Perfume

“Love is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love.”  John le Carré

I smell something in the air

A soft delicious scent

Like floral, herbs, or spice

To me it’s heaven sent

I step a little closer

Into the confines of our space

The odor is beguiling

And yet, it’s foreign to our place

So I venture further still

And I see you there

You’re smiling

With tender words you welcome me

But the odor is beguiling

An essence does distract me

Unfamiliar to my senses

It floats on air and lingers there

And I think of past offenses:

Of little slips of paper

With words that whispered love

To those who were not me

To those whose flesh you loved

And the fragrance still is stronger

And I’m reminded of a lie

Of a promise that you made

But that you did not abide—

I smell betrayal in the air

And things do seem amiss

As you stand and start to tremble

In the wake of my soft kiss

And the essence is now bitter,

It’s becoming vile

I look to you and I do see

That you no longer smile

I know then your heart is heavy

With the burden of your guilt

And the pain that you’ve inflicted

In the name of selfish pleasure

In the name of your addiction—

The fragrance is a murmur

That tells the simple truth:

You’ve brought another to our bed

And the smell is her perfume.

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN

 

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The Naming of Her

The night begins with darkest spell

She calls forth demons from deepest hell

She sends them out to do her will

They venture off into night’s chill

 

They set about in secret search

Upon the shadows they hunch, they lurch

But their mistress’s wish they do fulfill

And bring to her much treasured ills:

 

A pint of blood, a pound of flesh

A heart ripped from a tender chest;

Screams of innocents bottled tight

And eyes bereft of all their sight…

 

With incantation now complete

While black cat purrs at her feet

The evil bidding stirs her soul

Intent as dark and black as coal

 

She chants her words for all to hear

And one by one, they fall in fear

Her whispered words consume them all

She stands, she laughs, she lets them fall

 

With her curse her victims writhe

Her spell a scourge by which they’ll die

The night is pierced by screams and pleas

But their wretched souls are hers to seize

 

And with her bounty of skin and bone

With withered souls that moan and groan

She steals her way into the night

And cackles oft with all her might—

 

To her dark prince of down below

These bloody gifts she does bestow;

For evil’s trouble he grants a wish:

He calls her hag, trickster and

Witch.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN

Ghost

What would the Halloween season be like without a ghost story?  Or in this case, a ghost verse

Moan and wail, clank of chain

Smell of death, recall pain

Haunts this hall, brings on fright

Shackled man who lurks this night

Smoke and mist, trick of light

Floats on air, a ghastly sight!

Behind the glass, through the door

Children, hide! And look no more

Obscure face, unknown soul

Wanders past, wanders slow

Sudden chill, horrid gasp

How long shall this terror last?

Rambles through, seeks to find

Passage to another time—

Bloodless spirit forced to dwell

Here on earth, a ghostly shell

Shimmers dark, shimmers light

Brings on fear, shrieks at night

Children, flee! Run and hide

‘Lest your wish too is to die

Beast and fiend, man no more

Soul is lost, love abhors

Anger stirs, hope is lost

Demon creature will accost

Children, please!  Heed this cry

For this is no lullaby

Rage abounds, fury too

Care that he comes not for you—

Moan and wail, clank of chain

Near the end of terror’s reign

Takes a soul, guards it well

Floats them both on down to hell.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN

Writing Black

As some of you may or may not know, I’m Haitian-American.

I’m black.

I don’t make this proclamation to be facetious or sarcastic.  I make it as merely a statement of fact:  I’m black.

It is what it is.

But I do bring it up because when I write, my race is not always evident.  The person that I am is not always easily seen.

I usually prefer it that way.

But it is interesting, because strangers who are just becoming familiar with my work and getting to know me have said to me on more than one occasion after having read my writing, they didn’t realize that I was black.

As if that’s a problem.  Thank goodness I have a thick skin, otherwise I might be offended.

I’ve written about this before, but I’ll say it again:  I don’t think my race should define my writing.  My writing should define my writing.  My stories should speak for themselves, and my verses should sing their own songs.  It is always my goal to tell a good story, as prose or as poetry, and I succeed at this objective as I can.  I try to leave myself out of it as much as possible.

However, every once in a while,  a little bit of me will peek through, and a little bit of my history, my person, my culture, my thoughts or my beliefs will make their way onto the page.  I don’t think that this is unusual.  I think it would be hard to write otherwise if I didn’t leave some of myself behind, exposed for the world to see.

But it is telling when someone reads something I’ve written, and make the connection between my words and my race, and they are surprised as a result.

I bring this up because my good friend, Francis F. Keating, (who, through two posts now, I hope you are getting to know), is also African-American.

Francis is also black.

But I think to the casual reader, many people wouldn’t know it by the poems he’s shared thus far.

In the work we’ve seen to date, Francis presents verses with an old-world, very classically structured styles and rhymes. In my opinion, they read like great literature and have a sense of timelessness about them.

Plus, it’s just a great voice that he uses to spin his verses.

I’ve told him on occasion that I expect to see these poems in high school English textbooks somewhere, being memorized and recited by thousands of students. He likes to laugh and disagree (he’s too humble to say otherwise) but I believe what I’m saying is true. His poems transcend race to focus only on a story, to speak only about the human condition, to espouse the many trials and tribulations to which we as individuals can all relate and understand.  What English teacher wouldn’t flock to that theme?

As writers, I think there is value at being able to write about a variety of topics in a myriad of styles that move beyond who you are in order to capture an experience common to everyone.  Following Francis’ lead, I’ve written many poems where I have tried to do just that.  I like to think I’ve hit the mark once or twice on that account, and certainly I believe Francis has it in the bag.

However, sometimes you have to write to share your unique self to the world, the common experience be damned.  Sometimes it is all about you, about sharing your story or your history and conveying those words that are an extension of you as a person.

In this case, I’m talking about writing black.

I don’t think this would be any different if I were Jewish or Hispanic or Chinese.  I believe this wouldn’t matter if I were a northerner, a southerner, from the East Coast or the West.  This would be the same if I my native tongue were English, French, Russian or Farsi, or if I were tall or short, fat or skinny, full of happiness or full of grief.  No matter what I could be, my own life experience, whatever it is, however I perceive it, would eventually appear on the page.  Of course, I have my own ideas about what I want to address when I write about topics that are afro-centric in nature, but that is the nature of the human experience:  it is unique to everyone.  Even when we share the experience, our perspectives will make it singular to who we are.

Certainly, I believe this is true when Francis writes; he has authored quite a few poems where he addresses his own experiences and perspectives as a black man, and creates a voice and a style to reflect that.  In one of his newer poems, Ghetto Smoke, he shows just how diverse and broad his range can be.  It speaks not only to the breadth of skill that he possesses with his mighty pen, but also to who he is and what he sees are problems and ills that our community faces.  Always literary, always poetic, but very raw and gritty, very streetwise and urban.

Ghetto Smoke is like that.  It flows almost like a song—a hip-hop anthem, if you will—but forever dark in both the reality it presents and the story he tells.  But it is as much as part of him as is the rest of his poetry—as it should be, since we all like to share a part of ourselves in the stories we write.

And as a black man, he sometimes likes to write black.

 GHETTO SMOKE

 

JoJo was born smokin’.

Soon as he come out his mommas womb

His daddy popped a cigarette in his mouth

And said,

“Smoke up mutha fucka

You ain’t got time for mother’s milk.

Hope you like sleepin’ on broken glass

Cuz we don’t know shit about silk.

The way of the devil is all that we have.

So buck up my nigga, hold tight to your brass.

The wheelin’ and dealin’ so thick

That the smoke makes you choke.

Our burdens a bitch on the yoke.”

So JoJo behaved like a young nigga should.

He smoked up dem smokes

And gave love to the hood.

By ten he was smokin’

Two packs of fuck you every day.

Young JoJo’s a player that way.

By twelve he was cuttin’ the yoyo for slice.

By twenty that nigga was rollin’ in ice.

The roll of the dice

The smell of the kill on the steel

Joe smoked up that shit with appeal.

Pop! Pop! In the head for a fool talkin’ shit.

Mad hate to his God for the fate that he spit

“No shame in my game”

Was the blunt that he hit with a smile

Ghetto style

JoJo smoked on that shit for a while.

In the cut

With a strut

“Gotta problem with me!

Nigga what!”

COPYRIGHT 2012 ©  FRANCIS F. KEATING.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

About Home…

Ahhh, home.

It’s frequently denoted as the place where the heart is, is it not?  And when you think of it this way, it does paint a pretty picture, doesn’t it?  Lots of warm and fuzzies, maybe fun times in the kitchen, or running in the sprinklers in the backyard on a hot, summer day.  Maybe you see late nights doing homework for the kiddies or watching the news for the parents.  Perhaps there are birthday parties and barbeques.  Valentine flowers, Easter egg hunts, Thanksgiving dinner, and presents under the tree. Perhaps there’s some sadness and grief.  Maybe illness has plagued your four walls, and tears were shed.  Loved ones remembered.  Regardless, it’s all part of the experience that we call home.

Yea, the traditional idea of home can conjure up a lot of lovely images.  That assumes, of course, that your perception of home is happy.

Sometimes, it’s not.

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of introducing my friend Francis F. Keating to the world (if you consider the world to be about forty or more people, but I digress…) and sharing some of his poetry.  This week, I’d like to share with you a little of the harmony that exists between us.

As writers, Francis and I are uncannily in sync with one another.  It’s been years since we’ve actually seen each other (the last time we were together was for my wedding, which was fifteen years ago) and there was a long period of time when we had simply lost touch and did not communicate at all. However, when we finally re-connected to write our novel, we amazed even ourselves at how much we are in tune with one another in terms of our ideas, our descriptions of scenes or settings, the rise and fall of our characters, the direction of the story.  In terms of our writing together, it’s as if we’ve picked up our writing habits right where we left off so many years ago, without the even the tiniest stitch in time to interrupt us.

I don’t doubt for a second that in all other facets of our lives, we are probably as different as two people can be:  the way we live, the people we love, the things we do.  It’s not even unreasonable that this is so. But when we write, he and I are completely in sync.  We both like the darkness.  We both flock to the twisted.  We both imagine the depraved, the irrational, the psychotic.  But the thing is, we tend to do this much in the same way.  Sometimes, I’ll toss an idea to him and he’ll tell me, “Ha, you know, Liz, I was going to suggest the same thing.”  Or he’ll share something with me and I’ll respond with, “Dude!  You beat me to the punch; I was going to do that!”  We’ll laugh and then we’ll move on, but sometimes we are so in line with our thought processes that it’s almost a little weird.

But, it’s weird in a good way.  Although we might surprise one another every once in a while with a bit of writing,  we’re not usually shocked by the direction the other took, the words we chose, the nature of the beast—and we always find one, he and I, we always find the beast.  We’re able to easily seek out the sinister in our tales or in our verses and help each other improve on it, without judgment or sermon, without suffocating conversations about right and wrong.  We find the darkness, we embrace it, and then we roll.

So when Francis shared one of his newer poems with me, She’ll Call Her Vengeance Home, I wasn’t at all surprised by the darkness of it.  On the contrary, I was attracted by it.  I loved the idea that he had taken the idea of home had made it obscure and opaque, adulterating it with images of revenge and despair and amazingly enough, wholehearted acceptance—and why not? Not everyone sees home in the same cheery way.  In fact, what is warm and light for some is cold and dark for others—and they welcome that. That is the reality of the world in which we live, but often times, people shun that reality.  They don’t want to believe it, despite all evidence to the contrary.

In his poem, Francis made the idea of home unexpected and disturbing, in a way that might bother some people.  However, his poem spoke to me.  In fact, I would later write my own poem, And An Angel Will Lead Him Home, partially inspired by his.

Needless to say, I too took a dark and unexpected turn, mainly because it seemed so natural to do so. Of course, I can’t speak for Francis, but I would like to think that he’d agree—that we each turn to these darker elements in our writing in a very natural, very fluid way because it has merit and it has value.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we also both think it’s kind of cool.

Other horror writers know this, I’m sure.  There’s a kind elation that comes when you find it in yourself to cross to the other side—where not many are destined to go—and grasp the darkness to tell its tale, to give its perspective.  There’s a moment when you show the ugliness for what it is: unapologetic, alive, and present.  Oh, yes, very present.

And you do it with aplomb.

Francis is good at that, too.

And so, with this next poem by my friend, I’d like to share with you another interpretation of home.

SHE’LL CALL HER VENGEANCE HOME

 photo credit:  Women Abuse, Cindy Coverly

When winter comes and angels die

When blackness creeps across the sky

And demons make an oath to try

A wicked plot against the eye

The watchful eye

The healing eye

Of souls that ever tend to cry

Of sorrows known to you and I

That’s when we both shall die.

~~~~~~~~

But misery shall not soon agree

When death’s embrace does come for thee

When melancholia runs from thee

When saviors slay disharmony

She will not flee

She will not see

She’ll hide behind her vanity

She’ll mock the pleas of sanity

She’ll call her vengeance home.

COPYRIGHT 2012 ©  FRANCIS F. KEATING.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

photo credit:  Women Abuse, Cindy Coverly

Grief of Ghosts

 “The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.”  Sophocles (496 B.C. – 406 B.C.)

In the quiet of the graveyard

In the quarter light of moon,

Fresh earth has yet to settle

And descend upon a tomb…

She slips the bonds of earth,

In search for one she missed,

In search for her beloved

And free herself from this abyss;

And another soul does flitter

He wanders gently by,

He’s looking for his child

To whom he’ll sing a lullaby;

And brother was a soldier,

He carries still his gun,

He’s looking for the enemy

But here he finds there’s none;

And the ghostly form of girl,

Wrists still crimson from her wounds,

Who in life did dream of death

But now the darkness will impugn;

And further in the graveyard

Under trees of pine and oak,

Other souls do gather

And wear night as their dark cloak;

They whisper to each other

And the air will catch their grief,

The living hear their cries

As moans and wails in

night’s soft breeze—

They’re looking for their loved ones

They’re looking for their lives

The ones that they believed in

And those they’ve left behind;

And in the quiet of the graveyard

In the quarter light of moon,

They sing a song of sorrow

Of lives gone much too soon.

COPYRIGHT 2012 © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

And An Angel Will Lead Him Home

“A man’s homeland is wherever he prospers.”   Aristophanes

 

 

When once was lost a good man’s soul

And he did renounce the promised home

When darkness pushed the light away

He vowed he would no longer play

When rules and law mattered not—

He sought a new way home.

~~~~~~~~

When once his conscious led him not

And the words he prayed were all for naught

When God did turn his back to him

His hands were covered in blood of kin

When guilt for him held no concern—

He sought a new way home.

~~~~~~~~

When once the love this man did hold

Changed in tenor and in code

When he invited evil in

When he committed grievous sin

When he spilled the blood of a humble man—

He sought a new way home.

~~~~~~~~

When once an angel of netherworld

Ventured forth and spoke a word

The angel made a promise true

Of a place of blackest hue

Where fires burned in name of sin—

He found a new way home.

Copyright 2012 © Elizabeth Michaud John.  All rights reserved.