March 2008 – Philomene Long’s Cold Ellison I

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 “Cold Ellison,” the apartment building on Paloma Avenue where she and John Thomas lived, became a theme of a number of Long’s poems.
 Cold Ellison I
By Philomene Long

“Cold cliffs more beautiful
The deeper you enter
Yet no one travels this road”
Cold Mountain – Han Shan

In this old cold building
The Ellison
In this small dark room
I sit cross-legged
Upon an old stale mattress
The feathers are finally 
Leaving my pillow
To rejoin the birds of the air
At least once a month
The upstairs neighbor’s toilet overflows
Our ceiling bulges
The walls turn black and green
in this dripping room
All my clothes are torn
Our only guests
The ghosts, the mice
Only dust
Over dog-eared books 
And drifts of paper
Like dirty snow
My daughter stays away, says
“You were never a model
For a nine to five job.”
My son visits occasionally
Long enough to smile
And ask for an aspirin
In this cold room
The window is bricked up
The pipes leak
Puddles always on the kitchen floor
Never any rice in the pot
Once there was a view
A eucalyptus tree, a ghost gum
It was cut down in June
I, who once was proud 
That they called me
“The Queen of Bohemia”
Now blush, ashamed
“John!” I call
“I’m trying to bring myself
Out of something –
To nothing…
I’m going to pray
To embrace this poverty!”
“Pray to embrace silence
We already have poverty!” he says
“Hey. We’re doing pretty well
For a tired old man
And a crazy lady…
Tomorrow I’ll get you
A crown of rhinestones.
Do I give you enough?”
“John, to have you
For my companion
Through the glass centuries
Your diamond body
Calm, enormous land
This is the only center
That I seek.”
At night
The cockroaches come out
They walk across my neck
To get to Masami Teraoka’s print
“Zen Monk On A Blue Whale”
Hakuin contemplates death
They take refuge in the Buddha
Little insect eyes. Sad. Sad.
But too many. A thousand at least
So they must die
We’ll use the money from
Selling our books of poems
To purchase roach poison
There are no roads
From this cold Ellison
Better sit still
And quiet the ills
Of the mind
I sit high in this old building
Higher yet the sky passes slowly
The birds swirl
incautious, completely free
I climb the road
To cold, cold Ellison
The road that never ends
“Who can break the snares of the world
And sit with me
Among the white clouds?”

–from The Queen of Bohemia, Philomene Long, Lummox Press


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