Desolation

I am alone in this garden.
Alone with this pain.

I have told you before
how everyone has left me,
all have turned their backs,
all have chosen blindness
for the immunity it affords.
They are cut off from
their compassion.

There is no one to hide me away
from those who wish me harm,
who hate me without cause,
other than their sickness.

And I come to you with nothing left,
with empty hands, with a heart
weighed down by isolation and dread
and by the darkness itself, which seems
deep enough to snuff out my cries.
I know what is coming.

What I have already borne
is too heartbreaking. Though I am
strong and sturdy, the betrayal has
weakened me, has slowed my feet,
garbled my words.

I am afraid.

I have no one I can trust.
My sweat is tinged the color
of these roses in front of me
as I sit in this garden,
feeling unwell and uncertain
and small; powerless to deter
what must overtake me
to fulfill something greater
than myself.

The pain makes my head feel
as if it would burst, and the tears
that stream down offer no respite.
There is no one coming to aid me,
is there. You can hear me but
you do not help me, as much
as it hurts you to see me in this state.

We both agreed to this once upon a time.
Only we underestimated something.
We had no idea what it would actually
feel like to be here among them,
to become one of them. To nurse
from a breast, to learn to use our legs
and form words with our mouths,
to see blood spring from a scraped knee.

To see the sunrise as one of them,
to know friendship as they give and receive it.
To feel the warmth of a fire, an animal;
of brotherhood, of working side by side
until some work is accomplished.

To feel a fever, a lump in the throat,
our stomachs stirring with hunger.
To know the feeling of cool water on our
bodies. To know how they feel, and
what they feel, when they feel anything
in their world.

And now you’ve had me here,
building a life, an occupation, a purpose,
for some time. Enough context to make
the ending even more exquisitely
painful than we already anticipated
it would be.

This has become too complicated,
too wrought with attachments.
And I am certain now the torment
well under way will be unbearable.
It is too much.

That is all I can say
on this horrible night.
Words are escaping me now,
and my heart won’t stop pounding.
It has brought me little peace
to speak honestly to you, to make
my feelings known, in spite of the forces
already at work against me.

I know I am loved,
I know there will be an end
to my suffering, my fear and despair,
and that is all I have in this dark moment.

Claire Juno, © 2015

 

The intention of this writing is rooted in empathy, wondering what this experience could have been like, to the best that I can understand it.

Fool

My story starts much
like any other, I reckon.
Take these, she said,
these are magic beans
and of course I believed her,
and I see now that I was
a fool to do it, but I’ll
come back to that later.

So there I was, staring
at the beans in my hand,
my cow looking over my shoulder,
a sole witness to my buffoonery
as I dug a hole for them beans,
and for myself as well,
as it would turn out.

Well, that vine twisted
its way into the stratosphere,
and I pretended it was just
a wayward weed whenever
my wife gave me sideways glances
and townsfolk came by to gawk.

One day when the time seemed
right, I began to scramble up
that monstrosity, only to find myself
lightheaded and apparently
deathly afraid of heights.

I’d been had, which was
a first for me, since it’s usually
the other way ’round.

Magic beans, I muttered
under my breath as I climbed down.
Well the Lord giveth and taketh away,
don’t He. And I took my axe and began
to swing with all my strength, but
I couldn’t make a dent.

In my anger, I grabbed hold
of the useless vine, like I was
hugging a tree, as my cow looked on.

There I was, wrestling this vine,
like Jacob had wrestled some strange
angel. And as I continued in my struggle
to overtake it, I realized I was climbing
ever higher and higher, just like that
ladder to heaven Jacob dreamed about.

And as I continued on,
sweating and duking it out
with this vine, stubbornly determined
to get something from it or be rid of it,
I began to think about my brother.

I know I cheated him,
I know it was wrong of me.
My wife is quick to remind me of this.
I wonder if he remembers.

Thinking back to my misdeeds
was enough to give me the shivers,
and so I put him out of my mind
and kept climbing, climbing.
It was just then that I heard him
call my name.

I was so high up my vine,
I could barely make out
the world below me.
But through the mist
of some low clouds,
I thought I saw him there,
holding my axe, looking
as strong and mean
as he ever was.

He had found me,
and I realize now that
to his mind, there was
nothing left to do
but cut me down
and that he did,
grinning most obligingly
as the sound of the axe
echoed in my head
and the vine I once resented
I now clung to for salvation
as it trembled in my arms.

Doc says every bone
in my body is broke.
My wife won’t talk to me.
Had to sell my cow to pay
the doctor. I suppose I deserve it
for believing that a handful
of magic beans could be
some one-way bus ticket
out of here. And that’s where
being a fool comes in.

Claire Juno, © 2015

Conditional Perfect

Just before another
dreamless pass,
grace veils
yesterday’s regrets
with just enough
obscurity,

and acceptance
blankets the dwindling hours
with a weary resignation,

tucking me in
to all that was too real
about the day
with an imagined
kiss on the forehead
that whispers,
You did all you could,
didn’t you.

While in the corner
a mythical bow
stands at the ready,
its quiver full of hope
to aim at tomorrow
before it gets away
again.

Claire Juno, © 2017

The Ultimate Empath

How does He do it?
How does He scoop up
the weight of a world’s worth
of pain, with tenderness
and perfect presence— and not
lose a little part of Himself
at the sight of us?

Fashioning His arms
into a mammoth cradle,
His tender lullaby sends
the clouds adrift, dishevels
the tops of oak trees,
weaves a sliver of morning
light between our curtains,
pins a gleaming crescent
of moonlight in our sky—
some kind of divine analgesic
in faithful doses,

until at last we fall asleep,
just as we are, just as we always are
and can only ever hope to be:
surrendered in the moment
to the sufferings of a fallen world,
to grief that shatters,
anguish that nips away
at our birthright of joy
like a famished street dog,
but in the end, still knowing
that Someone knows all about it.

Claire Juno, © 2017

Louise

I. The Aunt

Amid bloodied linens and basins of tepid water
in my sister’s drafty farmhouse, I held this pitiful creature
in my hands. Look at her, she’s not going to make it.
She’s the size of a shoebox.

With low expectations, I put her in an open dresser drawer
and rested beside her, my hand on her fragile chest, listening
through the night for the sound of her breathing.

II. Louise

I’ll tell you something, honey. When I was young, one of six
fisherman’s children in red dirt country, my mother would tell me,
“You’ll never amount to nothin.”

And so all my life, I felt I had to prove her wrong.
I had to be the best at everything. It made me who I am.
But I never forgot those words. Never forgot.

Claire Juno, © 2015

…for my grandmother, whose first and middle names meant war and warrior.

Love’s Identity

Love is the wonder
that crosses your face
when you gaze
at a blooming vine
in your garden,
under the neapolitan skies
of an evening hour.

Love speaks
through the words
of an advertisement
that catches your notice
on an ordinary evening
as you check your email,
alone.

But Love is bigger than that,
and even you would not deny it—
though it seems an awkward stranger,
like a friend who is gradually lost
to distance of one sort or another.

Love knew you
before you knew Love;
before you knew anything at all.

Reminders such as this
catch your breath in your throat
and you push back your chair
in resistance, tears concealed
behind your beautiful hands.

Love stands sentinel,
only waiting for you.

Claire Juno, © 2017

 

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.