Illumination

I see you in my mind’s eye

In a time that never was

I am with you, someone that I know, but don’t really know

In a place that exists only in the fertile fields of my imagination

A spot made of late October breezes, lit by Jack- O’-lantern glow, scented with sugars and with spices and warmed by possibilities

***

I am coming to meet you

Costumed as something I can’t quite identify

It seems Wonderland and Transylvania have collaborated on the design

My coat is long; I like to think that it flares behind me like raven’s wings

My skirt is short

My boots high and my neckline lower than I feel quite comfortable with

Of course there is a rakish hat

I feel awkward in something so brash, but I tell myself that tonight I can be anyone and tonight I will choose to be bold

I park my car and leave the cocoon of warmth behind

I set off on my way, my heels tapping lightly on the darkened sidewalks

I feel relieved when I see you

I square my thin shoulders and remind myself to be bold or at least pretend to be so

You are there leaning on a spiked iron cemetery fence and your demeanor is comfortable as always

You shift your weight and rise to meet me and when you smile, all I can see is your light

I wear my new garments boldly and I am rewarded by a spark in your eyes

I see you in your cloaked and hatted darkness, and as a wind swirls through the trees around you, I am reminded of Noyes’ Highwayman

I wonder for a moment if you would come to me by moonlight as well

You step forward and greet me with a hug

I suddenly feel flustered and shy and we small talk a moment, still learning the steps of this dance

You are sure and unruffled though and we have to move on quickly, we have somewhere to be

An ornate Art Deco hotel, long abandoned but opened for this season to serve as a haunted house

We walk down the block toward it, you steady my elbow as I navigate an uneven patch of sidewalk and I am charmed by your courtliness

Gold and scarlet leaves eddy around us as we enter the porte cochere

The grand old lobby is all velvet settees and beaded lamps

The desk clerk dressed in a faded red and gold uniform greets us in the still elegant reception area, and we pay him for the privilege

A porter leads us through the hotel and we tour from the eerie tiled basement pool to the soaring penthouse ballroom

We gasp and we shriek and we laugh and let ourselves be children for a while

A skeletal doorman chases us out a side entrance and we move on down the street to seek something to eat

We find a bar and grill nearby and feast on appetizers

As part of the Halloween festivities, they are holding a trivia contest and we enter

We both seem to have a knack for knowing useless information and our talent serves us well

We triumph over everyone except the team that has 10 members

Still, second prize yields us a huge plastic cauldron filled with candies in all shapes and colors

They gleam like jewels in a chest

Flushed with our victory, we carry our spoils out and are both reluctant to let the night end just yet

We climb into my car and wind up back at my house

I light the Jack-o’-lantern, kindle a fire in the fireplace and you service a few trick or treat stragglers

We sweep off cloaks and kick off boots

Our rakish hats whisper conspiratorially together on a hall table

Our plan was to come here and watch a few spooky movies

Instead we find that we spend hours just talking and snacking on our trivia plunder

I suddenly realize that the Jack-o’-lantern candle has long since guttered out, our fire has dwindled to comfortable embers and outside the sky is beginning to yield its darkness and shift toward a gentle pink

Our conversation softly peters out and we settle to a relaxed silence

I wonder, in this thin stretched moment

Between the night and the day

The warmth and the cold

The shy and the brave

That if I leaned forward

If I finally touched you

Would your lips taste of sweet, candied bliss

 

-Jessie Henry

10/18

Remiges

The dark wings lie folded and silent

I cannot see you, for I think that you live outside of time

But in my mind’s eye, I envision each perfect feather held precisely in place

Like a fall of pages, or a fan of playing cards, or a row of teeth

Soft and sharp, all bound together in harmony

I wish that you would open them

Let the air kiss you again

Be borne up by the winds

And come to me

In all my famished loneliness

That you would put your cool hand to my flushed forehead

Brush the hair back from my cheek

Enfold me in your comfort and love again

In all the things that I have no more

All the broken faces could not help me

So I sank alone in the storm

And watched the light fade

So I wish for you to fly to me

Or if not

For wings of my own

So I could come to you

And perch in the boughs of your heart forever

 

-Jessie Henry

10/14

 

 

 

 

The Covered Mirror

Sometimes

The Slave in the Magic Mirror

The one who knows all and knows nothing

The one who looks like me

Speaks

She says…

“Hold”

“Do not do these things”

At times, I will listen to her sage advice

But others, I will not

I am stubborn and I am weak

I will cover the mirror in silk or in sackcloth

Lest she see me in my failing

I do the two things I have been advised against

On one side of the glass I sift the ashes

The finished things

On the other, I juggle the fire

The dangerously possible

***

I winnow the cinders and dust

I gather the splintered fragments

I try to arrange the broken

My hands are tattered in the attempt

The salt and the iron flow

But I am defeated again

I take up the jagged things

I score my flesh

With each painful carved note

I try to rewrite the stanzas

Compose a different song

To replace the one that was so mournful

In the end I cannot

Have I not been warned?

I take my battered red sheets

I hide in my prompter’s box alone

Buried beneath the darkened stage

***

Sometimes, on the other side of the glass

I disdain her other caution

I play with dangerous flames

I turn away and crave the different things

I gamble with that which is precious

Sit at the table and ask for another hand

I stare at the infinite possibilities

I fantasize about turning the crisp, smooth cards over

To find something new and beautiful

The Kings and the Jacks and the Aces

A fresh game of chance

But I hear the muted voices

I think of the inestimable treasures

That will not be found here

No matter what lies on the painted faces still held tantalizingly close

I cash in my chips and I run

Quickstep on my frightened gazelle feet

My handful of special wealth clasped carefully to me

Back to my room

To the covered mirror

I am shamed and despairing

I have failed again

I know better, I have long known better

Yet I am human

I stumble

Repeatedly

However

I still carry Hope

Hope says

“Go”

“Be better someday”

 

-Jessie Henry

7/17

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brume

 

I remember our time in the Big Easy

Spring rains dominated most of our days, but we didn’t care

We would venture out of the grand old house in the Garden District

Dine at five star places and humble street food carts

Music poured from every doorway

We would explore the dusty warrens of shops selling strange and mysterious objects

Browse the bright and chic boutiques on Magazine Street

Stroll the quiet of the old cemeteries and marvel at the art and history

Pay our respects to those who know all the secrets now

Everywhere the water spoke to us

In the rains, both heavy and gentle, the splash of a fountain in a hidden courtyard, the inexorable march of the great river

The whispers were our private language

And the people, they were all around, but were not of us

The locals in their Seersucker and lace, queuing into mellow brick churches, and the tourists, like bright noisy birds moving through the Quarter

We needed nothing of them

Only each other

Some days the weather kept us in

We would make soup together and eat it in front of black and white marathons of Humphrey Bogart and Vincent Price films

We would pass the hours in the fourth floor window seat, our legs entangled, making up stories to tell each other

Rock gently on the verandas in the evening, smelling the heady fragrance of night-blooming flowers and watching the moon move through the swirling wrought iron railings

It was a magical place, this Crescent City, like something in a lost dream

I remember all that was

Do you?

-Jessie Henry

1/18

 

 

Chemical Burns

 

 

The moments collected

In oddly matched containers

Chipped Mason jars, heavily figured candy dishes, mixing bowls, test tubes and delicate crystal flutes

They sit on dusty shelves

In empty halls

Where no one ever goes

Each one is filled with a liquid

Sickly yellows, electric blue-whites, cloudy greens, pulsing angry oranges, night-shrouded blacks and crystal clears that smell faintly of salt

Sometimes…when things happen

You open the doors to the deserted palace

You follow your own sooty tracks through the echoing corridors

You find yourself stopping somewhere

To look at a vessel

You don’t want to  pick it up but you do

You want to turn and run through the endless galleries, out into the sunlight

But you don’t

You gently swirl the terrible mixture inside

And you are there again

Ensnared in those dark memories

The weight presses about you and you are breathless

Tremors rise in you and the container slips from your boneless hands

That fragile glass decanter, filled to the brim with incendiary liquid

Shatters on the floor and you are so ANGRY

Asking yourself again why these things happened

A terrible blaze ignites from the ghastly elixir

To engulf you again

But you are not consumed

You never are

Only scorched and blackened

You take a step and the ashes gradually flake away

One after the other until you stand outside the doors

You chain them shut again

And you think SOMEDAY, perhaps you can go back inside

Drain each and every bottle

Dust the shelves

Sweep the floors and open the shuttered windows again

To feel the light of the sun

 

 

-Jessie Henry

12/16

 

*Note:  Years ago, in reading one of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast novels, I came across the concept of the Memory Palace.  A Memory Palace is a technique used to boost memory recall by the use of a spatial symbol (i.e. making a journey in your mind through a real or imagined place to help you retrieve specific facts).  At some point, the thought bubbled up in my head that instead of that, what if a Memory Palace was a place where one stored away the sad and frightening memories that we wished we could be free of.  Unfortunately, these things are still held within us, so no matter how much we wish we could move on or forget, we may still find ourselves sleepwalking back to those terrible times.  We scold ourselves later: “Why can’t you just get over this?”  “Grow up and live your life!”  “Yes, that was terrible and sad, but life goes on.”  We trudge away from that haunted place and promise ourselves that we will never go back.

I think we have to give ourselves the grace to understand that if we have a hard time healing from certain things, it is only because we have hearts and emotions.  A machine could easily move on from any setback, but is that what we want to be?    Stop feeling bad about yourself because sometimes that baggage comes back to you.  Every day, rise up and put one foot in front of the other.  Those things will lose their grip on you.  You survived and you are stronger than anything in those dark containers of memory, I promise.

 

 

 

The Hart

 

Last night I dreamt of the Hart

I brushed against his spirit long ago

But I remember it

The silvery wit, the smoky laugh and the glint of something precious inside

I pondered the fragments that fashioned him antler to hoof

All the tears and the delight

The strong and the weak

The light and the dark

The thousands of days that came before

Time flows on, but I did not forget

I see glimpses of him now and again

A figure in the distance

A tale to be read

The turn of a shoulder

A smile in the shadows

So in the darkness of my dream

When the leashes are off all our hounds

I tracked the stag

I knelt to study a marking

I peered through the emptiness of night

I saw the path twisted and broken

My broadheads and bodkins rattle gently in my saddle quiver

But he is safe

I think that if I were to finally fall down that well

If I came out the other side

If I tracked him through the green of the pine forests

The red canyons of false magic

And across the snows bound by the frosted sea

If I were to find him alone and unafraid

I think that it is only I whose heart would be pierced

 

-Jessie Henry

11/16

 

Designs

 

 

I walk down the beach and I step carefully

I am mindful of the names

The declarations of love

The sand castles, both graceful and crude

The art sketched out by driftwood or seashell

Even the random holes

These things were created by souls who gave their time

Their efforts

Their hearts

And the waves will take them soon enough

As the tides of time take us all eventually

But while we have this little space

We will write our words

Sing our songs

Draw our shapes

We will build things both majestic and humble

We will scratch out our holes

Perhaps someone will come along and see these things

Maybe they will know that we lived

And were in this place

And had dreams

-Jessie Henry

4/16