Poems 2004 – 1999

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A few of these poems were published in my memoir Jesus Loves Women: A Memoir of Body and Spirit, a few in my chapbook Sackcloth and Ashes, and a few in literary journals. They are roughly arranged in reverse chronological order.
 
Profligate

Just look how we circle, a flock

of gulls, vying for love like a tear of fish.

Arched backs, dreadful necks outstretched,

shrieking our greed cries.  When

I look this way, ask me when love has

run out on me.  Remind me how it clings

like manna to the soles of my feet, how

love, like a dandelion, blankets my fields.

Love, that keeps knocking me down and

pulling me up, that makes me naked

and poor, and always full.  When fear

blazes in my eyes, take my hand, fly me

like a ghost above my life, to the places

love has crumbled battlements and raised

the dead.  Be profligate with love, tell me,

and it will astound you.  Spend it all.

Now.  Go.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 ________________________
The Wind Blew So Hard

this New Years Day,

foam tumbled in billows on the beach,

sand clung in small peaks to grass—

sad, last-ditch efforts, barbed

sacraments of intransigence.

Walking home, I thought

of Saint Teresa, flirtatious young

nun, old reformer of orders,

keeper of a woman’s mystic

secret.  When time came to quit

la vida vieja,

preening chatter of parlors,

swaying vanity of youth, did

it come as a stroke or a gale?

A whisper or a shout, fierce

and adamant?  Did the raven-haired

beauty wake to stillness, or to a man’s firm

hip on her dream-tossed mind,

equatorial pull unyielding?  This new

year comes like a winnowing.

Corruption slowly unbraids

from glory before my eyes.

Dead leaves stagger while sea birds play.

Hillsides crash, and still,

the gulls rise.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 ________________________
What’s Left

And then there was only the bird left

singing in my tree, and the scent of clean

clothes in a basket. There was the timbre

of compassion in my friend’s still voice,

and the scent of curry simmering on my stove.

There were the children who stormed the mad-

chilling sea, and the mist that sprung curls

in my girl’s hair, the caress of a velvet throw,

scarlet and sueded like a heart, and the blue

eyes of the woman who took my hand.

And then there was only a piano tune

nodding on a breeze, and a steaming bath

to lie in, a vase of wild roses

and water to wipe my tears, and the last

light on elms trees in evening. And then

there was only the waves’ mystical hum,

a pelican vee making shadows on the sand,

and at bedtime Ashokan Farewell  played

mournfully, like a dream, on a fiddle

in the room down the hall.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 _______________________
Rose Light

It is early May, and 82 degrees at 8

PM. Rare spring night for this coast

town. Even the waves reach

my room, its windows spread open

like a heart, the roar carried on the wind

with the lilt of birdsong, the swell

of chimes, and soon, you.

The rhodie by my deck has bloomed,

and you tell me its the largest in town,

standing under the tree—2 stories high,

30 feet across, a riot of fleshy-pink

poms. I know, I say, but don’t tell you

how, in the morning, the sun on that

rhodie turns my whole room rose, casts

amber light on my bed, sweet-

smelling still of you.  I don’t tell you

how that light is an omen, an

echoing symbol. I don’t tell you this

is the rosiest springtime of my life,

my spirit prone like a golden poppy,

body released of its lonely ache,

as your fiery arms enfold me,

as your strong, dark fingers loosen

the last knots of my heart.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 

 _______________________

She Took the Name Nancy

Great, great grandma was a Ute.

Obsidian hair, long and loose down

her back, bare-ankled beauty, buckskin

dress and nothing underneath. Shame

to my Victorian-white relations who forgot

her. Her husband, their rebel-white son,

“went native,” lived on a rez till he died, long

after her young passing, after the birth

of my great-grandmother, who he also

outlived.  My Ute grandma, casting long

native shadows where remembrance should be.

She would have believed her grandmas’ spirits

hovered where she walked, spoke to her.

But if she has spoken to me, I have not listened.

Now I listen and wonder, look for her in the curve

of my face, ever-turned to the wild, in the hump

of my nose, my summer-brown skin.  All

I have are her drops of blood in me, a census

scrawled “Nancy”, my Nana’s firm word.

I cannot dance the Ute Bear Dance or say

my great, great grandmother’s prayers.  Too much

stolen already—by white men, by white women

like me.  No, I will honor her in my bear-hug

embrace of the living, in bearing the sag

and softness of body and soul. No white-

woman corset-consciousness for me. I have

her blood in my veins—a thin thread

coursing through me like the Rio Grande.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 _________________________
Iraq

I imagine you a desert flower,

succulent and needle-sharp

on the cracking white earth.  The color

of mango, or a woman’s wet lips.

I imagine you a man pinstriped

and proud at his first daughter’s wedding,

eyes shot red with joy

and loss. I see you as lovers drawn deep

beneath the surface, as mortars storm

outside their room, unheard.

I imagine you a boy slipping bread

to a small, ribbed dog, or a woman placing a date

on her husband’s steady tongue. I see you

as old friends—hands entwined—step

by step on a rock-strewn stream.

You are a tall cedar, Iraq, a heart beating

beating in a body wracked with pneumonia.

I will imagine you in your many groves

of love until the time you are free, free

as the night you first learned how to dance.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 _______________________
Steam

Just look at her

gyrate and curl in this

shard of still light.

Daughter of Herodias

hovers over my cup,

puckering tornado lips,

spinning toward bliss.

I cannot take my eyes from it!

Brisk circus of distraction,

sweating, dipping,

siphoning thought. Blank

document on my desktop,

lifetime of poems left

to write. Yet the light

invades and I,

dizzy as a moth,

rush headlong

into surrender.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 _______________________
Sleep and Waking

I love how you looked,

stepping from the car with your cat

dead in a veterinarian’s box.  All your

beauty in pained eyes and bent

lips. Long hug on the driveway, next to

where she lay on the hood, rigid in her

cardboard casket.  Your sobs released

like the scent of lavender in fresh fists,

or unearthed tales long-buried in the droll

silt of genocide.  How it feels to feel.

The tears I would replace with passion

or joy.  But I’d keep the tenderness,

the soul’s deep hammock of longing.

This is how it feels, can you see?

Months later, into surgery with you.

Skateboard injury.  One more round

of anesthesia, you — a stone blissfully

rolled away. I imagine you before

the traumas that folded your heart

like a fan.  A boy alert to nightmare

and dream, crawling to mother’s bed

full of ghosts.  The tinsled autumn

before numbness set in and over-

took you.  Your doctors, so gentle,

ushering you to the velvet state

I can never attain.  The drugs you once

saved for rainy days when my wild

heart and blunt-truth ax struck deep

beneath the layers of sleep. The bed

of my love, no comfort.  Slow tearing

asunder, the one dry wound that

somehow you manage to feel.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 ________________________
The Smallest Birds

A terrible awe as I watch the smallest birds:

lesser goldfinches, firm as fists,

the hyper hummingbird, the field

sparrows, pressing love on my heart

like a brick.  Oblivious to need,

they tilt their button heads, “How

interesting this, how interesting that.”

Toothpick legs, wings twitching like

boys on a playground.  Last week

I found one half-breathing, near-dead,

chest heaving like a flag on the sky.

Eyes open and terror-stricken.

I wanted to save him, at least

give him one finger-tip whisper.

But his pebble-eyes folded in

a cradle of new spring grass.

Sadness catches up to me.

I do not want to die.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 _______________________
Cleave

Terrified of empty house, day’s dark end,

the cold recollection of being left, you comb

our married minutes for seed.  The faint premonition

of flower stroked and sprinkled, served tea

in bed, filled to the moaning brim of ecstasy.  Last

night I tried the bourbon you never used to drink,

cried with you till eyelids swelled, woke to passion’s warm

hand.  As I stripped damp sheets, you said

I make you happy.  (A thread of wood-smoke stitched

the air; Fall’s rent shawl draped our home

in frost and light).  “And sad,” I added, to balance.

Our days fill with could-be-lasts—pumpkins carved,

fallen leaves raked.  Hope settles in you each night

like fog, and burns away by morning, as daily we

cleave.  I split and you hold, I sever, you join.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 ________________________
When Summer Came in 2002

My daughter and I carried the spare table out

back, began to live under green and blue.

Spent our days nourished, and noticing things.

Like the flamboyance of a single tiger

lily against the foxgloves’ purple foil,

or the way just-fledged finches played like

kids in a fountain as the soaker-hose

drenched their twitching wings.

As men in faraway places carried their

deaths onto buses, in bombs strapped to thighs,

we sought the golden lilt of the monarch.

As soldiers bulldozed refugee homes,

ate food stockpiled by the occupied,

we absorbed the tickling scent of blooms,

chased a flashing red to find a box-

elder bug.  While men in high places called

assassinations and hookers, we learned the song

of the chickadee, the maple leaves’

hushing.  As boys fought to “protect our way

of life,” we lived like we knew

we were going to die.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 ________________________
Eye-Opening

The stepping back happened

somewhere across the Atlantic.

My king’s-eye-view grew sharp

away from dulling billboards

of realtors, God-zilla-sized,

and 99¢ super-sized fries.

Now the outsider in that Wash-

n-Go operating theatre,

America, where they dissect

and stroke and reconstruct,

with solemn, incessant

concentration, omnipotent

image of Image.

The manufacture of discontent.

From where these feet stand

I see vistas their best-kept-

secrets cannot touch.

And the resplendent truth

of what they don’t see

makes me want to gush.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 _____________________
Impression

At evening’s widest we’d go.

To our wall-flower of a beach,

past the dormant store fronts,

the charity shop and D. I. Y.  Or

I’d lead us down the cobbled

alley where I liked to peek

in cottage windows, warm,

their ancient stoniness,

as a foreign accent.  At that

time of day, the light cut

diagonals across counterpanes, cast

origami shadows on doors

brightly high-glossed.  Made

the water a stippled reflection of dusk

light, a North Sea impression.

The beach itself now veiled in gauze.

The castle hillside a shelter from

the hen-pecking wind.  We’d wade

through sand thick with tumbled glass,

and bits of china (from Europe’s tables?),

laying claim to a pristine rite

in the eloquence of memory.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 _______________________
Timing is everything

It was no time to start explaining.

A gap,

a silent minute to communicate

muffled by distance and years.

Your hand squeezed mine

under the table of your new engagement.

On your other hand

a new stranger to me,

your sanguine, alarmingly welcoming

would-be-wife

(our circuit of hands

a home science experiment gone awry).

The bones of my fingers still ache

your urgent, shouted, crackly message—

intended to calm.

A moment of silent prayer turned terror-

            stricken, sick with disappointment,

            head awash with freshly cooked carrots

            and cracker box kitchen made homey

            with snapshots of kisses and greeting cards,

            you sitting next to me for the last time in my life.

She quizzed me with scholars’ name-dropping.

I managed a barely concentrated intelligence,

pretending to be with two, not one,

virtual strangers.

I don’t know what I said.

Though I didn’t notice at the time,

the music: solo violin

electrified the room.

Walls and floors and people I should not touch.

When she finally left there was nothing to say

that could be said.

Your cat (whom she had rescued in Florence

Nightingale fashion from certain death)

bore our affections,

strokes of preoccupation.

I tried to explain why I had come, and cried.

You said, “timing is everything.”

I was late.

As overdue as closure when I stumbled

on to that night’s dark porch.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 ________________________
A Rival

The girth of my ankles

told you’d soon come.

All in order the cornstarch

powder, lace dresses, bathing

cloths and changing mat,

the garage sale rocker

Nana bought as cancer choked

her bowels. Your

nursery was a spring

in our scorched home, the tube

of a clenched leaf that stored

rain. Under my skin I held it

like a cistern, until the day

you arrived, emptying and filling

me, body and soul, until it seeped

and seeped between my legs. More

menacing to your dad, this joining,

our rapt and untold need,

than any prior rival.  You,

staring at me through his eyes,

were like an exquisite painting

of some epic horror.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 ______________________
Leaving Home

How could I know then how far from home

the trip would take me?  Seventeen years

and a dorm-full of papery blue jeans

and pirated cassettes, tight-packed

like dynamite in the blue Escort Dad

bought us, our roundtrip ticket

to college.  Could he have known that years

later I’d still be driving, away from him

and Mom, their Christian Coalition voter guides,

their sighs, their barbed-wire love?  Could

he see how crooked a road would fall

from view in the foothills of Mt. Shasta,

or how the mythic hills of the Rogue

River Valley, laid out like dinner rolls in smooth,

green towels, would become a boundary, beyond

which lay the beasts of memory?

Could Mom have foreseen the way our words

would slow to the pace of a train wreck years

later, somewhere between my first marriage and PhD,

how we would come to speak only of others?  How

is sister?  Is Grandma’s health improving?  I packed

my fear and drove a million miles, stayed

too late in unsanctioned beds, wore my pain

in skirts too short, lost weight I couldn’t afford

to lose.  Didn’t call home.  Fifteen years

of miles now span our tedious unknowing and I

am listening hard for kinship’s blood-beat, for

the whispered welcome of voices just like mine.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

 _________________________

Reversal

The light from your pickup

mists into darkness,

capturing in oblique rows,

the houses of the poor.

Dulling squares of light

reach to answer headlamps.

Under destitution’s weight

front porches twitch and sag

like eyelids.  The dirty walls,

the dirty cars that line the drives.

Dirty gates unhinged, derelict

bicycles squat in the yard.

Our mission that night,

to deliver Thanksgiving

baskets.  We did so in stillness,

walking silent blocks heart in hand,

as though our words could pollute

the lesson, the measure, from

that night.  Two years later,

another lesson:  my car,

side by side.  We found you

asleep, waiting to drive us

home.  You could not keep

a straight line—you were drunk.

Your hand stumbled up my thigh.

I tried to drive a straight line,

but sixteen years spun hard

against this new doubt, wondering,

wondering how I might

explain this one to myself.

{Tricia Gates Brown}

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