Ursula T. Gibson
Ursula T. Gibson's work has been published in California CQ, Arizona's
Sandcutters, recently in Signature (an anthology of the work of 20 poets by Poet
Project), in In the Company of Women, published by Poet Press, in three chapbooks, and elsewhere in the U.S.A., Canada, England,
Australia, and South Africa. She has been Poetry Editor for Poetic Voices, a monthly E-zine created
by Robin Travis, for the last five years.
The Blossoms of the Night-Blooming Cereus
In weeks, the pimple of green on the side of the stem
grows outward, bends as the blossom head expands,
encased in its brachts, swelling day by day,
'til the tip whitens, the growth attains its goal.
That evening, the blossom unfurls, pressing sepals down,
revealing slender petals of cream
and pistils like fairy's hair,
a bold stamen asserting its power in the middle of them.
In two short hours, the blossom reaches its fullest extent,
eight inches wide of loveliness, exquisite in the darkness
against the tall greenery, awaiting the moth to fertilize.
It blooms all night, this creamy creation,
but in dawn's first light,
the flower folds and fades,
the brachts close over it again.
In two short days, the flower that was
is necrotic, black, and falls.
Left behind is a nub that may become fruit.
It depends on the success of the insects.
I am not like the night-blooming cereus.
I cannot force my energy and love
into one magnificent display.
My blooming takes years, and
my fruiting takes decades,
and my life lasts many nights
in which no response to my being occurs.
I may need to wait for an inner light
or an outer force
before I can reach fruition,
but I will grow and will open my petals
of mind and heart
and will expose myself to possible rejection
or being overlooked,
because staying closed up, unblooming,
defeats the purpose of life,
would make me wither before I've lived,
like the night-blooming cereus.
From The Blossoms of the Night-Blooming Cereus, 2005
Ants in my parlor plants, trail away;
I don't want to kill you!
Moths in the reading lamp, flutter outside;
fly in the computer room, buzz elsewhere;
mosquito in the bedroom, hum another tune;
I don't want to kill you!
Cockroach in my kitchen? You --
Haven't got a prayer!
Bed with beeping machinery,
green lines and red lights,
plastic tubes and transparent bottles
dripping mysterious fluids;
sheltered light, grey quiet walls,
curtains around the bed like mis-hung mosquito netting;
nurses in soft shoes swish in and out
with ubiquitous thermometers,
bloodpressure cuffs, pulse counts.
Bed with frightened patient whose
eyes weakly open and follow
anyone who might explain and reassure,
hanging on, holding on by eye contact,
whispered words, grasping hands
too weak to hold for any length of time;
relatives in and out with
reassuring nods, tense smiles,
ubiquitous speedy recovery murmurs, and
flowers to chase life and death away.
Bed with mechanical ups and downs
like the sweeping hopes and fears
around the clock inexorably ticking,
as professionals say little or nothing,
and we wait for healing, wait for
restoration, wait even for hope,
without a Teddy Bear to snuggle
or cotton-stuffed Raggedy Ann to hug;
just secret tears with each other.
The beeping wears away our endurance.
We go home.
My little son and I lived among
a block of folks in south central Los Angeles.
Seven years of coming and going,
recipes and stories exchanged over the fence,
and walks around the block,
waving to the white-haired elderly
on their evening verandahs, with a word
or two on Sundays about the
goodness of the Lord.
My son played up and down the block,
cowboys and Indians, with his friends
(he was the Indian), rode his bike
in tandem with his friends. All of them
parked outside our door for milk and cookies,
and the bikes were safely left, day or night.
On Sundays in the nearby tiny park,
I sat on benches with the other mothers,
watching our busy children play
and trading information on how to get them
to eat this or that, to pick up toys,
to listen, and where to buy good clothes for cheap,
why the rents were going up, what to do about
the landlord who was getting personal.
I wrote letters for those who wanted to
reach back home but could not write.
We shared our money for hot dogs and
ice cream all around, like neighbors do;
just like neighbors do.
Oh, it wasn't all idyllic; there were
sometime interruptions of calm
by anger and shouting when a lover
got jealous or a woman ran from
knifethrust from her drunken man
to my strong screen door and safety inside,
weeping, to tell me misunderstanding,
that he was a "good man, but under the
weather, you know," while I, hugging her
and wiping tears away, bit my lips
at life's unremitting cruelty and fear,
made coffee, tea, or cocoa for both of us
to sip away our terror at love mislaid.
We shared those sorrows, seeking ways to heal.
When I was spent and frightened, I'd turn to
Jennie or Mildred or Marnesba or Sally Ann,
and they'd listen wisely and point out
my folly or my future, always true and fair.
We were all friends on my block; all friends.
The fire alarms and shrieking sirens,
black smoke from burning buildings were
the first I knew of Watts, five days of
Black fury and frustration, hurling fire
at injustice, voicing hatred, practicing
destruction. From August 11 to August 16,
all doors were closed on our block,
faces peering warily past lifted curtains
at hasty sirens, fired up shouts of anger.
Cars hurried past; no one dared to walk
the streets those five long days,
except the shouting, angry men in a cloud
of hatred like fire smoke up and down
the streets, dragging fear and
separation with them.
I went outside again and walked around
our block. No one spoke to me.
No one waved.
Only then, when Watts happened, only then,
I learned I was white.