I Stalk Words

I stalk words
Like the tiger slow-stalks,
Hungry-prowls, the green-glow jungle—

I stalk words
Like the tiger slow-stalks,
Hungry-prowls, the green-glow jungle—
Sun shafts shimmer on stripe-stripe skin—
He slinks through the swish-tall grass.
I hunt wary words, tense-jawed, lithe-shouldered—
Creep. Crawl. Crouch.
And spring.

I catch words
Like the criss-cross leaves
Catch the tumble-fall rain;
Splitter-splatter drops drip-drip-slip
In the curve of a fresh green whorl—
I trap wet words in the valleys of my palms,
Lift my hands to my lips;
I sip.
And swallow.

I mine words
From the rough dark rock—
My pick sweet-sticks,
Smooth-finds, the half-hid crack.
Fingers hard-gripped and one-wrong-stroke missed—
I find, keen-eyed, the silver-thin vein,
And follow.

© 2015 Deborah King

Ripe

I have found the perfect apple.

I have found the perfect apple.

It hangs here, smooth and firm against my palm.
It has a lovely curve, pink streaks and a green collar circling the stem.
It is the perfect apple.

Here it grew five months,
This branch its home,
Its cells doing what cells do:
Their secret, private work.

Now, it rests in my hand,
Perfect,
And I can take it,
Break its connection,
Sever its strength.

It will go home in my basket.
It will feed my longing, delight my desire.

If I left it, would it hang,
Its beauty unblemished, unscarred
By knife, teeth, or time?

It would fall,
Its cupped stem’s lip unkissing the mother branch,
Shoving away toward the insistent earth—

Birds would eat it,
Or worms, or deer,
And then, the earth itself—
The earth, who eats all things at last.

Look. I will put the apple in my basket.
I will take it home.

No, I will eat it now, this moment.
It is ready now.

If I could choose, I too would go this way.
All of me—ripe, strong, sweet, ready—
Delightedly doing
What I was made to do.

© 2014 Deborah King

Canoe Song

Here on this water I collide with You.
I am clumsy and small.

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I

Here on this water I collide with You.
I am clumsy and small.

I blink
And the world turns upside down:
Your deep water grips the prow of my boat.
Your wide sky pries my heart large.
Your thick clouds twist under like a rope.

You are here and something is happening.

The cellos are tuning, and
I am a child crept into the orchestra pit.
The trumpets are mighty!
The tympani rumbles its part!
Soon, the world will begin.

I am a child at the adult table.
They are speaking riddles and mysteries;
Words fly high around my ears,
Wisdom willy-nilly flashing here and there like lightening.

I have come upon You at work.
I am a spectator.
I hope I will not be asked to leave.

II

Now I hear You.
Down You come to me, down, down, wet drops down.
You are sending me Your song.

All my senses are flashing
Bright thoughts from You to me to You again!
You are making the air dance!
You have welcomed me in.
You have told me my secret name.
We are laughing together, You and I.
You are making me as tall as the sky!

I am not a child now, I am a friend!
I am a lover well-beloved!
I am a strong tree, well-tended, deeply loved.
My roots push deep, push deep, deep down.
I am crazy rich!
I am more beautiful than anyone!
I wear a crown, and my shoulders arch back.

I push deep, paint the water on the left, on the right.
I push deep, deep. Left-left. Right-right.
We are painting the water together.
I am steady and strong.

III

There are ducks on the water, ducks and geese.
Every feather fine, wings wide, necks arched.
There’s a white swan on the water, proud and royal.

We are two crowned beings, you and I, white swan.
Bend your proud neck down to see
How well-beloved my Well-beloved has made me.
Flash wide your white wings—once.

I dip deep, push deep, smooth sail by.

I am on my way, white swan.
I am on my way to where
God is wringing out the clouds.

There is no laughter like the laughter of God,
When you are caught deep, deep in His delight.
I am terrified by the beauty of God!
I am lured by His oboe melody,
Luring the wind through the trees,
Alluring my heart.
His love song is so inexorably sweet.

He is making the air dance!
He is making the water sing for me!

©2013 Deborah King

Legacy

They are familiar to me as your hands—
These dog-eared book backs stacked in rickrack lines—

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They are familiar to me as your hands—
These dog-eared book backs stacked in rickrack lines—
Close-clutched around their edges as we begged
Another chapter read—sometimes you would.
Spring Saturdays your hands would rummage yard-
Sale tables seeking treasure buried between
Half-mildewed covers, or, sometimes you drove
Us to the air-condition aisles where
The books were piled shelves above my head.
Those flash cards (stubborn things!) grew dog-eared too;
You flipped them through so many times I knew
Each crinkle, crease, or stain—though not the answer.
Funny how the words of Aslan stuck
When twelve times two would not. Hot summer days
Your hands taught tomato vines to grow up stakes
And peas on chicken wire trellises—
I pulled up weeds and wished that I could curl
Up in a chair and read. Late autumn nights
Your finger pointed out the Pleiades
Or traced the craters of the moon. I soon
Discovered there were books for these things too—
For winter snowflakes captured on cold slides,
For bluebells springing by the creek in June,
For all the rhythms of my happy heart.
These friends—they stand like cedars in my mind:
Tall worlds of thought and wonder. You—who sowed
The seasons of my childhood—know how
Deep down they push their roots into me now.

© 2000 Deborah King

Color Psalm

You are more colors than my eye can see!

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You are more colors than my eye can see!

I sing you, but I cannot sing you true—
I sing you dark and dull and drab and gray.
I dance you, but my steps are pale and slow:
I dance you olive green and navy blue.

Give me peacock feet and scarlet song!
You are everything swift and wild and strong—
Everything delightful, merry, and free—
Azure rain and blinding, golden sun.

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Oh, everything wise and awful—fill my tongue
Viridian and marigold and ocean,
So when I sing you, you are truly sung;
Then let my feet with laughter overflow,
And I will dance you amethyst and flame.

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The midnight heavens rejoice at all you say,
The sea-green waters answer back the same—
Oh, everything brilliant, marvelous, and bright—
Open my eyes so I may see you right!

You were color before color came.

© 2012 Deborah King

Trust Psalm

You must—You must not be my Enemy!
I will not have You for an enemy.

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You must—You must not be my Enemy!
I will not have You for an enemy.
Bitterness is no excuse for that.
Envy I called Longing; Pride—Desire;
Jealousy was Thirst; and Lust was Fire.
Sometimes the sky seemed short, and heaven flat.
I do not have a good excuse for that.

But You—You must not be my Enemy!
Though You, You mixed the bitter in my cup.
Though out of all proportion seems to me
The bitterness that now I vomit up:
I will not have You for an Enemy.

Befriend me! Let Your good be strong for me!
Let Truth, like manna, break Hunger’s weak defense.
Let Light, like water, turn all Envy dry.
Let Beauty Himself shame Craving into silence.

I do not want You for my Enemy,
My most constant Friend. Let everyone know:
Write Your friendship across the open sky!
Take my hand in Yours, and I will go
Where terrible, beautiful friendship makes me go.

© 2012 Deborah King

Shepherds

Shadowed they press down the sloping hill,
Groping their way in the still-thick dark,
Past black-mouthed caves heavy with night
To one where fire-light flickers still.

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The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Giorgione

Shadowed they press down the sloping hill,
Groping their way in the still-thick dark,
Past black-mouthed caves heavy with night
To one where fire-light flickers still.

There was glory on the hillside, that they knew—
But the light has faded—can this be the place?
Go inside, one says, and cough a little—
They are only shepherds, and only a few.

Outside the wind sways the bowed brush low
Murmering deference—blessing—prayer.
It swirls the loose hay on the rough stone floor
And lifts the ruff of a placid cow.

Oh chill air, tingle with this child’s strong cry—
Oh stars, burn clearer in greeting Him
Whom the universe thrilled to, time ago
When first it sang its created song!

At dawn, the plowman will creak from his bed—
Stretching as always in the cold half-light.
And his wife will turn her hair up in a knot
And pin it wearily, so she can make bread.

And the innman, who counted his money and smiled
Last night will count it again today
And fasten the bag with a satisfied shake—
Only shepherds gaze at the newborn child.

Slowly the light of the new day grows
Warming the mouth of that place, where, tired,
The mother sits and rocks her son
And thinks a little, and knows what she knows.

And leaving, one shepherd lags from the rest
Inhuman voices still ring in his ears
His unseeing eyes bright from within—
From the daystar light that still burns in his chest.

© 2003 Deborah King

Kaneshie Market

My white face drifting through this sea Of black and friendly faces—shouting “Obruni!” faces

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A market scene in Accra, Ghana.

My white face drifting through this sea
Of black and friendly faces—shouting “Obruni!” faces
(They’re shouting at me, the hot crowd;
They know I’m rich, wealthy enough to buy
From all)—is not as strange as my Western clothes
And my Western ways that would pay the first price

They ask—if I didn’t know better—didn’t know the price
Is twice or four times any of these bartering sea-
City natives would pay. In their brilliant kabas (traditional clothes),
Bare or sandaled feet, they call with open faces,
“Madame, papaya here—oranges—Come and buy!”
“5000 cedis only!” call the brash crowd.

Piles of shrimp—tiny glistening amber-colored shrimp—crowd
The long concrete blocks—their price
More than the copper-burnt newspaper-wrapped fish I sometimes buy
Only for the dog. But these don’t know; it is better that they not see
They revolve in a world of smells that make me squirm—their faces
Happy in not knowing air conditioning or sanitation. My clothes—

American-bought clothes—stick to me in the black-asphalt heat. Their clothes
Are light and easy. And the piles of fine fufu flour crowd
The coarse banku below black beaming faces
And butterfly hands pulling me in. “We give you good price,
Oburuni!” they say, offering twist-tied see-
Through bags. “No—no, thank you, I don’t buy

Today,” I say, in their way, pull away, quickly pass by
The tables of chicken feet laid out red and gawkish; gaudy clothes—
Purple tunics and bolts covered with orange cowries; giant sea-
Shells and wooden elephants for the tourist crowd;
Hawkers waving toilet paper—“Three for this price!”;
“Malt crackers!” “Apples!” cry the slick bobbing faces.

A woman’s calabash rides high above the faces
Balanced by one ebony arm. I stop her to buy
Boiled peanuts neatly stacked. We don’t haggle over price.
She tips some into a newspaper cone, then, her clothes
Swish away and mingle with the crowd.
And all that’s left is a black, heaving sea.

And suddenly I see the individuality of these faces
Sharpening into focus from the blurred crowd. I eat peanuts, one by
One. These clothes, they weigh me down. That kaba, what is its price?

© 2000 Deborah King