Poetry Issue #58

The Penitent Kneels in Rubble

What he couldn’t say:
That he’d been swallowed whole
and couldn’t see a way out. That faith
is a useless weapon against falling
sky. The weight of heaven, too great.

That he could see himself fading,
was almost invisible in the mirror
of Room 214 of the Grantmoor Motor Lodge.
That he felt ancient as a gargoyle.

That his heart was crumpled tissue spotted
with blood. The pile of it in the pail,
a field of poppies. His stomach, an empty
take-out container, lungs, twitching roadkill.
That his arms were already broken wings.

That the needles had stippled his flesh.
That he was pouring out through those
tiny holes. He could imagine himself
in every puddle and every puddle was
an ocean he couldn’t swim across. That
floating face up was no longer an option.

That he couldn’t say something about love
without mentioning the needle. The needle
was the preacher with fiery words. That
when he begged forgiveness for his trespasses
the bulging vein forgave.

33 Grams

The part of me that existed when he was still alive
walks the alley of knives.

Leafless trees claw at the sky,
rip it open like a wound.

Today the snow falls through.
Tonight, the stars.

The winter birds remind me of him – reaching
and falling. Sometimes, he’s that distant hawk
slipping alone through the clouds.

It hurts to look up.
When I do I fall backwards.

Yesterday’s worry beads wrap around my neck.
They mark me like the tattoo he talked me into
to celebrate his sobriety.

Hope was a Bob Marley song:
Every Little Thing’s Gonna Be alright.

They say the body loses thirty-three grams
of weight when you die –
proof the soul has left the flesh.

Ashes are his new body.
The wind gives him wings.

When I look up, light stabs my eyes.
Still, I walk here
where feather and knife make the same shadow.

Self Portrait with Used Syringes

bloodstained clothes              two matchbooks
one bottlecap          a dozen
wax folds      a strap                 burnt
spoons broken lighter             a plethora
of orange                      caps
from discarded needles
unearthed from his     backpack        car
duffle            laid out               on kitchen table
with bowl of green apples        yesterday’s
newspaper     etc.

Flesh and Bone Doxology

Bless my son’s body,
his eyes that once held the sky,
fingers that buttoned and unbuttoned
the daily rituals.
Bless the miracle of first flutterings
the butterfly un-cocooning,
the wingspan of him as a man.
Bless the arms brailled with sorrow,
the darkness that the needle couldn’t reach.
Bless the man-body in its release,
the length of him filling the gurney
wheeled from a room.
Bless the exquisite pain of birth,
and all the firsts. Remember the firsts –
the stuttered steps, sounding of vowels.
Bless all the moments from this moment on.
And all the lasts:
straightening the thin blanket,
hand pressed to shoulder,
the kiss.

By Julia Morris Paul

Julia Morris Paul is a poet and attorney. Her full-length collection, Shook, is “an exploration of the kitchens and detox centers of family history and the homes and homeless camps of the heart.” Her chapbook, Staring Down the Tracks, deals head-on with her son’s tragic struggle with opiate addiction. Her poetry can be found or is forthcoming in numerous journals, both national and international. As a strong believer in poetry as a powerful and necessary form of communication, she leads the Riverwood Poetry Series, a long-running poetry reading series in Hartford, Connecticut.