That must have been our beginning:
a shiny arc
of invisible hooks;
the jay struts in the yard,
a blue that draws,
splitting his tail-fan
so it drives the gathering eye
to crave his coat of blue,
a flight that rustles a mate
Once Ned looked into a glass
like he was looking into a pool,
as if he could fish up
the uncut jewel
he thought I was.
His words shaped me
to its specifications.
the wine's color, the same
as what is pulled into syringes.
When we dressed in the morning
I'd step aside from the sink,
drying my hair.
I'd watch the way he'd bend his head,
to splash on talc,
track its white across the floor,
the way he'd turn on the faucet,
go away and come back minutes later.
He made a foam beard,
turned his head this way and then another,
leaning in to the mirror. All the while
he'd look at himself, as if in that pond
he'd never need another.
I was wearing a turquoise shirt, and Buddy
looked, his head turned; he said my earrings
matched my shirt. Of course, I thought,
I am a woman who can dress. We'd met
at the coffee bar; I had run into Lilly.
I thought they were together, but
he'd comment on my clothes, my hair color.
When they came to the dinner party someone
murmured, not him again. I was stuck
with Trey to my right; he'd filled up on the punch
my boyfriend drank three glasses of before
he switched to red. So Trey's mouth was at
my ear. When I'm with you, I apprehend
innocence. I thought, what you don't know.
When he was young, he said, he'd take girls
to barns full of unginned cotton; it made big
beds in the bins, seeds still in it, the plush, soft
inside his thighs. I stared forward thinking,
how I'd steal this riff, from a judge who drinks
and eats too much, lips smeared with steak sauce.
I looked towards Trey's wife, Sandy.
There were eighteen at table. I thought, What
am I doing herewith this brain between my ears?
Ned motioned to pass the cabernet. I mouthed
the word rescue, but he was talking. When he
came to the kitchen, finally, where I'd fled, he said,
You look a little tense; do we need to leave?
Ned got nauseous that night, lying in bed, from
punch plus his average seven glasses, and a licorice
after-dinner drink. The next day he didn't
remember what I'd said. I still feel bereft, as if
in those men's minds nothing of substance was kept.
The Golden Road
Small pebbles, black ones and white ones
set by hand, make a mosaic path. I hear
the sound of wood shoes, inlaid with
mother-of-pearl, raised clogs
the sultan's favorites
wore to the bath. Along the harem's path, flowers
climb to leaf; leaves tendril into horseshoes,
stars or white spiders. Triangles shift to
waves running forward, as the road
goes before us.
Girls taken from lands north and west, blue-eyed,
hair in hanks the color of camel, flax, red
madder, worked first as servants for
his favorites. Lice bedded
in the folds
of their bodies; hundreds ate bread, coughing in
the cold off the Bosphorus, going days
without fires. The Sultan's bathroom
is gilt-painted marble; light sifts
through colored mosaic
windows. Trees climb and bud in the tiles. His tub
is deep, three steps down to steaming heat.
In a reception room, mother-of-pearl
inlays the wood panels. Blues
and grass greens glaze tile,
wood screens make filigrees of cedar, paisley and petal
shapes; patterns follow one after the other. A sultan's
heirs were kept in what they called the cage
for years. The sultan kept conversations
by running water; a shelf
fountain is built into the room, so its sound falls down
and down. I have seen Natashas along Divanyolu,
taller than the Turks, narrow-hipped, the folds
of their long hair blown open, black
as crow or red as ochre.
She drew a line from her armpit curving under
her breast, Susannah, who can knit, crochet, speak
Chinese and has two Master's degrees. She
tried to cut out her heart. I've seen her
speak to her parents, played by surrogates,
wringing her anger hard into a towel she twisted.
She goes into some place she takes a bouquet
of the pills her doctor-father leaves in his cabinet.
Tell me you haven't traveled there, down into
your center, space inside a pyramid, airless,
while you are carrying on above in the afterlife
of childhood, divorce, your son's addiction. What can I doŚ
except tell you about a morning walk, osage
dropping green globes like small unripe oranges,
a baby rabbit crossing its ears, the bluebird who balances.
The bird was a blue I've never seen, the spectrum's
margin between blue and purple, a navy delphinium,
dusted with lavender pollen, the breast a true rose.
And three mouse-brown balls with yellow beaks in
the birdhouse. Two redbirds spiked the sky.
Ned's drunk mother, when he was twelve,
said she'd tried to abort him, but it didn't work;
in the tenth month he was born covered in black blood.
Tonight the bluebird has leaked colors where it flew;
they've run like water, storm clouds a bruised blue,
patches of cornflower and pink-rose. Grasses curve
over, gone to seed at their tops; as I cross
the lawn rabbits leap up, showing their
cotton tails. I missed this part of childhood,
can't remember, and it no longer matters.
No one can interfere with my own transport.