the world, the flesh

An unexpected poem.

        the world, the flesh

They did it to me when I was too young
to resist: in my name they renounced 
my skin, my heart, my lungs,
my sex, my brain, my little fingers. 
They renounced my senses, 
my fears, my hungers, my animal urgency.

They renounced the world. 
The deserts and trees, mountains and seas,
everyone who crawls and swims and flies:
denizens of the dirt, tigers and dogs and whales.
They don’t have souls the story goes,
and all that matters is what isn’t.

When the trout lily leaves emerged, 
when the bears came out of their winter dens,
when the buds swelled on the maples,
every spring we remembered our renunciation. 
How strange when the empty tomb
recalls the garden and the flesh. 

I repent. I reclaim all I was taught, 
along with the devil, to renounce. 
Beginning with this patch of ground 
where rotting trunks flower out their fruits,
where robins overturn the unraked leaves
and acorns sprout along the edges of the unmown grass.



REPORT: March 8, 2022, 6:30 a.m.

REPORT:  MARCH 8, 2022, 6:30 A.M.

I don’t yet know the news from afar. Here,
the backyard is a sheet of ice. In the low spot
in the drive, the gravel has washed away, leaving
a narrow ditch. Before sunrise, the sky is gray
and yellow. All the undones of autumn poke through
the grubby snow. A rabbit scrounges for seed
under the bird feeder. The dog looks out
the window and begins to scream at a squirrel.
Coffee’s good. The north wind is rising. 

A PHOTO OF BORIS

A PHOTO OF BORIS


They posed him against a background of drapery,
stood him on the seat of a chair with curved arms.
His hair was parted and neatly combed.
He wore a dark jacket with two rows of buttons,
dark button-trimmed trousers, and sturdy shoes.
They put a hoop—-larger than himself—-around his neck. 
The fingers of one hand curled around it. 
In the other, he held a short stick of the sort
used by bigger boys to turn a hoop along a road.
His expression was serious, puzzled, maybe alarmed:
Why do they want me standing here, with a hoop around my neck?  
On the back, a line of my Grandmother’s illegible scrawl
—I think in German—-and one word, set apart: “Boris.”

There is no Boris in the family tree.

The photo was attached with dots of glue
to a page in a cheap photo album
discovered in a box in a closet 
among my mother’s things.
It was Grandma’s.
Perhaps Mother never looked at it.
She never showed it to us.
The cover was broken, the pages crumbling.
I know how paper can decay.
I pried all the photos out. 

Most were not labeled.
Grandma knew who they were:
People in the Old Country around a table, 
people haying on the farm in East Germany 
where Johann ended up after the war, 
a uniformed man who might be the German cousin 
who went down with his ship in 1945. 

Only a few were labeled— Onkel Herman,
Onkel Hans’s wife, Pa and Frieda.
And Boris. 
I thought to toss it with the unlabeled photos—
the sort of nameless photos that pile up, 
that we pass on endlessly. 

But I cannot discard Boris.
What was he doing there, in Grandma’s album,
with Johann and August and Wanda,
Great-grandfather Joseph, Tante Helen,
and Grandma herself, stout in her printed dress,
standing with the nameless Sunday School teachers
in front of the Cleveland Lutheran Church.

An old poem: Witch Hunt

An Old Poem: Witch Hunt

This was originally done as a performance piece.

Such was the darkness of that day, 
the tortures and lamentations of the afflicted, 
and the power of former precedence, 
that we walked in the clouds, and could not see our way.
The Rev. John Hale


Sarah Good, hanged			Susannah Martin, hanged
Elizabeth Proctor, reprieved	Rebecca Jacobs, acquitted
Martha Corey, hanged		Mary Bradbury, reprieved
Rebecca Nurse, hanged		Alice Parker, hanged
John Proctor, hanged		Ann Pudeator, hanged
Giles Corey, pressed under stones       Martha Carrier, hanged
Bridget Bishop, hanged		        Elizabeth Howe, hanged
Abigail Hobbs, reprieved		Wilmot Reed, hanged
Sarah Wilds, hanged			Ann Foster, reprieved,
Mary Easty, hanged			Mary Lacey Sr., reprieved
George Burroughs, hanged		Margaret Scott, hanged
George Jacobs, Sr., hanged		Abigail Faulkner Sr., reprieved
John Willard, hanged			Rebecca Eames, reprieved
Sarah Buckley, acquitted		Samuel Wardwell, hanged
Mary Witheridge, acquitted		Mary Parker, hanged
Dorcas Hoar, reprieved

Is three hundred years so long ago?

Can you see the village?
Saltworks, warehouse, wharf and fish flakes
cod ketches in from the Newfoundland banks   
trading ships in from Barbados or Surinam
The gabled clapboard houses, steep-roofed
I saw her on the beam suckling her yellow bird betwixt her fingers

small windows to keep out the cold
there is a black man whispering in her ear
board fences to keep the cattle out
meeting house to keep the devil out 
O  yonder is Goodman Proctor & his wife 
& Goody Nurse & Goody  Corey  & Goody Cloise & Goody Child.  
Goodman Proctor is  going to choke me.
church yard to keep the dead inside
gallows built sturdy on Gallows Hill
they both did torture me a great many times 
because I would not yield to their Hellish temptations

Can you hear the village?
Sea wind and tide rumble
Barking dog, brown wren scolding in the eaves
gossip in the gardens, on the streets,
children about their business to and fro	
the learned preacher enlightening his flock
I would advise you to repentance, 
for the devil is bringing you out
Kettles hiss and bubble, spinning wheels tick and whir
I have seen sights & been scared.  I have been very wicked. 
I hope I shall  be better:  if God will keep me.
And in the night dark calls of whippoorwill and owl, cat wail, fox yap
What a dreadful Sight are You!  
An Old Woman, an Old Servant of the Devil!  ‘
Tis an horrible Thing!
moanings of birth and love and death
scream of a rabbit caught.	
What sin hath god found out in me unrepented of 
that he should Lay such an Affliction upon me In my old Age?

Can you smell the village?
stew of rabbit and winter roots
herbs in the dooryards, hanging from the beams
sea scent--salt and drying cod
I never had to do with witchcraft since I was born. 
 I am a Gospell Woman.
Ye are all against me and I cannot help it.
sweat and urine, blood and shit
The LORD doth terrible things amongst us, 
by lengthening the Chain of the Roaring Lion,
in an Extraordinary manner;  
so that the Devil is come down in great wrath.  

Human nature has not changed.
They might lie for ought I know
We are wary creatures crouched in caves.
Outside our civilized circles wild eyes glitter in the night
Were you to serve the Devil ten years?   Tell how many.
voices of the dispossessed murmur under every window
they drum and dance in the dense black desert
praying to their devil, plotting our demise.
There is evil, evil all outside, all around.


Do not you see these children & women are rational 
& sober as their  neighbours when your hands are fastened?

Human nature has not changed.
Being Conscious of My own Innocency 
I Humbly Beg that I may have Liberty to Manifest it to the world
Watch your children fight for space,
watch the traffic, grocery check-out line,
listen to the evening news,
hear your own voice grow shrill.
How comes the Devil so loathe 
to have any Testimony born against you?
They said we were guilty of afflicting them.  
We knowing ourselves altogether innocent of this crime, 
we were all exceedingly astonished and amazed, 
and consternated and affrighted even out of our reason.
With all gone wrong, with demons all round,
the fault can not be mine.
I will have, must have
someone else to blame.
God would not suffer so many good men 
to be in such an error about this, 
and you will be hanged if you do not confess.
It is false! the Devil is a liar.  
It is a shameful thing
that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits.

	
Where do you place your fear?
I take God in heaven to be my witness, 
that I know nothing of it, no more than the child unborn
In your heart, your bowels?
Or do you wrap it tight
and bury it like a corpse far away, outside yourself, 
That you were fled from Authority 
is an acknowledgment of guilt 
but yet notwithstanding we require you 
to confess the truth in this matter.
in your neighbor’s yard, your neighbor’s soul?
I am going upon the Ladder to be hanged for a Witch, 
but I am innocent.


Can you see the village still?
Boundaries broad, buildings tall,
I am no more a Witch than you are a Wizard, 
and if you take away my Life, God will give you Blood to drink
all the traffic sound and stench
and still--
Is three hundred years so long ago?

If it was the last time I was to speak I am innocent


Note:
The names of the accused are read throughout, in a monotone.
words spoken by the accusers
words spoken by the accused
words spoken by the judges


Playaday: Savoring Senses

#115—What can I love and savor through my senses?


CHARACTERS

HUMAN
HAWK 
BEAR
BAT
MOLE

Setting: The edge of a forest. A semi-circle with Human in the center

HUMAN
All right, you guys. I’ve brought you here because I want to know what your worlds are like. So tell me.

HAWK
Oh, I can see. I can see miles and miles. My world is clear and far and full. And silent, but for the wind.

BEAR
And my world is dark and snuffly, full of musk and meat, grubs, berries, apples, acorns, the edible treasures you throw into cans and hang in feeders. And you, always you, and your dogs, all around.

BAT
Nothing but sound. Sharp and hard. Buzzings and screamings and the dullnesses of clotheslines and grass. The hollowness of openings in boxes and towers and holes in walls.

MOLE
Thick, wet, dry, crumbly, slick, live and soft, dark and hard. Edible, poison. Spring, sharp. Air near the tops.

ALL BUT HUMAN
And you, Human? Tell us your world.

HUMAN
Not as clear or far, but enough for me. Flowers an dfood, just enough. Wind and music and th evoices of my friends. Not every rustle and click and snap. The smooth sheets and stones, the rough of pavement and sand. And, too, the sweet of peach and bitter of coffee. The salt of cheese, the comfort of bread. The taste of coming snow. The sense of who I am.

Also written among the thrum and bustle of our son’s family. I did not write one on the 14th, in the car on the way home.


Playaday: Most Feared

Prompt #74—what do you most fear?

CHARACTERS

DOG

MOUSE

DEER

OWL

Setting—the edge of a forest.

MOUSE

(Enters, creeping, searching the ground and looking up.)

Food. Something here. Seeds. Over there. Gotta find. Dry grass. Little holes. Winter coming. Need snow. Cover, cover, cover. Owls. Foxes. Hungry. Melting. Freezing. Sky. Oh, sky. Nothing. Shelter, need shelter. But food. Seeds. Over here. Owls at night. Hawks. Foxes. Need food. Winter coming.

(Exits, scurrying.)

DEER

(Enters wary, sniffing, listening.)

Not time yet, but they’re coming. Every tree on the edge of every clearing, every clump of grass and brush can hold a death. Listen, listen, move with care. Alert, stay alert. Not time yet, but soon. The leaves have fallen, my breath blows a mist. It will be soon.

DOG

(Enters, looking around.)

Where are they? Where did they go? I went too far, maybe. There was a rabbit and a squirrel and some deer and something I don’t know, and I followed and I followed and they were still behind me and now I don’t know. I could hear them calling but now I can’t hear them and maybe they’re lost. I don’t want to lose them. What would they do, lost in the woods. How would they find their way home. The wind is wrong. I can’t hear them, I can’t smell them. What shall I do? Go this way? Turn back? I don’t know, I don’t know. Where are they? Where are they?

(Exits.)

OWL

(Enters silently, calmly. Stands still and looks around for a long time, then moves on.)

03. Playaday: Snufkin

Prompt # 111:  SNUFKIN

CHARACTERS

Snufkin:  a free-spirited character in the Moomintroll world

Interviewer

SETTING

Two chairs in a TV talk show set

At Rise:

The Interviewer is seated and the other chair is empty.

INTERVIEWER
Good evening. Tonight our special guest is Snufkin, known to Moomintroll fans as the enigmatic, free-spirited wanderer.  Snufkin spends summers with the Moomins, and when they get ready to hibernate, he goes south. What does he do in the winter, and where does he go? These are questions that—perhaps—we’ll hear the answers to. Please welcome our guest, Snufkin.

(Snufkin enters. Interviewer rises, they shake hands, sit.)

INTERVIEWER

Welcome, Snufkin. I must say it’s a delight to meet you in person. I’ve read so much about you.

SNUFKIN

I imagine.

INTERVIEWER
Well, the question tonight on everyone’s mind is: Where do you go in the winter, when the Moomins are hibernating?

SNUFKIN

Here and there. 

INTERVIEWER

We all know that the coast of Finland is cold in the winter, which is why the Moomins hibernate. I assume that, not being a Moomin, you prefer a warmer climate in winter?

SNUFKIN

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

I can see that you’re not eager to reveal your secret. I expect you’d be overwhelmed with your fans if they knew where you were.

SNUFKIN

Maybe. Maybe not. It depends.

INTERVIEWER
On what?

SNUFKIN

On the fan. On where I decide to be.

INTERVIEWER
I see. Well, can you tell us what you do?

SNUFKIN

Maybe.

INTERVIEWER
Do you live in your tent? Do you fish? Do you play your mouth organ?

SNUFKIN

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

I understand that you compose new tunes on your mouth organ. Do you compose while you are in the south?

SNUFKIN

It depends.

INTERVIEWER

On what?

SNUFKIN

On the tune.

INTERVIEWER
Do you have your mouth organ with you?

SNUFKIN

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

Could you delight our audience with a tune?

SNUFKIN

Maybe. It depends.

INTERVIEWER

(Exasperated.)

On what?

SNUFKIN

Do they know how to listen?

INTERVIEWER

(To audience.)

Do you know how to listen?

AUDIENCE

Yes.

SNUFKIN

All right then.

(Takes mouth organ from his pocket and plays a tune. As he plays, the interviewer stands and begins to dance, eventually dancing down into the audience. They form a chain and dance out of the theater. Snufkin keeps playing until they are all gone, then puts his mouth organ in his pocket and exits.)

02. Playaday: An Ultimatum

Number Six:  An Ultimatum

Characters:

Carol, a Good Witch

Betsy, a Bad Witch

Hansel and Gretel, non-speaking

Setting:  The inside of a small cottage. The witches sit at a table, drinking tea.

CAROL

All I’m saying, Betsy, is that you’d best be careful. One thing leads to another, if you don’t watch out.

BETSY

But frightening children is so much fun, Carol. You know that.

CAROL

There’s a big difference between lurking in the forest and cackling at the kids and luring them into a cottage and threatening to eat them, is all I’m saying.

BETSY

Oh come on. I’d never eat them. Children are so.  .  stringy. If I were to eat anybody, it would be an alderman.

CAROL

What do you mean, if  you were to eat anybody? Have you seriously considered it?

BETSY

Well yes. Haven’t you? It’s part of the lore, after all. Baba Yaga and so forth.

CAROL

I think you’ll find, my dear, that the Baba Yaga did not eat people. It was rumored that she did. It was part of the reputation that she maintained. But she was a good witch. She helped people.

BETSY

Helped people. Bah. What kind of witching is that?

CAROL

The right kind. Scare the bejeezus out of them and help them. That’s what we do.

BETSY

I don’t know about that.

CAROL

I’m worried about you, Betsy. I truly am. That gingerbread cottage is one thing, but the cage outside, and the big oven. . .

BETSY

All right, Carol. I’ll level with you. I’m tired of being a good witch. I’m tired of playing a role. I want to know what it’s like to be bad. My whole life I’ve been a goody two-shoes. Haven’t you ever wanterd to be bad? Really bad?

CAROL

No. No I haven’t. Scary, sure. That’s fun. But bad? Hurting people? No.

BETSY

So you are a goody two-shoes.

CAROL

Of course not. But I would never act on my worst imaginings.

BETSY

Have you ever imagined eating children?

CAROL

No. I have not. 

BETSY

What are your worst imaginings then?

CAROL

Using the full force of my wrath on people who hurt children. 

BETSY

But you wouldn’t eat them?

CAROL

No. And I’m not going to tell you what I’ve imagined doing to them. But Betsy—if you go through with this plan of yours and actually hurt some children, you will find out.

BETSY

I will, eh? And what will you do to me? If you’re a sissy “good witch” you don’t know what wrath is like.

CAROL

Oh, that’s what you think. Beware, Betsy, beware. It’s been building up inside me for a hundred years, this wrath, this raging at all the injustice on the earth and in the world. If it is unleashed it won’t be pretty. And believe me, it will be unleashed on you, if need be.

BETSY

Well, I don’t believe it. My power against yours? No contest. I’m off.

(Stands.)

I have to finish the gingerbread house. I won’t invite you to the feast.

CAROL

(Stands.)

One more chance, Betsy. If you don’t stop it, now, you will be consumed by the very fire you prepare.

(Betsy exits, cackling.)

CAROL

(Calling.)

Gretel, Hansel.

(The children enter.)

Go to the cottage. Remember all that I have taught you. Go with my protection. All will be well.

(The children bow, and exit.)

(Carol picks up her broomstick and follows.)