leaves droop from trees the sky droops from branches like a white sheet to hold the locusts in their buzzsaw whine a blaze of sound july is god's forge, god's hammer coming down again and again, stupefyingly hot at seven o'clock the heat its own kind of sound a swarm upon my skin july is sumo wrestling with the sun belly to belly we stomp and sweat and shout the sun always wins the birds slump and pant too hot to chase the screaming insects even the wind dries out, curls up panting in the woodpile with the snakes.
what if all the kids stayed home from school and went outside to play instead what if we put down our phones and used our hands to make a meal a tool a basket what if we stopped using plastic what if everybody took a nap what if we lived in one big house together and no one felt the sting of lack we'd sit together in the evening throwing bones we'd say poems and sing and pass the jug and dance once upon a time we knew what we were doing our gods had faces and were our masters not other men. now we spit in invective in our masks distrustful, withholding--but what if we went back who knows the way speak up if you remember a story we once told about the stars.
After the muggers don't kill me I go to the all-night diner and order eggs. I order chocolate chip pancakes. I order sausage and bacon and beer because eating and drinking is what alive-people do. There's no ordinary time in New Orleans, it's always some high holy day. Someone's always dancing wearing crimson velvet screaming in the streets some dark Vapor's always seething in the storm drains and someone is always eating pancakes in wonderment, alive to the flour and sugar and grease, amazed by the cracked vinyl seat: this banquette is a pew, the hiss of the griddle an endless sigh of relief—and tonight it's me. The other diners' faces placid as plaster saints, oblivious to the first supper of my second life. I tell the waitress thinking maybe she will cross herself or drop down on her knees, high priestess of the plate I've cleaned—but she doesn't even raise an eyebrow as she slips the bill beneath my bottle and says welcome to New Orleans.
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
take your shoes off go outside tip your face toward the sky feel the cold clean droplets streak your chin and cheeks this blessing is called rain let it in go to the end of the path where it gathers inches deep follow your feet in let them recall the child to whom they once belonged let the water wrap its thumbs and fingers round your ankles silver circlets let them hold you there let the mud settle in the crescent of each toe listen the trees are praying kneel and lift a drowning worm from the puddle behold the string of blood within a single vein remember when the world fit in your hand remember not all blessings fall the same
I keep thinking how if I were a hermit-monk I wouldn't know a thing had changed not unless an angel came and told me: pray for night has fallen at midday-- if I lived alone atop a mountain, with only wind and stone and sky, everything would be the same. I wouldn't feel the weight of this sudden brotherhood of novices wouldn't hear them pacing in their cells at night, groaning and not sleeping. All my life I wanted silence, space. Now cries crowd my ears, suddenly my cave feels like a cage, I want to rush down into someone's arms suddenly I see that I am bleeding. All my life I thought if no one touched me I'd be safe; suddenly I don't believe it.
come for supper my dad says, he's grilling I say we're supposed to stay inside you're not sick he tells me and neither am I, come have a burger some fries, some laughs, let's roll our eyes -- and maybe he's right there's nothing to fear, his generation invented rebellion, invented barefoot invented protest signs gave their middle fingers to the old man in the white house and the sky -- where is your spirit he asks without asking I feel the disappointment like feathers in my lungs, the itch before a coughing spell -- how can it be he raised me to obey some faceless They there were no bathrooms at Woodstock and everyone was high they lived into a legend braided hope and daisies in their hair and how I wish the world they made was made to last and only doctors wore the masks E. D. Watson
I rip them up by the roots, they are the only plants I hate though to be honest it's mostly because I need an excuse to put my phone away. I am weary of the virus, the clean hands they tell us to maintain I want black half-moons beneath my nails, I want my arms and legs to ache from exertion, not from fever from improvements I can measure, each square foot without burr clover a victory I can stand inside and celebrate. Everything seems okay outside, bees hover in the lemon tree, lovesick wrens weave nests in the eaves, earthworms slick the clot of soil I've torn free. Only the burr clover weeps. I try to stop my ears, to justify the genocide: it's my yard and you'll take over, I tell them. Your burrs lodge in my cat's tail. You choke the flowers, you're ugly you have no medicine to offer me. But I see the plant's tenacity, the star-sprawl of its open arms, ingenious coils, corona of hooks on each burr, tender leaves of three. Angel of death pass over, the clover pleads. We drink rain and eat sun same as anything, anyone. What can you know of medicine? Life is more than seed. 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.
The Dead now make their pilgrimage
Back to their homes, back to our side.
I hear their laughter on the wind
For they return as butterflies.
Come, come! Beloved ones, come back!
Come spend a night beneath our roof,
Come eat our bread and drink our wine,
Come make the candles dance as proof
That you have not forgotten us,
You still remember how to dance
Though you no longer have your feet.
Come buss our cheeks and clasp our hands
For we have not forgotten you.
Come tell us of the place you've been,
What you eat and drink and do there
And what it's like to shed your skin.
And for those lost and hungry souls
I place some bread outside my door.
Godspeed, you pilgrims, hurry on
To homes that are your homes no more.
E. D. Watson