copyright © 2015 by Lana Orphanides
The Seeds Within
You walked across the grass at twilight and the curve
of the earth changed.
The strength of your stride, the force
of your gaze, beguiled me,
the world from which you came unknown,
the world that I had known, gone.
of our lives
were in that moment
that we met,
the seeds of our children
and their children,
hidden deep within like sleeping seraphim.
You walked across the grass at twilight
and I, on the opposite side,
saw the curve of the earth shift.
In the angle of that light, we traced a triangle to meet
as if we knew the way,
as if it all was known,
that was to to be
The body does not forget.
It remembers the child in the belly,
the first feeling of roundness,
the bold corner of a foot,
the milk spilling in the breast.
It stretches and folds and grows
limp. Rises and tightens and grasps
and lets go but does not forget.
Once I watched the birth of a calf as it
struggled out of its mother, she licking
and cleaning and the calf raggedly standing
just out of the womb, falling, resting, rising
once again. The mother too rising quickly
after this hoof-kicking, long-legged birth,
prodding and watching, no lying down, no dreaming.
You too had long legs when you were born
though I hardly remember your coming out,
and I was not standing soon after
but you were clean and fresh as porcelain
and, in the peace of the dark room,
I felt that I was the one
who had come through
to the other side.
Sometimes the heart
is pressed down
trampled in joy
so shaken by love
it is hard
How You Visit
Sometimes, I hear your laughter in my own,
bubbling up from an underground
spring of sweet water, a trilling sound of a bird
I cannot name unless perhaps
it’s a crowd of scarlet tanagers,
or that towhee-like bird
I heard in New Zealand
whose notes were impossibly high and clear,
singing, “Drink your tea, drink dear,”
the last sounds clinking as I climbed
to the Cathedral in the Rock.
But, I don’t know.
You do not appear
in my mirror, your hands in their usual movements
of larks flying. It is as though we visit
for a short while but there is no conversation.
That you come in laughter amazes me
and after, I turn my head, sure
of the disappearing scent of your perfume,
and speech, then, seems too tied to earth.
Lavender and the soft haze
of sage, pale green capers,
and wild thyme
lined the path
to the sea. Below us
was a small, empty crescent,
far from the town,
the moonscape of mountains behind.
The weather was windy, and this our first swim
in the still cold Aegean.
I invited my mother,
dead then eight years, for the dip.
I asked if she’d like to dive with me,
warm me, sustain me, make me look brave.
She smiled, almost laughed
and gladly came diving.
all spirit, her long
joined mine. Motion and essence,
we arched like a dolphin,
a sound wave
of coming and going.
In that moment as light
rolled into darkness,
ocean spilled into ocean, I was liquid and flowing,
I was past and present, future and never.
I was water and space and the taste
of salt. I was gone
and come back unafraid.
Her Other Name
When she was Gabriella Orvieto
she soared and flew. Her eyes were bright and clear.
She knew each glance, the way to trick the fear,
what looks would kill, what words say no.
The girl had no regrets, each road was new.
She never looked back. She never told all.
She dressed in silver, her hair was shining,
her walk was languid, and when she strolled the streets
bicyclists fell from their seats.
Nothing could offend her, no comment
slow her down, no friend would deny her,
no boundary could confine her.
And when she read her poems of longing
they jumped into the soul and each word sang.
Each languid phrase became a siren song.
The audience was thrilled and all afire.
For she was Gabriella Orvieto
and all she had was all that she desired.
I heard her opening her door
from her room below
in the windowless blue
studio just before sunrise,
the smell of chamomile lingering
from the nighttime dew.
How she slid into the water that dawn
she hardly remembered,
so much ouzo, so much sun
the day before.
I watched her climb down the rocky cliff
in the almost darkness
slipping out of her nightgown as out of a dream
and stepping into the crimson waves
while I guarded unseen
from the shadow of the cliff.
As her silver body, so like a girl’s,
so like a nereid,
rose and dove, rose and dove
into the ripening Aegean,
her hair the color of starlight,
she was as free as I have ever seen her,
and full of a singing light.
She did not need
my protection after all
I was glad
to have witnessed that beauty,
glad that she arose
like Venus and quietly ran back
to her gilded room.
In Mykonos there are no birds, but sea, and the sound
as it swims
through the open windows and the open blue shutters.
Nothing is green.
All is in the eye and the skin, the touch
and the taste
of salt, the clear line of rock against blue, the white square
houses, the white dotted hillsides of domes.
All is air and indigo and the whiteness of wind
Outside the Monastery of Michael,
on the island of Lesvos,
the birds are carillons, an angelus,
the sound of a thousand bells, as if
every monk’s page
turning in the dark cells
had small cymbals,
each page ringing
against its silence.
As if all the leaves blowing outside the church
in the corridor
on the stone wall where we sit
as if those leaves are brass
feathers in the wind
and all around, stillness
except for the birds
hundreds and hundreds of green chimes,
I am going to take a vow of silence
and listen to spring coming,
listen to the snow whispering away
into the morning sky,
to the waves receding and pulling forth,
hear the creaking dock and the wind
that sounds like evergreens.
I am going to listen to the hiss
of the welcome heat
rising from the dark cellar,
and the hush of the tablecloth
descending to the table.
I will listen for the quiet
sound of your whistling,
the wrinkle of your laughter, the glide
of your shirt and slide of your shoes,
the clink of ice in the glass, the fork
on the porcelain plate,
the sound of the world together
unbroken by words.
In the deep
of the forest
our son moves
like a gazelle,
like a sail as we descend
into the valley
of the giant redwoods.
It is late afternoon in a cold April.
There is the threat of rain and we
are traveling an unmarked trail,
the usual bridge
in rushing waters.
He disappears below us in the circles of greenness.
We follow the path
like a labyrinth, whose end we cannot know.
I turn to see the way back
and stumble, as the sky disappears.
There is no sound.
Our breath quickens as we go lower.
My feet sink in the softness of moss,
a feeling of floating as in deep,
the silence of being
I whistle. No answer.
Finally in the distance we see the grove,
the elders, the giant ones,
the tallest of all sentinels, immense beyond logic,
detached, quiet, holy.
Our son sits below the tallest, like a Buddha.
I move forward, touch
the tree’s velvet skin, feel a vibration
as in a hum of waves thousands of miles away,
dispelling all fear,
circling through eons and eons
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