violetcheetah: (chess)
Some children,
in the night,
call to their parents
to protect them from
the monster in the closet.

Some children,
in the night,
open the closet door
and hope the monster inside
will protect them.

violetcheetah: (Default)
"Do not speak the words aloud,"
the wise sorceress warned her child.
"No matter how forcefully they shriek in your mind,
you must never utter them,
for the earth will rip and
the sky will burn and
time itself will spin askew so that
the future will have happened and the future,
my child,
if you have said the words aloud,
will be unspeakable agony for all,
and you,
my child,
will be responsible."

And so of course the child
did not speak them,
even as every day they clanged
like fighting church bells
only she could hear.
And as she grew,
they grew louder,
until each time she opened her mouth
she feared they would escape,
and so she ceased to speak at all.

Her silence was noted
by the elders of the town
and presumed to be the price
of colluding with Dark Forces,
and she dared not tell them differently.
So she was tied to a stake
above a pyre that was then
set ablaze,
and she sighed in relief
that the words would die with her
and the world would be safe.

But the sigh pulled the smoke
into her lungs,
and each cough
only brought more,
each cough deeper
and louder
and more like a voice,
until she was speaking,
"Come soon,
come now,
before — "
BUT death didn't obey,
and helplessly
she felt the words she dare not say
rip through her closing throat

where they fell like strong
but gentle rain
upon the pyre,
smothering first the smoke
and then the fire.
The crowd stared in wonder,
and then bowed to gaze
at the ground in shame,
until finally first the children
and then each woman and man
turned toward the back of the crowd
to see the sorceress,
her mouth agape
but stricken in silence,
unable to believe
the world was still here.

violetcheetah: (Default)
The first draft of this was written on January 8, 1997. It is more hopeful than I was at the time, but as hopeful as I desperately needed to be.



I was pure polished copper,
deftly etched to show each strand of hair,
each lash,
each line on each palm.
My reason for being was
to gleam in sunlight like laughter made visible,
to glow in moonlight like a dream of the coming dawn.
I brought joy always,
I thought,
never knew of such a thing as
until her majesty's guards
stole me from the sun
and the sun from me.

I knew my friends would come
as soon as the queen was dead.
I taught myself to lose count of the days;
it was easy when each was the same.
On the night of the mourning bells,
the crowbar easily broke
the mass of rust that used to be a lock,
and I ascended the stone stairs without aid
toward a blinding beam of light
that came from a crescent moon.

Oh, but what the sunrise showed —
as if the darkness had been
a thing with mass, heavier than air,
that settled like dew on my skin,
now black and green mottled
like a charred tree fallen
and covered with moss and death.

But tarnish isn't just a covering,
dirt from outside to be washed away —
no, those are my pure atoms,
joined now to something else
but still made of me.
I held on to all of it for weeks,
but there's no way to separate the two.

We tried to rub me clean,
but it would have taken years,
and it was in every crevice,
each etched hair, each garment fold.
I would have to bathe in an ocean
as pure as I had been before.
They came with me to the shore that night,
but I waded into the vinegar waves alone.

Blinded by tears, suffocating,
nerves inflamed as my skin dissolved,
pulsing blood on fire, but
I held my breath and bore the burn
until there was nothing left
I needed to lose.

I pulled myself from this stinging sea,
stepped into the moonlight,
and saw that I was not what I had been:
once-well-defined lines
were now blurred by the absence
of what once was there.
I will never regain it.

But as they rubbed me dry with
clean white flannel, their fingers
brushed my skin and halted,
hands transfixed by memory.
I am changed, they said, but still
the one they loved always.
As the tide receded at dawn,
I dared seek my reflection
in a still, sandy pool.

The sharp creases of my gown are gone,
but not the drape and line;
each delicate hair has disappeared,
but still the braids remain.
There is nothing here I do not want,
nothing I need that I don't now hold.
It's a subtler luster than before,
but in this seashore sunrise,
still I shine.

violetcheetah: (Default)
I guess this is a companion to my short story "After the Sun." It came into my mind yesterday while listening to Hem's "Half Acre" for the umpteenth time.


Dirt farmer

I sweep the floors every morning.
I do not take the braided rugs outside to shake;
I snap them like whiplashes in the hall,
and I gather what falls to the floor.
Each week I beat the window screens
against the same floorboards; it leaves marks,
but the flecks of wood add to the bounty.
Every fortnight — more often if it's windy —
I take the dust and dander and grit
to the pit the dead tree roots left.
I layer my treasure with holey shirts —
the earthworms prefer flannel — and I water it
with the soapless washwater
from my laundry and dishes and bath.
Yes, I know what the neighbors think,
but the snow melts and steams away
from the growing mound in February,
and in March I am ready to harvest.
I fill the narrow boxes I've made
between each inner window and storm,
and I hold back some washwater now
when I saturate the pit's new layers.
I plant six of each bean, the peas, the lentils;
four yellow squash, four green.

I thought I truly believed;
why else thresh the screens and carpets,
sponge my skin with a meager bowl of water?
I did not know I'd had no faith
until a bedtime lamplight check showed
that first fault-lined distension in the surface
and beneath the cracks, like verdant lava,
the tender life ready to erupt.
My shriek sounded not like joy,
but like someone burning, or grieving,
bringing the nightshirted neighbors across their barren field and mine
and into my spotless house and still I screamed until they saw
that nubbin.
It was not until I saw them see that I believed.
In silence we gazed at the soil —
this was soil —
and laughed tears and held each other
before shyly pulling away and taking leave.

I put out the lamp and lay on the sofa,
wanting the sun to wake me through that same window
where it would draw its first new being in years
up from earth and into light and life.

violetcheetah: (Default)
Both of these were originally written in 1999 at the latest. The first was inspired by news reports from the chaos going on at the time in Eastern Europe. The second was inspired by a documentary on The Learning Channel — back when TLC had educational value — about the planned flooding in China for the Three Gorges Dam hydroelectric project, and some of the sites that would be underwater, or would become islands. Anyway, there was a temple, Buddhist? Confucian? The details are fuzzy, so I'll just say, the poem is based loosely on real events.


Across the border

I watched a woman spit in a soldier's right eye
just before he put a bullet through her face.

From the cover of the briars by the side of the road
I saw another girl weep and plead and finally nod,
agreeing to the toll this bridge troll would take.
Then once his snaps were undone she recanted;
it took four aides to pin her limbs against a tree
while payment was rendered. Even I could see
he would have to kill her for going back on her word.
Still, he kept his promise: he led her over the river
to freedom before his knife opened her throat.

I make my decision and make my way to the bridge.
I brace myself against the milestone and lift my skirts
and gaze past his scarred ear at that other shore.
That tree: I will walk across this bridge and
past her throatless body and stand beneath that elm
and I will wash the blood from my thighs in the river.
I will leave the blood here at the border,
and I will never speak of it or soldiers or martyrs again.


By the river

Ancient wise words
inscribed in slow calligraphy on the long tiles of the temple walls.
There was no need for stained glass or gilt altars,
just the soft curves and sure lines left by men who knew
what matters is the message,
who died at peace, sure that the message would last the centuries.

They could not see
the soldiers coming now across the bridge to the stairs in the cliff,
following the orders of a leader afraid of anything so calm
that it might slow the white-water river surging through him until
he could hear his own words
and know that his message would not survive on the stone above his forgotten grave.

But priests and pupils
hear the soldiers' march and see the sure words blur through their tears.
They kneel beneath the tiles with faces lifted as if the words could flow
like water from the walls to fill them, but each mark is solid and true,
strong as the soldiers' steps
as they march up the steps to break what a thousand years hadn't touched.

A bowl of ink
sits on the floor; they were to have practiced their own calligraphy
with slim brushes on the parchment laid out at their feet.
The young boy stands and struggles to take down a tile as tall as he,
then turn its back to him,
dips his brush, and uses his beautiful strokes to write the lies

of the soldiers' leader,
words he was ashamed to have even heard, had never dreamed he would write.
The ink-stained hands of his mentor lift the stone to its place,
then move to take the others down while each student dips his own pen.
They have inscribed nightmares
on every tile and rehung them backwards by the time the soldiers arrive.

Each soldier knows
what is written on the true faces of the stones, but not one dares
to destroy anything that holds the writings of his general and god.
They kneel as they have been taught and recite the words they see,
then rise and step back
through the door to begin the twilight march down the cliffside.

Decades will pass,
and the young boy will learn, and teach, and grow stooped with age,
and with time spent bent over parchment and pupils, and friends' graves.
The general will die in exile, and the teacher will scrub faded ink
from the back of each stone,
turn each tile and lift it into place until he is exhausted.

But another set of wrinkled hands
will lift the last piece, and when the teacher turns he will see a soldier
who has climbed this mountain before. The soldier will kneel
as he was taught by his own mentor before he heard of his general.
He will leave his uniform shirt by the ink-stained bowl,
he will take the student's shift offered by the teacher,
and for the first time in decades, a calligrapher's brush
will call his fingers home.

A poem

Jul. 31st, 2013 11:15 pm
violetcheetah: (Default)
From tonight's workshop:


I am a footless bird, but no matter, you say:
You only need wings to fly.
How much better this is,
To be unhampered by useless limbs
Dangling in your slipstream or else
Taking effort to tuck away beneath your tail feathers.
You say this in the light of day
As I soar above and survey the fields,
But the sun it setting,
And I, too, wish to descend and rest.
I glide toward a middling pine bough,
Reach out to grasp it —
And sail past and below it,
Banking hard to keep from slamming into the ground,
For those are phantom talons
That will never wrap around a roosting branch,
Will never touch a place to sleep.
The sun sets again and the moon rises,
And my wings stumble on beneath the stars,
Looking for a perch that cannot be.


As with many of the things I've written in the last year or so, the initial metaphor has been in my head for... Okay, I remember that I was still an MIT student, so literally half my life. I didn't plan for the poem to go where it did; I figured that, like most of my depressing pieces, it would end on a hopeful note. It bothered me enough to trigger a dissociative episode when it was read for the other workshoppers (It bothered me enough I couldn't do my own reading, too.) I'm aware that if I'd written it on almost any other night, it might have taken a different direction. That disturbs me. Scares me. Because it's true of anything I write. I have had the edge of that awareness before, but I don't look at it too closely, and now I know that it's because it's overwhelming to think that every time I write something, and it just feels right, every time I have that sureness that this is where the scene was "meant" to go, that it just fits together... it's a lie. If I had written that scene three days earlier, or two hours, or next year, it might go a completely different route, and that route would feel like it was the only possible route.

And in the middle of writing the above paragraph, I realize that I have written something very similar before. I don't remember if it was in another blog post, or in an email to a friend, but I had forgotten until right now that yes, I -have- stared down this realization before, have turned it over in my mind enough to put it into words, and then completely put it out of my thoughts. Which is a whole nother level of scary. What would I have done, what would my mind have done to me, if I'd recalled that memory when the poem was being read? -Did- I recall it then? Is that what freaked me out? I don't know. But I can look at it now, head-on, with discomfort but without turning away. I guess that's something.

violetcheetah: (butler)
I pretty much never do silly-homage poetry, but on the way home last night, shivering in 25 degrees after a high in the 50s the day before, the line "Beware the Ides of March, my son" popped into my head.  Today during my lunch break and my homeward commute, I worked out the rest.


(with no apologies to Lewis Carroll)

'Twas sprinter, and the grimy roads
Did run with water from the rain;
All slushy were the sidewalk curbs,
And the slurry clogged the drains.

"Beware the Ides of March, my child
The winds that bite, the boughs that crack!
Beware the fickle weather mild:
It will change in half a snap!"

She put her YakTrax on her boots;
Already were the sidewalks fraught—
No resting by the maple tree,
The temperature was Aught.

And as she trudged the gritty road,
Above, the looming sky of grey
Let loose its load of stinging snow,
Wind shrieking as it came!

One, two! One, two! Her boots strode through,
The YakTrax going clicker-clack!
Through the door, and home once more,
And met by hungry cats.

"Oh hast thou come, prehensile thumbs?
Spoon the tuna on our plates!
Serve our kibble without quibble,
Lest hunger make us faint!"

'Twas sprinter, and the grimy roads
Did run with water from the rain;
All slushy were the sidewalk curbs,
And the slurry clogged the drains.


The original, for comparison:


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
violetcheetah: (Default)

You are the moon to my sun
and you think I'm lucky.
I burn hotter than imagination.

But point your telescope
and I am a stain.
Spent coal in the white glow.

I stare around me
and it leaves me blind.
I see myself I see nothing.

The sky is black above me
except for you.

Shine your mirror so I can see.
violetcheetah: (Default)
Meh, this one doesn't really work for me. The thing is, I think about it all the time, when I see wildflowers growing in places where no self-respecting plant should grow. I guess the poem is like a 70s pop-song earworm; I'm embarrassed to find myself reciting it, but I can't get it out of my head. Maybe some day I'll figure out how to remix it into something more satisfying, but for now, it's what I've got.

The email file says I sent it February 13, 1996, 3:12 a.m.


City weeds

We grow
in the cracks of the sidewalk;
we come up
between the railroad rails.
Through the mortar
in the brick wall:
look anywhere,
we'll be there.

We dance in our own glory,
enthralled by our perfection.
Winds of winter
never hurt us.
Your cold stares
never hurt us.

You pull us
from between your roses;
you throw us
into the street.
We're crushed
by the wheels of a taxi,
seeds strewn
two blocks away.

You think that we are ugly,
that our chaos undermines you.
You're afraid
of our power,
our unassuming,
boundless power.

In the spring,
our quickened bodies
thrust our flowers
at the sky.
A slip of sun
will serve our purpose,
all we need
to survive.

Even you would find us stunning
if you saw us at this moment,
if you weren't
too busy running,
if you weren't
too busy planning

to destroy us
while we simply grow.

Old poems

Jun. 10th, 2012 11:25 pm
violetcheetah: (Default)
After writing the short story I posted earlier this week, I ended up digging through my computer folders of old poetry, because I have a vague recollection of the story beginning as a prose poem, and now that I've written the first draft, I kinda wanted to go back and read what I wrote back then and laugh at how horrible it was, but also see how it began, and what I've forgotten, and what's changed.  I didn't find it, but, well, I have a lot of old poetry, mostly crappy, and most of it has numbers for the filenames, because I'd written it in emails to friends back when email was plain text on a dialup connection to a Unix platform, so if I'd kept a poem that was the 33rd message in my "CC" folder, then 33 was the filename.  Well, the "poems" folder didn't have it, but it was... informative.  And it might be in another folder, but I gave up.

In the meantime, I thought, hey, I should post some of the stuff I wrote when I was writing poems.  The stuff that doesn't suck that much — which mainly means the dozen or so I wrote for a grad school class — and maybe at some point some of the crappier, rawer stuff, with commentary on what I remember of what was going on at the time.  Kinda of pre-writing for the next sections of the memoir.

Anyway, even before that, I'd been thinking of posting this one, because at least my grad school professor thought it was good, and because it's apropos to the memoir.  It was written fall term of 1997.



The flesh on my arm is soft like wet clay,
but it doesn't give the same.
Letters pressed didn't last;
she had to go deeper to leave her words.
So she used an exacto, scalpel blade,
to carve her life right here.
I dabbed the blood as it filled each inscription
so she could see clearly:
it's an exacting alphabet,
and she wanted to be neat
so as never to be misunderstood.

Then she was gone
without teaching me her language.

A poem

Nov. 3rd, 2011 11:04 am
violetcheetah: (Default)
I wrote this yesterday on the way to the penultimate shrink session, finishing in the waiting room because I was way early. I feel compelled to critique it here, to say what parts I'm not happy about, what parts feel flat. But one thing I learned from my college writing classes (thank you, Patricia Powell) is that if you tell someone what you see, they will see it whether it's there or not. So I'll shut up. But I welcome useful criticism, so feel free to comment on which line annoys you most.

first draft below the cut... )

violetcheetah: (chess)
Since a number of friends seemed to like the poem I posted yesterday, here's another anthropomorphized astronomy poem, from my grad-school days:

The shyer stars


Our teacher told us, looking up that night
in the moonless field, of the ancients' eye exam:
"Look at the middle star in the handle of the big dipper.
If you can see a second star, your vision is sharp."

Light years apart, those two, but from here
they are almost one, the fainter overlooked,

except by this small group, damp with dew, straining to see.


She is magic: she can make herself invisible.
Drives you insane. You can see her if you don't try,
she's clear at the edge of your vision.
But try to look right at her,
and she hides behind herself.

Only through the lens of the telescope
can you see her straight on,
shivering, trapped,
a deer caught in her own light.


violetcheetah: (Default)
Violet Wilson

October 2016



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