Summer brought fireflies in swarms.
They lit our evenings like dreams
we thought we couldn't have.
We caught them in jars, punched
holes, carried them around for days.
Luminous abdomens that when charged
with air turn bright. Imagine!
mere insects carrying such cargo,
magical caravans flickering beneath
low July skies. We chased them, amazed.
The idea! Those tiny bodies
They made reckless traffic,
signaling, neon flashes forever
into the deepening dusk.
They gave us new faith
in the nasty tonics of childhood--
pungent, murky liquids promising
shining eyes, strong teeth, glowing skin--
and we silently vowed to swallow ever after.
What was the secret of light?
We wanted their brilliance--
small fires hovering,
each tiny explosion
the birth of a new world.
Is grace delivered
on twilight wings of air?
Don't ask this congregation.
They'd shout "Yes!"
then breathe mightily
to draw you in.
A speaker strapped
to a car roof floats
gospel--a curbside choir-in-the-box.
Graffiti-scored stone for pews.
The ceiling dispatches prayer
Dubious oasis, Jesus might've shed
bitter tears here.
Three would-be saints
in red-stained garb stroll by,
mockingly sound the refrain:
"Sinner won't you come?"
The sun seeps burgundy,
gone-to-glory behind the altar.
The humming air of deliverance
lingers like a cloying perfume.
68" x 96", acrylic on canvas
see more work by Eglon Daley
WORDS DURING WAR
The landlady's low hum of Spanish
prayer mixes with the sound
of eastbound planes overhead. She
lights candles for the people there
who are under siege, who will get
no food, no water, and cannot,
without the bomb's flash, see
a loved one's face. I glimpse
her family now and then, hear
their cadenced voices, the heavy thumping
of their steps. I'm taunted by
the spicy smell of rice and beans
simmering in her kitchen below me. The walls
chatter, breathe salsa, their heartbeat
insistent as my own. The house
we live in, partitioned, some country
with parts seceded, a body
amputated. Blood, flesh, bone,
skin--warm boundaries holding us--
and words, reducing us always
to language, destiny, intention.
When the rhythms I move to
are disrupted by hourly reports
from the battlefront, I let
the barrage explode around me, grasp
at meanings that linger like artillery's
smoke trails or the dust cloud shadows
of fleeing refugees. Downstairs,
stillness descends like fallout. Outside,
underground darkness, the electric
tremors of people passing.
I feel the gentle thrumming silence
of our house this evening. I think
of those others in the desert, their speech
a code unbroken, their vigilance and
combat breathing, the twisted, glowing wreckage
of their land like a loveless machine.
Talking about silkscreening, my aunt remembers her first job in New York, decades ago, at the Sample Co. near Chambers St., where she pressed glue through screens and stuck fabric pieces to boards. She was 18, scrawny, and no one's idea of an employee. In the employment office week after week, she met an ugly girl who made her laugh, and so went home with her. The city was full of people and, forgetting caution, she'd go wherever invited back then, even out to Brooklyn or to Queens. The factory was its own community, a motley group of natives and new arrivals, desperate or hopeful. Married or not, everyone, it seemed, found a lover there. But those who lacked the efficacy of English toiled all day, mute as machines. What became of them? Some escaped her. Others, who were long since hidden, come forward now, pushed by memory's levers. All left an imprint. The German immigrants, I'll never forget them: Casamia, the gypsy, and "Crazy Judy," nervous, saluting the boss with their number tattoos. Gentle Herman, jumping to his feet, clicking his heels.
Not the round, shining globe
of the eye in profile,
nor the fissure of a smile calling,
as the earthquake does, some part of itself
back into itself, nor the curving
spine, an archipelago of promise--
those aspects offer the primal gift.
But voluptuous thoughts, entrusted to words,
and words, the language of careful stones
circling about you,
and the fires those stones make,
the air they eat up all around, leaving
you breathless, the light
they cast reshaping everything,
and the new blood rising
in you, molten, disaster.
Today sun warms the snow.
It melts and comes apart,
running off in streams,
crosshatching its way downhill.
Water has a destination always--
home, to all other water.
Standing in its path, I'm closed,
a knot of grief, a stone.
I'm remembering your words:
I didn't choose this, and,
Now survive. I hoard my losses
against the chance that more
will be taken from me.
I want what babies want,
sustenance when I call out.
I want belief to seep in
and find its level in me.
I long for the things I destroyed--
our home, this season's food, small
niches that might have been havens--
ground I thought I'd clear by burning--
even the remains,
sifted, and settling over me.
Sharan Strange grew up in Orangeburg, SC, was educated at Harvard College, and received an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of Ash, winner of the 2000 Barnard New Women Poets Prize, selected by Sonia Sanchez (Beacon Press, 2001). She is a contributing and advisory editor of Callaloo and cofounder of the Dark Room Collective. Strange has been a writer-in-residence at Fisk University, Spelman College, the University of California at Davis, and the California Institute of the Arts. She currently lives in Washington, DC, where she teaches writing, literature, and social studies in an alternative school which focuses on experiential learning.
Published in Volume 3, Number 1, Winter 2002.