Leaf reading

Who writes to you?
I am she who has sometimes worn white gowns
once with a cap, removed
they anointed me with water,
under stained glass, polished wood, and a steeple.
Perhaps the organ sounded as
from a font
they devoted me to a god.
His mighty protection and favor evident in the heavy collection plate,
the heirloom lace, delicate threads about my throat.
Love was there, among the silken neckties,
the click of heels and many delicate hands,
nails clean, tanned skin acquired on a towel, lounging,
no stain of dirt, no grease,
but still each with his own sorrow, or hers.
Hope was there, unstated, unknown –
that I might grow to sing a song?
to wear my own heels?
to have soft, polished hands?

Too late for the supplicant lace,
The organ sounded first
and before that, before the font
or even the sweet, heavy chord,
there was flesh on flesh, warmth,
touch, thrilling me full of life.
Wind kissed me, ecstatic.
Birds, their chorus an envelope
wrapping me in a blanket of sound.
Warm grass, fresh cut.
This god, the god of bodies,
of garlic fried and strings plucked
of skin on skin
eyes to eyes
sunrise, the rhythm of waves,
she claimed me first, the water was too late,
my soul already stained
with too many petals, feathers,
was not forged for clean hands
and antique bonnets.

Steps from the steeple, almost grown, a gown,
white, sequined and cinched around a slender waist,
long legs, secreted under a full skirt.
Over a loudspeaker, a name given,
my father’s father’s father’s father announcing
eligibility, inheritance, complicity.
A princess at the ball, sipping oblivion,
learning forgetfulness.
Washed, razed, comported
a false advertisement
a virginal myth, a pure gift
for a protected son,
an untouched filly ready for taming
for bearing
for purchasing and decorating and nodding
to drown in oblivion, in forgetfulness
with always the right shoes,
pretty furnishings all in a row.

The shoes did not fit!
Let me out into the night air, hair down
unzip to just my skin.
Hands in some soil or rain pouring across my face,
licking my cloud-soaked lips,
drops melting away forgetfulness.
Let me not forget the feathers!
After hours in rooms full of cut blossoms, artfully arranged, 
bring me to some rooted place
where fading blooms feed the stems of the next spring,
where the open sky can feed what lives,
unprotected, ineligible, except as a fox or an otter
rolling through the water and mud,
eligible as a cub, tumbled with her sister,

Again a gown, a cap, white.
My brain, that sponge-y, folded mass,
director of destiny, molded, prepared.
Parchment and somber speech marking
This one can serve you well and,
smiling, do what she is bid,
her stardust dedicated to deliver,
bend her capability to your will.
For a certificate,
or room service with different scenery but the same faces,
well trained to do the work of the highest bidder,
to add countless bills to wallets already too fat for a pocket,
to use words to protect those who were born protected,
to delight those numbed from too much, for too long,
to maintain
to reinforce
what has been
and always with trim nails, soft, smooth fingers.

The final white gown, never another.
Silk, draped like cut marble and trailing, 
behind antique tulle to cover the faux virginal visage,
as if an unpierced membrane marked sanctity.
Solemn vows before the font god, under the same steeple, 
the same stones where water once was poured, 
where light streamed through colored glass,
where the infant cap was first removed.
Promises to the god of neckties and nails,
and with a signature, a chaste and hopeful kiss,
my one body given, my breath, my skin,
exclusively and in perpetuity,
to a forever helpmate.
To another childish heart, full of good intentions,
empty of knowledge, unable to predict, but hoping some unknown thing.

Tip-tap-tapping, years, sitting in recirculated air,
the low hum, the screen glow,
counting pieces of gold, the heaviness of imagined certainty,
oceans of words, read or unread,
lining shelves to announce expertise

and at night, oblivion
by glass or by screen,
not the wind caress, the dance of trees,
no communion with the red bird or the grass,
but eating, consuming, titillation, being consumed, forgetting.

Trained at a full table, with cutlery just so
and always more if you’re hungry.
Trained to avoid eyes,
man eyes,
bloodshot, needy eyes, different eyes.
The children ask about the man holding a sign.
We roll up the window and don’t stare.

Not yet wise, but wiser,
I see, now, my fear of eyes,
of rough sounds and want,
having always known warmth when it is cold
and cool in warmth, a thermostat for perpetual comfort.
And I can purchase with carefully guarded gold
the costume of anyone I choose to seem to be,
and nevermind poison in the water,
or that bees no longer buzz,
I can change costumes as the magazines direct,
the waist, after all, must lower and raise to feed the engine.

Long protected by the god of the font, still protected,
I cannot swallow.
My throat will close,
but between neck and stomach breath is hard to find.
Surrounded by the power of the font god,
the tapping heels, the shiny chrome of expensive cars, the plywood
adding room after room to tiny fortresses filled.
The pillows matching, the closets ordered.

A titmouse, my favorite,
lives in a hole in the maple outside the window.
The wind moves the leaves that will soon change color and fall,
berries appear on the dogwood.

I kneel.
I wish to lie, pressing the length of my body against the ground,
to feel the wind, the sun, the rain,
the ants or what might find me there,
to still myself,
to remember the god who chose me first,
the rooted god, working always in the air, under the dirt,
on wings, with paws, finned, luminescent,
owning nothing, unowned,
looking, feeling, tasting, singing, loving.

Me, reading an earlier version of this poem