Word For/Word [ Issue 17: Summer, 2010 ] [ Previous ] [ Next ] [ Notes ]

Hold Mercy, by Lynn Strongin


Part 1: Raptor Asylum


I look forward to laying out suffering in a new light: oak bed
Quilt patches
a window over the Dutch door latches
to pour in jam bright stars.
To ripple over the old, the ancient scars
put out like man o war."






Blue eyes everywhere in Griffin Creek. In every garden. Every tree. They grow like blue fruit. Just hold our your hand. Nora’s eyes, Olivia’s eyes, hidden among blue fruits. - Anne Hebert, In the Shadow of the Wind.






"Blue Bottles in Vermont,” by Penelope Weiss





"Red Pepper Grinder,” by Wim Blom




Soap-colored Cloths, gowns with numerals
put thru the industrial spin, a cycle call kill for the institutional
but I shall go unchastened to my grave one of fifty children of unlove:
going into the last judgment
find a colt tied
whereon the children side:
saddled, they bright the colt to Christ,
cast their garments upon him
he sat
many spread their garments
others cut branches down off tress, strewed them in the way
they that preceded, those that followed cried
it is the coming
blessed be the kingdom
in the name of the highest
the children led Christ from Calapais, it was early, they themselves were scarcely away
but they cast Mercy
to cross the river
Mercy, they flung off like  a gown
and only the wind tried to pry it loose
Only little people could doff that shawl.
            I danced with the Dolly with the hole in her stocking
            my own had ladders. At dawn, haunted, we took Philco radios on top of iceboxes, ironing boards with triangle burns, even the children’s ward we dubbed Crowchild, yes we grabbed mercy by the seat of its pants
and took it on all.




When I fell between two parked cars in New York
I did not cry but put one hand on one metal trunk, the other on the other & pulled myself up.
From early days, was the botanical chart of paralysis in me
like heartbeat?
I was a member of that company so private we did not know last names
The past dusted with a film of pearl
the bird who nearly garroted himself in my wheelchair,     gave himself no karate chop but flew.




I will have to give away many things the glassed map of the asylum
the marbles in an old apothecary jar:
Mercy garbed in pale colors:
The first time I told them a bird had got in, the manageress might have thought me loosed from an asylum.
He was caught in my wheelchair spokes. I cannot bear any trapped things. Bending over Christmas red stockings
lacing hiking boots, blood was the color of wine back then.
Lo, Kin. List the women: Augustine Beadle, Amanda Flamer, Ernestine & Myrtle Shakespeare
last, crossing the road to the Rexall, got hit
Fay Hexall
living down her name.
The violinist from our childhood holds the Mercy chair.
As for Razel                one leg a stump she fell
for nothing collecting wooden buttons
The bank got cranky
Listen, Firefox I am reading all of your e-mails.
My purse did spill coins & other glasses a couple of time.
Is this saying I am old & failing?
The trout is out.
Holding Mercy to its word. Thank you. Merci
Ok, Tiger Lily
If a bird ever gets into a room again, they won’t think me crazy.
Chartwell booksellers is around the corner of my mind.
selling encyclopedias to hell & every
thing between. Sister played from the depths of anger:
Every since hospital days, a gift shop in a cube of glass
shone like a diamond.
            My sister played in a real concert hall, not an aircraft hangar.




Faye Hexall
The woman who runs the tearoom each late afternoon & evening
was the one
who flashed the news.
Your glasses, which went missing when earth was, flushed infant green, over the hoar frost the time when mole was messing about with boats & other animals living on the banks were whitewashing walls.
Embers of sunset remained on sky: a smudge, fogging
                        Altered prescriptions but same perception:
land tax deferral # remains the same from year to year.

In the rarefied world of ballet, where dancers are expected to speak with their bodies, sometimes it seems that aloofness is something to aspire to. Lately, though, the ribbons are loosening. dancers are starting to make themselves heard.       Ballet has long been elite, ethereal, as fragile as under glass
It demystifies the ballet to give that behind the scenes report.
We let our dancers use twitter.
Not just shimmer under the arc lights.
Edomame beans. I read your every punctuation mark
recreating Eden
someone pounding
not that u had a good time but I renew
We set the smoke alarm off:
but the root of the fire burns, poorly sends out signals.
We kill the thing we love again & again.




Augustine Beadle
Born in Bermuda                    Miss Augustine Beadle
Nighttime was her time to feel good.
By day she banked:
                                    rubber-stamped hundreds of checks.
Once, when a borderline schizophrenic young woman tried to forge a check from me
I queried and queried.
As I queried that Welshwoman who sold me the shirt on approval so not quite sold.
Neither young nor old
                        she answered “Is the cloth strong? How many squares per inch?”
By hold it in both stout hands and demonstrating stretching it.
Nothing broke. Neither of us spoke.
            In the child asylum, I learned to zip up my lips. I acquired two stepsisters:
I forgot the stairs
& Ms. Beadle,                         unaware, nearly stamped the forged check but saw the number to the left scrawled at an angle.     She phoned me:
uncaring what people would say, the borderline woman
went on a shopping spree: she bought a golden heart shaped lock & some French perfume on me.
In the mood for a heart-to-heart, I phoned Lucinda:
“Lucinda Grace, now tell the truth, you must: did you change my check.”
I listened to silence peel like church bells. Stolen church bells.
“Yes,” she piped out in a high voice.”
My own voice box in disrepair, I answered “Good. I am so proud of you.
Now you must go in & see Miss Beadle.”
Lucinda did, this girl who bore a child unaware the next year, in a group home, still smiling.
But she didn’t put a wax product in the oven.

She taught me the lesson: if you aren’t standing on the rim, you’re taking up too much room.



Old Chatterbox
ancient love,
bed sitting rooms available
Call to arrange a tour of our heritage residence
Glenshiel. It’s not the building that’s special: It’s the people in it.
Glenshiel non-profit society.
Yesterday, when the finch got caught in my wheelchair spokes I felt a thrill of fear.
That was me, the twelve-year-old child trapped there out in the icy ocean air.
Slashes of love                        Fire-genes.
you can’t smother the power of prophecy:

Glazebrooks:   you moved the old glaze brooks
ancient love
but by the powers of earth & sea
Palm Sunday.             Passion Sunday.
Glacial songs from Iceland.
Going back and forth in metal boxes on rubber wheels: City busses:
Feel the balloon shaped sheep in the picture on the wall:
shove the altar                        take the free

Ancient love, you most move me.



Honey in my hands,  I looked at the log cabin, which could be mine.
“Christina’s World” is the land I live in. Just open up the core.
Having lost the Bible Names Game at age seventeen, I let mother down, mother
who taxi-cabbed all the way up to Columbia University. The results were lame.
In so deep with you, Sweet Pea, like the stain in the wallpaper roses
the triangle in the iron burn. Bluesy stuff, our first years
changed honey in my hands
we shadowed each other                    we shaded all in the room when we showed together
a thing I learned decades after. the sometimes sideshow world that envelopes
Family income cut off: one laptop per child announced in Romania.
If my illness mimics madness, you think I’m scared? Nobody gets to see me cry
said mother in the hospital room when her seventy-five year old mother came after surgery.
Sister & I was one leggy girl long ago & one Egyptian profile, dark bangs: we climbed the bathroom forest of porcelain.
“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” said that austere elderly lady, holding the liquor bag from the bottom: it contained Beefeater’s gin and Usher’s scotch whiskey.
Sweet Pea, over sixty, leaves her undergarments out on a chair. Look at me, the white cloth says.
            Workmen do. Or look away.
The honey on my hands

is thinned to beggar’s rind                 in bleak wind visible scarily.



Clear Map & Deer fall
I left behind the squall
beyond the power, the ministerial reprieve, the South France mistral
the neighborhood rose                       that proud porter up
& kicked brass.
My fiancé from half a century ago                phone the other night
All I could do was whisper “Terrible, terrible,” repeating the word till we both rang off.
Cementing the time of terror.                       The fright of the first man I ever held
left behind
the clear map of young woman
dusted over                 dust with a film of pearl:
the bliss & the dreadful          boredom          a weekend in Boston
touring Harvard
the unfaded but potential
a clear map & outline

of what would have been our downfall.



Raptor Asylum
ages pass me like one scene on a carousel I reach out to touch each time.
One wheelchair pedal in my lap,
getting ready to celebrate both our mothers’ death anniversary,
(metal elbowed like a wishbone)
I try one-wing flight I try taking leather hood off
going tethered, jessed I try
everything but fly away.
Thing slide & slip                   and then a general griev-
ving goes up as the heavens yawn
& things mourn:
& then the fall one cannot save oneself one
as objects adumbrate rooms
feelings shadow occasions
the glass memory reflects and twins
One the raptor, though blinkered, could fly:
though hooded could partially see
then came the darkest age of all—
still young                  the sky was so tall
most rapturous flight could not scrape its pale
grey:                not supple,
the hallway clocked ticked on & on: brass behind glass, beyond all time:
then Bight’s disease
mirrors giving up reflections
the number One for Enduring:

Next, came oblivion.



Childhood sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is sweeping across Europe a storm.
Entering in like the bare, the cold fronts legion.
Raised in relief the letters. Even in extreme when there are mini blowouts of the brain
in Huckleberry fire
the news catching                  the cruelty returns:
nailed in like studs to a coffin. The rabbis were unbending about punctuality.
On Sabbath of the world
Lessons in less. The sparseness of stardom. Going underground in Paris
the Sabbath is a bride greeted by an impatient bridal party.
Flash back to thirty; living alone in the dessert
my pack of cigarettes for the weekend, my veil-
ed pan. A rush of magical thinking used to make miracles: magical realism.
The rainbow that came later glows. The rabbis who mixed their prescriptions. Called twilight before Sabbath
the rainbow assured us God wouldn’t destroy the world again.
The only counter to abuse is innocence. Purity of mind, does it exist?
My heart pounds anxiously at the approach of religious ritual.
I know no lights on the space where the candles will be burning
last golden moments. The modern rabbi woos apostates back into the fold.
I am too old:
Close the headlines. Cover my mouth with my hands

as we do when astonishing news numbs.



We Always kill the thing we love
circles of
translators touching each other’s pulse
the spread of cancer   the crab that has its claws in
from fingertips to jaw  line
Come home: fridge’s pocket shelves taped with green duct tape                 swinging in & out ruin
we always maim the one
I was on the telephone to Moscow   when the call from Turin to come in
flickered like an ambulance on the rim of disaster
broking ruin
“This is Moscow. we’d had peace since the Iron Curtain came down. People settle into routines, think everything ok
Horrific cell phone explosions go off
Russia’s not the easiest place to live: poor infrastructure, an expensive city.
The need to keep in closest counsel the one we love
whom we always kill
what to do about power fail-
ure, life in the poorhouse, beating. Organizing one’s digital life, while a great disconnect wrecks roses, darker than before. What to feel, wristwatch at wrist moments behind the real
time: the reel-to-feel film the road-kill of the unutterable: what to register

faltering toward the nullification of it all.



This constant buzzing, humming in the wings
India Ink & lens is understudy to our bright selves: that win.
Teaser text, contextual, sub vocalizing one goes along: wanting to study under a master, wanting to be one’s own name on the marquee.
Update, Monday: Liza has gone round the bend
is scolding you for not fetching my birthday gift when hers is a village life &so is mine:
but my protractor has a longer arm
            Her tiny radius
has tenderness, text, illumination
like an armadillo’s
Come forward from the wings:                     unseen             sidekicks:
                        circling the fountain as concentric rounds of folk
in degrees of silence & children:
sparseness & spilling
over human time. Geometric understanding:
Dark Salt. Bright stone.
            Canyon light. Against the sky, the star’s name
but in the wings
Velvet ropes of yearning:
Tent Cloth & field Dutch-doors upper half swung open to the planets:
lower cutting earth.
                                    Who can understudy me?
Close to touchdown, descending, circling the dais
the green eye.




Razel & her button collection
sat up in bed, boxes spread on her lap after her one leg was amputated
why is Tuesday the most hated day of the week?
A stretcher-bearer at the door in the sun?
Thirty years ago parting with possession was not difficult.
Hope light                  shadowed branches.
After seeing patients all afternoon, driving back along Haze River
swans reflected, metallic, in late winter sun
Back home                  I delve into my past with little silver shovels:
the great Russian dancer I took rehab with in nineteen fifty-one.
Notice what muscles are laid out
a birdcage for a spine.
Winnow & win
Irma worked the war & polio wards
when I came to know her
there was no answer.
Spastic. Speechless. Heat
If they loved one another
Willard Parker. War. Dr Deaver. The arch dragon
the pain of the button collection on Razel’s lap
the amputated leg
the leap from the roof that Tuesday
healed tri-lingual, influenced much by the Dutch, brusht: Yield, flash card
boyed globe, maiden headed, girled:

the most hated day in the world.



A little night-music with Fay
An incision in an operating theatre down the hall
love, the mother of us all: the armoire in the hall mirrors fox & quail:
Blown glass holds it in Edwardian script, or is it Georgian? The two mix & marry.
The vinyl keeps turning & turning as needle presses in.
The city is wax combs. The kiss
I’m afraid of off ramps, a new love
the lappet of hair in the locket
but a note from the manageress of the tearoom comes “If you find your glasses, please notify us. We’ve not yet found ones with wire frame but will keep searching.
Love slashes burning on the abdomen of the woman
jetting, reading, smoking who
flies back & forth to Berlin.
WE play to lose, we play to win:
Razel, & Fay & Augustine Beasley
fly, each holding to her side, her alibi
on onionskin so frail a pebble can weigh it down, a grain of sand:
yet the least breeze, unanchored in hand, it can lift like petticoats

scripted, illuminating, lofted, stoked, blown in forever & aye.



On Crow   child road,
remembering her seventy-five year old sweetheart
now answering the phone with dry throat like an old woman
now listening to two radio stations at once                        
                                    one blurred in the bedroom, one interrupted by static in the kitchen
like an old woman
but she was not an old woman.
                        Only one ear bud in,
chill distance in marriage afflicted her         
Thread thin.
            Stay thin
                                    shadow tagging
dazzlingly charismatic
Rebel in big bad city wearing exuberant jeans & Aididas
Presentation is not presence:
exacting & exciting language.
Satin color                  ballet flats:
My dream espresso-machine went up in flames

Dutch geomoetrist, we struggle to build our log cabin, Patience & Sarah,
tongue in groove
red hewn light igniting it
and a front porch. You cry by speaking in a low voice.

I look forward to laying out suffering in a new light: oak bed
quilt patches
a window over the Dutch door latches
to pour in jam bright stars.
To ripple over the old, the ancient scars
put out like man o war

after the war is over. I need amnesty, Lover.



We’re skating on thin ice, it’s Friday night
no mini blowout of the brain
we have to get this done, that done, the red umbrella opened
the yellow one closed. down
me with my Apple, you your P.C. typing away: the soul of wit is brevity
Is everything we write looking in the mirror
a plea for mercy
nursing a bit of a broken heart                      spring can really hang you
so keep pumped
those with whom you hang loose and glide easy don’t come every day.
O lost
the ice is taking the engravings of our names          our country
mine is the deep dark one down under
yours is high above:
the wind is a pulley
the wind pulls up skirts revealing knees.
But you never wear skirts
tweed lady.
in bomber jacket,  and hoodie
I’ve already stood half an hour in the doorway:
If you had higher self-respect, you’d come up from behind & circle me:
but haven’t you felt good since last July?
Mining grief is opposed to being deaf & mute:
at ten, we gave each other the Kilroy. Now we push resentment down the chute, but somebody riffles thru it at the other end. You were bought a home by my family. Yours gave us a precious toy:
but I held it to my heart against destroy.
Today you forgot a meeting             I dropped a greeting:
Now we have no time to waste, time is taking us
I bend over an urgent violet face      in dream: trace lace
This is no elder moment                    it was mine from the first day:
You shrug off the latest accomplishment, I turn back the covers

I seek amnesty, lover.



Lemon slices in Tea
Only you would put slices of lemon in my morning tea
cup. Isn’t that why we married?
Must I finish this on my knees, by moonlight in a rocking boat?
Any pain but this pain.
The thing itself          in a pile of sawdust, bend down, Mama see where the sneak was hiding
now ca I go and play?
Not now but next time you show me you slow me down
it glistened I walked over it a hundred times the silver piece

from borrowing. Lending, you lose a friend. Keep your sliver of silver by your heart-rib then.





Part 2: Death of a Checkout Clerk

Lou Gehrig’s Disease





"the onward consequence," oil painting, by Duncan Regehr




In this little Britain, Bulbar ALS took you in a slam,
in a matter of few months you shrank from being six foot
to six feet under: In the fireplace a stump,  roots & all is burning.
Vests warmed your swimmer’s Mae West breasts, folk flooding to express,
ringing of till like ticking ancient piping in winter. 
                        Vegas was your savior, winning grace & cash in winter. You did the strip (it rose erect, glowing neon in your mind):
one hand palming coin the other bagging perishables, shoving into riff raff from the floor. “Which type lottery, ma’am? Cigarettes “I smoke’em too, what’s your brand? Broad shouldered, flirting with women.
                        Lived with Mum but a woman’s woman. (Sweet Pea & I both twigged to you.
The heart is a story.
For a few short months you felt yourself dissolving like something burning: gasp turned to water. You went to turn a doorknob, it became butter.
Now pipes knock, cold spring
 Good Friday is always bad:. December in rain city, but it’s spring.. They say when God leaves thru a door she enters by a window.
I knew death was a liar but not bad as all this: not telling double lies.
Shirl, you were some girl.  You smoked Viceroy, a pack on the side of your walker clearly. You hit a home run scraping all four bases dragging them behind you.
                        Staring at an ironing board               a sink darkened around the drain. Domestic swept the plain that grand bed you slept in,  sumptuous sweetheart: honey. Toward the end, total attrition.

Boxing gloves on shelf, all sky is wet & wounded with last shine.




No one saw the handholds nailed to walls by your bed at the end: no amazing save now could break the deal. The spike was driven.



Earth Burns with memory
reach for a petal          get a scorch mark
magnolias small cigarette burns like the ones on the white piano keys.
The blacks always look more or less ok.
Did you take a grocery cart piled with Players cigarettes to heaven?
Druggists could do nothing.
It is 1941. I am two years old. Convex glass reflects my face like a fish or balloon.
Stab push pins into kitchen map for war ships new positions.
I am back in a schoolroom                 holding a #2 yellow pencil whose point is sharpening scarring and staining paper with poems. I am seven.
It is April Fools. War grinds on like a meat mincer.
If the color of eyes could be taken to paint an ocean
mother, n front of her easel, would have dipped a brush in my eyes.
In stead, she crushed chamois cloth in a ball like butter:
down the hall was one sick kid. In mothers mouth the metallic taste of anger.
In the book of life only a blurred letter: ptarmigan & being shot:
coffee is sweet            liquor is sweeter:

Earth burns. Incinerating viruses the illness gets even into fire. Earth is sick to the core & It won’t get any better.



Suffering was her new garb
wide shoulders            when the phone rang now it made her shudder.
Lights coming on were a noise, gave her the jitters.
The jimjams were permanently hers his calm woman with a voice like furs.
Some sidekicks saw her months after diagnosis on the Avenue:
was she wearing red or gray?
            From far away it was a shadow, a ghost cashier.
Death brought up the rear
Reds, oranges, all the Mediterranean colors removed from the shelf above her bed
like mascara, eye shadow, rouge, painter’s soils.
Using a walker                       did folk know how to greet her?
            They could write pity in their diaries:
but ink ran on cheap papers   The elation ringing up sales
enormous dexterity turning & piling Joiner’s brand jams:
getting people in wheelchairs to have their groceries put in the back by the shopper behind.
Her new rebozo had embroidery, crimped where her old had huge black & red squares: a mackinaw for a truck stop gal at all night diners.
She wore it as she must           over a shrunken body.
            Arnold beau sent her Bloomex flowers: dust swam in late light:
her hoodie was so loose it was no longer hers. Now could she shun
The last sale violently run in. Invoice put down face.

The extra cost of chasing the sun.



Still stunned by your being gone
I find Glasgow Bartender’s
where is the clark’s who gladdened the mob            down under:
Like a blindfolded child, I revolve looking for traces in ether, the racy pear tree
racking my brains. Boxy object contains a stash of cash for Las Vegas.                 You can pride yourself on giving us grief.
Thief! Jazzy Juniper, mattress hay is mown grown raggedy.
Before me on a dark Easter day on the desk lie ink colored pieces of financial pie: Moody weather. It rains over the screen.
                        I put on the ring from a late husband. You wore a woman’s
ring.Above your obit, “glasses for $38”
 “Infant shoes, unworn.”
I would freshen my lipstick before meeting my girl at the bus stop each evening.
Before that I sat in the glass box lobby on Cook
her bus came late, her hands were worn from industrial cycles wash, bleached by Clorox from home making for old incontinent women from Britain:
My eyes those days were highlighted by knocking back gin.
I’d stroll Memory Lane. Once, mother went missing. Father found her rapt before
the silver screen. She wanted to be an actress. Our checkout clerk was bigger than life. Mother petite, sat, huddled at the movies                        in a milk haze,
I swing, at seventy, between poles of pain in the hammock, Breathing.
Breathless       Mozart’s Requiem plays beyond the French door to eternity.

Good Friday has always been a sad time. I lay out a brash polo with a tiger with razzmatazz, pure pizzazz, Shirl, in your name.



Old Extra Virgin
obtained by cold extraction
We weave & quarrel, keeping one eye on the second hand for the bout done. We yearn for something to get us on up & out of the pews dancing. Hold Mercy.
Hug time. Having lost weight                      your features are beginning to come up again sculpted, fine.
After surgery in a third-rate hospital the great cellist died. I remind
myself you said “Switching countries is hell.”
Didn’t you know I’d wake up one day and cry?
Well, these last few days have brought traction pain. much pain
The house finch tangled in the spokes of a wheelchair bore my name..
Since our brash checkout cashier died           there is an air of disintegration, blowing graphite getting into things, dusting them a shade less bright, filming them:
marble dust around coating us like churchyard angels
Every morning at five a.m. she got in her bronco buster & came over the mountain treacherous with black ice. It was not the velocity at which she drove but the angle       
                        she entered the city.
I must remember to water the bridal ivy
                        No bride who died. I want to turn off birdsong                   like a dripping tap or a poisonous gas jet:
the rose is left too long out of water:           rusting on the zinc sink, like an ancient copper,

                        a round, lace-like, ruinous stain like Mrs Wolf’s late daughter.



Sugarbush, have mercy on me
you are not glass & light
not harbored darked over:
I do not compare Jacqueline du Pre’s sorrow with my own cover
for grief:
she was the thing itself.
the glass & light
the thing itself
The majority of the darkened homes and businesses occurred on the southern part of Vancouver Island.
                        The wind snapped bolts on the ferries.
While the PBX operator was plugging in lines she was really in Florence
seeing it light up
have mercy on her.
When she rises to feel her cat Gigliolo from a bowl            in truth, she feeds her soul.
If she could know there is a replica of Florence in heaven, she would have a stronger handhold on death.
this little island chock full of colorful characters
you go out to shoot in a high heat haze.                   Against fish fraud,
build a relationship with the person who sells you fish.
boats darkening over
a feeling for people on the lower end of the game
Over du Pres, I bang my heart up against a wall as though it were my head.
If you aren’t exuberant when young what are you going to pare off as the years go by?
I creep into the bedroom to listen to the trailer alone
head bent like in church                     yearning to play the cello piece or

                        One wants to write a poem that changes the world.



Let me forget
                        the night you came for me:
Mother riffling thru tissue paper round hats:
the broken bunting of her first baby:
                                                            the boy
her climbing high on steep ladders winter nights again
to touch the ecstasy.
sister, an old child, mother subduing the  discovery of genius in the family:
both of us still tawny.
Talents swirl: form mixtures, admixtures in a home like oil
I take on others’ illnesses, within me, beckoning welcoming host
motioning, a priest
Did polio as destiny lie in me early?
                        the practice with braces, crutches, a skinny child
in a long hallway: a girl climbing backwards a steep stairway
at the music academy.
Did the child cellist attempt to saw the cello in half like a tree?
To possess it like a lover?
                        whenever the clock reads later                      I am in ecstasy:
Scattered like fairy dust
sexual energy was everywhere in our home:
                        the stronger for being denied:
sable-haired                sable-eyed:
I can’t remember writing my first poems but it must have been in the children’s ward
hospital upstate under sky so slate you could write on them: everything furred.
Never playing God but using every muscle I had
left                  over-the-top in my chalk gown
everywhere there: the energy vibrating
denied or fulfilled
                        electric, magnetic getting the deep feeling.

                        The night you took me: Have mercy, or die.