English

10/13/2013

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English
By Ashley Karr

Long live the Queen.
Love live continuity &
gentility & that sacred
something we cannot
name or conquer. I am
quite free, but even I rest
& find peace in sameness.

Islands grow people who
understand the sea & look
to the razor’s edge that
severs air from water. They
sail to it, past it, & if they
drown, they follow the
low road home.

The world is round & I move
the same way as my people,
so I end up where they started.
An island stranded in the North
Sea licked by wanderers' tongues,
devoured by conquerors' mouths,
swallowed by marauders & spit
back into the cold, stony earth.
From the broken back of peace,
my Mother Tongue was born. I
am home in English.

Our small, agile vessels pleased
the air & sea. To honor our quiet 
cunning, they pierced the Spanish 
armada & bled their gold & glory into 
brine & tales of treasure lost to the 
depths. & with our determination to 
simply get on with things, & with our 
decision to take tea in the afternoon 
rather than nap alongside the rest 
of the world, & with insatiable appetites 
for spices, pelts, exotic goods, we salted 
the earth with our strange & unpredictable 
tongue. & then we feasted.

Part of me wishes the world could
have remained just as it was, but English
cast her net long before I was born. Just
as the Roman roads paved the way for
automobiles, our opaque diaspora laid 
out a spider web red carpet round our 
voluptuous earth to welcome with 
honor the coming of the Machine. Perhaps
this is the working of that sacred, nameless
thing we cannot conquer.

The Machine is fueled by logic: presence
or absence, yes or no, on or off. & yet it
speaks. We feel because of it. It stitches
us tightly into our English currency &
grammar & tendency to split the year into
eighths & magnificent beasts into hands. I
think it fitting that the daughter of a poet
taught the machine its first words. & I think
it fitting that a tiny colonial woman named
Grace convinced the brightest male & military
men of her time to teach the Machine natural
language - English, to be exact.

Indians and Sri Lankans do not program
prolifically because the Eastern mind is more
mathematically inclined than the Western. This 
ignorant thought fails to remember their epic 
poems  & millennia of high art, as well as the facts 
that they once were occupied by English & the 
current exchange rates are not in their favor.

Some fear that English is dying - sick & mortally
wounded by urban & moral decay. I disagree. 
Language is alive, like a moth or a tree. It grows
& changes & regenerates. It teaches us to speak, 
love poets & daughters, lets intuition invent &
logic inspire. It reminds us to respect the sea &
build far enough from her shore that she can
breathe.

Breathing is a funny thing. Soon after it ends, death
sets in. A Machine breathed for my grandmother as
she lay dying. They had forgotten to teach her Machine 
to speak & so she was not blessed with the gift of final, 
parting words. But, the only absolute is that there are no 
absolutes & mysteries abound in our vast universe. If 
something is meant to happen, it more than likely will, 
so it was no surprise that she came to me after she passed 
& told me what she had not been able to say:

The queen is dead. Long live the queen.
 
 
Bleakness took its final breaths. Bowed gracefully from my life as
you stepped smiling in. Your lack of punctuation meant something, and
I finally understood the significance of rosy-cheeked. It is the glow and
healthy circulation of one who is well and thoroughly loved. 

The broken elevator faced us. We wondered for a while together. Puddle 
hopped the niceties required of new acquaintances despite standing in 
the former glory of Mr. B. Black's estate. Decades drug grandeur to shabby 
yet fashionable fringe; however, the marble ran out after only the first
flight of stairs. I couldn't help but appreciate the attempt at dignity.
Apparently the money fled his pockets before the gentry flocked to the 
suburbs. 

Anyway, we climbed the stairs. Passed the liquor glittered alcoves, the
pay phone, the chipping paint, the artfully spray-painted stencils, the
Dodger cap, and arrived breathless and curious. I had shopped for a 
venue to delightfully exploit myself and had found this place with these
people. My expectations were nothing short of great.

Mrs. Nails stood and spoke of the deliciously wet bites one takes from
fertile deltas and peat fires that burn deep, deep, deep, deep in the 
earth. Mr. Nails spoke on alien encounters, the former First Lady, and
extra-marital affairs...not at all his, of course. Mrs. Nails is as essential
as salt as as sweet as honey. He lives for her benefit.

I was their first house guest. They insisted enthusiastically and fed me
rosemary chocolate chip shortbread biscuits and ridiculous instructions
about mirrors and makeup applications and the way one combs one's
hair. He relayed me the tale of his Lincoln Continental sitting in forlorn
Sacramento storage. Let me crack open his soul like a Christmas chestnut
and shed light upon the wealth of calorie-rich, golden oil trickling down
Interstate 5.

I dreamt of London. About princes and attending physicians. I dreamt of
robots and astronauts and tabloid news. Then, I opened my eyes to shelves
of books, freezers of cakes, polished wardrobes crowned with mandolins. I
saw walnut floors and modern table lamps, and I felt the importance of
coupling.

A toast to the happy couple! Cheers to long lives overflowing with shortbread
biscuits, performances, poetry, space aliens, and classic American automobiles.
Cheers to taking strangers in off the streets. Cheers to cigarettes on fire escapes.
Cheers to rosy cheeks. Cheers to love. Cheers to marriage. Cheers to you, Mr. &
Mrs. Nails. 
 
 
There are no wolves at the door. Now, drink your tea.
 
 
Life was different than what I had expected. Not better. Not
worse. My heart stopped between beats. A horrific gut shot
bled me out and my lungs caught on a coat hanger. I found 
the grittiest, earthiest, muskiest version of myself, and I 
was an oak wrapped around a bending reed. If I had to, I could
have kept my composure upon identifying a corpse. 

It's funny how we phrase things. We ask who the body belonged 
to. Note past tense. The ownership is no longer valid. And who 
was this former owner? And does the mortician, the City, the
bereaved, the crematorium now own the decaying thing? It all 
points an accusatory finger at the opening of this poem. Life was
different than what I had expected. 

I am not my body. I am free.
 
 
There is a shudder, a breaking, a
falling away of old things that have
served their purpose. Now they make
their way to a loose heap of linens and
moth wings and floor boards smooth
beneath the discarded leaflets. Through
this settled dust cloud, words dive once
again into her soul and weave a coat of
the deepest red to match her poppy lips
and fingers and toes. They wrap her tightly
in answered prayers and take her dining
and drinking and dancing until dawn. Her
eyes turn toward the Father, palms toward
her glowing, hand hewn hearth. She gives
thanks. Her gratitude a broad brushstroke
for she cannot bring herself to scrape through
the tiny details and grains of sand and bits of 
old wings, textbook pages, painful things.
Instead, she proudly wears her red coat. Dips
her poppy toes gingerly into a pair of lovely,
leather boots. Her fingers wrap around a 
handshake. Her lips press a kiss upon a newly
acquainted cheek. Never again does she look
over her shoulder in doubt. Worry never again
furrows her lists and obligations. Heartache 
never again eats away at her holidays.

There is a growing that reaches up into the
sky. A faith that roots itself into the walkway
paved in markings and curious ground cover. 
Her voice rings through the cities, countries, seas, 
window panes, afternoons that require pushing
so God can hear his daughter calling his name. At
long last, someone remembered that He needs
love, just like everyone else.
 
 
I have yet to marry
the man I will grow 
old with. The man I 
will love unconditionally
and be loved in like kind.
But, when we do marry, we 
will take a trip to Jackson Hole, 
Wyoming. Rest in the cradles 
and hammocks that hang from 
aggressive peaks, dropping down 
to pines and meadows and valley 
floors and two-lane highways.
How semis decide to trace
those winding, curving lines
defies all logic and imagination.
In my mind they tumble, top-heavy
to the center of the earth – a sacrifice
to the Goddess of Gravity. Sometimes 
I am grateful for her anchor, but often 
I wish I could loose myself from her 
grip and float away.

I did once.

I loosed myself from Gravity’s grip
and floated in a white Toyota to 
Jackson Hole, Wyoming. My dog 
was with me, so I wasn’t alone,
I promised myself that the next 
time I float here it will be with the 
man who loves me unconditionally
and whom I love in like kind.
 
 
By my words I escape wearing the 
endless Northern winter. No one can 
sense us in blackness. Leaves carpet our 
footfalls. We move like slow, wild things 
and feel our way to each other despite the 
black. 

I am glad we both lost our respective
wars. All the pain was worth learning
how to feel our way through the dark,
how to respectfully decline Gravity's
invitation to remain here on earth so 
that we can close the distance between
us as quickly as a storm.

We think the whispers while we dream
are the voices of demons, but they are
only lonely creatures speaking forgotten
tongues. The poor darlings are lost and 
no longer understand the ways of the 
modern world. If we're quiet enough, 
still enough, we will be able to make out 
what they say. I finally let them swallow 
me whole to show me where I buried your 
body in the dirt beneath the floorboards 
of your summer home in Småland. This
was not the first time I killed someone I 
loved. I stole your breath away from you, 
calculatingly dismantled your lungs. I 
was a nightmare - greedy and duplicitous.

I tell you now that I am sorry. Let me
make amends with your exhumation 
and by giving you the only thing I have 
left after so many centuries of plunder. 
Me. 

Our lives are measured by how we die. You
and I will die free of fear and regrets this 
time because we took care to acquaint
ourselves with Death. She is not the end. She
is simply a part of life. If we're quiet enough,
still enough, we can hear each other die a
little each day. And since Death waits for us 
sixty, eighty, one-hundred years from now, I 
reason loving you is a very good way to live. 
 
 
Highland - A Poem by Ashley Karr
My lovely friend and accomplished writer and publisher, Kat Ward, has kindly slated me as her featured poet and will publish a number of my pieces in Hometown Pasadena over the next few weeks. I am a fan of this wonderful and award-winning publication. Check it out, y'all!  Here's a link to my first published piece, Highland, and please peruse the site. Thank you again, Kat!

 
 
 
 
Truth is liberating. In fact,
it's the only thing that sets 
me free. Plain speech my
ancestors called it. Say 
precisely what you mean
to say in as few words as
possible. I come from a 
long line of parsimonious
poets who invented fixed
prices. Everyone paid the
same amount, and it was a
fair price for all parties. So
efficient. So just. So honest.
I can smell the hay and
sawdust, taste the fresh,
foaming milk. 

I've let myself be silenced in 
the past. My defensive stance 
only backfires. I kick myself 
because I already know everything 
that I need to know:

Say precisely what it is I need
to say in as few words as possible.

Even though I do not look it nor 
sound it, I am a great bull. I tuck
my chin and paw mightily at
their sand when I see the red cape
flashing at me - commanding me
to feel. I do not care for emotions.
They make me angry, make me
frightened, guilty for my bullishness
and defensive stance with a backfiring
gun. I do not want hot powder to
burn my eyes. I do not want swords
in my back and a stadium full of vile
creatures shouting Olé as I sink into
my blood and their arena. I do not
want to be a bull. I do not want to
be a soldier. I want to be a thirty-
two-year-old woman with a good
education, a good head on her 
shoulders, and the ability to tell
you precisely what I feel in as few
words as possible.