Eros in September


S.977.21_Sarcophagus.jpgThe dotted dirt floor around Psyche’s feet pulled me into a story of another’s trials. I held the image of my love for a few seconds, and then I turned away, turned back to the stories of childhood. Even my non-human childhood held stories, for we always wanted to understand how human minds worked.

Once upon a time, a girl1415934314615_wps_9_DBHRJF_Cinderella_from_a_.jpg

came out of the closet of her room,

the broom already in hand,

the dustpan hanging like a charm, clanging

against the metal band around the smaller

straw hand broom hooked to the rough rope

serving as her belt. What does one need

to understand this picture? There were seeds spilled across the otherwise perfectly swept brick floor. As a child, I stopped my mother in the course of her reading it to me, right here, right at the picture, a double-spread bleeding across two pages, book stitches in the brickwork of the chimney. The girl with the hem of her skirt in tatters, the girl pondering the work.

I edged away from stories and books. I flew above living pictures and through open windows and never saw a girl quite like that one in the book of fairy tales. I began to imagine that no such person existed, that the story was false, that all stories are false. The book’s cover split with the changing of the seasons, and silverfish swam in the falseness of the yellowing pages.

And now I am drowning in story. I dove deep into her rescue and became the hero between the pages. Our life revealed the conflict essential to the continuance of the myth. Her journey is the pattern of a life throughout time. I must have known this when I was five or six. When I pondered that three-color picture, I didn’t know to ask: What does one need

koanga_kay_baxter_hand_seeds2To sort the seeds? What tools?

She had two brooms and a dustpan.

She had the willingness to work hard,

Good eyesight, the strong knees

And lungs of youth—and perhaps

Most important of all—the experience

Of loss rupturing innocence.

What did I know of loss until Psyche? There is a cynicism that some of us wear to hide the knowledge that we are intact. We haven’t experienced loss. We wear the badge of our completeness, obsessively self-aware like Doric columns defining the entrance to a building lacking ornamentation.

downloadThe seeds in the picture might as well have been ants or pebbles or splatters of paint. I could not distinguish what they meant as seeds, nor as anything else. Yet, when I sat on the window ledge yesterday and looked past the fading light of the day to the image of Psyche at my mother’s side, I could tell they were seeds. I even knew where they came from.

Last night, I flew from the window and walked into the forest. I found the cow parsley, growing taller than I, its weedy white heads framing a pond long since abandoned by man and animal. I rubbed one of the dead flowers in my hand and the seeds trickled across my palm.

I put the seeds into a small leather bag and continued around the pond. Over the ridge was a heath, only marked by small deer trails zigzagging along the edges and trailing from pond to the cover of deeper forest. The combined sounds of night and the singers of the night rose around me so that I could no longer hear the tips of my wings raking against the heather. When I crossed the heath, the seeds clung to my feathers. I brushed some into the bag and left the rest to fall on their own.contorted-hazel

Near the road leading into the town of Psyche’s abandonment, a hazel tree grew in its crooked way, dusty and beckoning near a ditch. That long ago storybook girl knelt at a tree like this, a tree like this her mother was buried under. Doves dipped their wings beside the blossoms and held on tight to the tiny branches. Fallen flower petals dotted the grass beneath the tree, a picture not unlike that of the seeds on the hearth. There is a way of looking at things, of listening to the souls of those who set them in motion that alters our perspective.

Perhaps our lives are abandoned

To the tools that echo our presence

Into being. What did she have at birth?

A voice. A hunger. An ability to fill

And evacuate. A sense of the tunneling

Of another’s life through her own.

Was it the contrast of life before and after her mother that held me to that story? The story that held onto me. And so many others that may be holding you . . . motherless children–the girl with ebony hair and white skin, the girl spinning straw in the prince’s basement, the boy escaping in his raft to the Mississippi River, the boy with the lightning scar on his forehead, the child in the cinders and the boy from Tintagel and the girl wandering to Carter Hall, the girl traded for the theft of a rose.

imagesWhere am I in these stories, and where is Psyche? Where are you? How will I know which story to continue to hold onto? I sort the versions and note their similarities. I have come to the road that leads me to those who gave her to me, though they didn’t know they were doing so. What do we give ourselves to when we have been abandoned, when we abandon the first draft of our lives?

Would I even think these stories odd if I also had no mother?

Taking care not to trample the hazel blossoms, I left the road and continued across the grass. My wings ached to fly. My body remembered the earthly attraction of tender clover under my feet, the perfume of a grasshopper’s wings at knee level, the sudden rustle of rabbits and lizards at my approach.

eyedolecense4I jumped over a small tree felled by the last storm, and the leather bag fell to the ground, the seeds spilled out in a pile. A breeze swept them up and swirled them into a miniature tornado that lingered beside me and waited somehow for me to interpret it.

Once upon a time, a girl was born or you were. You flooded the world with the question of yourself, your toes even curled into the mark of your coming, the entrance the end of a sentence your parents began.

Your fingers met your toes and said hello. The girl played in the creek behind the house and caught minnows in her cupped hands and let them go. You played with moon, who spoke to you with its shadows and light when you lay in the grass of your front lawn or the bedroom of your childhood.

I spoke what I felt and didn’t know what that meant. The girl laughed at her mother’s jokes. You smiled when you caught the red ball. She cried when no one understood, not even those closest to her. I wanted to break free. You stayed out after curfew because you couldn’t stop kissing the lips of the one who was reshaping your world.grimm_pic1

You left home. You came back. You left home. Others left you. The girl spoke her last words to the woman of the doves, the last words the woman would hear. I wanted something that I couldn’t imagine. The girl lost her father who still slept ten feet down the hall. You did the work that found you.

I have never done the work that is mine. I am just beginning. The girl had to hack dreams out of rodents and barn wood to escape. She will never escape what her body remembers. You will never escape what your past became, even from that moment when your thumb was saying hello to your toes.

Separate the stories from the life and . . . I dare you . . . separate the stories from the life. I had a love affair with the end of days, and that was where I went wrong. You are reclaiming that root wrapped around the seed, around the rock, around the bit of glass, around the skeleton of the mole because you are seeing the parts, and you are seeing . . . the parts.

The girl wore only one pair of shoes for the rest of her life—orange house slippers, worn, warm, molded to her feet as sure as magic.

–Shaun Perkins



Don’t Fear the Poem . . . or the Museum

rompdoorI’m working at the ROMP Rummage Store today, and as always, I’m trying to get customers to go to the museum–it’s only 2 miles outside of town. It’s easy to find. The door is open, the lights are on, air conditioner going. A lot of people have no interest in poetry. One woman today said, “I’m scared.”

I said, “There’s no one there. The door’s open–just go in and look around at your own pace.”

I didn’t convince her.

But seriously, don’t fear the poem. Don’t fear the poetry museum.

This museum is for and of the people. You can touch stuff in there. Write on walls. Listen to a jukebox. Sit in an easy chair and read some old autograph books from 1930. ALL of the poetry in it is written by regular people like you. Don’t fear it . . . please.

It’s only called a “museum” because I wanted the acronym ROMP when I started this place 4 years ago.

If you came out to the first museum, this one is quite a bit different. It’s in a different building, across the pasture from the old one. The exhibits and your interaction are different. Come see.

There’s no one there who’s going to tell you how to read the poems or write a poem or what to look at or think or feel. It’s a trusting place. Go in and see.

Don’t fear the poem.

–Shaun Perkins



The Beacon of May

Garden5-31-10 004In May, the leaves of the redbud beckon
me from the window where I look
Instead of being
“Beckon” comes from an Old English word
Meaning “beacon.”

May is a beacon with its multiple layers
Of green and delicate white,
Its insistence on the words
Coax, tempt, tantalize, allure, beguile,
Its need to be better than
Every other month,
To shine brighter,
To achieve the pinnacle
In the calendar that Pope Gregory
Arranged for us when Caesar’s failed
To keep track with the actual days.

May: Your first level of meaning is to
Motion, wave, gesture, bid, nod,
Yet I know you are more than that,
Thus the second row of verbs
That more accurately describe
The marker you have placed
In the book of days of my life.

–Shaun Perkins





The Train to Will Rogers

willToday is the birthday of one of the greatest Okies who ever lived. Will Rogers, who was born Nov. 4, 1879, said, “It’s great to be great, but it’s greater to be human.”

In honor of Will, here is a poem that I wrote many years ago. It is based on a memory my gangy told me about when she would ride the train from Locust Grove to Tulsa to see a movie or to go shopping.


They were fifteen and smoked Lucky Strikes
on the train to Tulsa. Both wore their best dress.
Montie Jean’s was blue taffeta with lace
crocheted along the collar. She had to stand
or stroll to keep it from creasing at her hips.
She held Ann’s arm and they squeezed their heads out
one window and shouted into the spring
day at the flitting bright spots of bluebirds
and young men in the fields, checking the soil
to see if the seeds could be planted yet.
They waved to the men, and their smart curls held
in the wind and in the hot, cramped theater
where Will Rogers lassoed both their hearts and
Montie Jean, laughing, swallowed her mint gum.

–Shaun Perkins


Tin Can Drum Contest

tincan1As part of the celebration of the fall season, the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry will have a Tin Can Poem Drum Contest. Make a drum from a tin can and come drum it in a rhythm circle at Autumn Movement with us!

Bring your drum out for a contest at the museum:

Saturday, Sept. 26

Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry

5:00-9:00 p.m.

Museum tours at 5:00, a drum workshop at 6:00, folk dancing at 7:00, and a drum circle at 8:00 are the events planned. Drums will be judged and prizes awarded at 6:45.


In Preparation

sewingThe sewing needle rests next to my eighth
vertebrate. I cannot feel it but know
it is there. The thread circles my kidneys
like amber capillaries. A sloping
row of real pearl buttons, tiny full moons,
bump into my small intestine. Silk blocks
wrap the ligaments of my arms, as if
my bones are on fire and must be bandaged
by something cool. A piece of lace crumpled
into a triangle lines my womb. All
that I am, all of my tools and notions,
I have swallowed and absorbed. I now leave
their world. I open the door to the night
and drink my thimbles before I run out.

–Shaun Perkins