Mary Jo Amani
Pay careful attention lest with all the fluctuations of thoughts the greening power which you have from God dries up in you. —Hildegard von Bingen writing to an Abbot
I bought an alabaster blue bird
when I was only nine
visiting Florence with my family.
I remember nothing of the city now
but the store, everywhere I turned,
unscratched beauty. It seemed to me
a grown-up purchase, something precious
wanting me and late at night I stroked
its calcite body and whispered
Little girl lovers, we took turns
playing the naked princess in bed,
the other a naked prince.
Even J’s earlobes dripped in the heat.
She moved away when I was twelve.
I sent the blue bird with her.
I cried when I heard
it was dropped, beak chipped,
for years regretted giving it.
Everywhere I turned
what I thought was unbreakable, broke,
except the craving.
I read the lives of the Saints.
My mother walked, without clothes,
down the hallway, round and comfortable
in her body, peed with the door open,
while at gym I dressed in the bathroom stall,
a small gold crucifix tapping my flat chest,
the other girls brazen with their breasts,
their pubic hair dark and dense
under the changing room light.
My father beat me, only once,
for squinting my eyes for months
at my mother while he was away at sea,
for the “duh” at the end of my sentences,
for the way I contradicted his politics.
Goading me, he said: “I’d be proud
if you grew up to be a Playboy Bunny.”
It was the 70’s in Jacksonville, Florida,
the Jesus Movement occupying, my father
scared for his modest girl-child,
a book worm, a good-girl, a wanna-be nun.
“In my house, my opinion is your opinion,”
he said. For thirteen years,
my father was God. He broke the contract
with a belt and I hated him.
At the Nikki Cruz Crusade in 1971,
found-Christ Crusade, I walked up
and was saved. Short and muscular, dark
flowing hair, not unlike that picture of Christ
I bought and hung in my room.
Run, Baby, Run, he wrote of his life,
violent and empty. I was running toward
something new, unknown.
I found Jesus through Nikki.
Jesus was Nikki.
I read his book, again and again.
No one mentions in catechism
the stifled moans in the longing for God,
the glimpse of eternity in youthful ecstasy,
the trembling, reeling thoughts
in the dark of the night,
the Light entering. I shook
and wept until I fell,
beyond all reason,
beyond all things I knew
and I forgave
and was forgiven.
It stayed with me,
night prayers, night rapture,
family oblivious of the heat
behind the closed door, yes,
Jesus stayed. It was love
I made with God, his Son,
in my small room
a white French Provincial canopy bed
from Sears, my hands
folded in prayer
on a pink lacy coverlet,
my body bursting over
and over until I lay prostrate
on the floor of my bedroom
un-known words tumbling
over un-known words.
Then the words
became babble and nonsense
and I returned to books,
transfixed by stories:
Oedipus, Lancelot, Rochester,
they all returned, night visitors,
slipping under the covers,
they took me away,
as stories do, away
to where one feels most at home,
or at least away from where you don’t feel
at home, not not home, away
from the random placing in a split-
level house, a split-level father,
pushing me farther and farther away,
each story instructive.
Words on the page
became my temple. The minister
called them Satan’s works, or, maybe
it was my father’s new rule
that drove me further in:
No more reading in your room, alone,
the door to your bedroom
must remain open at all times
(but just before remember
oh body in the dark you knew
what it meant to be one
to be alive with the word
with everything in silence
stirring with the light
in the bedroom the Holy of Holies
body tremulous murmuring shy spirit
I complied until he forgot,
found ways to sneak,
to pursue what I loved,
to follow the one
who wanted me.
Then the words, marauded,
ragged, became mirage,
dust in stars.
Where is that short, dark, Latino stand-in on the stage,
Jesus-Nikki, Nikki-Jesus, flicked words,
sparks into crowds, words that flung
through manicured lawns on the golf course
behind Fairway Lane, ripping, exposing
until I stood naked before Him, the Body,
supple and ready and said yes, oh God, yes—
words beaten by a father
who loved me,
an earth-bound father,
his jagged words pushing me
to turn from him.
What can a father do or be
for a daughter so inclined?
All I know is
I’ve never come so ripe
as when I was thirteen,
fresh, timid, open—
You have not danced so badly,
my sweet, crushed Angel, trying to hold hands
with the Beautiful One.
So what if the music has stopped.
Yet, there are moments, still,
when I’m walking, when a smell
on Alameda Santa Lucia simmers in the air,
when the women in their huipiles
stand beside the spoiled and the dung
of the previous day, stand with their aprons
beside stacks of avocadoes, beside
newspapers announcing another murder,
another politician in jail,
when a voice shouts to everyone,
“Cinco manzana por ocho,”
when some sharp thing
pierces my chest and I shudder,
and that old-new-familiar-new
stab, that it-thing,
circles around his words, that
lance that wound that union
strikes me and I feel it—
Chosen by: Millie Tullis, Poetry Editor
I’m always drawn to poems that are immediate in their language— “Rapture” was a poem I couldn’t take my eyes away from for a moment. While it’s narrative, the language is so plain and direct, I felt as though I were being watched, spoken to, directly. At times, this plainness in the language is brutal. “For thirteen years, / my father was God. He broke the contract / with a belt and I hated him.” I also admire the epicness of this poem— the oceans of reading and memories behind it. There are saints here. And children. And a ceramic bird that fell.
Art: Jean Wolf, “Plaid Painting 5″ Phoebe Issue 48.2