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Shirley Windward

Shirley Windward    

Shirley Windward, born in Washington, DC, has lived through several wars, moved forty-three times, given up three libraries, traveled extensively abroad and in the States, and has taught English in both public and private schools. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her family, sings with a madrigal chorus, and publishes her poetry in local anthologies. She has also published one novel, called "Midwife Chronicles", and her most recent book, written with Audrey Hargreaves, is a small anthology of poetry titled "Slipping Honey In." Concomitant with her continued writing, she also does professional readings of her own work and that of others. Her present files contain several fantasies, three plays, twenty short stories -- and at least 800 poems, still arriving almost daily.

Three Mantras from Nepal


We slough the skins of this cobra Life
wriggling, wrenching, pulsing
	layer on layer of tissue sheathe
	along canals ordained
by the seeding of galaxies
somewhere in the guy of a beggar boy.
	Outside this door a docile calf
	the color of coffee ice cream
	chews cud, presenting profile
in calm reception of our passing

no one talks much--
	except of water


The Himalayan horns are crying
	inside the temple of Swamyambunath
	red their color, and  blood red
	the robes of the chanters.
Something not human
thunders behind drums
	thrums in the prayers;
it has no name
	no syllable comes through
only the sighing of
	improbably stars
and the muttering of monkeys
huddled among the stupas
	in a river of monsoon rain.

	It is  essential
	to make a big  sound
		to reach the gods.


I have heard the voice of the rain
	calling to the crows
	on the rooftops of Kathmandu

it is not a kind voice
	teal-blue, smoke-soft, spider-plump
but it is familiar:

A man perhaps in this town lived
eighteen years in a cage
	made for children
	and after release--
ten more crawling a snailís way
	along the puddled dust
	of his  native streets;
he too was familiar
	with the unkind voice of the rain
	calling the crows at dawn

I believe him to be
	a cheerful fellow
accommodating, in a state
of permanent welcome
	before the fragile webbed vision
	of each day,
such good as remains in him naked,
refined first by the cage, and then
	by freedom from the cage--
nowhere to go but where he must.

In the rain I rise and run past the crows
to drop a coin in his verminous cap.


     		We pull off our skins
	one by one:

the first comes easily
a pinched concord grape
sucked between the lips;
the second rips a little
at the left eyelid, like an
	exquisite response
	to a deft dentist drill;
the third resists, one edge
caught between thumb and
forefinger, forfeits nothing
until pain, but tears at last
becoming docile, transparent
	powerless as a discarded
		snake sheath;

the fourth stings
brow to armpit
to belly, requiring
	two hands for removal,
	yet yields at last
	a strange skin,
replica tough, unwilling
to leave without a parting,
	even a deadly twist.

Now all lies naked
the mirror speaks a truth
from an unfamiliar face;
a particle of peace
hangs on the expression
around the mouth

and under that fresh, clear rose
another skin is growing.


It takes a gentle man
	to shear a virgin.
	She will, if handled well,
	do anything you say.
Knowing the right muscle
	to touch, the right stroke
	to make along her rosy leg--
	or that particular hollow
between rib cage and humerus,
and the delicate nerve ends
	controlling spasm and response--
these are imperative.

She will, at the end, shivering
lightly, regard you
	with liquid eyes
	made larger  by
	the wonder of the shorn.

Head drifting
	toward sweetness,
	she will lie
	stripped and pale

between your steady calves.

Reading Bar Harbor
Silent cove. The tide falls
as a flower might grow
and die, imperceptible.
The water streaks off
in blues. Gray rocks rise.
Naked green algae patches
nuzzle against granite, in pools
where sharply white stones shine.
A stranded boat rocks to standstill
on one hip, as though never again
to move from muddy bed.
Hidden black sands curl
to seek light, seek sight.
A tall crane steps dainty, deadly
through shallows
a hundred yards from shore.
Piper cries on gull currents
crash gently above, and the smell
of clean corruption runs by
	on careful feet.
Now, ten chapters later,
evening considers approach.
Shadows drag back the tide.
Black sands turn again
to grateful depth. Rocks recede
their noses going under,
Fir trees on the far parallel strand
flare-burst briefly into a series
of match sticks etched
	by the fingering sun.
The cove pales to blue milk,
and the white stones
that have been floating all day
on the water
shake their sly heads,
shoulder their wings high

  fly, fly away.


We tend to wrestle upon occasion
	my husband and I.
This very day as I yawned from
my side of the tousled bed,
	he captured my wrist: where
did you think you were going?

	I rolled into his barrel chest
	nuzzling the old manís beard
he never clips until it sprouts ivy

and he wrapped me in his
	rough bear arms
	and growled: let me
drown you in the sea
of my devotion.

So much for morning ablutions.


There are among us
those who have mastered
the art of divestiture
who do not carry
on their psychic backs
the fardels of remorse,
who have shorn the sheep
of regret and fashioned
from their fleece a fabric
	marvelous to the eye
	comforting on all counts
	to the touch

They know the dangers
of misdirected compassion;
they sing even when machine guns
	stutter on the rooftops
they never lose touch with pain
but smile under that whip
	careful of revelation

We rarely recognize them
for what they are,
but when the black fingers
of Doctor Death
	prod us from morning dreams,
they may, if we are fortunate,
darken our doorways

	with their light

Copyright © 1999. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Duplication of this poetry and/or art without permission of the author/artist is forbidden under copyright law. Please ask permission if you wish to use for non-commercial purposes
  Big Cats in Snow Tuesday, July 11, 2000