~This poem previously appeared in The James Dickey Review (2011)
POLE DANCING ON THE AXIS MUNDI
Pole dancing on the axis mundi
Clad in air and a veil of hair,
Kali is any one and everywhere
interrogating history, prophecy,
testimony and will, cracking abstracts--
from pressure of her inquiry,
fissures snake slivers in frozen
now gushing gunmetal waters.
She dips a skull cup and drinks.
She, too, could be a girl at the shoal,
Skipping stones, pressing a coconut cheek
And salty ear to hear woes
wafting from blankets—complaints
about Eros followed by platitudes, dates
for squash or a glass of merlot.
A whirligig in a garden, the goddess
Spins agog, revolutions tempered
by the drag force of prayer.
Long fingers span the girdle at her hips,
breasts flush with a garland of lolling heads.
She licks her lips and opens three wide eyes,
climbing the vine, evening’s leave-taking,
verdant ladder on whose rungs each dream
hangs upside down, a tattooed bat.
A witch-mother hurls silver nickels
slicing tires, a snakeskin sedan spirals
tail-down a steep ramp of traffic and fires—
a painter hollers on a study’s
braided rug she kneels and shakes a canvas
upside down, two lemons, an inky black vase—
there’s a cliff, a glacial chase--corridors,
padlocked doors—a churning wave, a cup
of potent tea, a serially sexual fantasy—
Who‘s never flown off the sham in the indigo
hour of hissing cicadas, roused
by the succulence of her own sweat?
So explicit she can’t bear its reoccurrence
the rigor of a zinc white room,
bare as a strained egg. White walls, sharp shadows,
a linear repetition of straight edges
and fine lines, like notebook paper,
full of hot air, or lead.
Pulled contrapposto by a hound
in the leafy dark night, silent as a
sewn pocket she traces hieroglyphs
blackened by ink, a brew
of pine smoke’s soot, musk, lamp oil,
gelatin of donkey skin—
She sees one of the bereaved kneeling
in dirt, fashioning the funerary vessel,
a round-bellied pot on stilts, clay
mountain goat perched on its lid, worrying
terra cotta so the base scrolls slope
upwards, a skein of grief and desire.
A girl on the rocks didn’t know
the difference between asparagus and rhubarb
and orders of operation threw her off.
At night minted light sprayed linoleum,
appliances humming dirges
on the pillow her cheek faced west
as the rose window points to paradise.
On tables, rockers, by the copper kettle and
Deep blue bottles, a cast worked the dark
drumming her pulse, strident as calvary.
She lay taut in the middle of the bed, a
thread primed for a needle--the clock’s staccato
hands rattling change on the dresser.
She cut a baker, a totem with lapis nipples,
a shepherd, a siren, a sage--
At once yielding and relentless, a fragile
psychic equilibrium, an unsteady gnomon--
a witness ephemeral as a rainbow—
The goddess devours secrets and conceits.
Her tongue protrudes,
She bites it—suffering another woman
spot her lover in line on a concrete plinth,
the sheet that enfolds him
smooth as limestone robes
draped over bodies in the Greek wing.
He gave the gods a run for their money—
alas, the hemispheres of his placid eyes
resigned. She’d played her part,
learned by heart, Either was
the other’s Mine.
She walked by the wormwood
ringing the river with a bucket of water,
pressed petals on her eyelids—
Her nostrils crowded with crude.
She stepped on the spokes of the medicine wheel,
Yanking goose grass in the garden til roots
give way, she pictures a shallow bowl
in a museum display, memory’s handiwork
chipped and salved from the brink
of obscurity, excavated
from this same loose dirt—
She has a mind-stall to sweep, bitters and sweets.
She writes in wax with a stick of bone.
She draws with a fistful of swan and crow feathers.
A rusted baking pan filled with rain water.
She rested on a swing of olive wood, a
Carnelian bead warm in her palm.
In broad strokes, in the grittiest
cityscape’s grillwork, baked bricks
and hand-painted placards,
a witness shuffles archetypes
like playing cards and loose change.
Folks knead bread, break it,
honor their dead—they tune strings,
In the chain-linked schoolyard
Girls and boys ‘ring around the rosy’
til all fall down.
The conduit for now and when
charges in promises kept between lines
scraped by an engraver’s chisel.
In the history of a moan,
an understanding--and the pedestrian
hankering for a little something salted,
a bite and a spot to linger,
the shade of an oak planted
before the rutted roads were paved.
Balanced in this field of gravity,
resilience and despair,
Kali’s mounting circles,
the shape of perpetuity.
Labors score its cyclic measures:
A cave, a kiss, an epitaph.
The female idol
who lost her head
to sacrifice, found it
lodged on a slim metal pole,
and the ossuary.
Each time chance tunes, she hears
a different pitch. Chords of harmony
or dissonance bleat, dicker
and sway, come hell or high water,
come teasing the marrow
out of hours.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEM
“Pole Dancing On The Axis Mundi,” composed of fragments of images drawn from dreams and journals, is a non-linear sequence of events that move in and out of time and place. The Hindu goddess Kali, whose name comes from the Sanskrit word for Time, serves as the poem’s principal witness. Human life is observed as a series of balancing acts, in both mind and body, where gravity functions not only as a spatial, but also as an emotional, and existential force.
My mixed media painting, “Pole Dancing On The Axis Mundi,” made during the period of this poem’s many revisions, shares its title and concerns.
ABOUT JACQUELINE DEE PARKER
Jacqueline Dee Parker is a painter and a poet. Her poems appear in many literary journals and anthologies, including Atlanta Review, The Southern Review, Chelsea, and American Diaspora: Poetry of Exile, among others, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is the recipient of a 2007 Artist Fellowship from the Louisiana State Division of the Arts. Her visual work resides in numerous private and corporate collections, and was featured in the 2010 Studio Visit, a juried artist book published by Open Studios Press. For more information please visit www.jacquelinedeeparker.com