Melanie Houle is a physician and former jeweler. She was the first featured
poet in The Raintown Review. Her poetry also appears or is forthcoming in
The Lyric, Texas Poetry Journal, California Quarterly, Neovictorian/Cochlea,
The Iconoclast, Timber Creek Review, The Rockford Review, The Aurorean, Mobius,
and Pearl. Her poem “Steps” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by
The Raintown Review.
Look, brother, in these fading photographs:
our infant imprints, caught in separate frames,
twinned in determination to exceed
the reach of proffered hands and stand alone.
Now, flashing through an aperture in time,
we witness our progenitors devolve
to wisps and shreds that crumble, drift away.
Yet atoms spin and helixes withstand,
and we won't fall: we have each other's hands.
The Duty Inherent in Survival
I caught him looking at the medals in the felt-lined
wooden box with the old sailing ship on the lid,
though he was Army all the way. He only talked about it
once or twice after a beer too many. Then he showed
the battered photo of the girl who wowed his buddies,
the demurely buttoned sweater, pearls and curls,
his movie star. Exotic names: Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily,
Uncle Sam's all-expense-paid four-year walking tour
of the Mediterranean. Buddies came and went, too many
to recount. They nicknamed him Lucky, the one
they jostled to stand next to, the guy who survived.
Sixty years and counting, ancient history, he says,
but the boots still fit. She still has the smile
he fought for, though the rest of her is gone,
but that's enough. He knows his job: to be the hero,
tend the wounded, live and stand his ground.
Through the needle’s eye, a storm cloud looms.
It casts a shade that speaks of tragedies,
A taste of ashes, dust, the scent of tombs.
Our compass skews to strange trajectories
That undermine the wisdom of our maps.
Foreboding hangs suspended like a sword.
Uneasy silence splits in thunderclaps.
The albatross is dead, its ghost on board.
But a lifeline reaches from the myths
Of ancient heroes, perched at the abyss
Or swept into the whirlpool’s deadly surge,
Who held their vision steadfast on the verge
And dredged up from their depths the will to try
To sight still waters through the needle’s eye.
If lichen can sprout from a stone
and lotuses bloom from the mud,
a dust cloud give birth to a star
and fields spring more fertile with blood,
then hope can be step-child to sight:
every shadow’s a creature of light.
Our mother told us stories of the north
And, being her, she always had her say.
She sang us Viking seas and craggy earth,
Fiords, aurorae, endless sunlit days.
But when, at last, our ship edged into berth
And we emerged, the stab of our dismay
Outcut the arctic wind. Here was the truth:
A citadel of ice in grim array.
How I struggled, small unseasoned youth,
To muster strength to set my fears at bay,
To set my foot on that forsaken wharf,
To set my face and force the tears away.
Then, twinned with our new sister, she gave birth
To our disheartenment -- she meant to stay --
And all her Nordic beauty blossomed forth,
While we grew tall and somber, limned in gray.
No surprise, her sons have drifted south
And, tacitly, we don't discuss the way
Our mother told us stories of the north.
She loved her homeland; that is all we say.
The Myth of Chronic Fatigue
The gods began the game by decrements. No tempests or
catastrophes, no mirrors shattering to tempt the Fates.
No oracles or portents to report. Who would have guessed?
I simply sank, deflated, drifted down to full submersion,
then awakened floundering across the ocean floor.
And that's not all. Now even solid firmament has crept
into the game. The incline to my house is not Olympus,
on this point the record's clear. The X-rays and the experts
have agreed: my feet do not have roots, no chains in view.
This gravity belongs to Earth, not mighty Jupiter.
Listen, gods, there must be some misapprehension: I’m not
wretched Sisyphus, condemned to bear his boulder. I’m not
Atlas with his globe. My mythology is mild.
No rampant hubris here. No dire transgressions to confess.
My slate with you is clean, I surely would have bet.
So please explain the rules. Must I drag this stagnant soup
into my lungs and call it air, and wade through synapses
as thick as sodden sand? Where’s the wherewithal to focus
eye or brain? Once you dealt me clarity, but now
my cards are stacked askew and all else follows suit.
What are my odds? I’m playing six feet under granite with
a toothpick for a tool. What will be the newest trick?
Will I start hanging upside-down from trees or turn to brick?
What’s the strategy on this side of the looking glass?
Tomorrow, when I'm not so tired, I'll seize my chance.
The Wisdom of Anticipating Gardens
Spring lagged where I once lived
imprisoned by the weight of sentences,
held to pine and pace the lengthening days,
dragging dreams of subtle stirrings
like a chain.
At last, a lightening jolt of green, the first
brave crocus shouldering through snow,
unleashed from its dimension into mine
like a meteor from space,
a conjured gem.
No sorcery of monochrome
could stem the tulips, all in rows,
glowing triumph on their stalwart stalks
like torches in a patriots' parade,
proud as flags.
not even I could question what would follow:
each exuberance unfurling
in perfect time and brilliance
and heady fragrances.
When snowmelt smiles its promise
and the sullen sun turns spendthrift
in expanding latitudes, it's time for dancing,
child of little faith. It's already spring.