The Invention of Honey

Selected Poems

The Invention of Honey

from the start:
next to nothing
is what we know
about the bee.

Some have argued
that the sun cried,
the tears fell,
they took wings,
took heart and went to work.

Others have called this
poetry —
dismissing it
as hatched by men
with their heads
in the moon:
the bee is an ant
promoted for good behaviour,
given wings, a brighter suit
and the key to honey.

Very well.
The debate continues
and I do not know.

The bee is to me
as I must seem to her
a complete mystery.

small engines running on honey

striped angels who fell for sweetness

stars shooting into the corolla of a petalled sun

A Small Spider
Only a spider, a small
missionary of sadness
I swallowed somehow
when I was distracted.

Laughter broke easily
her thin restraints
the delicate geometry
of the nets

but, patient architect,
she drew more lines,
reinforced the structure
until laughter ceased.

Only a small spider
who came in one day
of rain or of sunshine
one day like any other.

Tongue-tied, moans
were all I mustered:
lugubrious songs,
crippled lullabies.

Only a small sadness
on eight legs,
an implacable seamstress
with black thread

working behind my eyes,
but day by day
the day becomes
more like night.

Francis’s Barn
Laudie Waples, a neighbour, owns the barn
but with husband dead and the livestock gone
her farm is up for sale;
the barn is his for use in winter.

The whole of winter he keeps the herd inside;
each held in place by a metal yoke.

Disturbed by our voices, barn swallows fly
zig-zags about the nave. Nave?
Shafts of light on plaster walls,
rows of stalls like narrow, private pews.

Francis tells us of lightning —
how, when it strikes the barn,
the current moves through the yokes
dropping the heard, stunned, to their knees;
and once, when he himself was struck,
how the bucket flew from his hands
and a column of milk rose in the air.

When I gave her smiles
she gave me a wooden bell.
I have never known such sorrow.

When I gave her some tears
she gave me a small drum.
Now the neighbours know my joy.

When I gave her silence,
the green bird she gave me
flew down my throat.

It is with his voice
and none other
that now I sing in sleep.

Ana Louca
Antic prone and crazy
breast-feeding her dolls
through the streets
or on Sundays marooned
by herself in a pew,
she offered her litany
of curses and profanities
to no one in particular.

Thursdays she would come
demanding that which habit
had made hers by right:
the warmed leftovers
she wolfed down, standing
against the green backdoor.
Finished, she rattled thanks
from the gates and was gone.

A packing crate her bedroom,
she slept by the docks.
Amid rags and broken dolls,
asleep and for once, quiet,
a grizzled girl
lulled by the ocean’s rhythm
as if cradled in its blue arm.

I have wrestled a buffalo
into this poem
the least I could do
for an endangered species.

I have given him a tree
for shade, a stream
to slake his thirst.

A hulk of night, stranded
on my gold-green pasture
he shakes stars from his fur,
paws thunder into the ground.

The reader is to blame
who brings red into the poem.

This is what it’s like
to sleep by the rumbled

syntax of the sea:
the demagogue pours

sounds into your ears
that state nothing

but so loudly affirm:
the stretch and swell

of a sentence rising
that finally breaks

leaving in its wake
the immediate rise

of the next one:
speak in metaphors

though you miss the point:
the sea hammer strikes

and strikes again
until you agree

this harangue will not
brook your objections:

by that roar seduced,
spellbound you fall

asleep: a blue pulse
in a pillowed ear.

 Song of a crow, dying
Goodbye to the sun
my father
who blessed me
obstinately every day.
I cursed not being made
in the image of your brightness.

My mother the moon
did no better.
Her love for white
silk gown, slippers,
betrayed her rejection.

Goodbye to corn:
minaret of sweetness.
Farmers, forgive me
my daily pillage.

Forgive me also
field-mice, my brothers,
for I cackled at your fear
when my shadow loomed
large over those fields.

My little sisters
the ants:
I leave you knowing
that like Antigone
you will come out
and bury your brother.

That you do it in self-interest
will not diminish my gratitude.

Thread and needle
Stern, starched, moustachioed,
my great-uncle spent the days
policing the stones in his garden,
the mangoes on his trees.
He spoke to me of the emperor.
Sinhazinha, my aunt, the seamstress,
purblind with cataracts at sixty-five,
would hand me the needle and ask:
child, thread this for me.
If I moved my head a certain way
Sinhá was inside the aquarium
lost among the ferns,
sewing and muttering prayers
oblivious to bright fish
threading in and out of her hair.
Silver needle, golden thimble
 I will sew your bride her dress.
Sanctuary of boredom, that house
was a world, a system complete,
self-sufficient as the aquarium.
So who was it that interfered
introducing into the house
a device that could thread needles?
I no longer remember.
But soon after I touched it
the contraption would not work
or would not work as well
and Sinhá, suspecting
a demon in those gears,
turned her eyes towards one
lost inside the aquarium
and asks, again and again:
child, thread this for me.

Of this one I now speak
but soft and low
for I do not wish
to disturb her sleep.
Were my words to reach her
on that other shore
she would be embarrassed
to hold even this small
a stage. Her role
had been to always play
second to married sisters.
A fragile thing, she was
myopic, rheumatic, prone
to spells of dizziness.
Once, under the mango tree
that shadowed the entire house
she began to fall but reached
for a trailing vine,
regained her balance
and from behind thick glasses
smiled at me: Tarzan,
she said, and shuffled away.
A believer in icons
and in the appeasement of heaven
through prayer and promise,
she kept the household altar
outside her bedroom door:
A large niche painted blue,
speckled with golden stars.
Her patron was Saint Francis:
A bird to each shoulder,
the wolf curled at his feet.
Paulo, her brother-in-law,
a feisty bantam, an atheist,
in arguments would threaten
to make out of that niche,
a cage to his macaw.
In retrospect, I understand
those were rituals
enacted since before I was born,
meant to alleviate boredom,
understood, I think, as such.
As when, soaked in cheap cologne,
Tia drifted through the house
on a cloud of rose or jasmine:
upstairs rushed her sister
then down some minutes later,
a moist hanky to her nose
to sit frozen in a sulk.
But these were exceptions.
Shuttered against the heat,
the house droned and they slept.
When I left for the States
at fifteen, she whispered
she would be gone
long before my return. And was.
But in my dreams she knits
a dream that has no end:
in a perfumed forest,
a parrot squawking on his shoulder,
Tarzan bows to Saint Francis,
swings from a vine,
and steps to her back porch.
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