Melissa Studdard is the author of the best¬selling novel Six Weeks to Yehidah, and its companion journal, My Yehidah (both on All Things That Matter Press). Since its August 2011 release, Six Weeks to Yehidah has been the recipient of many accolades, including the Forward National Literature Award, the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and January Magazine‘s best children’s books of 2011. It was also named a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Awards and the Readers Favorite Awards. As well, Melissa is co-author of For the Love of All (Trestle Press), which is the fifth story in the Mark Miller’s One series and debuted in the number one spot for Hot New Releases in Literary Criticism and Theory in the Amazon Kindle store. Her poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and arti¬cles have appeared in numer¬ous magazines, jour¬nals, and antholo¬gies. Melissa cur¬rently serves as a Reviewer-at-Large for The National Poetry Review, an editorial advisor for both Lapis Lazuli Journal of The Harold Pinter Society of India and The Criterion, and a contributing editor for Tiferet Journal. She is also the host of Tiferet Journal’s radio program, Tiferet Talk. Melissa received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is a professor at a community college in Texas and a teaching artist at The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative.
Integrating the Shadow
I was a bird in the hand of God.
I was two in the bush,
the yin to my own yang, yang to yin,
drinking gin on the porch at midnight,
or otherwise drinking tea – you see
how it is – Bach on Tuesdays – Thursdays
acid rock, tie-dyed t-shirts and jeans.
Mornings I fed the needy and blessed
their souls with sticky kisses.
I sang to them and lotioned their feet
with lilac cream and peppermint oil,
humbled by their poverty, inspired
by the way they got out of bed
without cigarettes or coffee.
Afternoons I cursed their lazy
asses and stepped over them
in the streets on my way to the pub
seeking a little warmth or a quiet corner
in which to ponder the implication
of lips on brass, to dance, unmolested,
with my own shadow, which was my worst enemy,
and, conspicuously, my only friend.
I was a bird in the hand of God.
I was two in the bush.
I was a pair of white pants in a drive
by puddle splash, a drunk with beer down
the front of my shirt. I was ketchup
on my own sleeve, a rash on an otherwise
clear face, a tainted, defiled disaster,
stained by life, soiled and damn near effaced
by that often unrecognizable prankster,
my troublemaker, my doppelganger,
that saucy vamp, grace.
Someday I’ll meet you again,
and we’ll sleep like the eyes of hurricanes,
lidless in our trek to taste each other’s tongues
as they throw dirt over my face
and into the quivers of my throat. I’ve
been meaning to say a little something
each night, to light a candle in the doorframe,
set fire to the empty church: For you,
I’d drive the people back into each other’s arms,
where they could see your softness again.
I meant to say I knew you were unhoused, the original
nomad. There were none living there among the pews.
What was left was pressed among the pages of psalmody.
And this is no new thing. Another costume off:
My golden hair. My blue-green eyes. Shed beneath the dirt.
What I meant to say was, “How are you?” And, also,
“This is not about me.” Because there are tigers
scratching at the swirling wind. And there are monsters
banging on the shutter doors. Because I’ve had no time
to think or eat properly or rest. It was all just
a blind sneeze in the wind. Let me know everything
about you, please. I’ll go back. Do it right this time.
I’ll be a dragonfly, a pebble, an earthworm, a flea.
I’m not talking about the underside of a kitten’s
belly, or the layers of dress on a modest woman’s
corpse. I don’t mean that beneath the skin there’s
a world of vein, meat and bone. No, I’m talking about
mantle and core—the viscous, shifting substrata
beneath the camel’s hoof, beneath the sand,
beneath the crust beneath the sand. I think there are
birds in there, flying around inside the earth’s body,
birds flying over oceans, streams and lakes, children
laughing beside rivers, mothers calling them home
to supper by beating wooden spoons on the sides
of aluminum pots. It doesn’t matter that we can’t see
them, or even that my theory has been disproven.
I go where the laughter is, pure and simple, and I say
this ball of clay is really an onion, a snake coiled
around a bouncing ball, a swirl of petals exploding
from bud. It’s simple, really: love is the pack on a
hitchhiker’s back, everything he owns, everywhere
he goes, the only article that can’t be left behind.
And we’ve all got our thumbs out, pointed towards
that other realm, the one beneath the skin, beneath
the bone and marrow and veiny streams of blood, where gods
I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast
—After Thich Nhat Hanh
It looked like a pancake,
but it was creation flattened out—
the fist of God on a head of wheat,
milk, the unborn child of an unsuspecting
chicken—all beaten to batter and drizzled into a pan.
I brewed my tea and closed my eyes
while I ate the sun, the air, the rain,
photosynthesis on a plate.
I ate the time it took that chicken
to bear and lay her egg
and the energy it takes a cow to lactate a cup of milk.
I thought of the farmers, the truck drivers,
the grocers, the people who made the bag that stored the wheat,
and my labor over the stove seemed short,
and the pancake tasted good,
and I was thankful.
He sent us flowers without a card,
God did—that trickster soul.
It must have been a sound that started it all,
and he’s still out there somewhere, laughing
while we seek directions, or direction,
while we, the addressees, search for an addresser,
while we sort and sift and categorize and collect,
divide, classify and analyze. Our refrigerators hum to us,
and heaven knows the bugs make their merry at night.
Once I even saw the color yellow hum
when I imagined van Gogh stroking its thick,
vibrant passion onto the page.
That yellow song was anything but hum-drum.
I swear, I felt it on the roof of my mouth
And at the back of my throat
like a yogic ritual or some sort of Tantric stunt.
Even deep in my chest, yes, I felt the hum.
In the other room—the clothes in the washer,
round and around they went, their own spinning universe,
and next to them, a parallel world, the dryer,
connected to the same outlet,
Hum, hum, humming away.
This life is anything but ho-hum,
with all this motion and noise.
Hell, I can hardly even hear over the hum of my phone,
which I have cursed for interference,
which I have indignantly labeled, “that silver piece of shit,”
which I have threatened to replace (like it cares),
and which was really Om all along.
Washing clothes, I’ve since learned, is an act of prayer.
“Integrating the Shadow.” Redheaded Stepchild (Spring 2012). Current best of the net nominee.
“A Prayer.” No previous publication data.
“Om.” Hip Poetry 2012 Anthology, Red Fez 33 (April 2011), Tiferet 9 (2009), St. Julian Press website feature, Moonday Poetry website feature.
“I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast.” Dash Literary Journal (Spring 2010). Car Magnet for the Living Poetry Project (Summer 2012)
“Subterranean.” Forthcoming in Beat Texas Anthology.