Poetry by Kathleen Dunbar

Water Flows Down 
by Kathleen Dunbar 

Water flows down – 
whenever it can, it sings. 

When they’re tired 
fish don’t need to lean – 
the flesh of the water holds them. 

Even the cook collects his own bones 
when he gets up in the morning – 
he sings and chops while his bed is still warm. 

The world is so simple 
and we keep on seeking 
like the blind alley of the wind. 

I’ve seen how we try to collect 
something outside ourselves 
to show our love and our need, 
believing that what we are 
is not enough. 

I knew a boy who stole some roses 
for his mother. 
Before she came home we sat near them 
astonished at their beauty 
and in that boy’s eyes 
I could see love and pain 
falling like snow.  

He hurt so much, 
just being a boy alive – 
I was sure 
bees woke up in his dreams 
golden, black and soft 
singing into the roses 
stumbling home to 
the sweet honeycombs. 

Some days we arrive in ourselves 
in the doorways of longing. 
In the spilling places 
our mouths fill with words – 
hellos, goodbyes 
kindness, need. 

That afternoon there were no words – 
just that we almost remembered 
the mysterious hives 
and the honey stood up inside us 
slow as rain, perfect 
full.      

with or without a pillow 
by Kathleen Dunbar 

with or without a pillow, this is the surface of the dream: 

I am the gingerbread house and I am the sound planks 
I am the father who builds and the boy who trusts 
I am the one who drops his raised hand and does not strike 

the door stands open and there is nothing in the way 
because I am the one who accepts 
because I know I am both bowls of food – 
one for the lover and one for the lost 
because I am the one-legged man singing on his path 
because I am the lost child 
because I am the water poured into the unannointed mouth 

this is the surface of the dream: 
I am the resurrected Christ 
I am the demon transcended 
I am the woman in white 
who touches the robe of the demon 
and finds her strength 
I see my own future and forget it again 

whatever flies, I form its wings 
whatever opens, I am there to show the way 
whatever closes, I am there to mourn the bones and bury them 
I am the last syllable uttered in darkness that expresses hope 
I am the first ray of light in the morning 

this is the surface of the dream: 
I am the gesture inside the word 
I am the long back unfolding its joy and sorrow 
I am the scapegoat and the murdered oracle 
I am the penitent and the seeker 
I am the poet descending into hell 
and I am the path back 
and the gravel of the path 
and the fallen plum and the opening flower at the gate 

I am the water boiling in the kettle 
and the old man asleep in the garden 
and the youth trying his first strength 
I am the horseman with a broad chest of hair 
no longer brutal, I can hold my woman to my heart 
because it is open – and I can let her go 
to dance a slow dance and a fast 
burning to her own fire 
and have the strength and desire to wait for her 
all the while dreaming that my fingers and toes 
have grown together into four great nails 
until I am my own horse thundering over the earth 
carrying my beloved away from war 
carrying her into the light 

this is the surface of the dream: 
my friend wears a coat of live birds 
one by one they arrive from nowhere 
snuggling against his hips, his waist, the small of his back 
he looks over his shoulder in surprise! 
he has been waiting for a boat here where the coast is wide 
where the land is flat for miles and the water is flat for miles 
and it is hot and bright and instead of the boat the birds arrive – 
at every dream's surface is a building 
whose only purpose is to exist 
so that one may stand in darkness 
repeating the magical sentence of release until it works 
so here in the doorway I use the words 
and the soft coat quivers and breaks apart 
in a thousand claps of wings 
returning to us the joy of opening 
and the bond of the friend seen and the story told 

in the dream 
all hands meet 
in the darkness 
all wounds are healing 
this is the surface of the dream: 
this is the door: 
this is the promise: 
this is the medicine and the bread: 
inside the darkness is the neverending light 

Orchids are Blooming  
by Kathleen Dunbar 

Orchids are blooming in her throat 
she doesn’t know 
steps around them and turns her face 
to the wall – 
she thinks her bones are only hard. 
We begin to find the marrow 
and the floating joints 
the pillows of liquid between the vertebrae – 
and somewhere the bones unbend a little 
the muscles of her arms remember 
the ease of the dance 
the flowering of her heart. 
She begins to find what she wants to shape 
– and shapes it! 

Inside the grass 
an orchid sings. 
Carefully we enter that room 
where it is singing – 
“Ah,” she says, stepping out 
“I remember,” 
blooming, moving now, 
deep in her iridescent life. 

hands 
by Kathleen Dunbar 

so.  slowly.  
I pull in the long memory: 

I always looked at the house 
from the side before I went in 
putting my hand on the overlapped wood. 
being small, I was closer to the 
heavy heads of the flowers 
falling 
         falling. 

you stood still in the yard 
your hand palm-flat on your hip bone 
the other hanging. 
from the half-curled fingers 
you let go of something invisible. 
but I saw – 
a room opened inside you 
I had guessed was there 
the dark shadow falling out 
of your eyes. 
you let yourself feel lonely at last 
and breathing it, relaxed, 
nothing more put off. 

I breathed too 
relaxed what I didn’t even know 
I’d held for you 
and suddenly you saw 
me watching you 
the mother-part of you 
arriving in your shoulders 
softening and hardening at the same time. 

and then, the act I thank you for: 
before you called me to you 
for the comfortable hug 
and the smell of your hair in the sun 
you paused 
for a moment as long as a life 
while the loneliness spoke between us 
not in words but in the light 
that ran over us like water. . . .  

and when it flowed away 
your clean strong hand remained 
as alive and holy as a being 
who relinquishes heaven 
for a heart that beats and breaks and loves. 

that is the moment I woke up 
in the sudden ocean of your act: 
the raw truth in your relaxed hand 
of love and loneliness and the fullness 
of our longing washing up against 
you and me and the flowers, everywhere! 
splashing the white boards of our house 
warm in the sun forever. 

we went through the door then, 
to be inside our house. 
one of my hands you held in one of yours. 
my other hand, schooled in your strength 
pressed the houseboards as we passed 
fell open 
and blazed with the tears and laughter 
of the sweet wild galaxies. 

sometimes when I am sad 
by Kathleen Dunbar 

sometimes when I am sad 
that is a good beginning too 
and I go along and see the bottoms of things 
the places where the rain ends upon earth 
the bottom of wells 
the underside of stones 
the salamander's wet belly 

and what is left is the one who sits on his hands 
I know him from the lining of my coat 
from the residue of my dreams 
from my friendship with the dust under my bed 

and however this all works 
this engine of my bones 
that takes me through the world 
he reminds me of the flesh, too 
the soft rivers of blood 
the sea that begins and ends in my heart 
the heart that smiles even at the bottom of things 
and when I forget 
he sits on his hands until I wake with a start 
from my own forgetting 

then I see roses and their red thorns 
birds' shadows over stone 
the soft hair of children and old people 
and I pledge again 
not to make my ways into teeth of iron 
grinding down the world of my days 
but rather to make my way the opening way 
to uncurl my hand in a starry gesture of joy 
to sing the vibration of love into the universe 
to use what I have to live the mystery well 

and I find that I have everything I need: 

I am alone 

I am in communion 

I am finishing 

I am always starting 

I have old shoes, but good enough 

I have a small bee at the most important flowers 

I have a man in a shabby suit healing my feet in my dreams 

I have a lot of love to give 

and there are plenty of folks to give love to! 

I have myself, and for this realization my bones thank me 

finally, I can let the water of myself spread out wide 
plenty for me 
plenty for everybody 
letting the invisible force of the universe, of creativity, of love 
take me where it will 

I have spirit 
I have love 
I am alive 
and I can sing to everyone 
the song at the bottom of my heart: 

I love you completely 
and everywhere at once 
like the rain 

o sweet single simple roses 
by Kathleen Dunbar 

o sweet single simple roses 
cascading through the night 
in the broken places 

you are there! 
I want to tell everyone this 

we're all the same 
afraid of the dark 
falling into despair when 
our hearts are breaking – 
o how much we desire to touch another 
to be touched 
in all the smallest and deepest ways 
and how often does it all run away from us 
like water over our hands 
so that we are left, again 
alone in the darkness 

don't we endlessly try to say ourselves? 
to hear back again and again 
that we are loveable and loved 
and in the press of this desire 
we end up being unable to hear the confirmation 
we cannot use our own ears 
not because we cannot believe 
but because we cannot accept our broken bones 

we are so stubborn 
if only it were not for this or that 
isn't it all supposed to be golden in heaven? 
no. 

I tell you, all the gods are listening 
even the god of pain 
who weeps for us 
even as our hearts twist 

and death wakens 
curling in our footsteps like smoke 
he weeps because we have lost ourselves 
and tries to teach us the secret 
the one we stubbornly refuse to see: 

you who want to be loved – love yourself 
enough to sit uncomfortably in an old chair 
with all your heartpain and your cracking bones 
and know that that is part of the miracle 
and that you are perfect anyway 
because however much you feel abandoned and cold 
that is how much you will be able 
to feel another's pain some day 
and that is love 

when you can thank the aching and the sorrow – 
when you can accept the dark 
then love will arrive because you are pouring it 
so much so that roses will bloom in the night 
rising upon their own thorns! 

ah sweet, after you have 
finally petted your own teary head 
with infinite tenderness 
another's will appear instantly 
lost in his pain – 
now is the time! 
hold him, even though 
he will not be able to feel you 
hold him because you want him to feel himself 
in all his pain 

and when you can, don't take yourself so seriously 
because didn't you know? 

this is why while it is still dark 
a little bird awakens 
tips up and down 
on its branch 
and sings 
laugh because he has woken you 
bird as he is, he has learned before you! 
get up and go out early 
find where the dew gleams upon the roses 
and begin to give them all away. 

I want to tell you  
that you are okay 

by Kathleen Dunbar 

I want to be 
the flower for you 
the small diamond water 
of the fountain 
with the mossy stones 
the clear song of the bird 
that breaks your heart 
enough 
so that you begin  
to remember 
it's okay to be alive 

I know how hard it is 
I have the scars, too 
from the jagged monster 
who chews its children 
and leaves them 
tense-boned and 
half-alive 
the monster of breaking 
who fills small bodies 
with knowledge so unspeakable 
that the most golden of bells 
can make no sound 

but my love 
if you keep hope  
behind the wall 
it is no good 
no good 
you have to walk out 
into the open now 
though every sinew 
curdles 
for bone and will 
have done their work 
they have brought you 
here 
but they are  
useless creatures 
when confronted  
with kindness 

what was given to you 
long ago-- 
the sad old spasm 
of protection-- 
with that you 
can never know honey 
you can never truly 
deeply 
laugh 

oh, those old wars 
they are over and gone 
instead 
my warm hand is here 
and I'll tell you  
over and over 
with the eloquent language 
of my fingers 
my breath 
my eyes that have seen 
death and lived 
I will tell you gladly 
that we are home at last 
alive most deeply 
in our own dignity 

though the hired warrior 
has kept you walking 
let him lay down 
in the garden's earth now 
and sumptuously rot 
kindly let him come apart in 
worm and root 
till his hollowness 
has healed into 
the soft den of an animal 

you have always been 
the untarnishable gold bell 
and the crazy wild heart of its 
star-made clapper 
and it is time, my love 
for you to 
ring