Monday, 1 February 2021

Five Astounding Poems by Lauren Scharhag

 



Priestess

Nazca Hair, Peru – the skull of a woman, possibly a priestess, with hair still attached, from approximately 200 BCE. The hair is 2.8 meters long. (Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of the UNT, Trujillo, Peru)

 

Over 9 feet of hair, it lies

in two long ropes,

turning and twisting in on itself

like the branches of a huarango tree.

Even now, the average height for women in Peru

is only 5’2”. Imagine having hair

almost twice as long as your body.

Priestess, what must your life have been

for you to sweep about

with such epic locks?

The heft of it! The heat of it!

And what a job it must have been

to wash. I wonder if you

had attendants to follow you around,

keeping your follicular train

from dragging along the floor,

or if you carried it yourself,

draped over your shoulders

like a stole? Or did you spend

all your time in the temple,

lost in the ecstasy

of mescaline cactus visions,

dancing with your killer whale

and spotted cat gods,

with your gods of fish

and peanuts, with the three sisters

crop avatars?

 

A climate of extremes

begets a culture of excess:

immense earthworks and plazas,

the famous lines scrawled

for miles across the desert

that were clearly meant

for gods’ eyes. So we can’t exactly

claim surprise to find such hair—

equally massive, equally deliberate.

These tresses suggest, too,

the puquios, stone spirals running

into the earth. In a time when water

and God were inextricable,

did you swim the aethereal channel,

bringing divinity back down to earth

to slake the thirst of the faithful?

O priestess of trepanation,

of cranial modification,

collector of trophy heads,

what strange phrenology

must you represent? With your language

of knotted strings, the natural argot

of weavers, your warp and weft

are equally indecipherable.

 

Are you the Nazca, the Andes?

 

Are you the Earth itself?

 

Eventually, despite your efforts,

drought took them all.

 

Now you’re housed

in the same museum,

(a temple of sorts),

beside the effigy of a woman

carved out of whale’s tooth.

It, too, has hair. Maybe you knew

that bone and hair persist,

that it would be the tether

between past and future,

between us and you,

the last echo of your magic.

 


The Gilded Monk

1,000-year-old mummified monk found hidden in statue

 

Hundreds tried but only 24 ever achieved

what the Japanese called sokushinbutsu,

the act of self-mummification:

3,000 days of brutal preparation.

First, limit your diet to nuts, seeds, bark, and roots.

Perform strenuous physical activity to further

pare down the body. Drink toxic Urushi tea.

It will make you vomit, but it will also

make your remains impervious to maggots

and the bacteria that feed on corpses.

When you are ready, your pine box

is just large enough for you

to fold yourself into the lotus position.

We lower you into the ground,

a bamboo tube for oxygen.

Every day, you ring a bell to let us know

that you are still alive.

When the bell stops ringing,

we know to remove the tube

and seal you in.

In 1,000 days, we exhume you.

 

You are found preserved.

You achieved the death-trance.

Now a holy object, you are moved

to the temple to be revered

until it is time for you to awaken.

 

1,000 years later,

your body is found in Amsterdam,

tucked inside a statue of the Buddha,

with scrolls of paper

where your lungs once were.

This cannot be your terminus—

garish gold leafing and papier-mâché,

museum tours across Europe.   

Where does your soul yet sojourn?

Do you yet dwell among the devas,

gathering sufficient wisdom

to deliver salvation unto us?

 

We await you, bodhisattva.

We speak your name,

Liuquan.


 

Necromancy

after Anatomical Venuses, 18th century

 

It was the Enlightenment. For science, they said. For art.

For God. For the body is the reflection of the world, is

a reflection of God. (As above, so below.) They sought

the pinnacle of knowledge. But cadavers were hard to come by.

So the artists came, the ceroplasticians, pouring beeswax

and chemicals into molds, conjuring Pygmalion’s nameless love.

We emerged, a spill of curls, a throat of pearls, hips and breasts,

inlaid glass eyes lined with real lashes, recumbent like Odalisques,

heads thrown back, arms behind our heads, painted faces both

ecstatic and serene, Holy Virgins receiving our Annunciations,

even the pregnant models. Invariably white as ivory, invariably slender,

invariably comely. For the anatomy lessons, they said, but only

female figures were rendered in such meticulous detail. The males

were skinless, featureless, prosaic. But we have our own magic.

We know about effigies. We know about simulacrums.

We know about golems and fertility statues. You peeled

back the layers, tunneled into us, trying to understand.

Look how these organs unfurl. Look at this fetus, so realistic.

You called us Venuses. You named us for a goddess, the one

that shares her name with veneration. But we had no say.

And we held the wrong kind of sway. You knelt at our sides,

knowing it was a false love, a false idolatry. But the hatred

was real, the contempt was real, as it was in the beginning,

now and ever shall be. You called us slashed beauties.

Thoraxes and abdomens sprung like the lid of a pocket watch.

Or like the lid torn off of Pandora’s box. Perhaps you denied

the sexual nature, perhaps you reveled in it, perhaps both. We are

creatures of infinite contradiction, of infinite appetite. Did you know

the word agalmatophilia? Did you know it was necromancy? We were

the forbidden. Faux dead, for real damned. We were the uncanny valley

and you went blithely down, exposing that which was once hidden.

The violence and the violation. Such transgressions exact their price,

O, Liebestod. O, Rohypnol. See us. Know our names: Elizabeth Smart.

Jon Benet Ramsey, Laura Palmer, Marilyn Monroe, Mary Ann Nichols,

Ophelia, Snow White, Annabel Lee, Zellandine/Aurora/Briar Rose.

The dead beauty is the eternal beauty, or so you say. What women

ought to be, and what we ought not to be. The bed is a coffin. To die

is to become an object. No matter what, beautiful women especially

are thought to be complicit in their own demise. We should be thanking

the men who bestowed the gift of their attention, froze us in time, spared us

crow’s feet and saggy tits. Pardon our lack of gratitude. We are only

made of wax and a single rib.


 

Where Man Doth Not Inhabit

for disappearing Antarctica

 

Austral summers

devoid of stars

save one;

only mountains preside

over the dust and salt,

the scouring cold,

the nothing that is not nothing,

only not mammal.

What rough materials

keep their secrets--

it may seem like proof of our solitude

until the wind moves down the slopes

like a goading hand.

We stand in the shadow

of the observatory.

Land of the unseen,

connecting us to other worlds,

umbilicus of bacteria and protein,

soil around us littered

with the universe’s

fallen messengers.

O, world’s beginning

and world’s end,

so far from the borders of man,

we’ve forgotten our kinship

to the pared-down and the open,

bottom rung on the ladder

to cosmic radiance.

The second season comes.

Driven indoors by the killing cold,

we sleep, like microbes in ice,

we sleep. Thaw us out and

we hatch colour.

 

 

Orenda

 

Inherent power:

the old ones knew

there was something

more democratic

about giving every

natural thing

a stake in it.

It pleases me

to think that stone

and mist,

flame and dew

are no less deserving

for lacking breath.



 

Lauren Scharhag (she/her) is an associate editor for GLEAM: Journal of the Cadralor, and the author of fourteen books, including Requiem for a Robot Dog (Cajun Mutt Press) and Languages, First and Last (Cyberwit Press). Her work has appeared in over 150 literary venues around the world. Recent honors include the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Prize and multiple Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominations. She lives in Kansas City, MO. To learn more about her work, visit: www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com

 


7 comments:

One Superb Poem by Antonia Alexandra Klimenko

Beautiful Lies                                Don't be a stranger ! you said Just come as you are if I'm still around th...