Somebody’s Child

 

Somebody’s Child

When the earth formed
molten iron sank to its center
to make the core
and drew with it
most of the precious metals.
Gold abides with iron.
There are some veins
and pockets of metals,
also lens-shaped thickenings
and domes in the dark
that lay closer to the surface, however.
The animals don’t care about them
in the same way that people do—
the animals walk above them, swim,
fly, even dig a little at the roots—
they are the trebles
to the bass clef below—
the harmony
of the song of the earth.

People dig,
damn them,
for quite other reasons.

1.8 billion years ago
is the kind of time I can’t really comprehend
except as a puny fact.
My heart, on the other hand,
whispers
once upon a time
to begin the story—
long ago
in waters fresh and salt
a special mud was laid down . . .

. . . in that time the water
was over-bitter with much iron
and little oxygen
In it the first simple creatures swam.
For their feast and mead
they took the warmth of the sun
and made bargain with the world
to spit out from their simple meal
a gift of oxygen into the waters.
The sun was hot
and their feast great
and so they paid well for it.
Clinging, swooning youths they were
sinking in embrace,
the elemental lovers:
the molecules of the oxygen and the iron joined
and lay down together in the mud beneath waves
which prayed over them
in whispers
and laid long smooth sheets over the honeymoon bed.
The sheets frothed and laced
and the song was the old one of the pairing of things,
the kind where the two lovers
so different
now joined in their attraction
make some thing at last
under the weight of time and pressure
that is the gift of the pairing,
that is of them
and beyond them.
It was well done
and so, in this case,
iron ore.

People
so recent
and thickly scrambled in their thinking
go digging up the earth
cooking it
and shaping it
to kill other people—
they dig up an old and venerable tale
an alchemical marriage
and use it to stop hearts.

Bullets
shells
bombs
exploding metal
is mined from simple earths
grown in the dark
then shaped for death
so that the interfering explosion of the refined parts
made bloody rags of the young man
my father taught to read.
He was so young he could only grow a bit of beard
and no mustache.
Once upon a time . . .
he spoke to my father with wonder
of the idea of indoor plumbing,
of his trip across the sea,
and especially of his sweetheart with hair so red
that he lay awake at night
electric with the knowledge
that she had chosen him
and him alone.
My father helped him to write love letters,
to put some poetry to his words
upon paper that would last longer than the boy,
for in a moment
that was with you
all of your days
you saw what in earth would be a field ploughed
to accept seed
was instead flesh
interrupted from its firm rhythms,
its flow and pulse,
churned and planted instead
with the metal that made death.
The boy’s mouth spoke blood.
He looked at you
and you saw his life fall away
from his love’s hair of flaming maples
of ropes of honey fire
on the burning end of a log.
As the light in his eyes dimmed
he sank into your own eyes
as into the water’s deeps
heavy with the weight of unbearable mystery
into your molten core,
and the log burned there
his sweetheart’s flaming hair
that he longed to bury his face in once again
and never would.
You kept hearing his words
and you could not stop him speaking
all of your days.

On reconnaissance
you stepped silent as the grave
behind an enemy guard,
pulled your knife
across his soft throat.
The blood was wet and sticky.
You looked out
over the acres of moonlit trees
whose beauty filled your eyes
even as the enemy soldier
slumped against you
with his full weight
as a lover does.

You cleaned your knife later.
You were all somebody’s children once.

Back in camp
you corrected the map
showing the dangerous places,
the weaknesses
and possibilities
in the pattern of the land,
who filled the buildings
where lay the encampments,
the men
eating, smoking,
sleeping and on watch
the sergeants and boys,
the enemy,
the guns.

Unthinking
incessant
reflexive
you hugged your rifle,
always one hand touching
or else the strap pressing against your chest,
holding the gun’s reassuring weight.
What is this world
where such sensations are small comfort against
the absolute nakedness of flesh
where bullets can pull their fingers through?

You smoked Pall Malls from home
shook a second cigarette from the pack
offered it
and forced a smile
for another boy who needed both.
One of the last smiles he would be given
was a gift from you.
A shell found him the next day.
There was not much left,
and for a long time when you smiled
at some brightness or humor
you felt your mouth
so quickly
and saw him calm with what you had given
and the futility and the human despair of it.
The dead boy was there again
and your mouth was full of ash.

Long before I was born
and long after
in the middle of the night you saw the boys
you soldiered with and cared for,
most I didn’t know about.
You continued to see them
until the end of your days
even unto the morning of your own death,
those boys who lived behind your eyes
in your old heart
repaired and failing,
failed.

Your face before and after the war
was different entire,
brave in both photos—
the first like the surface of water, still,
expectant of the coming storm,
but untroubled, smooth.
In the one after
you stood on a Belgian street—
beneath your helmet
your face
was a pool bottomless,
alive in spite of itself,
this time the stillness carrying dark water
full of the dead.

Oh, the pain that families carry—
that I carry
in telling this story
about my father
and every other father
the dead ones
whose children were unborn
the live ones
whose children
know only the part of their fathers
that the shells did not rupture
the cathedrals of their hearts
with fallen walls
and blackened timbers
the faces of the angels dark with soot
this one’s wing missing
Jesus with his hand raised
in blessing
but the stone of his body
made dust from his belly down
the blue and ruby windows
atomized.

Afterwards when people speak
it is often that they name it The War
no matter which insanity
the civilized world
has collapsed into.

Whenever we went camping
the car carried
my complicated family
composed of treasures and trash
ore and tailings
wonders and junk.
The car carried us
on long summer vacations
filled with adventure
and screaming fights.
We’d leave at dawn
because my father was a morning person
who barked orders and could not understand
how he could “boss 300 men at the factory
and not you two women.”
We two women
did not follow orders.
My mother rolled her eyes and said,
“Oh, Wilson!”
(His Swiss mother named him
after the president
who waged the war to end all wars).
And when we did get out of the house
in the burnt umber station wagon
the sun not too far up
somehow, something was always left behind.
My parents always remembered what they’d forgot
about five miles down the road
at the first stoplight—
I had the spot marked—
“Oh! the coffee pot
Goddamn it!”
(Always the really vital equipment).
Sometimes mom, sometimes dad
made the confession,
there would be an almost erupting fight
halted by a bond
I didn’t understand until years later.
Dad would say
“It’s bad luck to go back,
we’ll go to the hardware store and get one,”
and mom would say
“Yeah, sweetheart, let’s do that,
honey.”
Because one day
a long time ago
somebody my father loved
went back
and that is where the shell found him.

All those boys gone
my father carrying them
my father gone now
and I carrying them all
even the ones he never spoke of.

I know people
children’s children’s children
with the stone and wood
of their grandfather’s churches
temples and mosques
groves and standing stones
erupted and silent
in rubble on their heart’s floor
all those boys
gone.

Love.
Let us learn to dig up love.
Pierce our hearts
with that prime old element
made from iron,
gold, and
blood.

© Kathleen Dunbar

The Battle

The Battle

Here is a free verse style poem I wrote when I was sixteen years old. Here also is a photo of me, teenage Kathleen in my favorite forest green fedora hat.

At the bottom of this article you will also see a photo of the poem printed in the first literary journal ever created in my high school. I couldn’t believe there had never been a literary journal, so I created one! I called the journal Methinks. The cover illustration of the first edition portrayed a cartoon man with a large nose sitting on a stone with his chin on his fist—my version of Rodin’s The Thinker.

I made myself the Editor and I gave my friends the jobs of Secretary, Treasurer, and “Staff.” I figured those positions would look good on our resumes when we graduated and went off to college or began looking for jobs. I solicited poems from all my friends—many of us were the weird literary types, and this journal was a way for us to shine.

I was told by the principal’s office that I needed to supply money for the paper and the mimeograph ink. For those of you not in the know, the mimeograph is an ancient technology which rendered damp pages of copy laboriously turned by hand from a drum. The fresh pages needed to be handled carefully or the ink would smudge, a lavender variety of ink redolent of a chemical perfume known to school kids in the seventies. I promptly organized a bake sale on the town square which paid for two editions of ink and paper.

My favorite high school English teacher was Mr. Toth. As an adult, I’d searched in vain for him for many years, but back east Robert Toth is a common name—there were 40 Robert Toths in the phone book in Ohio alone, and I wasn’t sure he even lived there anymore. In more recent years I looked him up on the computer, but he wasn’t a person who put himself on Facebook or had a web page. His whereabouts remained a mystery to me.

Out of the blue, one day a few years ago Mr. Toth found me on the internet! He’d been cleaning out boxes and found some papers I’d given him as a teen. He decided to search me out. He googled Kathleen Dunbar and was lead to my music website. He knew he’d found me. He emailed me and we were soon speaking on the phone.

How strange to be asked to call him by his first name, Robert. He told me that when he was in bookstores, he’d look around to see if there was a poetry book by me—he was sure that I would become a famous poet! How very, very moving it was to hear how this man had held dear my gifts for all these years!

It was a delight to be speaking with him at last! I had always wanted to thank him for the worlds he’d opened up to me, and now I did. One was a world of literature. He knew enough about writing to help me on my path as a budding writer. Another was a world of human relationship in which a sane adult encouraged a creative young person, and importantly, as all great teachers do, in this process and without making a big deal about it (which my teen self wouldn’t have liked) he helped me to value my vision and myself. In our phone conversation I told him about the very toxic and dysfunctional home I gladly left every morning to lose myself in classes at high school. (High school was no picnic either, but it was better to be in the DMZ than the active combat zone). He was totally surprised to hear my home life had been difficult as I’d never told anyone that at the time.

Soon after our conversation I I received a thick envelope in the mail from Mr. Toth (I still can’t think of him as Robert) which contained the literary journal Methinks I’d created as well as some poems and reports. One of the poems I put in Methinks is the one below. The first person I’d showed the poem to, along with some other writing, was Mr. Toth, with a note that said, “I don’t know if you want to read these. They aren’t that interesting . . . but here they are.” He’d read this note aloud to me in our initial phone conversation, and chuckled. He told me when he read the poem all those years ago, that at first he found it hard to believe a sixteen year old in a small country town had written it. It crossed his mind that I’d stolen it from somewhere, but he knew me well and trusted that the work must be my own. He turned his astonishment into mentoring me as a writer. What I took from that mentoring was a belief and confidence in my own gifts, and a better ability to bear the difficulties at home and later to navigate the world of my adult life. Mr. Toth had believed in me. To be believed in is profound medicine, which continues to act as both vitalizing tonic and healing agent. Mr. Toth was one of those teachers whose support not only made life bearable, but worthwhile. There was a place, at last, for Kathleen.

I had begun at the age of three by making poems that rhymed. When I was fourteen I received a copy of Laurence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind. That book set me upon the path of free verse. I still write poetry in free verse form, but I came full circle and returned to rhymes as my singer-songwriter self in the creation of my original songs: You can find my americana music at kathleendunbar.com and my ambient/world music in which I “create” a language at bluelilah.com

Many good hearted souls have helped me believe in my ability to write. This is the story of one of them. Thank you, Mr. Toth, for being part of a foundation of aliveness for me, for seeing my poetry as a doorway to a life of creation, and helping usher me through it.

Here, then, is young Kathleen’s poem.

The Battle

Arrows of white light flung
from afar from the bow of the might orb,
darted between the tender, green
leaves, and fell, broken shafts, upon
the forest floor. So quickly did those
piercèd arrows fly that one could
not perceive their movement, but
saw only the brilliance of their
fiery flight, whence the earth,
steaming before their furious flame,
bore them in her dark side, a wounded
warrior.
Roaming among those arrows,
I did not smell the rage of battle,
nor did I feel the sting of fiery arms.
The mist of combat was not choking,
but moist and wet, and soothed
the heat of battle that the barrage
of arrows brought.
I sat, and, amid this raging
battle, I slept.

© Kathleen Dunbar, age 16

Out West

when Mrs. Graham came out to California
bearing the maiden name I never knew
she looked out of the train window
into the flat stretches of Nebraska
and saw a man on a horse with a hat
“There‘s The Cowboy” she said to herself
and to me, years later,
“I was thrilled.”

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photos by Kathleen Dunbar

 

Japanese Tea Garden

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Japanese Tea Garden

I spent many years going to the
Japanese Tea Garden in
Golden Gate Park, writing poetry
and observing people. Over the
years I wrote down some of the
interesting things I heard people
saying—the quotes in the poem
are what people actually said!

The girl says, “I need sugar.”
Her mother in a loud voice says,
“You don’t need sugar. You want sugar.
You need air and water and food.”
“And sleep,” a smaller girl says,
a little sister.
“Yeah, you need sleep.”
I watch the furrow of the brows
in this family
from larger woman to smaller girl,
a field of worry.
I say to myself,
“You need love.”

Parents in the tea garden, to children:
“You can’t make too many wishes at once.”
“You don’t want to play in old water. It’s yucky.”
About the fortune cookies:
“There’s a little story inside.”

As a child I was frequently in trouble
for playing in water,
yucky and clean.
I immediately want to make “too many wishes.”
In fact I have begun long ago,
am always in the midst of them,
they are as familiar as prayer beads.

Two middle aged ladies are served
tea and cookies.
Their eyes light up!
The plump lady
leans conspiratorially into her friend’s shoulder.
“If you break it, all the calories fall out!”
They laugh out loud
having lived enough life
to let their laughter be heard.
Her friend smiles.
I like them.
They are two reasons to get older.

A couple pauses as they cross the stone bridge
deep in conversation,
then they stand in front of the shrine that rises
in orange and black above the plain garden of stones.
She is even more in earnest
contemplating the wooden tower to the gods.
Who doesn’t try to make sense of it all?
She says, “You remember the tomato?
She married the tomato’s older brother.
He was a brilliant physicist.
He really lost it and became a monk.”

A little family at the tea garden
sitting on the “front row” –
just above the pool –
throwing wish pennies in
the father says to the son,
“Do you want to be superman?”
The son says,
“Nah,
that’s not a job.”

Now the Russian boy sings happily
in a thick accent,
“Oh, we had bad luck!”
a far away country melody
as they fish his sister’s purse out of the goldfish pond.
His aunt climbed right over the counter
and perched on the base to the awning pole,
leaned over the waters
and pulled it out.
No one fussed in that family.
An accident.
Much less worse than some things
that happened
back in the old country.
The father patiently squeezes the water out of everything.

A woman is saying to a man
next to me:
“I gave you a hot bath
when we lived on Taylor Street.
Where the spirit lived.
After that party.
I came home and made you a hot bath.
I poured you a glass of beer
and the spirit made it shatter.
All those beautiful glasses that they don’t make anymore.”

A small wriggly boy
leans far over the counter
and says excitedly,
“You can corral fish, you know.”
A fish cowboy in the Japanese Tea Garden.
His mother moves his teacup away
just in time.
“Tell me about it,” she says.
I sigh.

A student with glasses
and an impossibly long orange scarf
says to her friend,
“I’ll go home and make some pudding
and have that soup and do my notes.
I’ll put some more chili in that soup!”
That simple.
They are very young.
They leave.
The stools emptied of them
fill with an old couple.
He waits for her to sit
before he does
as he has unnumbered times,
a habit of kindness.
They look out at the pond
and she says,
“It’s going to be our anniversary.
What are you going to give us for our anniversary?”
“I don’t know.
It’s going to be forty-eight years.”
They eat the cookies
and drink the tea
and say not one word more.

A woman to her child,
“My fortune says
‘If your desires are not extravagant
they will be granted.’”
Her little girl has pink socks
with sparkles
and stars
and frilly lace.
Her mother has sensible shoes.

Man to child, “You like adventures?
I like adventures too.”
For a moment
they are the same age.

My heart has filled up
like the pools
with all that these people
are seeing and saying
and wishing
and feeling.

Why do I ache so much?
I have frequently been known to make too many wishes,
throwing them ahead of me
into the extravagant mess of life,
the clear and the yucky waters.

I have been naked without love.
And I have been loved—am loved,
so that when my beloved
hears my yelped ouch
as I grate my tender fingertip
along with the carrots
he calls out from the steamy bathroom,
“Are you okay?”
and I know
that I have already
won the Lotto.

Before I go back home
I see another one of us:
That child is going to make a wish.
There is the wish-posture!
Everything in her being is expectant.
There is the holding of the breath,
the choosing—which side of the bridge
to throw the penny from,
which pool more lucky?
I know the upraised urge and launch
as the sudden metal bone of the wish
goes splashing into the pool,
the pause after – it’s done.
Seriousness,
then the smiling.
The moment after
the world is different:
it is wished in.
Will it come true?
We are all already nibbled on by the fishes.
She walks away looking back,
ripening a little.

We throw ourselves
ahead of ourselves
all the time,
our hearts sing a song
beyond us
not so much about
health, wealth, love
(the usual culprits)
but really about the more extravagant stuff—

the attempt to keep
being here
in the messiness,
the yucky
clear
magnificent
stumbling
miracle.

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photo by Kathleen Dunbar

Accordion Song

A-Accordion Song 05-28-13

Hey Folks, Here’s the lyrics, and you can LISTEN along by
clicking the link, which is: Accordion Song

Accordion Song
Words by Kathleen Dunbar
Music by Kathleen Dunbar and Gawain Matthews

when we meet I hold the candle
when we part put out the flame
far from home I’m bought and sold
kisses bitter, love the name

when you ask I do not answer
words you speak I do not know
keep me in the cage you fashioned
say you’ll never let me go

lai dai dai-ee-dai
lai dai dai-ee-dai
lai-dai dai-dai
lai-dai dai-dai
lai-dia-dai-daiiiiiiii-dah-ee-daiii

love I wear a little dress of gold and red
how sweet and wise I lead you to my bed
laugh and dance, how deep the sin
spell is cast—we both fall in

I’m your bird, oh-ho you bid me sing
‘pon the cage I beat my wings
sky your blue eyes, close and cool
crumbs of love like broken jewels

midnight’s hush, how cold the wind
turn the key—the dark pours in
at the window—don’t ask why
drop your hands and let me fly

© by Kathleen Dunbar and Gawain Mathews

Photos By Kathleen Dunbar

Listen to “Accordion Song” from my CD The Storm in Our Head on Bandcamp or find it on my website, kathleendunbarmusic.com

A-Accordion Song 05-28-13 best version

A-Accordion Song 05-28-13

You Would

A-You Would 05-14-14
you would 

I would like to write
a fabulous poem
that described heart-thirst
in a way where
I’d become famous after I died
and while I was alive
I’d be interviewed
and, well, closer in time
my friends would
ooh and ah over the poem
and congratulate me
for saying such things
and tell me how it touched them
and more intimately
you would . . .
you would what?

when I offered this poem to you
all the poems I’ve ever written would ignite at once
the words blacken and melt
and the papers curl
they would clothe me in their smoke
rushing and delirious as freed souls
and finally leave me naked
at the temple
the primal one where
the god and goddess join their hips
in the motion that shakes even the stars
the reaching, falling
brief white stars
and you would . . .
you would what?

after all that hoopla
I’d find you standing
wide-shouldered and warm
on the place where
the at-last burned and broken engines
of my wishes
sleep among the roots of the earth
and a poem is the way
you look at me
and you would be looking at me
and you would . . .
you would what?

you would love me enough
to invite me home
to the place I’ve been looking for
all of my life

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photos by Kathleen Dunbar

Here’s a love song from my first CD — the song is called Round and Round and you can hear it right now on Bandcamp or www.kathleendunbarmusic.com

A-You Would 05-14-13

Until The Fur Comes Off

A-Until The Fur Come Off 04-30-13
Until The Fur Comes Off

The child knows—take Bear to bed
and you’ll know what to do with the dark,
you’ll be able to sleep
and dream the seed that
grown tall, will make a life.

And what do we do
those of us
who had no one
to believe in us but Bear
who with his eloquent dignity
welcomed us every time
until the fur came off
and then some.

He saw our hearts break
when no one else did.
He didn’t yell when we
made a mistake!
Paw in hand he went with us
on the journey
into a darkness
that was not only at night.

We all need someone
who can name us to ourselves—
it is after all
what it is about—
we need this naming
to make a beginning
where we do not have to grow
into the extremes of grief
that make daily wars
(some in foreign places
some in our own kitchens).

We step deeply into life
when a person can say aloud to us
what Bear could never speak
in sounds that make warm waves
in the blood of our heart—
we need to hear the words
as vital as air and dinner and sleep
“Ah, you are afraid, my love,
you are beautiful,
you are sad,
you are alive and belong with us,
it’s okay, my love
it’s okay,”
and wonder of wonders
we suddenly find our hand in theirs
and grow a little more shining and sturdy.

It doesn’t get rid of the dark
but the sound
of the naming
gives us the dignity
we gave Bear to hold for us
in hopes we would grow into it—
the dignity to know we matter.

Better late than never, my love.
Find someone kind to listen to you
and then return it and be kind back
until the guns of the war of broken hearts
grow quiet
and the blood in your heart
is alive with good sounds—
tears and laughter and wonder
your own and those of your beloveds:
friend, son, daughter, partner,
grocery clerk,
all.

It isn’t only make believe,
it is real magic if you want it:
go tell somebody you see them
and bravely ask for them to see you
the whole grand round—
let it in and give it
until your fur comes off.

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photo by Kathleen Dunbar

If you’d like to hear a sweet song of welcoming, you can listen to “The Circle Returns to the Place where it Starts” from my first album, Finally Home, at www.kathleendunbarmusic.com or on Bandcamp.