Crazy for Living
Poems by Linda Sillitoe

S e c t i o n   III:   J o u r n e y s   B e t w e e n


Words for Cassandra
[37]

“This is the first and great commandment:
Thou shalt not be aware … .”
—Alice Miller

Specifically, leave the nectarines
on the tree, the picket gate closed,
the serpent undisturbed. Don’t move,
don’t cry out, keep it to yourself.

If you describe flung-open gates,
fruit flesh, or unapproved abandon,
we will turn like a chorus
leaving you, I warn, all alone!

Even if you dance yelling
before us, we will not hear
your voice become threadbare.
You are free then, to reach

a sorry end, grieving us.
No one can spare you that,
for the truth is our truth—
we will not be aware.


coming back
[38]

nothing here but the howl of a big dog
purple wildflowers random in the brush
the long triangles of pine and fir above
brown water gabbling nothing over rocks

on a stone in a meadow in the Rockies
I breathe as if for fourteen years
I’ve managed without air     I breathe in
zeroes,  the meadow blows unaware of me

nothing here needs or cares     all is taken in
by living and dying  each blade each petal
turned inward  outward  as if nothing matters
nothing is what I came for    nothing can

soak my pores as I sit here sighting
mountainous ships on the curved horizon
and see how far we go against what currents
only to reach old shores in unexpected ways


October Shoot
[39]

we stopped north of the reservation
to tape a roadside inferno, not ours.
afterward breakdowns pursued the van—
a pack of rattle-mouth skinwalkers.

running hard and late all day, we walked
one night, awake with stars flashing
crystal and garnet, a rainbow round the moon
above stone sentries, breathing dark.

outside a female hogan—a navel in field
and sky—as foreigners we awaited passage.
inside its weave, the medicine man talked us
from our world into his and staked us there

withholding unearned vision, saying come back.
oh, we left tracks everywhere, like leaf and lizard
on sandstone, our every wish indelible and known,
our cameras full, our plans and maps windlost.


Nightwalk
[40]

I walk toward mountains painted densely blue
on slate. a jet sheers the periwinkle
clouds drifting above the peaks.
I carry only a shard of cold rock
in my hand.

birds wheel lazily toward the pockets
in an evergreen’s limbs and I wish
for such a pocket at night.
above me, only a slim shard of rock shows
in the sky.

the brick chapel is dark
and the trees guarding its far lawn
whisper incantations—an unwatched grove.
a stream rattles through the ditch like a tap
someone forgot.

a nightwind, escaped from the canyon
above the boulevard, strokes back my hair
and I let it, walking without thought.
the crystal heats my hand like a phallus,
throbbing slightly.

I move it from palm to palm while I walk
turning my hands magical as dreams.
the moon heats the sky, a white ember now,
revealing only one side like a sliver
of unknown rock.


Magician
[41]

Unlike many people that I dream,
you stay who you are in life,
riding the edge but gently.

Except last night when we chatted
with a casual group on a carriage,
sightseeing in a lavender dawn:

Confidently you swirled an instrument
out over the carriage top—a windsock
or butterfly net, maybe of tanned hide.

Its whirling woke every bird and beast
in the park, now converted into jungle,
each throat crying forth a morning song.


Rooted
[42]

If rooted here, then what composes the mud
where my beginnings sink. I soak up nutrients
unconsciously as air, but swallow darkness too.
And particles from bone that carried my sisters

in fur, feather, skin; bits that whirled my brothers
out of sight. So much of a valley floor is grit
that hasn’t moved or wanted to move since stability
began; only stillness hallows finally into stone.

I watch birds organize the morning, zipping pine
to pine, and breezes caper before August’s sun can climb.
The apple trees dance, rattling leaves and bowing,
but their roots only creep farther, claiming home.

Can it be that if roots wander deep, tangling
through stone and silt, they will encounter light?—
tell me sun still blazes at the Earth’s wild heart.
Either way, let mud be only the other side of light.


Journey Poem I
[43]

Driving the truck over a slick skiff of snow,
you explained the negative spaces that storms miss.
Before long, towering red cliffs hinted secrets,
and mesas broke the horizon below a clear sky.

Then even the dry brush posed burnished by winter sun; any
skinwalkers or Navajo wolves
slept like Christmas lambs.

Our eyes drank the visible as we talked of things unseen;
tapes caught our words, except where silence spins
like your shadow moving just behind my vision.

What is more real—the live eagle we passed
or the eagles you described who mated in flight?
We still drive an unknown road at sunset,
drawn toward a stone eagle you’ve heard of
perched beside the cliffs I asked to see.

What is more real—the homeland or the journey,
exploring a strange land through the narrow passages
where harm does not come.


Journey Poem II
[44]

you said we might find something
on a windy bluff by the Green River.
there winter buff and mauve painted
the long curve of the opposite shore.
a dozen eagles congregated on an island,
swooping and returning, seeming preoccupied
as sparrows scavenging a city lawn.
there our words found currents in the air,
flew and returned, soothed and disturbed,
rising as we left the bluff and river,
the winter brush blown meek by eagle wings.

certain stretches of highway
seam the snowy mountains to the sky;
we topstitch them with the truck
that switches distance with time.
green signs name the snow-clogged rivers
muttering below us, and the sun
flashes wet mirrors onto the slope.
we absorb and ignore these signals
as we summon scenes from the past;
we focus our race there and our return,
laughing now into night’s gusting snow.

Later, recalling eagles, I see time stalk us,
and your truck driving away from me again.


Journey Poem III
[45]

This time the eagle came to me.
Not to us, drawn by the vortex
of our talk, nor to you, planning
the ceremony; but to me alone driving
just beyond the roadblock men had set
to control all traffic. Later recalling
how this time the eagle came to me,

it mattered more, driving home early,
emptyhanded beside aspen with new hats
lit by a high sun in a brindled blue sky.
Though women have forgotten how to plot
what men still fear, integrity demands
that I reject what rejects my woman’s core.
Yet this time the eagle came to me,

driving towards a ceremony behind a roadblock.
It rose from the fields as I approached,
paused before my windshield like a mirror, swept
to the other side, turning slowly as I turned.
This happened before—the vision and roadblock—
except that second look. As if delays need not end
the journey, this time the eagle came to me.


The Song
[46]

Probably you sang crossing the snowy mountains,
the heel of one hand beating
the steering wheel as your truck soared
the fog between here and home.

Now in the barn, you sing to your horses
as you pour out their oats. That song enters
my window now as I prepare dinner,
winding peace around me, a soft balancing light.


Journey Poem IV
[47]

“With any separation, there is pain.”
—Clifford Duncan, Ute healer

Only the clouds cast shadows in this land,
and so clouds come, soothing the stones, leaning
toward birds and rabbits crouched under the cedar.

I see that now. I understand how clouds may be
directed; have witnessed an old short woman
plead and wail for her people, raising a wind

that wraps the crowd in dust like a rough shawl.
Before her prayer ends, the wind is gone.
I’ve seen eagle feathers die and live again.

If    with new eyes, is seeing a birth or death?
for as every thing connects, the fissures race.
The rip is killing me as I am born.


Prophecy
[48]

One evening in Window Rock
you said strongly,
Someday the person you trust
most in this world, the one
who understands you best,
will turn on you, blaming,
saying, You did that.

Still young then, I thought
you couldn’t know for sure.
The new moon hung on the horizon,
steady and distant as a promise;
or was it shiny and sly
like the noise
of whetting a knife.


Dearly Oblivious
[49]

People of my dreams, your interest
remains mild when I tell why
we must care for your child
in a mess, or indicate the menace
no one else fears; or protest
the new edict that segregates
families by how Indian they appear.

You say, that’s interesting,
but this is how things are.

Why am I always herding orphans?
This baby inside makes my back ache.
Your doctor tells me to bend
backward and spiderwalk until
that child can be born.
When I say that’s ridiculous,
you remind me how things are.

When I can’t breathe, can’t find air,
your interest is mild. When I bleed
baby (too formed to lose now!)
no one else panics. How things are.
When I show how and why to hover,
you smile politely and keep
dreaming a landlocked world.

You all understand one another,
yet I spend myself trying.
Why don’t I write my babies
into the air before they die?


Crystal
[50]

I found sweet grass,
and black silk
for my crystal
and the pictures came
just as you said:

an opening became
an eagle
became a man,
a hand reaching
down for me.

I closed my eyes then,
drawing in air
like your words.
I looked back at a beast
stared it down

to a lizard that I knew
became a death head
and then a ledge
where I stood one violet night
stars and stones at every
fingertip. I said
here I am to that wind.

the ledge became
an eagle
became a beast
and eagle and ledge,
all one, in me.


Vehicle Dreams
[51]

i.

They were both traveling up
the twisting, colored canyon, so
he invited her to ride with him.
I’ll need my car at the top, she said.

He agreed, and she stood at road’s edge
to wave him by with a word, or joke,
or kiss. Maybe an afterthought.
Suddenly his truck sideswiped her,

roaring past. Recapturing her balance,
she realized he saw the road ahead, didn’t
see a bystander. How odd that his truck appeared
halved now, though geared for the summit.

ii. [52]

They drove around a long time
trying to locate the right place.
He’d park near a swarthy man
in a ticket booth and say, Ask him.

She knew this wasn’t the place,
but decided to get out anyway.
As she announced this, a shift
placed her in the driver’s seat.

I’m through fucking around with you,
he said. He’d tried to find the spot
and tried to convince her he had,
but she wouldn’t be satisfied.

That’s right, you are, she said,
as the dream’s atmosphere turned
crystalline, then hummed. Hearing
this, she got out of the car.


Communicado
[53]

i.

Either you’re not there,
or you are, but busy
and don’t return my call.

Yet your voice shouts
my name, waking me
to a thundering silence.

You hear what I’ve
been up to, but I’ve
been up to something else.

The telephone rings,
and it’s you. That fast
I wake to a dead line.

Finally we speak and don’t
speak; and I fall open
like a half-read book.

ii. [54]

Waking or entering sleep,
or walking into a night
thick with breezes and crickets,
I find you beside me.

I recall your exact words
at odd moments
and recall you hiding just
outside my childhood.

Tonight, a Sunday,
lightning flickers
along the horizon too far
for any thunder.

Across the mountains,
you held a peyote meeting
today, envisioning me again
where thunder lives.


Introductions
[55]

When you were small,
someone told you the stars
were little people twinkling.
You’ve known them all your life.

When I was small,
someone told me that
the little people twinkling
were fiery balls too vast to know.

Tonight where the sky is whole,
mesa to mesa, no clouds, no lights
but theirs, the little people pipe
their own melodies around the moon.


Rules for Living
[56]

Wake slowly.
Enter the shifting particles
of air, intent, and dreams
that self-sort like traffic.
Allow for their adjustment
as you merge and gain speed.

Gather your relatives:
sun through the windows,
water in the plants,
kibble to the furred,
flakes to fish and frogs,
as you drink sky and water.

Never drive a dead road.
Someone imagined the whorls
of freeway and it grew.
Children trudging the determined
sidewalks bring you a play
to improvise under semaphores.

All day, play the patterns,
be a chip in the kaleidoscope
that reforms moment by moment.
You shiver a change, you hold on;
you sing best in silence, yet
with others, you design a rose.