the New York Times slid off my lap. A famous writer had died.
The obituary stated: During the fifteen years when she cared for ailing relatives,
“..some writers have speculated that she seemed also to be undergoing
some sort of ordeal of the spirit
or artistic crisis…”

Speculation – there is no story without it
though it may lead to truths it also may skirt them,
hovering below the knee, parting imagined sorrows
sliding up beyond darkness, seeking little stars
Or trudging in muddy boots through fields waylaid
with traps of foolish interlopers interjecting nonsense
crisis artists, spirits shaking their chains about your feet.
Noise, temptation, yet the imperative holds, is everything:
the hours spent watching someone else breathe
trying to capture their essence, weave them
eternally whole with invisible stands of exhalation
must be how the hours are spent.

every day it watches me from a new hiding place.
If I should pause, pregnant with phrases, they miscarry
to escape its stalking gaze. It chokes back glee when it’s sure
of my bewilderment – helpless with tears of merriment
in the face of my despair – savoring the pieces of me
it’s managed to snatch with sharp teeth, chewing
to spit me out or swallow me;
either way, I become excrement, fertilizer

Twice her height and more than double her weight,
you wouldn’t dare to cross her path even if
you were a slinky black cat with half a tail
and a festering side-eye
trailing a poison cloud of no luck.
Formidable: all paths of access are
gated and locked.
Only the vigilant can perform this task
only those with life to spare
can give their every night each day
to those soon to depart.
She cannot afford the time lost to sleep.
if you tire – or worse, bore – her patient,
the temporary solace of you is not worth their waning time.

Though it’s dark I sense when your eyes shift direction
under bluish lids; my own eyes ache in sympathy,
It’s too far to look from left to right, headache hammer thudding.
I hold a straw to your blind lips, you sip cool water,
less than an ounce;
under lids still closed, your pupils return to center,
closing again upon themselves.
Is thought possible or has pain’s impenetrable fog
obscured all paths of access except toward
whatever removes it forever,
one direction, a consummation devoutly wished?

Yet: Audrey Hepburn’s voice, with bell-like certainty,
narrates her dream, enunciating
camaraderie with five syllables.
She remembers nothing else about it,
not a single other word nor image.
There are good nights, there are bad;
either way, the hand repels the pen in the morning.
Nights pass as days and into years; clock hands circle,
a halo glow of light on the hallway ceiling
bedclothes, pillows to position, silently begging them for ease.
Softly, she reads the town’s news aloud
at 3am; sleep arrives several hours later, just
as the cocks start to crow again.

I hover above your body in my imagination
drawing the sick up into me, out of you
hoping I’ll be strong enough to fling myself aside
instead of dropping us both back into your bed beneath me.
I picture myself winning the match against
disease: tough, taut, wary, pieces of me gnarled off,
holes blackening like a tattered cape
a fathomless skin, a full void. We fight, rounds of wrestling
I have it by the throat when the bell rings out
we go to our corners, still battling with our eyes.

all through the year of a comet,
she barely lifted her pen over the waiting page
poised, impossible to imprint words, divine meaning;
instead it all gathered inside, pattern bleeding into pattern,
tendrilling, a mute maze overgrowing itself
forcing her to travel all of it, the whole length,
trying again to discern its twisted origin.

some mornings it’s a chorus of chickadees
just beyond the window, and I find you smiling
when I bring in your sugary tea
as if they’ve chirped a silly childish joke into your ear.
Tell me, can you tell me
the contents of your mind?
The source of this rare, astonishing smile?
Before you take it wherever you’re going—
my imagination contorts to know it,
chastises itself for getting it wrong.

from the window, she watches
the widow who lives down the street
walking home from the concert on the lawn
with the widower.
There’s just enough illumination from the streetlamp
and the moon
to see a dim spark of hope in her saddened eyes
for him to realize that if he kisses her
—a kiss each wants, thinks they might be dying for—
that the whole of her sorrow might enter him
just as his enters her
pushing them to their knees, face down to the dirt,
sharp pebbles bruising their foreheads, drawing blood.
Instead, he touches the lock of hair tucked
behind her ear
says “sweet dreams” as he slips away,
her earlobe throbbing, a hollow swirl of absence
deafening her.

In this earth of the garden, who was buried?
humans? animals? insects? birds? on my knees
I gather the wild opium lettuce leaves,
pole beans, okra with its slippery seeds
This is life everlasting: cycle of feeding
the dead to the earth, sowing ourselves with
ancestral root, the bones of fish, mammal, fowl—
becoming the salad on the tray I place
before you, as you exclaim softly
about the mouth-watering red of the tomatoes
their clear mucous oozing with seeds
which you then do not eat;
you are too tired.

Upright in the night, the stalking thing stares.
It must be told; it cannot be told.

Though the library shelves are full, she can’t bring herself
to open other’s stories of pain, want, grief.
Staring at spines, the colors and letters swirl
her mind a blank page vibrating
sentence fragments in invisible ink.
Closing her eyes, can she hear her own thoughts
overlapping the cries of others
swelling with infection, a block.
Green swirls behind her eyelids,
dark dream edges grow;
it’s coming closer now,
its smile more solemn,
nothing merry in its dry, slow stare.

Your eyes are closed yet your hand finds me
with eyes of its own
touches me where it hasn’t since I was a child
the center of my breastbone
sensation surges to a single point
underneath which I dissolve while
you imagine I am here still
upon your inner eyelid screens.
You move me
using your closed eyes
from one scene to the next
in your private dream film
where the past happened differently.

a February desolation like hospital sheets
grey rain at every window
weighted by the heavy sky
threatening another colorless day
just that clock ticking still
the wind sucking breath away with it.
Unbeknownst, the invader has traveled
constructing little colonies in the brain
its villagers grow, eyeless, linking their long grey fingers
reaching further inside, sprouting new mute hands
tendrilling, clasping onto cords, digging into
the meat of organs, working against their cages
of sinew and bone, the body’s machinery gumming
and grinding against itself

Asleep, despite coffee and the denial of exhaustion
a spider’s fly caught by the pulling ropes
of a nap dream’s clarity: she is alone, in mourning black,
the winter garden gone, dust clogging her eyes,
the word Help stuck between her heart and throat.
Carefully licking its paw, the black cat
pulses its half-tail this way, then that,
nine times: a familiar spell, a counting
summing up the scents of an ending.

that night when lighting cracked the sky
with its fireworks, we sat breathless
for the next illumination, a bright white sheet
or a windowpane breaking from a ball’s impact,
a shattered world at the center
of the collision, pain separating you
shards from the other side, channels
of raindrops tearing down
so you don’t have to be the one crying.

Later. Midnight. No longer the writhing wind
two people breathing in the petrichor
Eyes adjusted to the dark, dimmed
to see together something never seen before.
“Afternoons when I could, I’d slip unnoticed away
to the stream’s edge, the music of water at play.
I followed the swallows up the tree, a book
in my knapsack. Hiding was easy; so few look
up. Eight; I was small. lithe; cupped in the palm
of spreading branches, leaves like a psalm,
more church than pews, or so it seemed
the language of birds like bells in a dream.

Twigs snapped underfoot a way off; the air
chilled by stubborn clouds blocking prayers—
That Shifflett boy approaching, stumble and swear,
a sac over his shoulder, I didn’t dare
imagine what was inside. Friendless, cruel
first of six desperate siblings, chaos the rule
at their battered old cabin. Well-aimed rocks
met your head if you dared down their block
Not even cousins went there unbeckoned
Black-eyed mother, pregnant again, reckoned
to a furtive existence, a death of God’s mercy
the father broke, playing horses perversely
broken by his father, both broken from drinking
Cursing their jaundiced world as it’s sinking.
“Inside the boy’s sac, a twisting, hungry plea
for mercy. Still, I dared not breathe, sending a prayer
into clouds that whatever was inside not be
a human child mewling, gasping for more air.
He stopped below my tree, growled at the sac
then swung it hard into the trunk of my tree
little wails of pain, he laughed as he attacked
shock vibrated my hands, I dropped my book,
He looked up, squinting, ordered me to the ground.
No thank you, I croaked, I’ll stay here. I shook.
A predator’s smile, tongue licked his lips all around
Don’t make me climb up and bring you down.
We stared. My kidneys went cold, while little dying cries
bleated from the sac, a monstrous sound.”
“You think you’re so smart with your books full of words,
Sneering, tearing out a page and then another,
Stop, that’s the library’s book! He ripped a third.
God will punish you; I’m telling my mother,
I backed my way to the ground, standing defiant.

I’ll be the one doing the punishing, he said.
Flinging my book into the river, the tyrant
said – Open that sac, smarty pants. – In my dread
I turned to go – he grabbed my arm, wrenched me back –
pinned me against the trunk, forced me to my knees
Open it. I shook my head. He emptied the sac
At my feet; five nearly-dead kittens, all black
They’re bad luck, little n——r cats like these.
I have to kill them, grinned the Shifflett maniac.”
“Again I tried to run. You’re not getting away—
I screamed – a high piercing pitch – his hand grasped my throat
banged my head against the tree: stung, throbbing, I swayed
fingers tightening, he hissed Shut Up. As if doped
I slid down to the ground, my lungs screaming for air
immobile from pain and fear, I heard but couldn’t see
him fill the sac with stones. In my head, a prayer –
he threw the sac into the stream. With his knee
he thrust open my legs. The rest is a dark silent scream
Horror. I was found hours later, bruised, broken.
To this day, I still see that tree in my dream
above me, blue sky through leaves’ grief unspoken.”

The sun hints it will rise.
A lone bird replies.

Death drags us through the worst of life
relentlessly exhorting to take life’s place.
What is to be accepted of torture? that it happened
so long ago? It sleeps under the skin,
paralyzes action potential, waking
to electric jolts, lightning, its original fear intact.
To soothe such a thing there is never enough balm.
If she holds them long enough will the sick seep
into her, out of them? Can one fling one’s self far enough;
bury it all deep in this earth of the garden?

It infiltrates the roots of trees, bears strange fruit
that spills strange seeds in stranger ways.
Suffering endlessly borne. Sorrow’s parting never sweet
Eternal phantoms shackle their chains to your feet.

The eyes. Pupils return to center, close again upon themselves.

Consummation devoutly wished arrives.

She cannot see where the stalking thing lurks; she still feels its eyes;
its mute hands climb up her spine, for within her now it lies.

©2023 DL Newton