Loss And Affirmation: The Poems Of Julia Morris Paul

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.

Implosion. Explosion.

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.

The Gift

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

Turkish prisons,

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.

Spanish Lessons

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.

Speak 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.

Cutting Edge

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.

Gratitude

For the bee.

For the wings

that lift its impossible weight.

For the quick and quiver of silver wings.

For silver

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.

For distance

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.

For 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.

Copyright © 2017, CT Now