Variant

by Cornelia Rohde

Puffer fish are angst.
Spotted eagle rays are grace;
lion fish, serial killers in lace.
Nudibranches are finesse.
The sea slug is a wet baguette.

Cuttlefish are sorcery.
Sand dollars, faith;
Green turtles, song.
The conch is patience;
the octopus, sentience.

Sea urchins are all appetite.
Dolphins, a surge of delight.
Sea-horses, a whisper of bliss.
The Man o’ War is a Viking adrift.
The horseshoe crab, a clone of Darth Vader.

The great white shark is peerless vanity.
The whale is the keeper of collective sanity.

 

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The Pianist of Yarmouk

by Cornelia Rohde

His hope is his piano.
He covers it with cardboard,
levers it onto a cart,
sets out in April
on his birthday, for luck.

Pitiless fires of ISIS
devour it at the checkpoint.
Doesn’t he know
musical instruments are Haram,
forbidden?

With his music in his fingers,
he walks among snakes to Turkey;
thanks Allah he chose not to bring his family.
Strong men fall. He tries to help a few.
He is one who makes it through.

But the hands of the pianist
who dared lie still.
His voice fills with the salt
of the sea he fears.

The moon keens over Yarmouk,
without songs of solace, only tears.

*Yarmouk is the Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus.

 

Darshan

by Cornelia Rohde

Sound the hanging bell
in warm temple air redolent
with burnt oil, incense, sweat.
Slip your shoes off. Enter.

Offer strings of roses, jasmine
wound with gold and silver thread,
small vessels of rice, dal,
chopped sugar cane, curds.

Polished brass ornaments catch
gleams from myriad tiny flames.
Priests chant mantras, wave
trays of glowing diyas.

One sprinkles water before
the unmoving eyes
of the god he has fed, dressed,
soothed, pleased, beguiled.

He dips his thumb in red
sandalwood paste. His single
stroke between my eyebrows
draws my mind to grace.

 

The Poetry Lover

by Cornelia Rohde

He’s brought his dog to the poetry evening.
What’s his name? Puppy.
His face crinkles like Bob Dylan’s
with greying tufts of beard.
He listens quietly to the featured poet.
In the after-talk, he argues performance
and written poetry have the same attributes.
He comments that he likes the sibilant sounds
in DH Lawrence’s poem Snake; says it works
well when delivered with spirit and gestures.
With a wry smile, he reads from a slim worn paperback
of lively limericks written by seven-year olds.
Can I get a lift with you?
Dog, backpack, briefcase, square satchel pile in.
He laughs when I ask why he carries all that.
Do you come here often? No, transport is a problem.
Some bus drivers won’t allow dogs. I usually walk.
I smell sweat and think about the drought.
While we carry on the evening’s conversation,
he directs me higher and higher up the mountain,
past moneyed mansions in Higgovale,
until we reach the furthest house line. Here is fine.
After I turn around to head down,
he waves at the edge of the road
away from the upscale doorways.

It is then I think of the homeless
who shelter in the quarry.

The Week That Was

by Cornelia Rohde

I saw my first corpse today.
I try to visualize her floating
down a river with a tulip
resting on her breast.

I like the compassion of Ram Das’s
words: “When all is said and
done, we’re really just all
walking each other home.”

I practice standing strong
and steady like a tree.
If I slow down the chi
moves more naturally.

When he’s here, I think
how great it would be
to have my own space;
but now, a lacuna.

A fraught poetry session:
a muttering young derelict rips
off her belt, spills Jacques’s wine,
damaging his braille computer.

I must focus on clearing
the detritus of my life.
I think of Kunitz; live
in the layers not in the litter.

It cheers me that everything
that has happened to me
is mine and that I get
to tell it in my own voice.

Krishna’s Mercy

A Fibonacci

by Cornelia Rohde

Down
holes
among
the pipul roots
great hooded snake gods
live in rich underground cities
built of precious gems
whose brilliance
lights up
the
world.

Some
like
dreaded
Kaliya
with his hundred hoods,
vomit poison, destroying all
near the sacred river
Jumna’s banks
that flow
deep,
broad.

Heads
rise
fearsome
from the depths
engulfing Krishna
when he dives to retrieve his ball.
He becomes so huge
the demon
is forced
to
yield.

Released
child
now dances
on those heads,
but he spares the brute
when his lovely Nagini wives
beg for his pardon.
Playful Lord
forgives
vile
rage.

Rescue

by Cornelia Rohde

At full moon’s morning tide
we swim across the flats
above baby conch
settled in soft turtle grass.
At each receding ebb
their pink-shell lips gape,
vulnerable to greedy scavengers.
You rescue them in weighty bucket-loads,
stagger through the shallows
to hurl them into channel’s depths
where they can safely fatten.

I imagine shiny shell faces
beaming with relief.

Yellow Snake Spirit

by Cornelia Rohde

“He is upon the Wheel as we are—a life ascending or descending—very far from deliverance. Great evil must the soul have done that is cast into this shape,” said the Lama to Kim.
Rudyard Kipling, Kim
 

No meat on him, nor in his mouth.
Skin leather-tough, scaly as a turtle.
On his head an old palm hat
Miss Ilma’d plaited out of pity.

No wife nor kin to share
his crooked clapboard house:
privy out back, no pump,
dirt floors and vermin.

His neighbors pinch their noses.
Kids taunt him. His harsh curses
send them scattering. They call
him a curmudgeon, or call him worse.

His watermelons ripen
on his Crown Land plot.
He piles his skiff with weighty fruit,
rows back across the channel.

Makes fast his line; readies to hurl.
One by one, heads smash on the dock
in shattered bleeding shards.
That un’s Ole Pot, that un’s Crazy Boy, that un’s Jack.

The church takes his land for a parking lot.
He hides in the bush in a makeshift hut.
His slingshot drops a bird to eat.
But that bud is a yellow snake.

De bud is a speerit.
De bud sings,
Go carry me home.
So he takes him out.

Go an’ make up yer fire.
Come an’ cook me now.
He done eat. One bone lef.
Go lay on yer mat.

When they come, he is
stiff as a mast, down and dead.
They find a yellow snake
coiled under his bed.