ISSUE # 1
Richard Manly Heiman
There’s a fog round the yew tree. As if the mists of Hag’s Head could rise sudden from the bark and suck you from your toes up, up and over the sea in a coracle of forget. Only the memory of lead holds you groundward. Only invoking a name keeps you from sinking into that black loam, drawn like a dowser’s rod to watery sleep.
One thousand five hundred yews make a hedge maze. One thousand more make a journey. A yew sprang once from the grave of a poet’s daughter. Its branches yearned far for another’s, planted in her lover’s corpse. At St. Mary’s churchyard a gale carried leaf, twig and roots twined with bones to the turf. Thirty burials fed that old green man, thirty saints sang for his dying.
In sheltering yews the Bean Sidhe wails. Each grove hides a blue-painted priest in its shadows, where dead wood rebirths and shoots gather in deep-mouthed skulls. Every nest of a songbird, left bare in the yew boughs, gives rise to the rarest of trilling. Every prayer chanted soft in the shade of the yew tree is answered with whispered amens.
Someday We’ll Incarnate You in Porcelain
Richard Manly Heiman
Hair shimmers on your pillow like spring wheat.
Dead strands gather in locks,
caressing your tallowed forehead. You glow
with cornflower eyes, rose blush,
a ghost smile painted on parting lips.
Your flattened skull rests well in walnut,
framed in garlands like Ophelia dreaming.
We couldn’t leave you for voles to gnaw.
We warmed your crib at dusk
for your slight return. Now,
we change your christening gown each fortnight,
call you darling child. Fill you with sand
and hold you ever closer. After complines
we exhale…imagining cooing in the darkness.
Signs of a May Morning
Richard Manly Heiman
Chalk etches across a gem-spring sky. Tight lines,
cottoning just a little at the margins. Look at the contrails—
Kindergartners freeze mid-skip and stare. Kids jailed in capture-the-flag
follow my gaze. Two vapor paths bisect, a perfect right angle.
The base of the long one runs eastward. Up slope, toward the high meadows.
The groundskeeper starts his mower. I check my stopwatch,
whistle the game over. Silver wings flick bright and off at 45000 feet,
gifting their cruciform. In hoc signo vinces, I breathe.
battleground words (in memory of Luis Padillo and the soldier)
Richard Manly Heiman
misericordiarum so cold
reconciliavit thirsty give me water mama
indulgentiam just let me rest a moment mama I’m tired so tired
te absolve a peccata tuis cling to your dress your long black dress
unctionem et suam I’m weak hold your baby
ut a peccatis liberatum I see papa coming from the garden carry me papa so tired
te salvet atque
need time can hardly see so tired let me rest
stay with me don’t go no no no no go
take me with you mama, papa take me
ecce qui tollit pecatta mundi
so dark so cold take me to the
ad vitam aeternam.
On finding thinness
Richard Manly Heiman
I watch for you in slender places. On the granite staircase of Mt. Conness, where hearts plummet a thousand grey feet in a moment. In a ruined tower at Warwick, when French children run laughing from midsummer rain. In all 270 steps of cathedrals and the perfect riot of Suffolk roses. I listen in swaying red firs at twilight and whitewater surging past slabs on the Yuba’s south fork. In a long-empty church at North Bloomfield when pews fill with ghosts. In a meadow ravaged by cinnamon bears and in soft tones of vergers caressing the dry bones of poets. You hover in mare’s tails at vespers. You creep soft in gentian and lupine. You grow inside me like a pristine tumor, speaking my thinness. Each night, a little less of me. Every morning, a little more of you.
You know when an angel drifts by
like a boat in a Chinese poem
because its silence
is so deep you can hear it:
Neither ordinary sound
nor the hiss of tinnitus,
but a slow current in the air
lapping against your ears.
Wings folded like doused sails
and unlike us, at peace,
it floats downstream
into the stillness we call forever.
Chainsaws faint in the distance
whine like Messerschmidts.
It must be an air raid
on the past:
In the black and white newsreel
of my limbic system,
the world war I was born into,
like all wars, has never ended.
Advent (Granite Station)
The wild grass is dead
for now; the granite
it grew beside ignores
the cold, the frost
glittering like its own mica.
But the grass will come alive
again next spring
and every year for eons,
long after the stone
has weathered to sand.
Below ground, otherwise a vacant lot,
bones that never tell the truth
about anyone discarded here:
Graves not up to code, unmarked
or staked out like a tract gone broke
before the first shoddy house went up:
Walk among them with respect,
honoring the anonymous dead—
famous names no one has ever heard.
THE MAN WHO WALKS ON GLASS
If it was me my feet would be
a bloody mess.
But either his footstep’s so light
he floats above the sharpness.
Or his will’s so strong,
his skin refuses penetration.
Or his faith runs so deep,
his gods take pity and protect him.
So here I am
witness to how heavy
I trudge through this world,
how weak-willed I am
and vulnerable to sharp objects,
how impious and defenseless.
And yet, we both survive the ordeal,
with soles unblemished, intact.
Of course, no one’s applauding me
but I like the way I’ve got my act together.
NEW ENGLAND MORNING
My sturdy twinkling throb
between a trillion heartbeats,
I’m rising out of sleep –
above the knees the ingenious blankets
stand watch upon the numerals of being;
light scans flesh, unlocks the feet,
devolves the grip out of irrational grasping
and from its struts how the jaw drops –
when universal dawn floods sheets –
how frantic the shine that must waken,
how pathetic the dream’s quibble as,
when revoked in this New England dawn –
calms to a beat
already tunneled out by breath;
promotes a pale précis
amid newly shimmering colors
on the papered bedroom wall.
FOR THE ONE TREE MIND
You can have my scars going back to first grade
and the smell of Sunday pot-roast –
I’ll even throw in “Star Wars”, rock and roll,
and the immaculate reception —
if autumn cares to float me down,
winter rocks me, spring builds me up
to what the greenest summer is about.
I’ll give up ice-cream, Nikes,
okay maybe the pats on the back –
for the third leaf from the tip
that brings such quality to my life
and the longest, highest branch that birthed it –
silver maple, I say, when it used to be sailboats,
shoes, Springsteen and Selena –
forked trunk, sap, changing color with the seasons
ah beauty – the rest of the world in a trade.
The flood took Felton Grove, the paper read,
but Felton Grove took it—
mud piled ten-feet high,
entire first-stories entombed in soil
and clay from upriver, branches and stumps,
impaled in bedrooms and kitchens.
Just as all ideals get sullied by practice,
eventually all flotsam sinks
when rivers recede, and here it appeared.
Mennonite farmers came in hip waders as far as Fresno
three hours by tractor and truck to exhume the homes.
Clay-stained and Christ-stained, they worked
without rest from dawn until dusk,
then with light from a front loader,
kept digging until midnight
had exhausted the gasoline from the tanks.
They worked and ate and worked again,
stood wader to wader with shovel and pick,
and mounds of clay and dirt and debris
flew to the loader, the loader to truck,
the truck to washed-out ravines by the river,
and stayed the week until every homeowner
could hose down the walls, to begin,
again, the hopeless routing of the flood plain
against water, the wandering warrior.
Villagers sat serene as statues and watched
the burly men lift and heft, who did not stop
to marvel or rue the power of the flood,
neither impressed with man’s dominion
nor the reign of disorder.
God, they said, appointed them as mudders,
they felt blessed, for born from mud to mud they would return. And they had.
Un pathetique, pathetic—
we think of the word as sympathy,
but centuries ago meant
sensitive to suffering,
or we think of it as pitiful
in a negative way,
as below a human grace,
but pathetic meant to be full
of extended mercy,
Jesus to the lame,
the injury evoking
compassion, not a critique,
critique a word
that meant appraisal,
neutral between praise
and censure, not damning,
not negative, not ripping
flesh like a raven
from the near dead.
We have worn words
by the steady rain
from our vicious selves,
turned jagged rock
to smooth stones to hurl
against each other.
Vicious, from vice,
from vitium, once meaning
imperfect, or defect,
opportunity for grace,
now worn into fault, malice,
act of predation.
October rain streams down the wide library window next to where I sit surrounded by books. Dry and warm on the brocade window seat, I draw my knees up under my chin, thinking.
I had learned that rain would bring into focus the hurtful memory from more than two decades ago:
It was a weekday in October, 1956, gray and misting for the fourth bleak day in a row. I stood at the long, old-fashioned windows at the front of our first apartment, high up, looking out over the nearly deserted main street of our small town. Beads of moisture joined each other to snake down the glass and finally fall to the sidewalk below. The miserable day suited my mood perfectly. It might have been a perfect day to clean my filthy apartment, but once again I knew I would not. I needed a better plan.
I turned and picked the baby out of his crib, and he grinned toothlessly at me, maybe sensing still another road trip. I kissed him and hoped he understood that I didn’t really blame him for my funk. I changed his diaper, stuffed his strong little arms into his, warm gray jacket with its fuzzy hood, and grabbed my coat, my purse, and the car keys.
I walked to the back of the apartment, through the storage room, past the garbage cans and the second-hand outboard motor that we never used anymore, then shut the back door behind me with a defiant click. I stepped out into the mist and started carefully down the long, open stairway, clinging tightly to the railing with one hand. The baby squirmed, impatient with being carried over my other arm like a sack of flour. We would go to the farm. Grandma W. would probably be home, and she would be glad to see her first grandchild again, wouldn’t she? My conscience gave me one small jab, easily ignored. Ignoring the repetitive housewife stuff was becoming easier every day. If my husband didn’t care about our mess, why should I? Maybe I’d straighten things up a little before he came home from work.
The mist had become more of a light rain, so I hurried toward my car in the parking lot. It started on the first try.
As I turned on to Main Street, it began to rain a little harder, and the wind picked up. The windshield wipers scraped and screeched; I guessed buying wipers was my responsibility, too. I shut off the offending noise and continued south past the Catholic Church on the right. Hanrahan’s new hearse and at least two-dozen cars were parked outside.
Grass in the yards along Main Street was buried in sodden leaves; elms usually made a golden contrast to the crimson maples, but this year wind and rain had spoiled any chance for fall color.
I passed Mathieson’s Meat Locker and the Veterinary Clinic on the left, and then braked for the bumpy railroad crossing at the south edge of town, before continuing on toward the farm.
There were no oncoming cars. But through the mist I was surprised to see what looked like a small group of people coming toward me walking along the gravel at the edge of the highway. Strange. I slowed for a better look.
As I came closer to them I rubbed a clear place on the fogged-up windshield, at first not believing what I was seeing. They were Negroes! There were four people, walking heads down: a youngish man and woman each carrying big suitcases and an older woman shielding a small boy of maybe four or five with a yellow umbrella. They were miles from anywhere. Where could they be going? Whatever their destination, they were well on their way to being soaked through.
I slowed still further. The 30ish man wore a dark suit with the collar turned up against the rain; his too-short pants exposed white socks. I could see he had a necktie. His felt hat was like the one my dad always wore, but it was wet, and water dripped from its front edge. The woman, who appeared to be the right age to be his wife, paused to switch the heavy suitcase to her other hand, then hurried to catch up. She wore a dress-up straw hat, and a beige spring jacket over a flowered dress. Her ballerina shoes and once-white anklets were now muddy, doubtless soaked. The older woman, a grandmother, maybe, was dressed the same, except for a sodden pink flowered hat, and sturdier shoes. The little boy was the only one who wore a warm jacket.
The adults were squinting against the light rain that blew in their faces, and the child trudged forward under the umbrella, keeping his head down. I drove slowly toward them, shaking my head in disbelief. They certainly didn’t have any family in our town. No place would even let them stay the night. They might get a sandwich at the coffee shop, but they would have to eat in the park, and the night Marshall would run them out of there at nightfall, for sure.
I was now abreast of the travelers, and my mind began buzzing: I should do something. How could this family manage? I slowed further. Maybe they could stay with us at the apartment for the night. About all I had was eggs and milk to feed them; I’d meant to go to the store. We only had one bed. I tried to see how it could work out. We had two couches. And if I gave them a ride into town, they’d at least be out of the rain for a while.
By then I had rolled on past them, so I stopped and pulled off the road, thinking fast. I didn’t have sheets and blankets; but Mom would loan me some.
I hesitated, looking in the rearview mirror. They were walking slowly away from me. They sort of seemed to know where they were going. Maybe someone was meeting them. They might not need help. What if they wouldn’t even want my help? I might insult them. I started rolling slowly forward, still considering turning around, but then I remembered: My apartment was downright filthy! Certainly too dirty for company. What would these people think of that?
I put the car in gear and headed slowly on south.
Today, I pull my knees tighter to my chest, lay my cheek against the library window, and begin to weep. I weep these days whenever I drive that stretch of old highway 61, which is often. Or whenever October rain hangs on too long, the image of that family trudging through cold drizzle comes to me. Seemingly powerless, the tapes of my long list of sins of omission – the ones no one else knows about – begin to play. I know that I can’t change the past, and that guilt is useless, but still, my heart aches for do-overs.