‘Maternity’ by Britton Gildersleeve

soft cartel april 2018

At the high pond, nativity scenes of goslings,
ducklings, hatchling frogs as small and black
as mala beads. String a rosary of thin pipings,
of hopping onto an outstretched hand. This
is the song of birthing, of maternity free
from the tugging strings that hold so many of us
to earth, clip our flight paths. This is the lure
of spring, what brings women to the beds
of men who will someday catch their young
like eggs tossed lightly into the air.

Three Canadian geese twine the supple
stalks of their long necks into a kind of living
playpen, surround their single chick with
family, and hover anxiously on the periphery
of a gosling’s awkward wingspan.
While newly minted ducklings scatter
as a grey heron strides from a graceful landing.

They tumble like gold coin into the water,
four hours free from chitinous shells of
seclusion. These know their mothers, who
extend wings, necks, beaks wide in defense.
Each mother huddles with her young, the pattern
of their swirled down as individual as scent.
The frogs, no single one larger than a bead,
fill their wet lungs with air, only two days gone
from mud, where earth and water meet
I watch confusion sweep like a grey heron
over the bright surface of my mother’s eyes
clouding recognition, dulling the edges of then
until she lives within a constant windswept now.
Each day one more unravels
like the threads I pulled from a square of muslin
I coloured, then fringed for her. I was six years old.

The heron parallels the surface of the pond,
takes in its beak something dark, struggling.
A larger frog. But the seedling frogs recognise
no danger. Have no sense of family, aware
only of their own single lives.
They feel neither guilt nor fear, too new to life
to foresee its loss. I am too bruised to not.
Now she picks at the threads of her nightgown, pulling
each into the curved hollow of her palm. Her hand
full, she plucks the threads from the nest she has made.
This occupies her for an hour. In the car, she looks
calmly from the window, noting a red and white cow,
a bird floating on the Oklahoma wind. She has lost
their names, remembers only “bird,” not “hawk.”
“Cow,” not “Hereford.” Soon these too will unravel
floating on the wind like the eiderdown of yellow
ducklings, too soon to age into grief.

Britton Gildersleeve’s poetry has appeared previously in Nimrod, Passager, Spoon River, This Land Press, Futures Trading, Lincoln Underground, Atlas Poetica, and Florida Review, and other journals. She has three chapbooks: two from Pudding House, and one from Kattywompus Press. She blogs at https://teaandbreath.com.

‘Threads’ by Britton Gildersleeve

soft cartel april 2018

There are three of them.
Blind women who hold within arthritic hands
our futures. Skeins of vivid silk — your life,
my life, the lovers of friends —
spill through gnarled fingers
Catching tearing snarling.
Clotho the spinner of birth
who looks perhaps like weavers do
her thumb wide and flat from twisting thread.
Lachesis, the middle sister, measures.
She holds the short length that will be
your life, my loss, the grief
that will entangle me
for Atropos, the eldest sister.
Whose eyes are grey stones.
She reaches into deep pockets
for silver blades.
Sharper than loss, darker than memory,
they snip.
snick snick snick
Deaf and blind, the sisters
spin and measure sever
the threads that tie your life to mine
and you float free of need
desire language
all that tethered you to this day, your life
my hands. I reach for you, your shadow.
The sun sets and you fade into the night.
The sisters still.

Britton Gildersleeve’s poetry has appeared previously in Nimrod, Passager, Spoon River, This Land Press, Futures Trading, Lincoln Underground, Atlas Poetica, and Florida Review, and other journals. She has three chapbooks: two from Pudding House, and one from Kattywompus Press. She blogs at https://teaandbreath.com.

‘Snake’ by Britton Gildersleeve

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Winter: and the early harvest moon
rises on the mist of the night wind.
Snake has gone to ground,
seeping like thick fluid
into the spaces between earth’s warm bones.
Strung like the half notes of dew on spider’s web,
Snake’s dreams shimmer.
They flicker between worlds,
tongues licking at the wild honey of our lies.

Struggling deep into the frozen clay we burrow,
shaping with our songs each hand-smoothed brick.
Adobe strengthens through summer,
muddies in the winter rain.
We build the ring around the fire:
one brick upon another through the chilly night.
And Snake listens: even in his torpid dreams
he eavesdrops. His supple belly translates
every whisper the complicit earth yields.
We lean together, our truths cloaked
only in our own illusions.

Snake stirs, each glittering scale tuned
to earth’s fitful quiver. We await him.
Beyond the fire’s lighted circle
Snake rolls, hooplike. His tale
within his mouth, he loops,
inexorable.
What does Snake know?
Like light he is a wave he is a point he is everywhere
among us. He ripples over the wall
of our intentions, our stories that drift
upon the phantom smoke.
He haunts our troubled silences
while we try to rebuild truth.

But Snake reminds us:
truth is not a winter fire
laid against the brittle blade of fear.
It huddles through the night,
thin-skinned animal with wild heart.
While snake, truth’s sibilant guardian
waits, listening.

Britton Gildersleeve’s poetry has appeared previously in Nimrod, Passager, Spoon River, This Land Press, Futures Trading, Lincoln Underground, Atlas Poetica, and Florida Review, and other journals. She has three chapbooks: two from Pudding House, and one from Kattywompus Press. She blogs at https://teaandbreath.com.

‘Dust on a tropical breeze’ & ‘Inside out’ by Britton Gildersleeve

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Dust on a tropical breeze

after César Vallejo

Old Saigon will claim me
after I fold my wings, after decades of flight.
Probably on moonday, Lundi, at the grande marché
I will collapse in feathery dust beside the leper at the gate.

I knew this as a child, watching the leper’s outstretched hands
knew I was already half-erased, only a dusty ghost
like the hungry bụi đời who float upon the wind.
I am half Saigon still.

‘She is gone,’ they will murmur, in breathy whispers.
My words will unravel like the silk of cocoons
weaving a sieve to catch the wind.

‘We didn’t mean to hurt her,’ they will say.
‘Who knew she would fall to dust?’

Inside out

From the gut – the bones, the marrow, the soft & hidden
places. Where who I really am hides, protected. Safe
sequestered behind organs that pulse inflate record
move the seas of blood through the tiniest of tunnels.
Over microscopic bridges without names

Neural pathways crisscross the hidden me, who conceals
her presence in the ocean thrum of inner music, plucked
tendons ligaments the treble strings of artery & vein
each with its own red voice, magnified in community
camouflage for the uncertain

Without – the smile, the warm confidence. The careful
lacquer of manners & skills. All the masks we wear
over our inner lives. Silk and leather and the fey glitter
of carefully polished words. None of it matching
an interior landscape of apocalypse

Britton Gildersleeve’s poetry has appeared previously in Nimrod, Passager, Spoon River, This Land Press, Futures Trading, Lincoln Underground, Atlas Poetica, and Florida Review, and other journals. She has three chapbooks: two from Pudding House, and one from Kattywompus Press. She blogs at https://teaandbreath.com.

‘Warrior’ & ‘Resist’ by Britton Gildersleeve

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Warrior

He was younger than my oldest son, my father.
It was spring it was Europe it was the war
after the war to end all wars. Only fools
believe that war solves anything, he told me
forty years later. What it does, he remembered,
is change the young and kill them and their hope
and their believing. But not their nightmares.

Metal carries internal fissures; heat and water
temper them. Men carry knives more flexible
than combat as sharp as terror as deadly as politics.
Annealing that’s what Europe gave my father.
And death death in foreign languages
death in foreign weather foreign unknowable death
Death that became familiar

Resist

~ for Ishmael Reed

My literary lovers aren’t like me. It is not by choice
that I follow the tracks of black men, gay men, dead veterans.
Who I am is all of these men I never was and never will be.
Somehow, a bridge connects each of us to one another. Cowboys
to angry Indians, men betrayed by women to this woman
who in her journey out of darkness watches
for the light thrown by these men who prowled the margins
floating down the river in boats with words for rudders.
Made homeless by other men always white men of my own kind
my father shouted when I loved you. But the ancient god speaks
Ra
who created everything & everyone even the white sidewinders
reminds me: all pools reflect light. Looking at light is looking within
into the darkness deep within us. Each of my lovers maps
alleys, hairpin curves, and switchbacks of roads
set up to carry us away from bridges, away from all of light’s
illumination. Not to follow is to submit to shadows.
Not to follow is to submit.

Britton Gildersleeve’s poetry has appeared previously in Nimrod, Passager, Spoon River, This Land Press, Futures Trading, Lincoln Underground, Atlas Poetica, and Florida Review, and other journals. She has three chapbooks: two from Pudding House, and one from Kattywompus Press. She blogs at https://teaandbreath.com.

‘Ghazal for a Blue Ridge Home’ & ‘The House Where the Wind Lives’ by Britton Gildersleeve

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Ghazal for a Blue Ridge Home

It is the way mountains smell: conifer & cloud
How mist settles over the horizon’s line of green, conifer & cloud.

Prairies are in my bones, the wide flat blue of open sky
But I am learning this new language, how to speak conifer & cloud.

You can fall in love with a place, even if it is nothing like before
A kind of reincarnation of home, oak & mistletoe to conifer & cloud.

In the distance, the mountain ridge blues to haze, dissolves
Into a softening of trees and coming rain: conifer & cloud.

I wake each morning to this new place, the soft teeth of metal
In this new fragrance – the chilly purity of conifer & cloud.

The House Where the Wind Lives

Has no doors. The windows whisper
to the sagebrush nestled beneath them:
Hold fast, my loves. Hold fast.
Behind the weathered wooden walls
high plains stretch languorously
Their flat bodies supine beneath
the wide pale sky
Mornings, the wind has breakfast
with cloud, whose tendril fingers
reach for sage blossoms
which wind blows across
the sagging table. She smiles.
Cloud shakes his head, and droplets
of rain fall from his white hair.
This is the house where the wind lives
he reminds himself. And smiles back.

Britton Gildersleeve’s poetry has appeared previously in Nimrod, Passager, Spoon River, This Land Press, Futures Trading, Lincoln Underground, Atlas Poetica, and Florida Review, and other journals. She has three chapbooks: two from Pudding House, and one from Kattywompus Press. She blogs at https://teaandbreath.com.