Jessica Williams, jazz pianist, composer

CURRENTS

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Poetry by Jessica Williams—2013

The back operation

The screaming tear in my life
didn't just happen while their slippery blades
swam like strategic sharks through the buttery
skin, that precious animal skin that
held my life

together. I must have been pressing forward with
unaware purpose, blindfolded, through countless
years—through brambled thickets,
over and under fallen trees clothed in priceless moss coats,
crossing angry rivers like

walls, leaning into the winds of sacrifice,
toward that gaping, monstrous chasm—that blind,
gaping wound in the forest floor, bottomless,
sucking light, blacker than space, wider than tunnels
they drive trucks

through.

 

The winter solstice

The winter solstice saunters in, drunk,
wearily trundling our days away,
leaving us only

this frightened dark. The world here
seems brittle, barren. Shuttered.
Closed.

Behold: the rose. The precious,
fragile, redolent rose.
Did I ever really see one? If

only for just a moment,
I could hold one now, cup it carefully,
oh, so very gently in my own two

hands, and drink!
Swim in its perfection,
filling my own parched void.

Only in that way
might I ever find my joy, my youth,
my empty years

slipped by.

 

Just for me

In other imaginations
the world is not my own.
Only I can walk this path
that no one else can see.

The cavernous echoes
of other lives within
may clamor for attention
but I pause only briefly
to notice the din.

I will not ask for understanding
for I am not seeking it.
The weather in these climes
suits no one but me.

The brief but violent fall
of a hawk from the sky
swoops low across the sea
and takes its living food
from the reservoir of my life.

 

Pregnant again

I had a dream.
One of those afternoon dreams,
the kind that can lay you low.
I broke through the ice of this frigid winter world
and walked though my own resplendent garden—
rich red roses,
lavender carnations,
red Peruvian lilies,
purple double lisianthus,
purple matsumoto asters,
and daffodils of some vast number.

Big dogs ran after each other in my yard.
My yard must have been big, too.
They had lots of room to run!

And I was pregnant with my third child,
a girl this time! There was so much color in my life
just then that I felt I might burst with joy.
You have no idea how happy I was!
You start to understand why we worry
about the future so much.
The lives of our children are so very precious to us.
Far more precious than our own.
We carry the future within us
and outside us there is such catastrophe waiting.

Each of us needs to have a garden,
I thought,
when I awoke, cold and afraid.

 

Something happened

I fell through a hole in the floor of my life.
You never plan these things. One day

you're threading your self through the eye of a needle,
the next, staring at the business-end of God's Hammer.

Anything's only good for awhile. Like changing clothes,
I'm changing life after a long shower.

I could say it was personal growth—but it's just as likely
my life needed changing, was going there

anyway. Did I ever really want to play
John Coltrane's Giant Steps?

I used to care so much about jazz music.
Now it sounds like so many quadratic equations.

I used to care so much about my next achievement.
I used to care so much what they thought, said, wrote.

Now I only seem to care about complex dreams and
simple gardens and the stillness of spirit—

and loving my husband.
Now I only seem to really care about love.

I fell through a hole in the soft, secret well
of my soul . . . sorry.

I'm not
sorry.

 

Things I miss

 

Just born

My life is trying to live.
I was just born.
Leave me be!

 

Middle Children

The little children,
those many middle children
—not boys nor girls but ones unspoken of—
in between these two extremes we've built for them to
try to somehow come alive and learn to love,
these are our children.

"The blanket's either pink or blue.
It cannot be another hue.
It's either dolls or plastic guns.
We re-create our little ones

in our image",

your own distorted image.
Nature's rainbow ground down just like us,
down to fine gray dust.
"Religious problems must be attended,
or God in heaven will be offended."
As if we had no hand in making
our glorious middle, little children?

"The blanket's either blue or pink—
we will not stop and pause to think.
We know what's wrong, we know what's right;
we won't give in.
Ya' wanna fight

our system? It's worked for millions of years"

although it's caused such an unending flow of tears
and many, many needless deaths—
and worse . . . so many lives lived in such excruciating pain.
A sign of the systemic rot, a mortal stain.

"But it is our esteemed position.
It's why our dearest Torquemada
devoted his life (and left his wife) to be the
Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition!

The blanket's either pink or blue—it's never
orange or green or red, and
even if your theory's true, you'll
wind up dead,

or worse!

What could be worse than being a girl?
Why, nothing in the whole wide world."

You rail, you preach, you cant, you teach
this cult of death to generations.

In your world there are only soldiers,
soldier's children, and soldier's wives
who make their soldier children's lives. And of course,
the wars you always make to take them.

Oh, these children!
These little middle children!
not boy nor girl but so much more!
These are our children!

"The blanket's always blue or pink,
no matter what you say or think, and
never orange or green or red."

Our children! Quarter me, instead.

 

I'm learning

I'm learning not to expect a perfect world.
When I wake up late and the clouds like smoke hang low and gray and seamless,
my heart stills too. I think I won't be alive again
until I see another hummingbird or smell another dandelion. And

why am I having these unkempt, rumpled dreams?
The astrologers say we've reached some kind of turning-point.
Something to do with a black-hole at the center of our galaxy.
I'm not so sure. Maybe it's just the sweet pickles I had last night.

How does a finch feel perched under those claustrophobic clouds?
Do finches ever get depressed?
Can they tell a blue sky from a slate sky?
I know the scientists would say no. I say I bet they can.

I keep seeing the numbers on our digital clocks
line up in uncustomary ways.
1:11. 11:11. 3:33. 4:44.
I'm relieved it can't get to 6:66.

Anyway. Tomorrow will be better. Even if it isn't, it'll be different.
That's just the world being itself,
re-adjusting itself to beat in the rhythms we understand
and expect. We can't expect perfection.

 

Bread lines

I am told that our mothers and our fathers
stood in summer lines like rows of starched

scorched wheat.

I am told that they stood in winter lines
like seeds in shallow furrows in the icy dirt of

cracked city streets,

waiting to be fed.
Waiting to be born.

Now we're standing here,
like bewildered children at the circus,

wondering who let the tigers out again.

 

How I came to be me

Many years ago, all around me was no. A chorus
of silent screams, bellows to a consonant and
distantly gentle child like me . . . all this dissonant

no! So I stayed up late and I thought and I planned.
And I left their dungeons and I ran away

to the wooded area that now is a tire manufacturer.
I inquired of the integral trees and the vivid personal flowers:
"Where should I go? Do any of you know?"

They all said no, too, but they said it gently, as a
mother speaks to her child when she knows there is
life and love and pain and thunder

up ahead. So I lay down in the mantle of verdant grass
where the quilted flowers clustered,
where the trees like kings had gathered, and I consulted

the lazy clouds, the crucial sun and the
crystal sky. Later I queried the waxing moon, the
venerable stars and

the unforgiving forever that was swathed in the
dark blue roan cape that the sky wore that night.

Finally they all started to answer me, but in my very own
voice. They all said, they all agreed, that is—I said

yes,

  yes,

    yes.

That was many many years ago, and that is how I came to be
me.

 

Good enough

Whatever I make now
is as good as I can make it.
If it isn't good enough,
you'll have to go

elsewhere.

I can't care now
what you think of me. I
only have time now to
think what I think,

love what I love.

 

Crucible

Crucible: a place or occasion of severe test or trial: the crucible of combat. A place or situation in which different elements interact to produce something new: the crucible of the new Romantic movement. - New Oxford American Dictionary

There must be something foul afoot again.
We have uneasy thoughts of tomorrow and her children.
Do the men understand why we women worry
about futures? Can they . . . to have more than one
soul inhabiting one body?

Things that are happening underground
keep happening, and this disregard for each other,
our planet, and our own bodies concerns us.
There's a seep, a leak of awareness that all is not as it should be.
We intuit the slant in our floors.

It's like having a hip-joint out. A splinter in the finger.
A lash in the eye. An ear plugged-up in the shower.
A suddenly-missing tooth! Could this be the beginnings
of Kralizec? Or is just another idea of powerful men,
just another Crucible?

 

Dare

Can you dare
to count the days,
the hours, the years,
that you've passively watched
slip away

as you lie there
unfulfilled? Unlived?
Unknown? Know, then, that
it takes a terrible courage
to live a life.

We dream of where we
dream of being.
We know just who we
want to be.
Can we do this?

 

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