Winter Prompt #26: Ripped Paper

RIPPED PAPER

In memory of Ursula K. Le Guin

Winter Prompt #26

Tear it all up—

old bills and tax returns, bank

statements, stock certificates,

manuals and guarantees.

            But don’t stop

there. Tear up all the useless

books: archaic sciences, outdated

histories, smug theologies,

the whole thick body

of masculine pronoun,

life as battle,

possession as the highest good.

CLOSETS

CLOSETS

. . . open every closet in the future and evict

all the mind’s ghosts. . .

~Hafiz, trans. Daniel Ladinsky

Some closets are full

of sentimental things that mattered once:

toys and photographs, letters, old poems.

The ghosts tiptoe around the dusty boxes;

their bony toes rattle on the floor.

The ghosts moon over a ragged doll,

caress a tattered book.

Other closets are stuffed with

things of the mind, things of the heart:

things I might have done,

things I might have made,

people I might have loved.

The ghosts shake their powdery heads.

Ah, they whisper, your precious past.,

so sad, so sweet, so—passing.

 

The ghosts are not so easy to evict.

They cajole, they whine,

touch all my soft spots.

They look like my mother,

my dead sister,

the men who came so close.

They say they remember

all the stories I have to tell,

so how can I send them away?

When I look fierce at them,

they weep.

 

You are future ghosts!  I scream,

You are not the past,

you are not even memory, 

but fear of memory and its distortion.

You are not keepsakes, but anticipation of loss.

You are anxieties of times to come, 

you cover my pasts with corruption,

you haunt my futures with regret.

Be gone!

 

The ghosts whimper, they cringe.

I stamp my feet, wave my broom.

They diminish.

They flutter away like ragged moths.

The future becomes nothing but itself

and all my things, nothing but things.

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part IV

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part IV

 

4. O Clavis David

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;

you open and no one can shut;

you shut and no one can open:

Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,

those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Enough keys.

We have a ringful on our belts.

They rattle when we walk.

They weigh us down as we proceed

once again down the long hallway

past the doors.

A few have opened.

It took years

to find the right combination

of twist and force,

to learn the Magic Words.

We’re tired.

Our feet hurt.

And still they make barricades

on the other sides.

Set bars.

Change the locks.

We have so many heavy keys,

skeleton keys.

Put flesh on them.

Put your shoulder to the doors.

Beat them down.

Nobody answers when you knock.

ANSWERING

ANSWERING

 

If someone says

You didn’t see that,

say But I did. 

And I heard it, too.

 

If someone says

Surely that’s not

what you think, say

That’s what you think.

 

If they say  

You shouldn’t feel

that way,

say Ha!

should has nothing 

to do with it.

 

If they say

You shouldn’t say

things like that,

say Just listen.

THE GREEDY FISHERMAN

THE GREEDY FISHERMAN

~after the Brothers Grimm

Once upon a time, there was a fisherman who lived in a vinegar jug by the seaside. Every day he went out fishing. Some days he caught enough fish to sell, some days he caught only enough to eat, some days he caught nothing.

But one beautiful morning, when the sea was calm and the sun was shining brightly, he caught a little golden fish, the likes of which he had never seen. “Ah,” he thought to himself, “I can sell this fish for a pretty penny.”

But as he pulled the hook from the fish’s mouth, the fish spoke. “Fisherman! If you let me go, I will grant you a wish. Anything you desire.”

Of course the fisherman had never heard a fish speak. “Why should I let you go?” he said.  “I can sell you and get rich! A golden fish that talks!”

“But you can wish for all the riches you like,” said the fish, “if you let me go.”

“Well, all right,” said the fisherman, who still did not quite trust the fish. “I would like a nice cottage instead of a vinegar jug.”

“Go home then,” said the fish. “It is as you wished.”

So the fisherman rowed his little boat home, and there, just as the fish had said, was a little cottage where the vinegar jug had been. There were two rooms, the kitchen with a good stove and a neat table, all complete, and a bedroom with a neat cot covered with a featherbed. Outside was a bit of garden, with cabbages and onions planted in rows. The fisherman was well pleased, and for many days he lived contented in his cottage.

But one day he began to think, “Why did I not ask for a mansion? Surely the fish could have granted me that. I’ll go back and see.”

He rowed his little boat back out into sea. There were clouds over the sun, and ripples in the water, but the fisherman was used to bad weather. He rowed out to where he had first caught the fish, and he called, “Fish! Fish! I have another wish!”

The fish immediately poked its head from the water, and the fisherman thought it looked a bit larger than it had at first.  “Yes? What is it?” asked the fish.

“I would like a mansion. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes,” said the fish, “I can. Go back home and you will have a mansion.”

The fisherman rowed home, and there where the cottage had been was a big stone mansion with beautiful gardens and a barn and a stable full of horses and carriages. The mansion had a hundred rooms and a great hall and a gallery and servants to look after it all. The fisherman was very pleased. He liked the beautiful things in the mansion, and he liked telling the servants what to do. And he stopped going down to the sea to fish.

And one day, after he had ordered his servants to prepare a bath and a picnic lunch for him, and had watched them busy themselves with his orders, he thought, “I could be king. If I were king, I would have more servants, and the lords and ladies all around would have to obey me, too. I will order my yacht to take me back to the fish, and I will tell it that I want to be king.”

So he ordered his yachtsman to make ready, and down to the sea he went. The sky was covered in cloud then, and there were whitecaps on the water, but the fisherman was not worried at all. He knew about all kinds of weather. “Fish! Fish!” he called. “I have another wish!”

The fish appeared then, poking her head out of the water. Yes, she was definitely larger than before, thought the fisherman, but the fisherman did not worry. As he grew more powerful, he thought, of course the fish would grow, too.  “What do you want? the fish asked.

“I want to be king,” said the fish.

“Of course you do,” said the fish. “Go back now. You are king.”

The fisherman had the yacht bring him back to the shore, and sure enough, the mansion was gone and in its place was a castle. It had a moat, and towers and flags flying in the brisk wind. The fisherman was greeted at the shore by a herald blowing a trumpet, and by a golden coach pulled by eight white horses, and the people lining the road waved and cheered as he passed on his way.

The castle was as magnificent as he could have imagined, and he was attended by lords and ladies who were happy to do his bidding. He had fine food to eat and fine clothes to wear, and wanted for nothing. But one day. . . “If I were emperor,” thought the fisherman, I would have kings and queens to attend me instead of mere lords and ladies. I will go back to the fish and tell it that I want to be emperor.

So he ordered his royal fleet to escort him to the spot where he had first met the fish. The wind was high and the rain had started to fall when they reached the spot, so the fisherman had his herald blow a trumpet to summon the fish.

She reared out of the water before him, half the size of his royal ship. “What is it now?” she asked.

“I want to be emperor,” said the fisherman. “Make me emperor.”

“Go,” said the fish. “You are emperor.”

This time when the fisherman disembarked, he was met by six golden coaches, each with a king or queen inside. His own coach was three times larger than their coaches, and was pulled by twenty black horses. As the kings and queens escorted him back to the palace that had taken the place of his castle, the people again lined the road and waved and cheered. It was raining and the wind was howling, and it pleased the fisherman that the people were standing in the rain to greet him.

And so his life went on. Kings and queens waited on him, and did his bidding. Anything he wished to have, he had, anything he wished to do, he did, and no one could stop him, or even stand in his way. But one morning as he looked out the window of his private chamber, he saw the sun shining over his lands, and he said, “I would like to make the sun come up when I want it to. I want to make it set at my pleasure. I want to be god.” The kings and queens attending him were horrified, but they said nothing. The fisherman ordered his coach and attendants to take him to the sea, and his imperial fleet went with his imperial flagship out into the water. The clouds were towering, and the rain falling in great sheets, and the wind was blowing a gale. Two of the ships in his fleet were capsized and the sailors drowned, but the fisherman did not mind. He himself stood at the bow of the ship and called the fish. “I command you!” he shouted. “Come forth!”

The fish emerged from the water, her great golden form looming above the ship. Everyone but the fisherman fell to their knees. “What do you want?” said the fish.

“I want to be god!” said the fisherman.

“Go then,” said the fish. “Go.” And the fish slid back into the water. The sea was suddenly dreadfully calm, and the ships vanished, and the fisherman found himself on the shore where there was no palace, or castle, or mansion or cottage. There was nothing but a vinegar jug, and there the fisherman lived alone for the rest of his days.

CRANKY

CRANKY

 

The old women are cranky.

They turn, squeaking, resistant.

They like their routines:

coffee, silence, good bread.

What’s the point

of bad weather?

Of more books about childcare and food?

Those people in Washington—

well, what do you expect

if people stare at a screen all day?

Somebody has to make the bread

and wash the quilts

and feed the kids

and walk the dog.

Somebody has to remember

the reasons,

tell the stories,

sing the songs

everybody used to know.