Rhonda Williford



Praise the martyrs--so many faiths--
with their tender wrapping-paper flesh
crushed inside a fist, their bones glass

splintered under the jags of heavy rocks,
their nerves so near to the surface--
offered up--to fire, stripped back

to so many variations of hell, when even
an extracted tooth can heave a body,
tilting, toward some urgent escape.

How vulnerable the skin and all it holds--
a convenience for those wrenching
these martyrs into martyrs--

their gaped-wide or squeezed-taut
mouths, turning or still, the sensate and
so easily pried open, so easily snapped

bodies of those who gave their sinews,
their nerves for something further
beyond calculation. And praise most

those martyrs who did not thrust
their bodies like spare kindling
into a bin--but spun their light,

the very light of life, into the source
of light. Praise those who knew
that the air they departed was full

with glow, with waft, with fruit,
and tasting, loving these textures,
these aromas--the cherry's stone

curled inside the mouth, its wet pulp
sliding, the bird tracking the pale sky,
and most, irredeemably most,

the strong warm watery waves of a love
pressed closed into the arms' fold--
still relinquished knowing

with their entire raw sensibility--
every particle of all this
and their own lives' worth.



Picasso and Braque Create Cubism

Each day,
Pable and Georges meet.
They share one studio--
two rooms, blocks apart.

Their four hands
pull down by one cord
a sky. And across this sky,
their eyes fly back and forth,

and always their hands,
their paints and pastes.
Their words follow
as best they can.

Their eyes and hands scatter
like small birds
the blue and clouds
into new-found shapes--

the wings upturn sharp,
slice the hidden layers
from what only seemed

a flat sky. The fluid sky
with its temperature of bodies,
heats often in a summer glow.
It flames under the right sun

like lovers whose limbs re-mingle
for fresh embraces, split
into wild and various angles
to take in more

of never enough
all at once. One artist's hand
picks up the conté
where the other's has stopped

the day before. Between the bits
of newspaper and cardboard,
Pablo and Georges separate only
at the body

to enter different women.
Two "Marcelle's" love them--
Pablo renames his "Eva,"
between Fernande and Olga.

But when they lift
their separate canvasses
to the wall--one name,
"Guitar." Listeners lean

into their harmonies.
Pablo and Georges sell all
their canvasses by a plan,
save only

their one wide sky.
It churns
until the sky outside
churns war.



--After Babel

The sower unfurls his canvas of seeds.
He prays for wind--for breadth,
not height. The kernals spiral out--

a genetic code--into unmapped corners.
And now, he is pulling in his net
of words--the nubs full-grown

and fruity, the wheat bending
luxuriously. His fingers sort the ingredients,
unraveling one more code

dreamed in an ancient, distant land.
He names the juicy pomegranates
and smooth green peas. He starts

with his native pods, but travels
wide. He tosses each relearned song--
a star--into a gleaming bowl,

then sleeps long, restful strokes
under the bowl's mirror--
under the harp of the sky.




To love something is to want it to exist. --St. Augustine

Who can choose a blank box instead of the sky--
its blues--as if there had to be even one blue--
painting all the corners, rounding them out smooth?

An interior voice cries, "You may fall into the void,"
but now, the trees are puffing out beyond their limbs,
which stretch to make broad laps. The sun bends to simmer

all counts of sands, while the wide tongues of the oceans
lick out and in, soaking yet more sands. And in the heavens,
blazes keep pulsing vast ether alive. Who can turn

from that first burst-whirl, flagella flashing wildly against
dense night, until, like some God-thrown comet, one flamepoint
pierces what solely meets its courage with its own frenzied,

melting receipt? How can a body, fired on such a tremor,
but lean and lean to enter, catch each space-filling breath?
How can a praising mouth not brim and brim with words?




And this gingko goes all the way back
to the first tree--maybe the tree that Adam
lay under, even before the naming,

tossing with some dream--feathery nests,
shining water--traveling toward an image
of Eve which couldn't match the flame-
leaf on fired-maple that she was,

and Eve, unfurling from some unpaired
rib, stirred beneath a mirror-dream--
more smoke and tremor than vision,
and this also not quite Adam, that stretch
of God's imagination, not her own.

And this old gingko, from wet-curled roots,
overflows mid-air into a wide lap
for all the coming stories--the blood, iron,
and tinsel--rippling as it catches,
then releases, shimmer and shadow.

And now, Adam, with hand on thigh,
considers, while Eve sighing, leans
breath toward words--their bodies,
not yet touching, arch to start all

history--under the gingko tree,
casting, in a shake of leaf,
light, dark, light.

Rhonda Williford is a lifelong resident of the Washington, DC area. She works as a labor lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board. Her poetry has been published in The Plum Review, Wordwrights!, Folio, Bellowing Ark, and Beauty for Ashes. Her chapbook, One Wide Sky, was published in May 1997 by The Argonne Hotel Press (now the Argonne House Press). She has given several readings in the Washington, DC area, including for the Library of Congress Poetry at Noon Series and the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series, and she coordinates the poetry reading series for the Takoma Park Branch of the District of Columbia Public Library.

Published in Volume 2, Number 3, Summer 2001.