In the Old Testament God sent down plagues to
punish the Pharoah and the Egyptian people.
There were the frogs and gnats. Flies and locusts.
Hail and fire and darkness. Water turned to blood.
To punish the Pharoah, God sent the Blood Rain.
I never paid much heed to those wild tales of sticks pounded on
a rock yielding water in the desert or men being hundreds of
years old fathering children. But the sirocco blew up today
in Southern Italy carrying the fine red dust from the Sahara,
causing the sky to turn a strange cast of reddish orange.
The wind worries the shutters that rock and slam
against the stuccoed walls of ancient houses down narrow lanes
where acanthus grows between basalt paving stones laid by Romans,
rounded slabs ridged by the wheels of ancient wagons.
Terracotta pots become missiles blown from balcony gardens
crashing onto wind tunnel streets, the smashed shards mixing
with cyclones of newspapers, trash and leaves.
From our terrace I can see the weather moving northward
and, before I remember the sheets drying on our lines, large
blots of water fall on the terrace tiles looking like a hundred
coffee cup rings – the wet red dust is carried in the rain
to stain its image on the city.
From the far corner of the balcony I see the sheets flapping
like those daft wind-filled creatures set out to hawk used cars.
Then the sheets are transformed into the banners hung from nuptial
chamber windows the morning after consummation,
a badge of blood to prove chastity and efficiency.
It is a biblical rain of blood as the red dust fills each large drop and
clots of red splat all surfaces until the rain evolves into a roiling
deluge, washing the terrace and the streets in rivers of bloody rain.
And the clouds are driven by the engine of the Saharan wind
moving swiftly north and leaving the stunned city behind.
The reddish orange sky dims to grayish pink glints of sun that
struggles to poke through as I rescue what I can from the line
to wash again to whiteness, thinking of other plagues that may
befall the sybarites of the Eternal City.
From the desert castles beyond Amman
we ended at the Allenby Bridge and abandoned the car.
A young Israeli soldier, bristling with his bright new rifle
and polished boots laced up to hold the puffed pant legs of
mufti, hustled us onto a decrepit bus.
His downy pimpled cheeks belied the brashly
barked orders he directed toward frightened veiled women
on their way to Jerusalem for the holy holidays with gifts and food.
Searching and loading loosely bundled sacks and bags
delayed the boarding process and rankled the troop of
youngsters charged with moving things along and with security.
The history of the bridge and the region was vague to me
but the fear of the women and anger of the boy soldiers
brought the place into the sharp focus of a clip of newsreel
as the bus trundled across a border and slid to a dusty stop
at the check-point between Jordan and Palestine.
Ululations and frantic muffled cries punctuated the cymbal
sounds of breakage as the armed boys threw bundles from the top
of the coach to the ground with a studied disregard.
The women were roughly jostled to an open corrugated hangar
and we, being from another tribe, were led to an air-conditioned
holding area to show our passports, answer questions and be handled.
Filing toward a modern mini-van, I glanced back at the women,
veiled and huddled like withered crows, holding the corners of
their scarves in their teeth and looking worried in their hot shed.
The search and humiliation would stretch into the afternoon and
I felt the shame of relief and the excitement of fear one feels
when one is not the object of scrutiny in a place of danger.
Why It Was a Good Thing
We Didn’t Have a Gun in the House
Those Mormons know what they are about
and working for them was not a bad thing in itself.
They practice temperance, but know the value of drink.
At the top of the Key Bridge Marriott
I would have been the one to show you to
your table in the Windjammer Room. I was the hostess.
It was the year I began to love Al Green,
The Reverend Al Green, if you please, and
“If Lovin’ You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right”
became my mantra as I walked those gentlemen,
mostly singles, a few couples, to their tables
to drink in the dim intime lighting the 360 degree
view of DC from the top of the Key Bridge Marriott.
I oversaw the waitresses and cleared the registers
at the end of the shift, 12:30 a.m.,
working Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday nights
in an off-white sheath and nautical blazer.
It was a mindless job, but my mind was elsewhere.
It was a way to be home with my child in the daytime
and help with the bills, to placate the Man.
The waitresses wore short little sailor suits over
fishnet hose and pranced with their trays from the bar
to the hardwood dance floor, across the carpet to tables.
They wore saucy sailor hats at a cocky angle and knew
to smile at the customers, who were always right.
Some of the girls were earning extra money for school,
some were single mothers whose parents watched the kids,
and when there was a lull in the evening, we had girl talk.
I had finished my shift that night and driven the short miles home.
At one in the morning I unlocked the front door quietly,
trying not to wake you or the baby.
I crept up the stairs and peeked into our daughter’s room,
that perfect room for a three-year-old with flowery
polished cotton spreads and curtains I had sewn,
a bright green rug and chest for her toys and dolls.
But her bed was empty.
I crossed the hall and looked into the master bedroom
and the master himself was tucked up in bed,
hands thrown over his head in nocturnal
abandon, and I pulled back the covers, but she
had not been taken in with a nightmare or fallen asleep
during a bedtime story. My panic began to rise.
I rushed back into the baby’s room, searching under the beds
and in the closet and even in the toy chest.
I ran downstairs, past the dining table where the meal
I’d prepared stood mute testament, meat congealed on the serving plate,
broccoli flowers graying in a dish, and a bowl of mashed potatoes
resembling a relic from Pompeii amidst plates and cutlery
left haphazardly as householders ran for their lives from
poisonous gases of eruption, into the living room.
Searching for a sign of foul play,
I spotted her tucked into a ball under the velvet wing chair
asleep with her thumb firmly in her mouth,
wearing the sweet frilly dress and red shoes from the morning.
As I pulled her gently from under the chair, I wondered:
Did you simply forget you had a child?
Did it slip your mind?
The adrenaline wave subsided as I carried her up the stairs,
removed her shoes and tucked her into bed.
Back in our room, my red rage roiled
as I gazed down at you comfortably dreaming,
and I thought:
If I had a gun I would shoot you.
If it were the ’60s and if I had the knack
I’d write you a whacky love song in
praise of your zany amazingness.
In my song I’d pledge my deep adoration
and gratitude for being drawn into the
Golden Circle of your pals.
It would be one of those songs with a
delicious forced rhyme supported by that
rocky waltzy rhythm.
That type of tune where the dance partners
circle each other in their arms and
simply stand in one spot
holding tight and barely moving to the
beat, mouthing the saccharine sentimental
refrain and singing wah wah wah and oooah
with a scratching vinyl reverb
and a pop when the worn needle
hits that wide expanse at the end,
and they still hold tight and pretend.
But I don’t have the knack
and the ’60s passed us by,
so I will simply say
I wish I had known you when we
were both young and could have been
wild and a little crazy together.
I wish I had known you before –
you could have taught me how
to really write and tell all my stories.
But understand that I’ll never stop loving the
laughter in your clever talk or filling with tears
when I read that passage where Jay realizes his
and you’ll always nag me to update my Page
and tell me again with conviction that the man
who is leaving me is a fool
and when I am down you’ll just smile your
sweet Iowan smile and speak your immortal
Have another cocktail, cutie!
Northwest of Athens, past Marathon,
we drove each afternoon to the rocks.
Solitary and stunning, the cliffs ended in flat slabs of rock
lapped by the Aegean blue sea in a fish-rich basin.
Beneath the Cyclops eyes of empty windows in half-built
houses high above, we wound across the dusty track,
steering around pot-holes and occasional goats to our place.
On foot, with towels, snorkels and masks, we navigated through
the prickly heathers and thistles that smelled of oregano and cumin.
Sometimes we’d spot a shard worth saving to add to our collection.
In sea-socks and flip flops, our feet at impossible angles,
we would walk vertically down the cliffs, edging toward
the almost perfect rock table that made our bed.
We would loll away the day, drinking in the sun and diving into the
shock of cold water, sending rainbows of olive oil off our skins
and fogging our masks so that the parrot and clown fish looked
like gaudy painted toys.
Sleek as seals we would scramble back up the rocks to our flat place
and the startled fish would take up their stations under the water
topped with sun-smashed salt diamonds.
Shameless as the first pair in Eden, glistening and wet,
we were parallel forked lines on the granite plane
set down by the ages under an ancient sun.
Nearby, in a tell, lay the dead of the Marathon battle
and beyond that an ancient sanctuary for sun-worshippers,
Amphiaraion, where health seekers once gathered to lie
on blessed sheepskins to worship and offer to Helios.
An ancient water clock was the cult’s signal to turn with the sun
as they lay on creamy marble near the amphitheatre
where tragedies were played out as a cathartic cure for sadness.
When the sun turned for us, we would stand in our nakedness and
walk up the cliff to the path toward home. That day,
scrambling up the rough path you turned and the
brightness of your eyes spoke to me of the history of
all Nature’s laws as the straw sack of towels fell to earth.
We lowered ourselves into a smooth crevice under the hot drying sun,
and in the slippery synchrony of our bodies I barely noticed the
sharp pebble poking into the small of my back as
I gripped you to me, every nerve concentrating only
on the deep blue ceiling above me that was bending and
breaking into a thousand crystal shards of sense.
We stood laughing together at the relief and our bold moment that
celebrated freedom and sea and sun and the joy that we could still do it.
You picked up the sack and the spilled towels and a found shard.
Then we turned back in the track and returned to the rocks
to add our own salty wetness to the vast basin of sea teeming with life.
What did Pythagoras do when the Meltemi came early to Samos?
Was he able to think when the wind whipped down that mountain
like a charging army threatening to rip the shutters off their hinges?
Could numbers and theories be found in the racket and wild gusts
of those sleepless banging hours of trying to plug his ears and at
dawn sweep the sand from his sheets and his hair?
Our summer of love and repose was doomed by the caprice of
that hot wind, and we bolted your canvases to the cross beams of the
pergola, but still the boards rattled and the linen strained.
The ants carried off the Payne’s Grey from your pallet that was
clamped to a board, the medium dried to a dusty sludge,
and the hair of your brushes grew brittle.
All nature defied us and trees bent and whipped. The stalks of the
flowers stood startled, beheaded, and there was fear of fire in the
dense hills still blackened and charred from the last time.
At midday, exhausted, we sat on smooth stones at the beach,
staring across toward Constantinople, listlessly listening to
the howl and the wail, watching the riffling water foam.
By evening the wind had caught its breath and the onslaught began
once more as we scrambled to place the huge round boulders
hauled up from the beach to block doors from banging
and searched in the twisted sheets for that earplug or wedged the
Pythagorean angle of the window to jam it open.
No love could be made in the Meltemi.
And over on Patmos, did the wind break up reception when John
sat in his cave waiting for revelation, his elbow resting in a
depression of stone?
Was it the Meltemi that split the roof rock in three over his
beleaguered head as he wrote and wondered at the horrible
predictions and awaited the end of the world?
It seemed just over the mountain in the gusts and the blasts
of dry heat that scoured the roads with sand and caused our
motorbikes to stutter and skid near steep cliffs.
The locals were puzzled and claimed it uncommon, but accepted
that winds were shifting and changing as their goats stayed penned
with rolling wide eyes, their fur raised and ruffled by wind.
And the sand wore away the stone-faced lions on Delos, and the
Kouros on Naxos stayed sleeping and dreaming their grey granite
dreams of calm skies and clear waters,
and we tried to settle and get down to the work of creating and living
as I chased the fish truck and you cleaned your brushes and we
counted the days left on Samos that summer, our summer of love.
Flying eastward I looked up at the moon,
a skewed, lopsided moon hanging
over low clouds with a lonely floating Venus
off to the side – separate.
I thought of you and the same night’s moon
reflected in the Tevere near the English bridge,
plane trees arching from the banks, and
the splash of a muskrat setting our moon
Where you are, the tram rumbles in the distance.
Do you hear it? Or are you walking briskly across the bridge,
not stopping to see my moon, our broken lopsided moon,
floating in the Tevere?
It draws up the watery tears that flood my heart tonight
flying east, but moving no nearer to you.
You said my poem made you weep
but I wrote it when we were new
and we made plans to be together.
You wept for loss? Wept with regret?
You wept because our love was just a fluke
and we didn’t know it then?
But now I see that we were doomed to fail.
Distance, jobs, an innocent cat, your art, my family –
these all worked against our working.
But all the work we gave it was a sort of bliss.
Early on you threw your things into a bag.
Exasperated, you threatened to leave me.
I should have let you go and been satisfied
with the brief bright candle of passion
that had burned so brilliantly for a time.
We had our moments. Don’t ever forget
those small moments that were so big
they undid the ordinary sun like a full eclipse.
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