The Athanor* Of Susan

*From alchemy: a digesting furnace,
the crucible of transformation.


On her naked thighs
rested my empty hands like flightless birds

When I woke up
she was gone

I was asked to be the match
this time and not to burn

I lit her candles all at once,
forgot that matches also burn

too late for anything
but gratefulness

that she let me lie in her lap of flames
until I perfectly turned to ash


Published in Spring 2002 issue of Comstock Review, a poetry journal

Crows

Mother steps onto the porch
Calls his name again, again

She's sorry, she says, she really is. He hides
Behind the scary tree, the tree

He looks at when he lies
On her bed with no pants on. The rough

Elm bark comforts him like a
Mother. She goes inside,

Angry, angry. Twilight leans
On his face. His eyes

Shut, open and shut,
Open and shut, open.

The house is gone.
Bushes have been arranged

Around a rectangle of
Close-cut lawn.

House has never been,
Not even mother.

Crows fly up rippling trees,
Crawking, crawking.

______________________________________________
Published by The Louisville Review, Fall 2004

The Diagnosis

Her mother flew heavily down
from Philadelphia

to drip pity
all over her daughter

and her daughter’s pancreas
that cantankerous old man of a boulder

three years later cancer is thrilled
to still be alive

but everybody else
is stone cold exhausted

death in particular
is so crowded

he can hardly
breathe

______________________________________________
Published by Open City Magazine, SoHo NYC, 2004 spring issue

Fever Dream

at the bottom
of the gutter of autumn

in the restaurant
of the spiders

my breathing
makes me human

with ribs that move
in and out like Adam and Eve

the only reason I ever get sick
is when I am sick of me

______________________________________________
Published by MINDPRINTS, a literary journal, 2003 annual issue

Fidelity

Your fried heart is on the plate
your husband sets in front of you

he toasts himself, success, and you,
the mirror of his life

you lift your glass of wine and smile
like a wife smiling like a wife

you want to eat but the fork has leaped
beneath the gaily patterned tablecloth

your heart cools in a pool of grease
and your hands in your lap go tingly and numb

you lost your voice when you cooked your truth
and now you are dumb

______________________________________________
Published by Phi Kappa Phi, an academic journal of commentary

Gospel

sun penetrated the glass
stained with blood and cruelty

and shone on Susan
wearing nothing but the Bible

as she walked up the aisle
on a carpet the color of lips

hundreds of dirty children
filled every pew and perch

she held up
an uncut loaf of bread

silence spread like the perfumed oil
rubbed on Jesus when He was dead

“This is my body,” she said
and every one of them was hungry

______________________________________________
Published by The Owen Wister Review

Harbor

My hand luffs under your thick pink sweater
and delicately surfs a bra,
each little cup holding a frothy wave of such
huge feeling we have to break apart

to gasp like fish that finally get
returned to water. Seagulls are
shrieking like newborn babies. Big ships
are lining up farther out than we can see.

______________________________________________
Published by Drumvoices Review, Vol. 12

His Reflection

each of five sisters,
one after the other,
looks in Daddy's mirror

and puts on the face
of the sister
he loves better

then takes
Daddy's sharps
and savages

her mask. Blood
drips
on the bright white

sink
from her own cheeks
slashed

right down
to the hollow
gone daddy bone

______________________________________________
Published by POEM, May 2005 issue

Jesus of the Jungle Dream

He is older
and younger than me

He is me
He is a monkey

He meets me halfway
across the rope bridge

swaying
in the spray above the rapids

it's too loud to talk
He signs to me

I don't
understand

He jogs back into the dense green
of the rain forest

the white soles of His feet
flashing like an argument

______________________________________________
Published by MINDPRINTS, a literary journal, 2003 annual issue

Kitchen Radio

no one else around except
the dog, Bonnie

Mommy’s small, no nonsense hands
messy with whitish potato juice

her butcher knife going
chop chop chop

as if she didn’t know
I was standing right behind her

pretending
to be asleep

I backed out of the kitchen
silent as formica

waited forty years
then exhaled

those lilting
forties songs

______________________________________________
Published in the 2005 “Prelude” issue of Vanguard, the literary magazine of the University of Queensland, Australia

Little Brother

When he was four, he burned his nose on a red-hot poker
trying to see it clearly. After that they got him
glasses, and he finally learned how to talk.

When he was eight he stole my Halloween
candy, pawed my comic books, and shared
my room like an infection.

When he was 12, Mum saw him naked and strutting
around the basement, the double barrels of a loaded
shotgun jammed between his teeth.

They took his guns away and gave him a hamster.
He bitched about being bribed
but felt so loved his cheeks went pink.

When he was 30, he told me the best Christmas
he ever had as a child was when I said
something nice to him instead.

When he turned 40, I called to say hello.
It'd been ten years since we'd spoken
but I still remembered

his birthday. He was really flattered
I'd called but had to go. His
supper was ready.

He's nearly 53 now,
I could track
him down.

I heard he lives in
Alberta, some
small town.

______________________________________________
Published by The Amherst Review, Vol. XXXI, 2002

Magpies

right as I was letting go
a boy’s first deep sweet flurry of heaven

eyes fluttering up in the dying
she yanked open my bedroom door

marched across my bedroom floor
knelt down next to me and stuck

her hands under my bed
to get my dirty laundry

her cheeks flushed prettily
comprehension glistened on her upper lip

her bright blue eyes darted like magpies
over my face gone soft and open

pecking up my first–come bubbles
with a mother's all–gobble beak

her hands groping around
for big boy underwear

dirty under the tummy
of my bed

______________________________________________
Published by Box Turtle Press, NYC, in Mudfish #14

Bonewish

bonewish

Midden

sifting through
the detritus of divorce

with the clicking tools
of remorse and archeology

a cacodemon ripped
off my face

flew up in the air
wailed and cursed

then flung itself off
to Halifax

All day long
hungry ghosts flew off my face

one Carol
after another
______________________________________________
Published by Epicenter: A Literary Periodical, in Riverside, California

Migration

MIGRATION

They crept through deep, powdery snow like big black bugs with sticks for legs. The pianos were gathering, for the first time in over a century. This was in Northeastern Saskatchewan, a few hundred miles north of Tisdale. It was cold even for February, past fifty below. By midnight there were hundreds of thousands, with more arriving every minute. The silence was vast and black.

When the pale sun rose weakly over the horizon, a Steinway bull sang the first phrase of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Each note went off like a gunshot in the crisp stillness, then hung in the air like slow snow. A few Yamahas showed their teeth. There was a long electric pause, then Ode to Joy rose up in a thousand variations until the herd was in full voice and surging south like black water.

In North Dakota, hunters oiled their big guns.


Published by Studio One Literary Magazine, 2005 issue and Willow Review, Spring 2005.

My Mother’s Skirt

I boat across the floor on my back, bare feet
For paddles, until my head glides under Mommy
Standing at the front door talking
To the housewife from across the street.

I look up and see garters, girdle, brown nylons
With a darker band at the top
Bitten by garter buttons
And, way up high, puffy white inner thighs.

Like woolen butterflies,
Women’s voices float down to me,
A little-boy canoe,
Head under Mommy.

Her white slip, bright in the dimness,
Rustles. It’s wishing
For me. I suck my thumb and
Nearly sleep, nearly sleep.

______________________________________________
Published by Margie/The American Journal of Poetry, Volume 3

Orphans in Love

Susan on top of me
kissing like butter and wine

yanked her head up and away
like a baby ripped off the nipple

breaking apart our mouths
still full of each other

shutting down skin
blazing on the edge

screaming
Why did I pick her for a mother?

violent
wrenching sobs

my tongue
too full of the taste of her to speak

she dressed
and left

me in a cold bed
with chapped lips

just
as well

If she melted
I would drown

in the amniotic sea
between her breasts

______________________________________________

Preacher’s Kid

Daddy begged from the pulpit
forgive us our sins

eyes closed in sweet belief
long black robes melting down beseeching arms

I minced around the kitchen
fixing mommy tea and cookies

teasing up her sexy stripes
I knew what part of me she liked

the Antichrist in
my underpants

tiger lilies flourished
in the short, hot, quivering summers

vivid orange against the
bright green violence of ditches

August grew teeth,
bit with sudden frost, even snow

tomato vines fell over stakes
blackened and limp

Father
forgive us our sins

______________________________________________
Published by MINDPRINTS, a literary journal, 2003 annual issue

Sharps

she cuts off my affection
like a fishwife tossing
guts to the gulls

her cancer
is roaring
like a woman

out of control
she slices off
pieces of

her flesh
and throws them
to the Great Goat

by the time Death comes to collect
there will be nothing left
but the knife

______________________________________________
Published by The Louisville Review, Fall 2004 issue

Suburbs of Desire

her house sounded the alarm
with creaks and pops

carpet was so excited
it rolled out flat all over the floor

the furnace turned on
and ruffled up

her dress and the drapes
with hot breathy air

“You mean . . . ”

the overstuffed chair
stiffened my voice

she perched
on the edge

crossing and uncrossing
her long classy legs

tossing
her shiny blonde hair

outside
the living room window

lawn rippled grassy thighs
and sighed
______________________________________________
Published by MINDPRINTS, a literary journal, 2003 annual issue

Teacher Dream

I hold her tightly between me and myself
and take her to the asylum.

She is exceedingly dangerous.
“Will you trade places with me?” she asks.

I am her,
demonstrating to the audience how to reach the dull student.

I am in the lecture hall
listening to her speak.

I stand with my feet in the sea
and weep and weep.

I don't know if I'm her being me
or if I'm her on stage

showing the dull student
how to be me.

______________________________________________
Published by The Armchair Aesthete, Summer 2004

Third Date

THIRD DATE

“American culture is puritanical,” he said, looking at her kitchen sink and imagining suds and giggles. He noisily sipped his hot chocolate.

“And hypocritical,” she agreed, licking the cream on top of her cup. She tucked her bare ankles well away from the teeming pile of garter snakes beneath the table. She hoped they were his, and not wild intruders.

“That toothpaste ad, for example.” He wondered if he should tell her that when he was looking for the cinammon he found a chipmunk in every cupboard. That quick-quick, those little buck teeth, made him the worst kind of nervous.

“Exactly!” she said. “That foaming toothbrush! Moving in and out of lipsticked lips!” She laughed too loudly. Her cheeks went hot. The macaw in the bathroom shrieked like a woman being murdered. It had opened its own cage again.

They settled on the couch close enough to feel each other’s native heat and watched The Brady Bunch. She was on the pill, that was one good thing. Although they hadn’t had the diseases talk yet. A bald eagle gripped the top of the TV and stared unblinkingly at her. That had to be a sign of something.

The toothpaste ad came on. They both screamed with laughter and so did the macaw. It had locked itself out of its cage again. He leaned close and kissed her. Parakeets swooped and screeched in turquoise, green, and yellow. He closed his eyes against the cloud of little birds and licked the chocolate from the corners of her lips.

She pulled him to standing then with a grunt lifted him right up in the air and down again. “My turn!” he said, then picked her up and held her high until laughing made him drop her on the couch. Then she made like a fireman and hoisted him on her back.

They took turns carrying each other into the bedroom, threading their way in between the steaming bodies of the caribou that used her hallway as a shortcut to Alaska this time of year.

The sweet chuffling sounds went on long after the low moaning had faded away.



Published spring 2003 by Soundings East, in Salem, Mass.

True Story

truth is a pile of bones
helter-skelter in the street

all true
but some go to another dinosaur

choose
a skeleton

suscitate
those bones

into a story
you can ride into town

cry hear ye hear ye
and be believed

fiction is the breath
of truth

be honest
breathe

______________________________________________
Published by The English Journal, November 2002, the magazine of the National Council of Teachers of English, secondary school division

The Twin Sister Dream

The clink of the bottle against my glass,
the swish of beer pouring in and foaming,
does not sound anything like my sister grunting
when she stuck a needle into my lower belly

and sucked out semen. I’m eleven.
She’s my twin. She injects my seed
inside her, then tosses me over
the white picket fence around the house.

Now she’s pregnant, and I’m remembering
the dream while I drink a glass of beer
and taste the delicate fear
that I know what it means.

______________________________________________
Published by GW Review, summer 2004

The Way of Drinking Water

I surround you
like a lake

I do not
flood you

I lap
at your
gates

and
wait
______________________________________________
Published by Epiphany! Fall 2004 issue

A Lone Of Husbands

A flock of tawdry sweethearts
lifted off the promise cliff

skimmed across the marsh
and croaked at the odor

rising like a
bruise

from a ripe
husband

and his
lonely flower.

A murder of crows
settled on the marriage tree

arched over only him
with green and airy sighs and boughs

then ate
his eyes.


Published in the 2005 Prelude issue of Vanguard, the literary magazine of
the University of Queensland, Australia.

Raphael

RAPHAEL
by
Daniel John


I stepped out of the shower, dripping wet. An angel flew through the walls and stood in the doorway. He was holding up a banner labeled, “Hero.”

“No! Call me by my name or nothing!” He lowered the banner, surprised. He was so enormous he filled the doorway. His great wings extended into the hallway behind him. “I mean it. One step closer and I’ll take medication.” The banner fell away. He examined my lack of awe like a scientist. I grabbed a towel and dried off.

“Can you see me?” he asked, in a huge, soundless voice that was both caring and magnificent. His manner was cool and articulate.
“Yes, but not with my eyes. What’s your name?”
“Raphael.”

I hung up the towel and walked through him, surprising him again, and climbed into bed. He followed me to the bedroom and stood motionless in one corner. I slipped into the borderland between sleep and waking, then suddenly left my body and flew into his arms like a baby. “I love you,” I said, putting my arms around his neck and surprising both of us.

After a while I drifted back to my body, deeply happy: I was loved by an angel. I tried to sleep, but he kept looking at me with the eye of a clear blue sky that grew more and more intense until I had to sit up. When he had my full attention he opened his cloak. “This is my lore,” he said, showing me runes of stark simplicity painted on the lining. He pointed to one, a childlike drawing of a hand with the index finger extended. “Ever since we came to earth, a prophecy has guided the angels: ‘A human hand shall point the way.’ It’s your hand.”

“Which one?” I asked, holding up one hand and then the other. He smiled and pointed to my right hand. I went to sleep.

He was gone when I woke up. I googled him. Raphael is the Archangel of healing.


Published by Opium Magazine of San Francisco, Sept. 2007 at opiummagazine.com

Hippie Wedding

HIPPIE WEDDING
by
Daniel John

In 1969 Carol’s parents refused to see me when she and I showed up in Pasadena after hitchhiking across the country together. Carol was the youngest child of a wealthy and conservative California family, and her father was sure I was a secret Negro. There was no other explanation for why his daughter had turned into a hippie and shamed the whole family. When I met him at our wedding, he eyed my curly brown white-boy afro and looked disgusted but proven right.

I felt terrifically flattered. Someone was finally taking me seriously. I was barely 21, a Canadian from the bland nothing of Winnipeg, Manitoba, who frequently got asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” Being taken for Black was a promotion.

Carol and I had been openly living together for a year, alarming both our families. We weren’t just breaking the taboo on premarital sex, we were flaunting a dangerous permissiveness, both culturally and politically. The only one who didn’t know we were co-habiting was Carol’s father. Everybody was too scared of him to tell him.

My father, a United Church of Canada minister, officiated at our wedding. He didn’t know that Carol’s father didn’t know, so he preached on how he’d found Christian tolerance of a different lifestyle in his heart. “This union,” he said gravely, “is different than most because it was in full bloom before the wedding.”

Carol’s father started horribly weeping, with a long groan on the inhale. My father had to raise his voice to be heard over the sound of an old man’s jagged, bitter sobs. Carol’s father was over 70, and it was the first time she’d seen him cry. A funeral would have been happier; the presence of a corpse would have lightened things up considerably. Then everybody would have had something to look at while they listened to an old man’s agony as he was informed in public of the humiliation of a lifetime.

We’d only invited her family—parents, three siblings and their spouses— because we were sure they wouldn’t show up. But our invitations were riveting, with a square of Carol’s handmade batik cloth glued to the front, and inside, her exquisite calligraphy announcing, “At Leon’s Coachhouse.” That must have been California for “fancy restaurant.” They probably thought Carol had finally come to her senses and was doing her wedding the right way. The truth was we had a friend named Leon who lived in the attic above a decaying garage that had originally been a stable. All of our friends thought it was funny, to be going to a wedding in “Leon’s Coachhouse.”

Carol’s family didn’t. I watched the looks on their faces as they climbed up the rickety stairs and walked into the shabby firetrap of a loft. Our handmade decorations that glowed with love and joy when we put them up now looked like a juvenile attempt to disguise the hippie headquarters for drugs, disease, and interracial sex.

We wore our best clothing, but that meant the most riotously colorful, tie-dyed, batiked, handsewn raiment we could make. We took our vows seriously, but we’d written our own New Age ceremony based on Ecclesiates. And there weren’t enough chairs. The few we had looked like they’d been snatched from the jaws of a garbage truck. Which they had.

My parents did their Canadian best to mollify and commiserate. Thanks to them, and I think in particular to my father lending an aura of respectability with his full-dress minister’s robes, Carol’s family stayed for the whole ceremony.

Ten years later, we didn’t have much contact with them. They didn’t know how to relate to just about anything about us, from our New Age beliefs to the facts of our life, such as how we could live in Nova Scotia—so far from California and so close to the North Pole—and raise our three little mulattoes, presumably among the Eskimos.


Published by The Snake Journal, Tennessee, 2002?

Dream Of Making Love To God

dream_mltg

Not Moving

When she got irritated because I was helping her carry her stuff
but in the wrong way she sounded so much like my first wife
who was just like my mother
I nearly dropped her TV
on the way up to her new third floor flat.

“This house reminds me of the one I grew up in,” I said,
same age, same floors.” And the same danger, I thought,
looking at her turn my mother’s broad back to me to ask,
in a sweet voice while looking away from me,
“Can you do me one more favor? Will you drive me and my TV

back to the old place? I want one more night curled up
with a video just the way it used to be.
Alone,” she added,
in case I had gotten the wrong impression.
Which I had.

I said okay, walked downstairs, sat in my truck, and listened to the news
about the war in Iraq, which reminded me of my divorce.
It took her fifteen minutes
to realize I wasn’t coming back up her stairs
to carry her TV back down.

She stumbled out the door with the huge thing in her
arms, hoisted it into my truck bed. I drove her back to her old place,
let her heft the damn thing out by herself. I accepted
her reluctant thanks like a husband,
driving off.


To be published by Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, Ohio, in issue # 21,
Family: the Possibility of Endearment

Clink

CL

Herat

wearing black turbans and certainty
they sat here in this hotel
where now I sit with Néscafe
and watch an American Army major
speak slowly to a Mr. Wang of the new border outpost
the people of China will build for the people of Afghanistan

the major’s aide gently holds
a large black handgun
on his lap. The sign
in the lobby says
NO WEAPONS

two years ago they hung men
upside down by their ankles
from those lampposts
heads purple like grapes
because their beards were too short

sometimes they would break the backs of the cleanshaven
then toss bread far away and laugh to see
if they would crawl or starve

an Afghan refugee arriving
in Moncton, New Brunswick
asked the first people she saw
the only important question: “Is it peaceful here?”

those Canadians

they didn’t even know
what she meant

Published by the Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, in Descant 2007.

God's Coffee Shop

My coffee is cold; my novel, boring. Squeak, slam! goes the screen door.
I look up. An angel is standing in the bright sunshine
flooding through the doorway. In a voice as smooth as glass he says,
“Are you willing to give up your sanity in order to become fully human?”

I was so surprised I floated above my head while I contemplated
The question. Being stuck in a body was like having a
Hangnail: an irritation to the spirit. Being fully human meant thinking
My body was me. To choose that, I’d have to be crazy already.

This was my last life. With no karma to haul me back,
When I dropped the flesh this time, I’d be out of jail for good
Unless I said yes. Then I would be so fully human I might even lose
Memory of sitting in this coffee shop and deciding to be.

I listened to the susurrus of cars smashing the autumn leaves
Into dust. People went in and out the screen door
Like reincarnations. Squeak, slam! Squeak, slam! Right now,
Right here was the last time I would be asked this question.

“Yes,” I said, for no good
Reason. I looked up. Clouds
Grayed out the sun. The
Angel vanished.

A few months later a manic episode arrived like the answer. Soon
I needed medication—depakote, lithium, risperdol—to get me through
the day, and even then, the nights could be bad without a shot of whisky first.
Ten years later, a psychiatrist removed my diagnosis, told me to throw out

all the pills. Now I’m only crazy about babies, graffiti,
the New York Times, death, the concept of strangers, arthritis,
oranges, falling leaves, old age, and everything else about being human.
It’s a good thing I love it here, because I’m going to be coming back forever.


To be published by Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, Ohio, in issue # 25,
Religion&Modernity

Marriage

Her unexpectedly broad shoulders emerge from behind the bush
Where she’s weeding. She’s flipped up her tee shirt into
A tank top because she’s worried about her tan lines showing
When she goes to the wedding she has no date for.

She bought a dress a size too small, hoping she’ll fit into it by then.
I can’t see why she’d bother. “They invited you, didn’t they?”
“If people weren’t such assholes,” she replies,
“You wouldn’t have to work so hard trying to figure out how to talk to them.”

She jogs two-and-a-half miles after doing hard gardening for me all day.
She wants to have muscle definition. “But you’re a woman,” I say,
“You can’t have muscle definition unless you—”
“It’s no good arguing with me,” she says.

“Thanks for the heads up,” I reply, and shut the hell up.
I used to have a problem when she bent over in my direction
Showing the cutest little big round half-moons. After a while,
She stopped wearing low-cut tee shirts. Out of mercy, I think.

“What was your favorite age?” she asks me.
“In the womb,” I say. She laughs like a truck driver.
“All that gurgling. What, you don’t remember?”
She rolls her eyes, says, “I can’t remember yesterday.”

She’s 26. I’m 54. She has deep brown eyes but
She’s not behind them all the time. If I got too close to the
Emptiness she carries around inside her
Promise, cuddle would be the same as collide.

She heads for the trolley, dirty as an urchin, with weeds,
Stalks, and strangely seeded treasures in her arms.
She forgets me like yesterday.
I remember her like Wife.


Published by Studio One Literary Magazine 2005 issue.

Freedom

My mother used to tie me to the clothesline
So I could run back and forth the whole length of the yard
Without running away and getting lost.
This was in Carrot River, Saskatchewan.
I was two.
I loved the backyard and the weedy dirt
But as soon as she clicked shut the catch that
Attached the rope that went from my little harness to the clothesline
I sat my fat bottom down on the ground and howled
Until the neighbors came out to see who was being murdered.
She had to let me go for decency’s sake.
My mother tried to keep me close beside her in the house
But as soon as the phone rang or the oven timer dinged
I was out the screen door and down the street to the filling station
Where I scooted under a car to lie on my back next to the friendly mechanic.
He showed me what he was doing with his big hands and heavy tools
To the dark, dirty innards of the automobile hanging mutely above me
While I soaked up heaven: grit, the smell of oil and gas,
Men’s voices, the roar of engines, and no mother.
Several times a week she had to come down to the garage and haul me home
Covered in dirt, snot, and grease, bawling with fury to be confined again.

Fifty-five years later God asked me, in Her rich, deep, alto voice,
“Daniel. Will you give me your freedom?”

“Yes,” I said, and clicked shut handcuffs of symbolic chain
No one could ever break, not even me. I held out my wrists
To show God I had imprisoned myself in Her name.

“Then I give you your freedom,”
She said, and dissolved them.

Freely I obey My Beloved—although
I usually argue first.

Received Honorable Mention in Passager’s 2008 Poetry Contest