemis’ threshold
Raised with the knowledge
In the summer of her third year
She must journey to a place
Beyond her imagining

Artemis, Wild Woman, warns
Of the myriad dangers:
Ice wraiths with hypothermic
Breath spread madness
Treacherously thin ice floes
Carrying everything far out to sea
Sloughing glaciers sending
Animals to watery graves

But the worst fate
To be enchanted by
The siren call of hearth fires
Pernicious creatures, specious promises
Desire demons that consume the soul
Paralyzing monsters that trap
An eternity of wasting away

As Polaris grows she learns
Of the fantastical menagerie
Artic animals of special powers
Sagacious and far traversing terns
Narwhal that know the secrets of death
Their songs, talismans against the end
Caribou that resonate harmony
Trickster foxes with capacious minds

Around the home fires
She begins to understand her human form
Its drives and intellections
Streams and sanctuaries of creative flow
She prepares a fitting place and learns
The 1000 sacred names of snow
How to be invisible in her bear cloak
White on white, moving like the wind
Across this icy land

She explores, tests her strength
Contemplates being, leans into life
Scrying colored lights in the dark
Feeling the warmth of midnight sun
Pulse of life deep within calling her forth
She awaits the catalyst, transformation
That will initiate her quest
Her journey to the source

Novaya Zemlya

And so she waits breathing
Beauty into the world
Sings new songs of awakening
Her streams becoming rivers
Roaring across her inner landscape
As the Kara flows through
Baydaratskaya Bay to feed the sea

In the Spring of her third year
Prowling the northern borders
She arrives at Novaya Zemlya
Ice-scoured fjords, narrow inlets,
Guarded by skerries
Upon the wind is a melody
Like none heard before

Lured closer she learns too late
Of the infestation of Hearth Fires!
Their radioactive contamination
Lairs in nuclear submarine reactors
Half-life remnants of the Cold War
Becquerel bravado still feeding evil
Melodies turn to piercing cries
Polluting her sanctuary of creativity
Poisoned, weakened, she seeks counsel
Artemis, now contaminated cannot aid her
Sends her to speak with the narwhal

‘All my songs have been stolen by the wind
My mind and purpose are clouded
This hunger for art is now insatiable
Artemis is also sickened, please help us’
The keeper of death’s secrets
Intones into Polaris to discern
A cure: ‘This pollution is a fire
Malevolent psychic complex
Devouring your spirit,
Only the aurora borealis
Can heal your wounds
You must journey to a place
Beyond your imagining’

(Note to reader: This is the beginning of a longer mythic work that I’ve been releasing and will continue to release in sections over the next several days as part of my NaPoWriMo commitment. Each day a new section will be added so if you’ve read some of the sections all you need to do is go to the end of the last section you’ve read to find the new addition.)

Wikipedia Commons

 
Niveous Skies

This story is a wind
Arriving from the sun
Magnetospheric particles collide
Birthing aurora borealis,
Prismatic ribbons of light

Forming above the Kara Sea
Past the Nordenskiöld Archipelago
Magnetic fields demarcate
These lines of extinction
Drawn in distant reaches

Siberian land of the polar bear
Seal-hunter at the edge of sea ice
Maritime transmutative shamans
Mythic shape-shifters
Become human at home

Breathed into being by Daedal Spirits
As foretold Polaris is born
Guiding star of a lost tribe
Daughter of Ursa Major,
Resplendent mother of the night sky

Artemis

Polaris bundled, newly formed
Left on Artemis’ threshold
Raised with the knowledge
In the summer of her third year
She must journey to a place
Beyond her imagining

Artemis, Wild Woman, warns
Of the myriad dangers:
Ice wraiths with hypothermic
Breath spread madness
Treacherously thin ice floes
Carrying everything far out to sea
Sloughing glaciers sending
Animals to watery graves

But the worst fate
To be enchanted by
The siren call of Hearth Fires
Pernicious creatures, specious promises
Desire demons that consume the soul
Paralyzing monsters that trap
An eternity of wasting away

As Polaris grows she learns
Of the fantastical menagerie
Artic animals of special powers
Sagacious and far traversing terns
Narwhal that know the secrets of death
Their songs, talismans against the end
Caribou that resonate harmony
Trickster foxes with capacious minds

Around the home fires
She begins to understand her human form
Its drives and intellections
Streams and sanctuaries of creative flow
She prepares a fitting place and learns
The 1000 sacred names of snow
How to be invisible in her bear cloak
White on white, moving like the wind
Across this icy land

She explores, tests her strength
Contemplates being, leans into life
Scrying colored lights in the dark
Feeling the warmth of midnight sun
Pulse of life deep within calling her forth
She awaits the catalyst, transformation
That will initiate her quest
Her journey to the source

(Note to reader: This is the beginning of a longer mythic work that I’ll be releasing in sections over the next several days as part of my NaPoWriMo commitment. Each day a new section will be added so if you’ve read some of the sections all you need to do is go to the end of the last section you’ve read to find the new addition.)

Niveous Skies

Wikipedia Commons

This story is a wind
Arriving from the sun
Magnetospheric particles collide
Birthing aurora borealis,
Prismatic ribbons of light

Forming above the Kara Sea
Past the Nordenskiöld Archipelago
Magnetic fields demarcate
These lines of extinction
Drawn in distant reaches

Siberian land of the polar bear
Seal-hunter at the edge of sea ice
Maritime transmutative shamans
Mythic shape-shifters
Become human at home

Breathed into being by Daedal Spirits
As foretold Polaris is born
Guiding star of a lost tribe
Daughter of Ursa Major,
Resplendent mother of the night sky

(Note to reader: This is the beginning of a longer mythic work that I’ll be releasing in sections over the next several days as part of my NaPoWriMo commitment.)

2. Ophelia

Ophelia, sweet child, dominated by powerful men
Abandoned to grief and madness
Her last moments, a watery slip
May have been unintended consequence
Or dire injury
Consecrated – and yet we wonder
Who is culpable?

A modern woman now faces
The same pernicious forces
That may divide her from her own precious reason
Professor of mathematics, her intellect, ratiocinative,
Attempts to quantify the carrying capacity of the earth
What can it hold, nurture, sustain
Without ruin, lack of renewal,
Or toxic inundation?

Her losses, both great and universal
Small and specific
Her shame-filled love
Will serve as the crucible
Over which her sanity may be fractured

4. Death Enters the Room

There is only a vague sense impression
Of all that came before
Her husband’s violent death.
His cataleptic rigidity a necrotic grimace,
Creating shock
From which she does not recover

Contrasting the trauma with an inevitable process of biology
Entropy claims its dominance
Through programmed cell death
As 50-70 billion cells die within the body each day,
Expressions in the art of disintegration

Ophelia had not considered this internal suicide
Impermanence unsettled her.
Universal forces destroy with uncostly effort –
Endosymbionts inducing a biochemical cascade,
Release of caspase activators of annihilation

What then of the symbolic ends?
Thoughts, feelings, relationship
She could not push away the concepts
Handle the nuance of shade
Mourning each permutation
Uncomfortable with the intensity of emotion
The finality of the funeral.

6. Deep Grief

Death entered the rooms of her soul,
Unwelcome and alien
Permeated the air
Sleep was her only comfort,
The denial of dreams
Truth returned each morning, aching
Nothing in her waking hours could drive it away
Time had betrayed her –
No solace gained through its passing

The memory of life before became distant
The memory of her love transfigured into a specter;
A cruel trick

She could feel the world
Slipping from her mind
Meaning drained from her face,
Replaced with an effigy:
Becoming the object of her own scorn
Confusion lined her eyes,
Now emptied of other expression

In the recesses of her secret self she began to be afraid
Not of death, stalking her thoughts, but insanity
A far greater apprehension –
Death is certain,
Sanity not so fixed!

The onset of madness,
Robbing her lucidity, was subtle,
A slow and silent poison
It weighed upon her as if tangible, haunting her
The connection between her innermost being
And the outer world dissolving –
She began mimicking his death.

Notes: These excerpts are from my epic, Mere Beasts, which can be found here: http://chromapoesy.com/2011/07/18/mere-beasts-an-epic/ Sections 2 and 6 were already posted but Section 4 was written today for NaPoWriMo day 14.

Exit Wound (repost)

I am reposting (from July) this poem for Halloween; it is my true life horror story

Protasis

Forensic ruin seeped into my life
through the doorway to my future
no one was on guard
at the arrival of the dangerous ones
some were close at hand
others I never knew would come
wedging the gate

Tragedy requires back story
a lifetime of striving
by sixteen I was
working eighty hour weeks
food service pays in varicose veins
and suicidal ideation
even in the young
by eighteen I was broken
poverty and neglect were culpable

Years of struggle and abandonment
that words merely cheapen
Sisyphus my companion
days blurred by petty change
nights spent running down concrete corridors
out the backdoor of the American mall
into empty parking lots
trying to see in the dark

Epitasis

Two years of saving
promotions, evaluations, and initiations
got me to the promise
of higher education
a private school
where students really mattered
my professors were my peers
the precious, spoiled kids
their well pressed lives
well, I didn’t fit in

My senior thesis in college
liquid nitrogen flash freezing green buds
the mortal and pestle grinding
separating into its elemental parts
strands of Deoxyribonucleic Acid
sent through gel electrophoresis to find
Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA Markers
refining, comparing, determining genetic relatedness
a taste of things to come
it was a year of upheaval
a year of final tests

Joy ambushed me with an engagement
to the man across the hall
he created space,
showed up with love
grateful, besotted, and delirious
I allowed myself to imagine
white dress, black gown
two rites of passage united
emanating hope

Our congregation of families darkened
by dysfunction, divorce and illness
friends devoured themselves
and one another
a poisonous spider struck
leaving necrotic spots –
these were our wedding gifts

We planned to graduate,
get married, launch careers
create a home from scraps
broken but our own
a garden growing out of burnt earth
all these naïve shoots
were overshadowed
by the advent of murder

Weeks of accusations
of horrors and of blood
stained brown in time
a young woman’s life
obliterated by greed
her destiny slaughtered
for only nine hundred dollars
her legacy so shattered
I can’t even remember her name

We were awfully estranged
no one could be together amidst
celebration, mourning, and fighting
while the killer fled the nation
bullet pierced her brow
eradicating her last thought

Justice demanded a trial
traumatizing images displayed
prejudice tore at the jury
three days we deliberated, almost hung,
through the apathy of one,
in the end the juror
didn’t want to choose
she caved to watch her soaps
judgment rendered a life sentence

Catastrophe

Juxtapositions that made no sense
death/new life; union/dissolution
all chaos conspired
a close range shot
titrating stress hormones
each moment hard won

The surreal landscape expanded
our honeymoon a gift
spent on a hurricane ravaged
Caribbean island all the time
knowing we were ruined
never wanting to leave the
destroyed place
we felt at home in the aftershock

A breath away from homelessness
with the monsters closing in
we fought each other
vitriolic words
directed at the sky

These things I never thought I’d learn
exposed in graphic detail
the intensity of familial
and societal agony
writ large
shrapnel blown into me

The entrance wound looked clean
there was so little blood
it was the exit wound, the obscured one,
that proved the true disaster
forensic ruin seeped into my life
through that tiny hole, a portal to my future

Crossing Thresholds

Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo photo credit: Anna Montgomery

This is the beginning of the poem I’m currently working on – it may be an epic or a series. I’ll make a new post when it’s complete (with definitions). If you read the beginning of this before you can scroll down to two stanzas above Old Cairo and pick up where you left off.

Crossing Thresholds

By the Citadel

The four centered arch,
pishtaq of the Mosque-Madrassa
of Sultan Hassan
draws me into the broad sehan
a foreigner and trespasser
though invited,
or more appropriately,
a paying guest –
(that only moves under armed guard)
an American woman in Cairo

One hundred degrees
stone radiates from
below my shoeless feet
a heat wave in the winter
that word looses all my associations
it isn’t redefined but obliterated
at home we get eleven feet of snow

Sultan Hassan’s body was never found
he was assassinated by Yalbugha al-‘Umari
the commander in chief of the army
a tale of power and betrayal
the mausoleum serves no purpose

Two minarets, though four were planned,
reach into a pale periwinkle sky
twenty million people peer through
the dust and smog toward the first
great falcon-headed God, Ra
to whom they owe their secret names
an ancient voice chanting creation

The minarets’ spiral staircases
long demolished by Sultan Barquq
to prevent attacks on the Citadel
means the muezzin must use the loud speaker
to broadcast the adhan,
to call all worshippers to prayer

In the dark cool by the praying seat
where no Qur’an rests
he stands beside me
not five feet away

I am in full modesty,
two layers of galabeyas
a tightly pinned navy hijab
covers every strand
of offending blonde hair

Muezzin’s song of praise
(he will not sing the adhan
it is not Friday
we are not Muslims)
is so beautiful I cannot speak

In this exemplar of Mamluk architecture
Ahlus-Sunnah Wa Al-Jama’ah
People of the tradition and the congregation pray
generously containing room
for the four Sunni schools:
Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanafi, and Hanbali
Though through tradition
not room for a single woman

“The best mosques for women
are the inner parts of their houses”
said Mohammad

In America the movement
in mosques is towards “Pray In”
women desegregated,
praying in the main hall

I think about my female rector
in the Episcopal church
in our mountain town
on how the Anglican community
considered separating
from its too liberal cousin
the Episcopal Church of America
over homosexuality and the right
of women to lead services

I ask our Muslim guide, a woman,
Does it hurt, being unwelcome in the house of God?
Baudelaire ringing in my ears:
“I have always been astonished that
women are allowed to enter churches.
What can they have to say to God?”

No, she says,
it is much more convenient
to pray at home.

Glass lanterns adorned with calligraphy
sentries at the sabil,
fountain of ablution
a blue-eyed feminist
searching for meaning in all
this cryptic architecture

It is here, if I were a worshipper,
that I would cleanse my body
of the sand, filth, and oppression
participate in the wudu
the centuries, my inner helix,
resonating with the specters of
the spiral staircases of the minarets
past invisible barriers
to the musalla

Old Cairo

progressing through machine gun
guarded checkpoints at the perimeter
of Old Cairo past the Roman wall
to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun
high on the hill of Gebel Yashkur
the mound of thanksgiving

Here the staircase of the minaret stands
but the sabil is dry
the outer walls osculating
Beit al-Kritliyya joined to Beit Amnabint Salim
now a museum, Gayer Anderson House
named after the British officer
who lived there in the 40s

we enter the sanctity of the private space
through a doorway into a hall
that runs parallel to the street
it then turns ninety degrees so that
none of the interior of the house
can be glimpsed from the street

I have a ticket
I’ve purchased my pass
I didn’t knock three times
but the ghosts could hardly have answered

“enter not the houses other than your own
until you have asked permission
and saluted those within.” Yousef Ali

we proceed through the salamek as guests
the entire house is built from the inside out
so we won’t see the women

though in the courtyard
high above on another floor
is a balcony closet with a window covered
by an elaborate lattice woodwork screen

here is where the women would huddle
to be present without being seen
I squeeze through the tiny doorway
into the little box
and imagine the women whispering
about visitors in the house
how the ghosts have been scandalized

In ‘Till We Have Faces’ C.S. Lewis
argues that we cannot meet the divine
until we have an identity of our own
his heroine struggles to know her worth

worlds and millennia apart
Hatshepsut’s statues defaced
disfigured and buried in a pit
cartouches chiseled away
Pharaoh, yet how dare she claim the right?

we enter a confusion of staircases
that only connect certain floors
I’ve never been so disoriented in a house
so that the women can bring food
to guests and not be seen
keeping the privacy of the family intact

Wasn’t this the perfect set-up
for domestic abuse?
never seen and cannot communicate
then anything can happen
in this protected sanctum
that could’ve been her prison

I think about the lack
of a domestic violence shelter
in Douglas County, the richest and fastest growing
adjacent to our home county
the thinking runs along the lines of
they are wealthy women,
if they need a way out
they can simply buy it
often these women are
the most trapped, disempowered
with no access to the money

shouting behind high gated walls
in the privacy of the inner parts
of their homes

 

Muezzin’s Song (click to play)

Sabil, fountain of ablution, Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan photo credit: Anna Montgomery