Julia Morris Paul, an elder law attorney in Manchester, was named that city's first poet laureate in 2014. She is a founding member of the Connecticut Coalition of Poets Laureate and serves on the boards of several poetry organizations. In addition to having her works published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, several of her poems have been performed in stage productions. Her first book, "Shook," was published by Grayson Books. Poet Ted Deppe says about the book: "Julia Paul is a poet of fierce compassion and lyric grace."
-- CT Poet Laureate Rennie McQuilkin
Our Lady of Guadalupe Chats at Target
To be honest, I never know
where I'm going to land up when I appear
on Earth, nor in what embodiment.
When I show myself, I usually scare the bejesus
out of whoever's around. That poor girl at Lourdes,
those children at Fatima…
Funny it's always the humble, the poor
who believe when I say I am the Virgin Mary,
Mother of Christ. It's the haughty folks, bishops,
mayors, the powers that be who need the miracle
before they're convinced.
I had to laugh when the Bishop of Mexico City
wet his drawers when Juan Diego
opened his ragged cloak
and my image was imprinted there in blazing color.
That was a good one.
The Bishop couldn't build my shrine fast enough.
Those were the days, when parlor-trick miracles
was all it took to heal hearts and change a nation.
Now here I am, the brown-skinned version
of the Virgin, shopping for a coffee maker at Target,
trying to blend in. Before I make myself known,
I have to scope things out, you see.
The world has gotten so complicated.
I hadn't planned to return so soon but I heard
the prayers about a wall along the border.
My brown Earth-children are scared.
You wouldn't believe all the candles lit, novenas said,
pleas for me to intercede. So here I am,
in aisle nine, Target, USA.
Hear me: the Rio Grande rages in the blood
of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I stand with the faithful
whose petitions I've heard. I'm working on a miracle.
For now, I must stay undercover. I have no ID.
I'm brown. I've crossed the border.
Christmas at the Citgo Station
A few drags off the cigarette.
Like an artist daubing paint on canvas,
he taps it against brick
to extinguish it, places it on the ground
to be retrieved after he uses
the bathroom at the Citgo.
A twin cam Grand Am,
Cadillac with tinted windows,
and a parade of SUV's are gassing up at the pumps.
Passengers run into the store
and back out with coffees, cokes and chips
for kids in backseats stuffed with presents
and Shih Tzu's and grandmothers.
He exits. They brush past him
like they do the display
of shrink-wrapped logs by the door.
Flag pole thin beneath loose layers
of clothes, he bends over for the half cig,
cradles it in the palm of his hand.
He savors the moment, the way
you or I might that small gift
we've ached for and finally,
unbelievably, it's in our trembling hands.
Our hearts lift but we can't bear
to open it because, like him,
we know how emptiness
rushes in to fill the space
desire once occupied.
Moon on Water in Uncertain Times
Because only 59% of the moon's surface
is visible from Earth,
because we don't see the dirt
in the water until it rings the tub
or the dust until we move
the sofa from the wall,
it's possible to pretend that
from the heavens we don't appear
as dirt and dust or shadow
even before the weeping
in the graveyard begins.
It's possible to sit under the stars
and pretend they're beautiful
and that their beauty is not
derived from the violence of the cosmos,
that the cosmos is not at war with itself.
We see the stars thousands of years after they're dead.
The sky's a cemetery of ghosts,
yet we lift our eyes to that light.
Like the devoted who light candles in the cathedral,
we purchase hope.
Like the child whose mother slays monsters
with lamp light, we crave magic and miracles.
Water mirrors sky's tiny flames.
Moonlight floats on dual surfaces.
Let us be blind this night
to the dark side of the moon,
pocked with our boot prints.
Determined not to check luggage,
he rolls t-shirts and jeans
into little sausages,
stuffs socks into corners
of the two backpacks that lean
like exhausted Buddhas
against the couch. The shoes
he's wearing will be enough, he says.
I hold my mother-tongue back
from giving advice to my youngest
as he prepares
for a trip overseas. I won't be there
to remind him: don't lose
your passport, know how
to get to the American Embassy
in an emergency, stay out of
drink bottled water, don't get lost,
so I merely point out the lack of room
in his backpacks
to bring me back a present.
Although it didn't fit
into those backpacks
and is very fragile and he
had to carry it everywhere
and hold it on his lap
and twice catch it
before it fell and he can't
guarantee that it's still
in one piece, he arrives
home with the gift he bought
in Sultanahmet Square
days before a suicide bomber
blew himself and ten tourists up.
Nabil was young, too, I suppose,
with a mother who once stroked
his hand when he woke
from his nightmares.
Did she know when he packed
his bags that they bore
the weight of hatred?
Did she also kid with her son
to bring her back something
from his travels?
We worried about our young men.
She and I each uttered
silent prayers at their backs
when they left us.
When my son crossed the Square,
when he left the Blue Mosque
and headed for Hagia Sophia,
was Nabil there? I think he was.
I think he paced the Square,
picked the spot where he'd do it.
I think he watched tourists,
searched faces for something
to fuel his resolve. He'd go back
a few times, imagine his own oblivion,
before settling on the day.
My son removes the cocoon
of newspaper that swaddles my gift,
plugs in the Turkish lamp
dotted with beads and glass tiles.
Its light shatters into moons
and stars and coins of color,
a vision almost cruel in its beauty.
As brown as his chocolate-colored tie,
as brown as the girls' uniform
jumpers – Juan's face.
The wrists and hands
that extended beyond the cuffs
of his crisp white shirt,
brown as the covers of our catechisms.
First day of fifth grade,
Sr. Mary Margaret had us say
our names out loud
as she went around the classroom
where we were seated
boys on one side, girls on the other.
When it was the new boy's turn,
he said, Juan Ricardo Perez.
Sr. Mary Margaret said: English.
He was the best at baseball,
would shout words none of us
understood when he was angry.
When Sr. Mary Margaret reminded
him, English. Speak English,
he wouldn't. Not those words.
Not the words he taught us
at recess. Words that sounded
like music: hijo de perra, mierda,
chorra, beso mi culo, estupido.
Names we called the nuns
behind their backs would've been
a sin in English but the God
of our catechism
didn't speak the language
forbidden in our classroom.
Juan came from Cuba, he told us.
More words he taught us: Batista,
Castro, inmigraciόn, echo de menos
a mi familia – I miss my family.
Two jobs she makes me do: empty ashtrays
before the ashes and butts spill onto end tables,
coffee table, kitchen table; the other:
paste S&H Green Stamps into booklets.
Mother's Chrysler station wagon pulls into
the driveway, loaded with groceries. The boys
file out, return to the kitchen, arms wrapped
around brown bags filled with Cheerios,
Wonder Bread, iceberg lettuce.
Mom hands me a fistful of Green Stamps,
her reward for being a 1960's housewife
and mother of nine. If I'm not around, she stuffs
them in the junk drawer where batteries
and bakery box string, library cards, rubber
gaskets, and undeveloped rolls of Kodachrome
co-exist more peacefully than her children.
The Green Stamps booklets' gridded pages
hold 50 small stamps or 5 large; 24 pages,
1200 points to a book. Page after page, book
after book, month after month, year after year
until finally enough.
She pours through catalogs, wanders showrooms
filled with blenders, mixers, toasters, waffle irons,
lighted make-up mirrors, games, toys.
All the chrome and plastic wonders of the modern
world can be had in exchange for Green Stamps.
Christmas 1966, Mother reaches her goal.
Green Stamps presents for all nine of us.
Mine: electric scissors. Electric. Scissors.
Plug it in. Snapping jaws tear into paper, carpet,
fabric, everything in my shared bedroom.
As far as the cord allows, I reshape my world
without lifting a finger.
For the bee.
For the wings
that lift its impossible weight.
For the quick and quiver of silver wings.
For the silken shiny
sound of the word. For the lost ring
glinting in the sun. For the color of rain
and silvered rivers scribbled on distant hills.
from the heat of the stars.
A distance that creates the pinprick startle
of stars in the weight of the night, before the lens
of the mind's eye pulls back to the reflection in the glass.
come from sand
come from rock. For the mystery
of a fragile vessel, able to hold more
than its own weight, the mangoes at ease in this bowl.
For the mango.
For the yellow sun
of its belly and the sugar-drunk bee
that pulls us with it into this tremble of gold petals.
Poems copyright © 2017 by Julia Morris Paul
CT Poet Laureate Rennie McQuilkin selects work for CT Poets Corner by invitation.