once upon a time you shoved the girls you shoved the other boys / you shoved the dreamer in the outfield / picking flowers now you stand atop a tower with your hands on your hips / bellowing orders / you were made for this / you are a man / behold your necktie your cammo cargo shorts / emperor of a rubble heap believing you can pass decrees / you are nothing but a schoolyard bully all grown up / and I invoke a roaring Mother grizzly bear against you / Goddess made of fur and teeth and no you don't motherfucker / may she tower over you / and blot out the sun may you curl into a ball at Her feet / trembling / may you eat your threats and slurs like clots of earth / may they grind between your teeth / o Bear Woman protect Your daughter-sons and daughters / from dick-slinging bigots and assholes with rifles / swat them from their mounds / turn them into boys again and send them home knees scraped and weeping / to Mother. E. D. Watson
Well, it’s Advent, beginning of another liturgical year, and the end of my so-called “woodshed year.” I published nothing save for a poem sent out ages ago and forgotten. Instead, I spent the year huddled with a notebook, writing everything by hand, trying to write from my body. Trying to let go of grad school, searching for a new way of writing and speaking, a way that is earthier and more honest, more feminine perhaps.
Did I find it? I don’t know. I think I might be on its trail, though. For so much of the year I was laid up with an inexplicable knee injury, followed by a cancer scare. I suffered choking anxiety and severe depression. It seemed like nothing was happening. Certainly nothing good.
But through it all, I wrote. Mostly, what I wrote were prayers, because I was desperate AF. I re-read the Biblical psalms and the prophets. I began to think of poetry and prayer as made of the same stuff, and imagined the words curling up to God like incense smoke, or chanted like incantations.
I read Betty Friedan and Ram Dass and The Argonauts. I spent a lot of time grappling with the concept of gender. I lifted God’s beard from his face.
And then I tore it off.
Still, it seemed like nothing was happening. From the outside, it just looked like I was sitting in a chair, crying a lot. I skipped church most Sundays because I just couldn’t stand there crossing myself and exchanging the peace when I had no peace to exchange.
But looking back, I can see things were shifting. I’ve been accepted to study with John Fox at the Institute of Poetic Medicine starting January 2020. I’ve written hundreds of poems, lots of them crappy but some of them good. And I’ve been named the inaugural Poet in Residence for St. Mark’s. All small things in the grand scheme, but movement nevertheless. I can sense a shift in the trajectory of my writing, and possibly my life.
god bless the man in platform boots
god bless the woman in a tux
what does man or woman mean except division
of what is whole? The say the universe
is still expanding — how can we cling
to hers or his? Each of us is just a speck
upon a speck of stone within a galaxy
of specks, which is itself a speck
in the cosmos. Zoom out: then tell me
how we can presume to know
a blessed thing
and all praise to the heavenly Motherfather,
all glory to the Great Them, who once told Moses
I shall be what I shall be, and named Themselves.
Who, in Their infinite mercy gave us one job:
to embody Them. Grant that we may see
those milky bands across the sky for what they are:
fingerprints too big to comprehend.
May we see Them in ourselves as well, and say: I am
the plural who is one. May we be whole
E. D. Watson
Lord it's hot.
The words won't come.
It hasn't rained
in weeks, Lord.
have you forgotten us?
we are dying.
Everyone has guns
and saws; the river
has a pipeline
pointed at its head.
we un-knit your quilt
faster than your hands:
every twenty minutes
a species disappears.
We blame someone else.
My knees hurt from kneeling
at altars you no longer grace:
dead forests, churches
Prayers rattle in the ditches
mean as snakes
and I writhe in bed
instead of sleep, repeating
myself -- look. Look
what I have become:
slack with fear, mad with grief
and shame, a bush
that burns and does not burn,
does not know its name --
o if you cannot weep for us
then weep, Lord, for your trees.
Send rain. Save
one thing you have made.
E. D. Watson
God sometimes I forget your first language
isn't English. Not Arabic nor Aramaic--
those words you had to learn. We taught you
how to talk like us, then claimed to talk like you
and in your stead, though your first language
was the wind, moving over water.
How often I forget that I need only sigh
instead of plead or stammer; forgive
my wheedling, the ashes in my bread.
Like your prophet did, I listen at fire and tornadoes
and forget: first you were quiet, you are quiet yet
your first breath rebreathed each dawn
by every living thing--but even the birds cannot keep silent.
O you made us to sing but I've begun to suspect
that song is not the mother tongue.
E. D. Watson
I stand beside my window
waiting for the call to prayer,
waiting like a lover
for a glimpse of the beloved
against a sky dark as plum skin
dark as the center of an unsplit fruit.
I search the empty streets
where only cats
and the shadows of cats
prowl on padded feet.
The stars have gone some other place
and he has not come.
And then a thread of honey,
a shaft of light from the throat of a man
unrolls in script above the rooftops
and my soul expands.
They say people sometimes fall in love
with the mu'addhin
who sings most beautifully.
First one voice then a second
now vie for my devotion,
from two quarters of the city
they sweep over and under
the silent longing in me, a chord
drawing me beyond the sill, this street,
high above my wrinkled pillowcase.
Awake my heart,
and love what is:
the god of alley cats and damp stones,
the god of dawn, the god of men who sing.
Prayer is better than sleep.
E. D. Watson
I don't want to be one of those people
folded over a cell phone screen
like a larva, sucking from the memes
and colored pictures as from tree roots:
in darkness. What can a larva suppose
of the tree that looms above it
in light for which it hasn't eyes?
Lord, I don't want to miss a thing.
I want to taste my tea. I want to let
the world pass through me slowly,
I want to see the faces
no one ever posts online:
pitted with acne, spotted with age
ragged with loneliness, furrowed
by rage and secrets. I don't want
to be blind. The world is more
than pretty, more than funny
or outrageous. There is no hashtag
for the snail among the soft wet leaves,
for the millipede who glides
across the sidewalk, on silent
undulating feet. Straighten me, expand me Lord
that I may hear the hawk's high keening
as it circles overhead, cutting discs of sky
E. D. Watson
God I cannot picture you with breasts
and the dark triangular bush
from which I emerged, along with all.
I cannot picture you down on your knees
scrubbing tiles with a brush
scrubbing baseboards, scrubbing walls
hair come loose from the old bandana
tied round your head. And I cannot see you
crying into your coffee, having one of those mornings,
telling yourself to pull yourself together girl,
a whole nother day of trying laid out before you.
I cannot picture you pursing your lips,
biting your tongue, choosing to say nothing
when nothing can be done,
and God I cannot picture you
looking over your shoulder at your big backside
in the mirror, squeezing your thighs
when your period comes -- but why?
And how else can I call you friend
unless you drop your sword
and peel off that plastic stick-on beard
and laugh with me like women laugh
about this mess we're in?
E. D. Watson
Heaven knows I'm not proud
of being a meat-eater, but something
in me growls and snorts and licks
its jowls when I take apart a chicken
separating joint from joint, flesh
from bone. It's something my hands
know how to do, the part of me
that is my ancestors, and doesn't evolve
but only changes form. Before words
was hunger, driving us to run and thrust
spears, to taste the flesh of other bodies.
The wild, unspellable pounding
of our hearts, the intoxicating taste
of blood--we're no different from the bears
and killer whales and cats. And who is to say
they are not like me, grieving their prey
as it rolls through their guts. Lord,
if this makes me less, forgive me
for being a tiger instead of a lamb
and not rebuilding Eden, nor seeing
in the iridescent green shoots everything
I'll ever need, forsaking all I might be
for what I merely am.
E. D. Watson
They say raise your fist,
stand in your truth, speak it
loud and clear
but I can only kneel
in this unsayable
that trickles and whispers
things I don't know
if I believe, undrinkable
as prayer. There is
no hashtag for this, no
slogan, no hat, no color
no meme no name no sunrise
over a mountain crest, no
perfect lady in a yoga pose
who I can pretend I am inside.
that is not my own.
The river is made of fear.
I have no feet to stand on;
I lost them in the mud
and rubble. I lose another
part of me, every time
it floods. I'm cold.
I'm getting old. I should
have learned by now
how to be triumphant.
E. D. Watson