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Audio Poems

All poems Copyright (c) 2007 by Katie Daley

This version of Brigid Mulrooney at 15 appears on the CD
"Live from the Beachland Ballroom". You can also hear this monologue on the CD "Full Blast Alive: Voices from the Ruby Side".

Caravan was recorded live by George Bilgere at the Shaker Heights Public Library and features Aaron Hoke on guitar and voice. The song that appears in the poem, "Caravan," is by Van Morrison.

Chester Avenue appears on the CD
"Full Blast Alive: Voices from the Ruby Side". Music on Chester Avenue by Walter Strauss and Rich DePaulo.

Memphis recorded live by Tracey Smith at the
Kalamazoo Slam, Kraftbrau Brewery, Kalamazoo, Michigan.



Moving In, Provence
A Break in the Weather
Life, Death and a Piano Tuner
Shoplifting in Provincetown, 1974
Katerina's Cure for Jealousy
The Forty-fifth Accordion

Moving In, Provence

We found six scorpions asleep on the wall upstairs,
straggled like lobsters along the cracks in the plaster.
It would have been easy enough to kill them,
so I took off my sandal and we stood there, poised.

But cicadas clicked and whirred
in the gone heat beyond the sill,
the sun leaned back and tenderly forgot us
out there in the melon droop of sky and grapevines
humped across land
that came right up to the cool rim of stone
we hoped to live in.

The scorpions waited, as still and speechless as anyone
we knew or could remember, and in that light
killing was impossible. When night moved in
we pulled the bed away from the wall and lay down,
listened to the fig tree in the yard drop its figs
like someone circling the house, someone
contemplating us, sheet balled in our fists,
our Swiss army knives
drying on a towel by the sink downstairs.

No one there. We kicked the blankets and talked
about the apricots we'd pick tomorrow
for 35 francs an hour, up in the orchard behind the house,
their roundness already cooling our palms.

The moon was down and so the world grew toward us,
trilled the stone, while its grapes, still hard as knots,
rang against leaf veins and wire
whenever a breeze heaved up the valley
or stooped through the open window,
bringing to us no dark purple breath, no bruise of wine,
only the broken aroma of plowed earth and the coo
of a French farm dog down the road
who had dreamed of strangers
all the way from there.

Copyright (c) 2005 Katie Daley

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The cherry trees in Monsieur Coupon's orchards
are heavy with child
and we are delivering them to his buckets
heavy with us--fruit pickers from Morocco, America, France and Spain
breaking water and climbing pillars of our own salt
up from South of France soil
into cherry leaves
Van Gogh sunswirls
sour pangs of labor and earth twirls of toil

On the first day out
the granddaddy from Spain calls me down
his voice heat-cracked and stained red-brown
from hauling his days across the long lonesome plain
of working for the man

He shows me I've bruised chickadee cherries
by dropping them like gravel into bucket
Ne sont pas pierres, he says
These are not stones, he says
then parts cherry leaves like lover hair
caresses before plucking
puckers his lips and lays them longingly down
Otherwise, he smiles,
Le patron ne sera pas content
The boss man will not be happy

Meanwhile his sons and daughters
have set free an entire tree from its responsibilities
made it a child again
The Moroccans too--generations of francs and daydreams
and buckets ahead of Suzy and me
Le patron ne sera pas content
It's as annoying as the walls of paradise
and the story of my life

But when we stop to roll tobacco smoke
and broken French across our tongues
Rachid tells us this is bad but better than
picking grapes in Bavaria
and Luc and Didier the French boys
ask if we know Stevie Wonder and if we love him
and when Mohammed
begs off our cherry sandwiches
he flashes a smile directly
into my dark red emptiness

So in the mid-afternoon swing of it
the plink-plunk groove of it
when desire goes thumping with fruit into bucket
and nobody wording but a bird or two
a Moroccan voice bellows out
sing-song German from top of tree:
Arbeit ist Scheise! Work is shit!
everybody knows it's Rachid gonging from the belfry
rooster-cocking the proclamation

That this grind is just manure
out of which rises tent walls
supper after the sun goes down
the bite of global swear words cleansing our palates
beer and cigarettes and the promise
of all this being over someday

Our fingers in somebody's hair
no longer looking for the fruit

But all day long sun hangs in galaxy
world barely ticks
the round weight of something better than this
unravels in our hands
then grows heavy, then unravels
then ripens and bruises and drops away
and Arbeit ist Sheise!
and laughter is our bread and butter
and Le patron ne sera pas content
but he will never be content

So whatever contentedness is left in the world will be ours
So somebody loan me a dime, a minute, a language
so I can say it again:
Grandfathers, Stevie Wonder lovers,
burning muscles, beautiful limbs—
The bosses in this world refuse to be content
therefore All the contentedness is ours
Fruit in paradise, dream under ribs, kiss on lips—
Wake up, free your hands
take it in
pass it on

Copyright (c) 2005 Katie Daley

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A Break in the Weather

After you left
it rained for weeks
There was that war we started
that never really ended
leaders who grabbed their crotches
and called each other names

We were in trouble, it was true
but that had always been the case

And now the day
had crowbarred an opening through the downpour
and let itself in

Everything was visible here
even foolishness
the mountain stream clear as heartbreak
Though when I dove deep
I wasn't sure if it was a law of physics
or desire
that kept lifting me

In the distance
I knew there were explosions and betrayals
but all I could remember was the sun
warming the granite boulder I lay on

A dragonfly zagged out from my solar plexus
The stream bent time and carried it out of sight

I wanted everything in this world
including disaster
and loneliness
every loss was astounding
and I wanted to know each one
even paradise
by heart

Copyright (c) 2005 Katie Daley

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Life, Death and a Piano Tuner

Even though the moon is crooning and aching
above the city
and there're still a few crickets
seducing each other in the bank parking lot
this loneliness is not romantic
or heroic
But what do I know
I'm only lying on a bed nursing my bursitus
in an apartment building full of old people
I'm only fighting off the panicked groan
of the air conditioner across the way

Go ahead, be romantic
listen to the moon if you want
It'll tell you all about
how someday years from now
you're gonna crush your right hip
from tripping over a rug at supper
how you'll shrivel like a pea on the kitchen floor
moonlight glaring in your milky eyes
Who will groan louder –
you or the air conditioner?
You get my drift -- no one will hear you
Even if somebody loved you once
you just might starve to death
only a few steps away from a freezer overflowing
with instant gourmet meals
Or if you don't trip over the rug
your teeth will rot
fall out onto your plate
and leave you for another world

So you can see how my soul has plummeted
down a window well somewhere
my shoulders lopsided
like elastic in old underwear
from reaching out to break its fall
foot gimpy from pumping the brakes
all the way from birth to this moment
When what I really wanted
What I always wanted
was to scale striped desert cliffs
and walk among circus bears
live in Paris, speak French like a piano
fall in love with my piano tuner
fall in love with everything that came my way

Instead I end up wrapped in ace bandages
and trembling for my life in chainstore cafes
sipping peppermint tea from a paper cup
while couples pass and pass their hands
over each other's asses and heartbeats and hair

I can't stand the buzz in the air
the painted fingernails stroking
Somebody stop it
somebody please stop
the goddamned peak experiences
this moaning train of arrivals and disappearances
and controlled rot
nobody told me about

Except Etta James and Shakespeare
I should have listened closer to them

Should have bought an electric keyboard
and started a girl band
should have written some timeless hits
with one ear cocked to the black holes in heaven
should have had some kids
should really stop longing in equal parts
for immortality and something outlandish
that'll put an end to this world

Okay, so, I'll hang out with the orphans
of Bombay or Nairobi or L.A.
rub tiger balm into the spasms they get
from scaling dumpsters
and dodging bullets on the streets of Earth
But what do I know
Maybe they don't want what I want
Maybe I'm the only one who's terrified here

If you're terrified say Yeah
say Amen
say Here I am
trying to keep warm in the barrio
fighting off air conditioners and death

Aww, death

Aww, life
Tell me something good
Say you want something from me
and tell me one more time what it is
I'll meet you at the station
I'll throw off these ace bandages
take you in my arms and swing you around
I'll be there for you this time, baby
I swear I will

Copyright (c) 2005 Katie Daley

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Shoplifting in Provincetown, 1974

We came for the hippies, the pirates. I was uproarious
from leaping the Wellfleet dunes all morning
with my second cousin, way too mutinous and free
for the trinkets on Commercial Street.
But it was pissing with rain and the bars were shut,
so we slinked in and out of the bourgeois tourist shops

till I thought, Abbie Hoffman says Steal This Book, well
why not this spangled red shirt, too? Why not anything
when there are thousands more of them puffed out
and bragging at me from the racks of America?

The Indian guy who owned the shop beamed and nodded
as we slipped into the dressing room. For all I knew,
his own emaciated cousins back in India
were mangling their fingers sixteen hours a day
in some murky factory, slicing tiny mirrors in the dark
and embroidering them onto shirts like these.
My working class cousin
hadn't even heard of Abbie Hoffman or slave labor,
so I thought, the hell with all of them,
I'm seventeen years old
and I'm gonna change this fucked up world
and even though I look too chubby in it,
I'm gonna start by stealing this shirt.

On the way out, when I told the guy
we couldn't afford his prices,
a great, puzzled sorrow broke across his face
and itched the gauzy merchandise I'd stuffed
into the crotch of my jeans. Thirty years later
I'm still dazzled, dumbfounded
by his apologetic eyes, the dark and musty bar
we got drunk in afterwards, how jealous I was
of my cousin's good looks, all the pirates in the place
scudding right past my red hot spangles
in pursuit of her, who looked terrific in everything
and had stolen nothing.

Copyright (c) 2005 Katie Daley

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Katerina's Cure for Jealousy

Before I joined the circus,
I was a very jealous woman,
so jealous I carried a knife
and cut myself out of my life
every time a beautiful woman
slipped through the cracks
and my lover's eyes zigzagged after her.
She's the one, I hissed to myself
again and again, she's the one
he will leave me for. I wore a red dress so tight
I couldn't walk or talk. There was a fist
in my heart, an orange scarf gagging my screams.
I had tied it there myself.

Every night, when he stroked my glimmering hunger,
I couldn't feel it unless I pretended I was her,
the other woman, and my lover was
kissing and undressing her,
the secret so hot it spilled over
and burned my hands. When it was finished,
a train whistle penetrated the valley
while I lay unbruised and far away
in a deserted city. No laundry
hung in the square, no balls bounced,
no voices called, no lightning struck.
I died no little deaths.

But one day I woke up, put on
a ballerina tutu, and pedaled my bicyclette away
to join the circus. I became a trapezist,
a dancer in the circus sky. I made my life
exquisite, full of risks, peanuts,
muscles and drum rolls.
I have a thousand hearts now

they fly in and out between my ribs
like mourning doves in the rafters.
I am no longer trapped
in the magma of my own life
where even to lift an eyelid to look at the sky
is a wrestling match with gravity
which I too often lose.

Now, at night, I travel inside the songs
heaved at the moon
by dogs and trumpets,
I twist myself to the fuse
of the willow tree firework
that bursts in the dark and weeps
a little bit longer than the rest.

I climb and fall through all of it—
the aurora borealis spotlights,
the stench of jungle piss,
the crack of the whip.

Believe me, when you have lived like this,
you can't imagine there is anyone
more dangerous or beautiful or free
than you. You live so close to the real death
that to be left for another woman
is only another chance to crackle open
and come closer to the peanut wind,
the gasp of the crowd, this wild, whirling world.
Your fist springs from your heart and uncurls,
longing to blister with the extravagant burn
of the stars. You are dangerous
and beautiful and free.

Copyright (c) 2005 Katie Daley

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The Forty-fifth Accordion

After the ceremony, the bottom of the bride's veil
cried out and pleaded with the well-wishers,
caught in the crack of the limousine window.

On the patio, petals from the bridal bouquet
lay scattered across the flagstones
like the frosting on your shoes, a bite of cake
that fell from you and brought dogs
wagging from the courtyard to lick it off.
Smiling to yourself, you cut them each a piece.
There was no one at your side, no one to admonish you.

The groom's father pushed and pulled
on his accordion, waded into the river
until the reeds gurgled and choked.
He laughed, did a jig, but was up to his bowtie,
and nobody could see that he was dancing.

His wife called him a fool, called him back, and he came,
river spilling from his sleeves like the handfuls of rice
you'd drizzled onto the church steps
as the others laughed and flung their blessings.

What made him head so heartily
for the river? And the woman, already
used to his antics, the forty-fifth accordion
to go down. She undid his cummerbund
to let it dry in the sun. Imagine him
not called a fool, not called back.

It was all of that, of course--the wrinkles in the current,
the starched collar at his throat, the drink,
the songs he couldn't remember.
Other lives he might have lived
reddening his skin and bobbing out to sea.

Couldn't you live this one for him?

Copyright (c) 2005 Katie Daley

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