Volume 15:1, Winter 2014
The Letter O
O: Your birth month, the full October moon, orange, rising
behind oaks. O: the fifteenth letter, shown by Phoenicians
with a dot in the middle, as if eyes. O: the mind waking. O
slashed: the mind oscillating, just before sleep. O: on Oahu,
hula dancers contain the sun. O: the primordial sound Om
as it begins in the back of the mouth. O: reading, in high school,
The Story of O, a woman who loses, reduces, subtracts herself
to zero. O: my fear of such oblivion. O with circumflex:
my fathers face when I didnt say, Sorry. O: abbreviations;
old, ocean, Ohio, order, or. O: Ouroboros snake ends where she
begins. O: a love cry, a grief cry, a word meaning these two are
one. O with umlaut: your saxophone, hitting high E. O: the shape
of your matted head pushing out of me. O: my os mirroring. O:
your lips just before you took your first breath. O: what I called out
when I rocked you and our eyes were PhoenicianOs looking
into Os: O daughter, O snow goose, oh-no-gnome, my only O.
The Throne of the Third Heaven
After the sculpture by James Hampton, 1909 – 1964
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Sick from cancer in nineteen sixty-four,
James Hampton is still gluing, sawing,
scrounging scrap for the Nations Millennium
General Assembly hes been constructing
some fourteen years. A GSA janitor working
five to midnight, he spends his hoot-owl shift
in a rented garage. Using furniture parts,
coffee cans, sewing needles, desk blotters,
upholstery tacks, small nails, jelly jars, and silver
and gold foil from wine bottles, cigarette packs,
and chocolate bars, Hampton builds three
even rows of altar tables, pulpits, offertory tables,
and chairs. Wooden plaques decorated with foil
and ink hang on the walls. The throne,
a red-velvet armchair, centrally placed
on a makeshift platform, grows wings.
Foil-wrapped light bulbs stand in for Saint James.
On the left side of the mercy seat (right hand
of God), in cryptic script, are the names
of the Apostles. At the structures peak,
the prophetic, Fear not. Found after his death,
his diary states, This is true that the great Moses
appeared in Washington, DC on April 11, 1931.
and This design is proof of the Virgin Mary
descending into Heaven, November 2, 1950.
Its not the mating that thrills, thats over in a flap,
not just the devotion of the male to his egg,
his huddling en masse in eighty degrees below,
the months of brutal winds, blinding snow,
or the care with which he transfers the newborn
chick to its mother at winters end, lifting his fur,
like a skirt, inching forward to make the switch.
Its the Romeo-and-Juliet-calling back and forth.
You can hear that plangent, penguin longing
all the way across the ice. His approach so slow,
the female elongates her neck, leans toward him.
He caresses her head with his beak, barely touching.
Such wild tenderness makes my body ache, makes me
want to lie with you once again and kiss your nape.
This creatureancient, sturdy, ten-eyes,
swims up Broadkill Beach on Delaware Bay
to spawn at full-moon evening tide.
She rests mid-beach, her egg-laying done,
leaving a long trail of footprints behind.
And what tracksin Sherman-tank cross-hatch
she curliques, making five lower-case es
my fifth-grader writes cursive like that
then plows into sand to keep her book gills wet.
Its the twenty-first of May. She waits for high tide
to sweep her to the shoal where shell stay until
new-moon, then spawn another 20,000 eggs.
On her war-mask are sixteen hitchhikers, scuds,
barnacles, anemone, castle worms, sponges, shrimp,
mussels stitched tight with byssal threads.
I know a teacher, artist, mother, friend. Women drift,
float moon-drawn, to her coast. Does she choose
to carry them? Does the crab feed or feed on the sponge?
The quarrels that endure are with the self. She (and Yeats)
taught me that. Great, the debt we feel to those who see
our knots. Greater yet, the work of self-unknotting.
This umbilical pull is both call and response.
When it goes well, between us warm-bloodeds,
we feed each other, our stitches hold, nothings owed.
Im watching the blue mussel now, admiring her beard.
She doesnt budge. Ive never seen a barnacle jump
ship, but I know that horseshoe crabs molt.
Shes nine feet from the surf. Its almost noon. I pick
her up, gently, by the sides of her shellits what we do
mothers carryand walk her down to waters edge.
Your Mother’s Socks
Thoreau wrote that chopping wood
warms us twice:
once when were chopping,
again when the wood burns.
So on this first chilly, autumn night,
donning a pair of green argyle socks
before slipping under the icy covers,
I remember a wet October evening.
You looked at my rain-soaked feet
and brought me socks, saying,
These were moms. After she died
Pop gave them to me.
Id like you to have them.
Later because you didnt kiss
like Clark Gable or read me Keats
beside the violets,
I left, but had sense at least
to keep the socks.
And as I crawl into
a cold bed alone,
I count how many times
theyve brought me comfort:
once, that rainy night
you took me in all soggy,
now, as my toes snuggle up
to soft wool,
and every time
I think of you wanting
your dead mothers socks
to warm my feet.
Yoga in Pune
Raviraj … I cant remember who recommended
this hotel, but it sounds like a prayer I need.
I choose the top floor to be near Elzbieta, a Polish
masseuse, and Russ, a cab driver from San Francisco.
Outside my room … a canopy of red silk cotton trees.
At dawn, women in green, gold, and vermillion saris
with swirling paisley prints bend low to sweep streets.
Monsoon floods, up to my thighs, force me to walk
my rented bike. Pan wallahs call out for customers,
truck drivers pulse their horns to announce Im here
and shoo water buffalo. The city smells of saffron,
cardamom, coconut, diesel. We dont save the rice,
Kailash informs, We feed it to the cows. Here
the smallest metal scrap is reused. As daylight fades,
the honking recedes. Friends gather on my balcony
to compare notes, What does he mean the tailbone
is the second brain?, and to drink chai, sweeter than
Nothing … you people know absolutely nothing.
Something a monkey? bends the branch behind me. I turn,
shudder, one fruit bat, then many swinging in the breeze.
Joanne Rocky Delaplaine is a Maryland native. Her poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Cabin Fever: Poets at Joaquin Miller's Cabin 1984-2001, Innisfree Poetry Journal, International Poetry Quarterly, and The Northern Virginia Review. She's taught poetry workshops at the Great Labor Arts Exchange, and workshops combining yoga and poetry at The Mariposa Poetry Retreat, Split This Rock Poetry Festival, and Unity Woods Yoga Center. To read more of her work: The Whitman Issue The Wartime Issue