Poetry Niche – November 2023

MARGARET VAN EVERY resided in Ajijic from 2007-2022, during which time she was an active member of the writing community. She frequently published poetry, essays, and short fiction in the Ojo del Lago and was a charter member of The Not Yet Dead Poets’ Society in which she is still active online though living in Florida. While in Ajijic she was introduced by James Tipton to tanka, the 5-line, 31-syllable poem form originating in 9th-Century Japan. Though she also writes traditional poetry, the tanka form became her specialty. In Mexico she published three books of her own poetry: A Pillow Stuffed with Diamonds (2010); Saying Her Name (2011), and Holding Hands with a Stranger (2014). In 2018 she also published James Tipton’s last book, The Alphabet of Longing. These are all available on Amazon or locally at Diane Pearl’s. Margaret also contributed to three Ajijic anthologies: All Our Words Needed Saying (2015); Romancing the Muse (2017); and What Remains (2020), as well as the forthcoming Bravados, edited by Janice Kimball.

Margaret is currently writing a book of both traditional poems and tanka on the topic of death and dying. The following tanka are a few examples of what’s to be included in the book, which so far has no title. 

despite their efforts

to make them scared of hell

the church can never win:

Mexicans fear life more than death

embrace the skeleton

this fecund population

is bound to the church

not by promise

of eternal life, but love

of the virgins here and now

a de los muertos

in this ancient village

the bones are brought to light

scrubbed with remembrance

returned to earth another year

we did not know

all our words

needed saying

that day we stopped by

to just say hello

I used to think

promiscuity

had something to do with promise;

now I know

it’s all about mortality

arm in arm

in stride with

the faceless figure

whose name

I’ve tried to forget

the church gardener

turns up teeth in the compost

feeding the flowers—

a congregant’s final gesture

to give back, pay forward

out of the wood urn

into arms of the beach breeze

fly his last remains

at home with sand, air, water—

with some smeared on her tearful face

*****

A Pointillist Paints a Heart

daubs pigment

with precision,

dares the edge to spill,

blur, bleed,

fights the emergent form.

Still from the chaos

a redness triumphs,

stokes the thing

to fire and thump!

This heart’s alive,

each point a nerve bared. 

Stand back and sense prevails;

close up witness the clamor

of insistent shards.

*****

An Old Man Contemplates His Frailty

Joe, an octogenarian from Pottawatomie County,

preparing his wardrobe for a cruise to that part 

of the Mediterranean from the port of Rome 

to the ruins of Troy, takes stock of his closet

where hang the clothes of a stranger—someone 

robust and tall, upright in carriage, someone

he once knew who could chop a cord of wood

and carry the heavy groceries in. He tries on 

the blazer with the real brass buttons. His favorite 

dress-up jacket, trousers and shirts, once elegant 

attire, are now costume for a clown. Will some 

oracle disclose where flesh goes when it leaves

the man behind with nothing but a third leg 

for balance, backbone torqued into a halting 

question mark?

*****

Diplomacy

In some countries

you must offer three times

because courtesy requires

that one decline twice

before accepting what one

wanted all along,

lest one look greedy or needy.

In some countries 

you must never decline

or you shall be thought an ingrate

scorning your host’s beneficence,

which you neither need nor want

but must pretend is the epitome

of your heart’s desire.

In some countries,

just because they’re there,

you must offer even though

you can’t afford to 

and you detest the bastards.

In some countries

you must offer and they

must say yes, though neither

the offer nor the acceptance

is sincere, and all are relieved

with the comfort of the lie.

Darling, when we lie with one another,

in which country are we?

*****

Legacy

They’ll trash the mountain of photos it took us 

a lifetime to raise as bulwark against memories’ 

erosion, ours and theirs. They won’t recognize 

our faces or our names, and it’s less likely they’ll 

love us or thank us for the DNA, but they’ll have 

proof in albums we were here—and everywhere 

else while here, checking off the wonders, ancient, 

modern, and natural, shutter-alert and smiling 

from crib to grave. Time was when a lock of hair, 

a letter from the Front, a square of handiwork 

summed up a soul. Those who come will trash 

this heap of ours while theirs, taken by phone

and stored in a Cloud, may wander forever 

lost in digital oblivion.

*****

Lot’s Wife

Lot’s wife looked back

not to see Sodom in flames,

but what had become of her home, 

that place where she’d tended 

the hearth, shuttled the loom, 

planted the everyday

seeds of expectation. 

Before the expulsion, 

Lot’s wife had a name 

and face, a beating heart.

For over-yearning

she was struck dumb,

made one of many 

salt pillars in the desert,

a warning to those who’d look back

not to shed tears for what was 

and never more will be 

or they too will be frozen in time.

*****

Elimination Dance

in memory of Jim Tipton

the curandero

feeds him

rattlesnake rattles

to cure what ails him—

in his pocket a ticket to Tijuana

invited on the trip

three Fates

all 30 years his junior—

his wife, the maid,

one lover

Death now transgendered

a temptress

in stilettos

and miniskirt—

same ol’ Jim

he knows his name

is on her dance card—

she’ll soon appear

to collect the promised

pasodoble

*****

Last Words

Crossing the threshold into memory care

you had three words, and eight months 

later lost a third of those. The brain had 

let all others go. You, whose store of words 

seemed inexhaustible, how do you get by 

with two? Is your world a foreign flick 

without subtitles? Are you like an animal 

who understands the gist but can’t reply? 

I see you as a neonate, no mother’s milk 

for wisdom or comfort and no words writable 

on your blank slate. Perhaps you have 

no memory of what’s been lost and thus 

can be content with what remains (those two)

and grateful for the one that lies ahead.

*****


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