Bio Note: Now that I am retired it is easy to nap on winter afternoons. Sometimes when I do, I awaken with new poems in my head. A few times now I've dreamt of poems with a paleolithic setting, poems I don't think I would have otherwise written. The mystery that this process entails makes me curious and grateful for poetry.
Girl on the Cusp
After Käthe Kollwitz, Self-Portrait, 1921 A girl enters a gallery of etchings, examines a self-portrait. Where is the brooch, the bracelet? The girl knows only to judge women in the way she has been judged. How all the girls she knows are judged and how they judge each other. On what’s surface. This face with its angular lines won’t wheedle power by pleasing. Fingers strong as piano keys rest against a weighty skull filled with problems of shadow, space, survival. This subject does not ponder her own appeal, does not curl her slack mouth into a compliant smile. This artist does not regard a garden of blossoms. She studies a wick that struggled to burn, snuffed quickly into a white sigh. This legend’s gaze refuses artifice, recognizes a howl as human. The girl leaves the gallery, finds the end of a sunset skittering into night, the cold creeping into her coat, ice-covered roads. She doesn’t know if she’ll even make it home.
At the Center of the World, At the Beginning of Time
We traveled in darkness. None of us knew how long the journey took. When I woke I saw a glowing hearth where six women bustled, each long-haired and barefoot— the grandmothers. One pressed a package into my small hand. I felt the sharp edge of a shaft wrapped in soft vellum and lost consciousness. As we sailed to new homes, the gifts they gave us told stories about caves, rivers, ice. Enclosed in the seamless ship, I waited for the last glacier to retreat, then found my home in a Scots Pine forest surrounded by a neighborhood of grouse, a steppe of bilberries. I longed for company. Another human came to me. We sang into each other’s mouths, felt as one with other mammals: cave bears, panthers, reindeer. Each word we spoke blossomed. We tied the flowers onto strings. Each string became a garland, a sentence. With them, we thanked our grandmothers for the gifts of our lives, glimpsed the flames of their fires, the thump of their feet. They heard us where they dwelled at the center of the world, at the beginning of time. They answered from the stars. Remember your long journey through darkness. Remember the gifts we gave. We opened our shafts. They were hollow, stuffed with spiraling filaments, glossy specks, kernels within gray shells, seeds that will carry life forward. Seeds that make possible survival.
Hollyhocks grow in our lawn near the walk. Their long stems extend at oblique angles. Inside cup-like flowers pollen lies heavy. Yellow petals wrinkle like delicate paper. Why do passers-by turn to admire a passing car?
©2022 Margaret Coombs
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