Lithopedion On Monday the politicians slither into the governor’s mansion for a cookout, hungry old white men in dark suits feasting on greasy hot dogs, drunk on the cheap wine of other people’s freedom, chuckling smugly at the crowd howling outside the wrought iron gates. A kinky haired full figured black delegate stands flanked by her muscular dreadlocked well-armed bodyguard, beseeching the protestors to stand and fight, to get out the vote, to hold on to hope. On Tuesday the lawmakers convene in extraordinary session under the golden dome. Inside the chamber the men are briefly reviewing their knowledge of the female body, pooling masculine ignorance, codifying their authority over the uteruses of West Virginia. One delegate says “If you’ve got a burning building and you can save almost all the children, but not all of them, would you do it? I’d burn the building.” In the corridor women are chanting, guards are dragging them from the gallery. Votes are tallied. The ban is passed. On Wednesday I sit and watch the dozers knocking down abandoned houses across the street. I think about the population hemorrhage from our state, 60,000 people gone elsewhere in the last 10 years alone. I imagine dozer treads as tight white entitled masculine skin driving over the hopes and dreams and rights of our children, born and not born. Children named Broken Foster Care System, Opioid Epidemic, Systemic Racism, Lack of Economic Opportunity, Substandard Education, Malnutrition, Abuse and Neglect, Substance Use Disorder. If we can’t care for these children then how sacred are they to us really? The dozer turns up muddy foundation stones as I browse online articles about Lithopedians, otherwise known as stone babies. It happens more often than you might think, a fetus dies inside the mother, and the body calcifies it like some strange pearl to protect the mother from infection. In this case a 91 year old Chilean woman had carried her 4.4 lb. stone child inside her for more than 50 years, only discovering it due to x-rays after a fall. Some days the mystery and pain of life is almost too much to bear, but we still wake up and feed the dog, make coffee, put our daughters on the school bus, go to work, and maybe in a spare moment gaze out the window into September sunlight, wondering what it means to live, or love, and what forces can turn a fetus to stone, or calcify a human heart. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithopedion
Slow Stepper O Tardigrade, your ancient strength brings me hope! These are strange times we live in, to be sure, though your 500 million year lineage has seen stranger no doubt. It’s said you can be found from the mountaintops to the ocean’s deeps, in boiling mud volcanoes, tropical rain forests, Antarctic ice fields… O Grandfather, your strong spirit lifts me up! I was eating reheated pizza when the news came of your Christmas Eve heart attack. I sighed and thought “2021 isn’t done with us yet” and remembered the days of summer, how perfect white clouds stood guard outside hospital windows while your troubled head rested on pillows with bag of red blood beside, draining to relieve pressure on your brain, yet when you woke you meditated with me, brought me back from worry. O Water Bear, were you happy living in that rooftop gutter in Denmark* when they found you? I sip my reheated coffee and think of your silent suffering, resistant as you are to temperature extremes, air deprivation, radiation, dehydration, starvation, and wonder what it felt like when the white frocked doctors cooled you to 0.01 degrees Celsius above absolute zero reducing you to cryptobiotic tun state. O Father, you’ve been through it all! The flushed vigor of youth, forging of family, divorce, career, incarceration, Hawaii (we have the picture of you in your bright flowered shirt), and always kept your cool no matter how fast the world turned, though you also drove too fast and wild scaring all us passengers, but you’re in the doctors’ hands now with their lasers and stents and beeping machines. If you get chilled we’ll bring you a blanket. O Moss Pig, so far away from your green tufted heaven they say you’ve been quantumly entangled! I wonder what it means…Did they somehow partner you to me here where I stand in the darkness beneath street hemlocks waiting for my dog to pee? or maybe to father in his hospital bed to the north and everything that happens to each of us is somehow reflected in the other, our spin, momentum, polarization. Some may be naysayers, my slow-stepper (tardus(slow)+gradior(step)) and claim the “entanglement was not meaningful”, but they’ll believe the glow of the fluorescent shield* you’ve lent me illuminating longest hospital corridors and deepest mud volcanoes as we awkwardly stride together into the new year. (*A team of scientists collected 3 tardigrades from a roof gutter in Denmark.) (* Scientists have discovered yet another reason to be impressed with tardigrades; some of these microscopic, nearly indestructible creatures wear a glowing "shield" that protects them from ultraviolet radiation.) https://www.livescience.com/tardigrade-quantum-entangled-experiment https://www.livescience.com/tardigrade-fluorescence.html
Charleston West Virginia Just Before The Fall
I. In the fastest shrinking small city in America on a hot September afternoon, an amputee waits in his wheelchair to cross the street. An old man places carefully folded flag in gray metal “flag retirement” box on the corner to be shredded or burnt reverently. Local weatherman shows disquieting graphic, little clip art fires burning across western states which explains tonight’s blood red orb sinking into the horizon. II. I read in a poem that all the virus in the world weighs a gram, but it must be out of date since a quick search yields an article stating that all the SARS-CoV-2 in the world weighs between .10 kilos and 10 kilos, somewhere between the weight of an apple and a toddler. On a street in my city a toddler stands holding an apple, both are fully composed of virus, spike proteins and filaments of RNA vibrating and glowing backlit by wildfires of COVID spreading unchecked as hospitals overflow with unvaccinated victims of the delta variant. III. Friday morning I encounter a local poet in the cool fluorescence of the dairy aisle, both of us perhaps reaching for half & half to cut the bitterness of our dark morning liquids. I speak his name with excitement, in thrall of minor celebrity…he is hesitant, searching my masked face for recognition. Later he tells me “You could’ve been a convict, a former lover, or someone who sold me drugs 20 years ago. That you were a poetry friend is much, much better.” I think of my poetry friends and how we spend our time stuffing messages into bottles, tossing them off rusty bridges, decaying piers, into lakes and rivers and oceans, no idea where they’ll come to rest. We fish out others’ bottles, uncork and drink down contents, bitter and sweet, joyful and melancholy, in sips and gulps, warm glow of language filling our bellies. I reply to an old friend’s text, then reply again, apologizing: “Sorry, that seemed like an auto-reply” He responds: “Don’t worry, the pandemic makes everything weird, and time passes in a new way it seems.” A train whistle, a wind chime, and a pair of black crows sound their agreement.
Hanging by a thread here, the thread’s around my neck,
knot in my throat as I sing Strange Fruit, the new crop
harvested yesterday, 21 lives in Texas, cruel beauty
of May’s whims on display for all to see.
In this world gone wrong I think of broken nursery rhymes:
I’m a little teapot, short and stout. When I get all steamed up
please don’t give me access to a gun.
Old Mother Hubbard went to the gun cabinet.
There was an old lady who lived in Uvalde,
there were so many dead children
she didn’t know what to do.
Ring around the rosie, pocket full of bullets,
rat-a-tat-tat, we all fall down.
Remember you hosed a noisy baby pigeon off your patio one time
and listened to it crying for days in the blind alley below.
Now the pigeon wants to nest again in that same potted plant
so you push upturned glass bottles into the soil, trying to crowd
her out, trying to quench a certain craving with your own spent thirst.
Now the planned burn, the good fire, prescribed to reduce
volatile fuel loads has gone wrong. all that tinder waiting for
a match in New Mexico is a 300,000 acre conflagration
thousands left homeless.
My son is too young to legally drink beer, but can legally buy
an assault rifle. I take my driver’s test, renew my license,
my registration, pay my monthly insurance premium
to own my most powerful tool, as others do without
too much complaint. I wonder why guns are so
different, so easy. What does all this killing
say about us? How pro-life are we really?
I took my doll to show-and-tell, hoping she’d show or tell me something.
I harvested too much in the garden, let it go to waste.
We’re all stardust destined for the compost heap I guess.
Sting Ray Heart
"I sat down with him and I said, 'Sung-Jin, we're going to take a rat apart; we're going to rebuild it as a stingray; and then we're going to use a light to guide it.' And the look on his face was both sorrow and horror." -Kit Parker, bioengineer and physicist He speaks of biohybrid stingrays made of silicone, gold, and rat heart muscle cells, an alchemy inspired by aquarium visit with young daughter. Just in time for Valentine’s Day the news comes of the next step: biohybrid fish made of paper, plastic, gelatin, and 2 strips of living human heart cells. “In some ways, a fish is a pump, he says. But instead of pumping blood through the body, it pumps itself through the water.” He says the fish kept swimming for 3 months sustained by nutrients added to the fluid around them and I think about this as I step out for a jog in the breezy 60-degree February sunshine, how we left the warm briny waters of mother and brought our lub dub pelagic hearts along onto the dry land. This week you messaged from the hospital to tell me they had to fuse your lung to the chest cavity, that you have maybe 6 months to live. Your one request “that there is not a big deal made about this. Tears and sorrow and pity are not what I want in my remaining days.” I finish my run, head to the supermarket past overturned shopping cart half submerged in last big pile of sooty parking lot snow. These are the things I buy to profess my love: calla lilies, pineapple, grapes, strawberries, avocados, stilton cheese, sushi, champagne, potato chips, frozen pizza, ice cream, beer, and toothpaste. Go home. Walk dogs. Water dogs. Wash dishes. I read in your card how you’re waiting to hear the spring peepers. You’ve ordered 60 trees to plant in April; walnuts, cedars, oaks. You’ve gone to visit a 600 year old white oak tree in Logan. “It was pretty amazing.” you say.
They call you pricklyburr, downy thorn apple,
lovache, angel’s trumpet, nacazcul, toloatzin,
delicate white spiral unfurling to release sweet
fragrance into night air, whispering promises
of anodyne relief, or perhaps delirium,
photophobia, and amnesia if spiked egg
opens and is consumed.
I call you moonflower as my bisque baby
burrows headfirst into dark moist soil
in your shadow, only feet protruding
as he seeks the secrets of night time.
Baldheaded child baptized in farm pond
feet mucky among cat tails and willow,
lullaby of bullfrog and water snake.
Post hole auger augurs well,
red metal screw spinning
into earth, kicking up ring
of loose brown dirt.
Brother and sister and I used to try to dig to China,
now in middle age we insert wooden fence posts
into holes, fall on knees not praying but tamping
soil firmly in place till hands cramp and shoulders
ache, hoping these might last our lifetime.
Then bliss of good night’s sleep
for habitual insomniac in attic,
gentle awakening to soft patter
of morning rain on tin roof.
Did my first ever marathon last Friday. 26 miles! Had done 21 the week before with lots of hills and crazy terrain, so I was pretty sure I could do 26 even though I haven’t really “trained” for it. When you run that much there is a strong mental component, but it is also interesting to see which muscle groups start to fatigue first. For me it was quads/thighs and I wonder if some strength training would help, or if there is only a certain amount of lactic acid the muscles can handle.
At any rate, I jogged past this odd collection of dolls between Dunbar and Charleston. I tend to keep a slightly lower profile with my love for creepy dolls, but these folks are putting it all out there right on the main drag, seems to be associated with a sort of ramshackle antique store, which wasn’t open. Maybe I’ll stop in again sometime?
Short words/interpretations for each photo here, feel free to add your own in the comments:
Twined in vines,
trapped and playing.
Tiny immobile acrobats.
Slumped but ready for action.
How long will they wait?
Wolf Pen Rides
One armed charmer beckons,
only $200 for the Wolf Pen Rides.
St. Sebastian is known in popular imagery for being tied up and shot with arrows. However, this did not kill him. He was rescued and healed by St. Irene, only to later be clubbed to death for trying to warn Emperor Diocletian of the consequences of his sins. St. Sebastian is known to intercede and offer protection from the plague.
In my country, the new plague is the opioid epidemic. For the first time on record, you are statistically more likely to die from opioid use than from a car accident. The children suffer for our sins. Who will intercede on our behalf and offer protection from this plague?
Out in the cold.
When children die in cages on the border of the land of the free…When young punks sneer in the face of a native american veteran…When russians decide the outcome of elections…When the great grandchildren of immigrants scream “Go back to your country”…
Wherever you go, there they are…
Haven’t posted in a bit, since we moved to a new city last August. Well, rest assured there are plenty of creepy dolls in Charleston, WV! Daughter Violet was interested in picking up some old barbies for a DIY project. Not sure whether to call her my protégé or just partner in crime…Anyway, we headed down to the local Goodwill, land of all things unloved and unwanted. Found a whole laundry basket of barbies in all states of disarray, and also this lovely vintage armless doll. She has a pullstring on the back, but nothing happens when you pull the string. Just have to use your imagination I guess. Will post more pictures of our finds soon.