Two Poems by Valerie Chamberlain

 

 

 

 

The Hanging Man

 

I look at the bat

but he doesn’t look at me

it’s August 

and things are breaking.

 

I put an egg in a cup

my neighbor’s daughter gives me basil

I cry, with no reason or want.

Desire is dead,

and my arms hang by my sides

like two gently loosened threads.

 

I look at the bat,

his small eyes further from me from myself

There is nothing to be afraid of

It’s just learning

I have been selfish, 

I didn’t listen.

 

I crack the egg until it’s quiet.

 

I look without judgment 

I know my eyes lie

(they’re mine, after all)

To look at the bat means to look at myself

All knowledge is self-serving.

 

I envy the bat’s purpose

he incubates the sky

his wings laugh

he is not a lion

he never walks the earth

he has no need for dying

and he remembers nothing.

 

 

Free

 

 

Every day I go for a run.

People say that when you run, you are running away from something.  But I like to think that I am running towards something.

 

When I run, I listen to the birds.

My grandmother was afraid of birds.

I like them, but I can see why she was afraid.

 

There was only one bird that ever scared me.

 

 

I run the same roads each day.  When I get to the top of the hill, I always begin to walk. 

 

It is hard to run uphill. 

 

One day, a bird flew so close to the top of my head that he frightened me.

 

I guess I expected him to be afraid of me.

 

I thought, how can he not see me here.

 

It is funny how we can become so used to something that we lose the ability to imagine the thing to be the very opposite.  

 

It’s not that we are stubborn.  We are dead.

 

But nothing changed, except for us, except how we see things, or stop to see things, over time.

 

On this particular day, I was thinking of my friend.  She passed away.  Sometimes my thoughts become so heavy when I run that I feel like I am carrying another person on my back.  

 

I reached the top of the hill.  I began to walk.  That was when the bird flew right over me.  I was terrified.  

 

I looked around for other people—women tending to their lawns, people driving by in cars.

 

I felt invisible.  How did the bird not see me?

 

Most days I live in a world that isn’t my own, and yet I expect the world to know me.

 

 

 

Maybe this is why my grandmother was afraid of birds.

It is one of my only intimate memories of her.  

It feels like it belongs only to me. 

The memory is not tied to a photograph, or a story, or a major life event.

 

One time I saw my grandmother afraid.  

 

When we are afraid, we are like children. A part of us resurfaces.  

Faced with something inexplicable, we let go of the answers and explanations that were never ours.  

 

We’re finally free.

 

For days after the bird flew over me, I avoided this hill.  As I ran towards it, the sounds of the birds grew deeper and louder.  I hated that I couldn’t understand their sounds, or what they meant to say.  

 

My hatred intensified my fear.  

 

I walked a different way.  I looked at the ground.  I thought of a scene in Vivre Sa Vie where Anna Karina meets an old man in a café.

 

She says words are like traps and they catch us.  She wants to find the right words.  She never can.  She looks like she might cry.  

 

She’s scared.  

 

The man tells her a story of a man who thought so hard about why it is that we put one foot in front of the other that he couldn’t walk anymore.

 

She asks him if words fail us.

 

He says we fail words.

 

 

I think about my grandmother a lot.

 

She was beautiful, for whatever that is.

 

Maybe she was scared of many more things.  People are afraid of more than they admit to others.

 

I suppose I remember her as only fearing birds because that is what she showed me.

 

I think she was right to be afraid. 

 

I think fear is what made her beautiful.

 

 

When I run now, I think about how the birds share the world with me.

 

I am in the center.  The birds are a piece of what is mine.

 

But the birds do not think this way.  

 

For them, what really am I?

 

 

 

 

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