Letter To A Totem

Dear Red-Bird-Dotting-the-Snowy-Field:

For a minute,
I thought you were my grandfather.
And where is your olive-hued wife?
She is your perfect complement,
with a modest beauty, just like
my grandmother.

In January’s dark branches you perch,
perhaps as my beloved ancestor,
reincarnated into this feathered creature
to twitter away the bitter cold with me.

Your vivid presence calls to mind
the red dirt of southern family farms,
a yellowed ancient telegram delivering
news of your daughter’s birth to you
on a military ship,

and pole beans drying in the garden,
where your father died one morning,
leaving your mother too soon.

Claire Juno, © 2017

…dedicated to my grandfather.

Jacob’s Dream

You took me to a concert
in a darkened auditorium.
The spotlight was cast upon you,
reflected in your glasses.

You were in the lucky seat,
and the band, grooving
in their sparkly costumes
and afros, beckoned you
on stage to sing along
with them. As always,
you were game.

The crowd enjoyed the
spectacle, and cheered
your efforts, but then grew
restless, wanting to hear
more from the band.
You hopped down and
rejoined me in the audience,
just happy to be.
Joy.

We left, making our way
down a long flight of broad
white stairs, flanked by walls
on either side. We talked
comfortably, as though
we saw each other often,
but I cannot remember
what we discussed. There
were so many stairs.

A young man
with a head wound
grinned at us with a
sheepish jubilance
as he passed, going up
the same set of stairs.
We smiled back at him.

Eventually, I said something,
and you responded in turn,
the last words of an ordinary
conversation, the kind we’d had
many times before.

This must have been as far
as you could accompany me
as I descended, because then
I woke up this morning, nearly
nine years after your death,
feeling like I had sampled
someday’s home, ready to savor
today’s promise.

Claire Juno, © 2017

…dedicated to my brother.

Beast

Soon the mammoth gates will close,
the last petals fall from the rose,
the magic hour lost.

See now a dim light
on the horizon’s edge,
as darkness with its heady charm
runs for cover.

The battle over, a hand
once outstretched to aid
now retreats to safety.
Kindness only gives danger
a foothold.

His captive eternally bruised,
the beast dies moment by moment.
Whose fate would you choose?
The victory belongs to no one.
It seems the spell upon him
cannot be undone.

Claire Juno, © 2015

A Thousand Apples

There is some strange magic
in this neighborhood, as though it
grew from the hollow of God’s pocket.

The veteran marches on year after year,
catching colds and stoically predicting
the day he’ll be over it entirely, even as
comrades and classmates pass away.

He pretends the house on the corner
is Pork Chop Hill, retelling the story
of a letter that reached him in Korea
from his kid brother who lit a candle
at St. Cecilia’s that saved his life,
as the mortar fire whistled narrowly
past him.

He pauses, trying to remember
the word “design”, and then retreats
to his living room to exercise his mind
with a game show, sandwiched
between naps.

From his couch, he remembers
that summer fifty years ago in this
neighborhood, when his children
were small and he decided to grow
a bit of sweet corn, which was so
plentiful, he had to return to the store
for more butter, so they could keep
eating and eating it, like a late
summer’s day that never ends,
stretching lazily across an expanse
vacated by sad autumn and austere
winter, last seen hand in hand,
heading for the coast.

This is the land of a thousand apples,
where a damaging storm is transmuted
into a windfall of pies. Everyone seems
to have a stunt double, and life is lived
with some suburban degree of abandon.

It is December now, though you would
never guess it, and the children ride
their bicycles endlessly in the street,
occasionally spying stubborn dandelions
popping out of the evergreen grass.

In this land, dogs never die, merely
reverting to puppyhood to begin again
under the guise of their predecessors,
chasing errant dry oak leaves that swirl
across the street in the cool air.

Seasons pass, with more dogs
becoming puppies becoming dogs,
and more walks for the veteran
down the back trail with his eternal dog,
the twosome making their usual silhouette
against the dawn’s early light. He salutes
a neighbor’s car as it passes, as though
he were pledging allegiance to life itself,
with liberty and justice for all, forevermore,
without end, amen.

Claire Juno, © 2015

…dedicated to the veterans who have served our country, who have risked their lives to defend and protect, and specifically to one veteran who is a neighbor of mine.

 

 

Allies

I am rusty in French
and you speak fluent Spanish.
Let’s build our tower of Babel
right over here, and throw our
words out the highest window.

We will accomplish great wonders
with the silent diligence of our hands
and the blueprints of our bodies
aligned one on top of the other.

We will find similarities where
they supposed us to be asynchronous,
and use our complements in a united effort
to do what they told us could not be done.

Claire Juno, © 2014

May love rule.

Junebugs

The sun is warming our backs
and we are on top of this giant grape leaf
and I am on top of you and we are
a conjoined lump of gold in this
afternoon light.

How could this be any more perfect
for two such as us, who happened
to come into this world with only
a year’s worth of days to our names
to live out our purpose, which is mainly
to further our kind forward in time
by sitting on this leaf together
one on top of the other,
glinting golden in the sun?

Later, perhaps, we’ll nibble shamelessly
at the deep pink roses in their garden,
spoiling the buds before they can fully bloom.

But they can hardly blame us,
even when they flick us off the flower
right in the middle of our indulgences.
We only have a year together,
and must use our time judiciously.

Claire Juno, © 2014

Empathy

Be me for an evening.
Take this cup of soup
from my hands,
and slip on my old
red shoes.

Send prayers floating
up up to the fading sky,
Watch them drift to the
south with the clouds,
unredeemed.

The hydrangea and peony,
the withering fragrance
of Monday’s roses,
the spade stuck in a
vacant bed of dirt—

silent witnesses
to this nightly occupation,
my solitary journey
from here to just there,
a pacing tiger swishing
at the sunset and its insects,
restless for any promise
in the leaves,
the shadows.

But there is nothing here.

Claire Juno, © 2016

Under Glass

I can see where I want to be—
it’s right in front of me,
tantalizingly close.

And yet, somehow,
I cannot get there.

This has never happened
to me before.

How it came to be
that I found myself
in this predicament
I haven’t the slightest clue,
though it appears, by the
lifeless creatures lined up
beneath me, that I am not
the first nor the last
to be facing the ultimate
high-stakes puzzle
of being stuck
behind this window.

Either I figure it out
reasonably soon, or I end up
like those poor crispy souls
down in the sill.

Meanwhile,
through this transparent pane,
an ironically lovely view
of the world to which I once
belonged, and so wish to return.
I’ll be honest and say it is
unclear to me whether I will.

From this vantage point,
I am safe from hungry birds,
but also unavailable to all
the potential suitors flying by,
unaware in their passing
flirtations that I am not
sitting atop the glass, but trapped
beneath it. Dodged bullets,
missed opportunities.

It is an ordinary window
meant to keep our sorts
out of “their” abode,
and yet I am trapped within it
against my will, unable to eat
or breed or jump or fly,
all of these possibilities
within easy view, as is
the continuance of life itself,
but for this intractable pane
that locks me in and keeps
me out at the same time.

Claire Juno, © 2014

Prey

I know my lot,
though you’ll never hear me say
I agreed to it.

I just came in this way.
The forest floor and the sunlit
canopy above me are my only
witnesses to the perils I face daily,
just to make it to sundown.

I know I was meant
to be hunted, consumed
and returned to the earth.
To transfigure whatever remains
of my flesh into bitter dandelion
greens for some distant kin.

I am one of many,
and that is why we survive at all—
to give the world more of us.
Since we are too many
to begin with, fate steps in
and thins out the excess.

I have lost too much
to suppose it is not my destiny
as well. This may sound too much
like resignation. That’s just the
way it is in my world.

Once upon a time,
I was very young,
and when you are young
you do not know enough.
Your eyes are wide open
to the newness of the world
and you are slow and innocent
in the presence of danger,
because you have not learned
what danger is.

It was a fast education.
Each time I survive, my pulse
resumes its steady beat.
I feel life flowing through
my neck and limbs, and
my head feels clear.
Everything seems new again,
as though I am experiencing
life for the first time.
Terror is cleansing
in some strange way.

And I hop away, looking for
dandelion greens grown from
those who came before me.

Claire Juno, © 2015

The Exchange

This bee keeps buzzing,
buzzing, flying rings around me.
It wants me, wants what I have.
And I suppose I was born for this.

Still, my strange little heart
beats faster when that bee comes
around, because I know what
he’s up to, what he’s about.
He is a bee, doing bee things,
doing what bees do well.

I know all of this and yet
I remain still, I make no
attempt to discourage him.
I am watchful and aware.
I know when he is near,
and he always seems
to find ways to be near,
as though he wants to
make sure he stays in
my awareness.

And sooner or later,
he’s bound to make his
move, and when he does,
there will be the pulsing
give and take of an exchange
that has bound us to each other
since the beginning of his sort
and mine, and there is nothing
I could do, or would do,
to stop it.

Claire Juno, © 2013