Paula Tartarunis

Night Lights

Six A.M. It might as well be three.
In winter I get up by night/And dress
by yellow candlelight. Hey, RLS,
what rhymes with a One Hundred Watt GE ?
(A lampshade marked unsafe for over sixty.)
Breakfast's toast, Letters of Weldon Kees,
the Globe (Lithuania's Old Lileikis
is still free) & coffee, instant Nescafé.
The year is listing toward its longest night.
I dreamed that I was pregnant. Something dead
lay in dulce utero. A cramp
impaled me in the dream, then on my bed.
I woke, Kotex askew, pajamas damp.
Note to self: change sheets. Buy Xmas lites.

Note to self. Change sheets. Buy Xmas lites.
Leave by seven a.m. This used to mean,
weeks back, a sunblind dash across two lanes
of westbound rush, a faithleap into white
where Trapelo veers off left to Pleasant, right
where day broke blue for Lowell at McLean's.
(To dazzled eyes the sign reads MrClean.)
Now solstice gives a dim reprieve to sight.

A girl's best friend's her IUD, I'd joked.
This one lasts ten years, she said. You're 43 ?
Then, if you're lucky, you won't need another !
My gynecologist is young and perky
and I am old enough to be her mother.
Legs up ! That's it ! I winced. She poked. And poked.

Legs up ! That's it ! (She winced. I poked. And poked.)
That's smear de Papanicolou, BP,
cholesterol and mammo, now tell me,
Do you wear seat belts ? Have you ever smoked ?
Do you have sex with men, women, both ?
Overeat, do drugs, risk HIV ?
Exercise and floss ? OK, Let's see:
Chance of death 100 %. I loathe
my work some days. Simone Weil wrote
What's worthless shuns the light. We hide in flesh.
Or in aversion, practically the same.
OK, who's next. I think I'll forego lunch.
The new surgeon's cute. What's her first name ? I'm not deaf, I'm fasting read the note.

̃I'm not deaf, I'm fasting read the note.
Non sequitur or simply inchoate,
omitting the and I renunciate
speech as well ? He's mute unquote unquote,
I quipped. He had the flu. I spoke. He wrote.
Block print sans serif enunciates
ITS FOR THE POOR Doctor annunciates
̃I'll be the poison, you be the antidote.
A light that knows no night. Teresa was
gunning for sainthood. Dympna Dopamine,
patroness-to-be of nuts and bolts,
pronounced Teresa's visions sight unseen
synaptic storms, no more, no less. A jolt—
God's jolly doppelganger, Santa Claus.

God's jolly doppelganger, Sankt Klaus,
knows Son and Sun will sell his latest line
of Nativity Goods and Services in time
for Old King Herod's cameo (APPLAUSE)
on this season's hottest sit-com, Klaus's
Angels. May a well-timed snowfall lime
your Christmas white, he carols. He's in fine
voice, singing of the night that Teresa lost,
a countersong to sun and son that calls
me winterward again, lullay lulla,
make a break for it , become a glove
dropped in quick departure, become a car
left beside the Golden Gate as love
strains its northernmost ecliptic, and fails.

Love strained its northernmost ecliptic, failed.
By the schwarze milche der frühe Lileikis signed.
They marched from Vilnius to Paneriai.
The execution cards were stamped befehls—
gemaess behandelt. Lamps guttered in stairwells,
disconstellating toward the unsurprise
so meticulously foretold. My name dismays
my tongue. I fall through fallen night. Unspelled,

I rut satan. It's an anus trait.
Depending on whose seed or pulp I've swallowed,
it's Seven Deadlies, Three Poisons, or One
Original, and everything's unhallowed
out here beyond the tether of the sun.
Sapiens and sentiens, my fate.

Sentiens and sapiens, our fate.
I always set the thermostat too low.
Time to get up. I hope it didn't snow.
What do loquens and scribens mitigate ?
Come back, you say ? I can't. It's way too late.
The roads are bad. The rush hour traffic's slow—
a paradox, a metaphor, I know,
but nonetheless, my first patient's at eight.
What did the brochure promise ? It said See
the morning star, and become God ! I hurled
it in the trash. God's forwarding address
composts elsewhere, now. How can this world
blaze without an aureole of darkness ?
Six A.M. I wish it were still three.

An Ordinary Crown

( for DK )

How quickly the ordinary resumes—
one day you're counting backwards toward the saw,
headfirst, the mouse is screeching har dee har,
you're strapped down like the cat in the cartoon&mdash
the next you're licking yogurt from a spoon,
admiring Boston from the fifteenth floor,
half remembering how, the night before,
the surgeon burst into your groggy room,
his hand thrust out toward me, your jangled spouse,
then wrapped a tighter turban round your head.
You tried to make a joke about his tie
where Santa grinned in place of Mickey Mouse
but I could only think of what you'd said—
that you'd been half convinced that you would die.

That you'd been half convinced that you would die
should not have come to me as a surprise
since I'd been putting pennies on your eyes
for weeks myself. But what about that lie
you told, that flippant answer to my shy
inquiry ? Such an elegant disguise,
donned for my sake ! And if I recognized
you, I held my tongue. Like a good spy,
or an O. Henry wife who sells her hands
to buy some shoes for the two feet he sells
to buy some gloves for her. Could it be true ?
Of anybody, we should understand—
between them both they made a fractured whole.
Sometimes I think the unspoken is our glue.

Sometimes I think the unspoken is our glue.
Although my brains are leaking out my ear !
is was what you said to anyone who'd hear,
we wore our hearts inside our sleeves. And who
dared mention when a bit of red showed through ?
What should we do with overwhelming fear ?
The fortune cookie makes it very clear:
Eschew all brouhaha and ballyhoo.
I waited till I got you home to tell
you what the doctor said: there really was
a bit of brain, just ballpoint clicker sized,
dangling behind the drum. He called it "glial
tissue", snipped it out. When I told you, Huz,
at first you looked astonished, then amused.

At first you looked astonished, then amused.
You had presumed I brought you home intact,
that Dr. V., as promised, had put things back.
Well, almost, darling. But let us not confuse
brain with mind. For that there's no excuse.
Let's face it -- your inner skull was cracked,
brain and water filled your ear. He packed
the hole with bone. You're unconvinced ?
Here is my inventory, still incomplete,
of what was not inside that scrap of brain:
your music, taste in cinema and cats,
your equanimity, libido, wit,
your tendency to cast your socks astray
upon the bedroom floor in wild scatter.

Upon the 15th floor, still in a wild scatter,
I sat while you slept off the chloroform
or whatever fancy gas is now the norm
and watched the fitful rain cough, splatter
the view that nighttime and the closely slatted
blind made strange. (Are you awake ? Are you warm
enough ?) Red clots of taillight rush hour jammed
the arteries between an Osco, Texaco, shattered
and embolized at green. (Is that the highrise
where Ronald's daughter lived ? Where is Brookline ?)
Your pneumatic stockings hissed and coiled like boas
up your calves, past your kneecaps, toward your thighs—
Huntington, Mass. Mental and Route Nine
were down there, plain as day, when the sun rose.

Down there, in the plain day, after the sun rose,
you wondered how to keep your glasses on.
I thought of King Odysseus coming home
to his Queen and Ithaca. Do you suppose
he also wore a hat, oh, one of those
Aeaean novelties, pink ears stuck on
the crown ? Even astronauts blazed down
in spiffy hats. (Shall I stick on some bows?)
I still can't sleep until I hear you snore.
I listen to our kitties ring their bells.
Insomnia, a frayed robe, the marriage bed.
I write, rewrite. She wove, and then unwove.
We plan new curtains, sonnets to replace
the ones wicked to halfway up with red.

The ones wicked to halfway up with red ?
I'll even show you those someday. Not yet.
For now it's take-out before the TV set,
Howlin' Wolf and Bartok, your new Fred
"Midnight Cowboy" Neil CD. Poor Fred.
You sent me out to rent old favorites—
All That Jazz, The Thing, and Cabaret
(not Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead)
Someday I'll tell the funny anecdote
of how a turbanned madman, the one who lived,
chased me around the house from room to room.
How I was willing prey. Blue bulbs and notes
ballast each holy string. Who'd have believed
how quickly the ordinary resumes ?


After "CancionesDelAlma" of St. John of the Cross

Out of the neglected yew
rise five-petaled stars
the color of Lent,
nightshade, solanum dulcamara.

The stem, green as Epiphany,
twists from a necropolis
of needles, saying
Bittersweet, I ease.

It is late summer.
The Northern Cross
astigmatizes yellow-violet
in the wildfire haze.

My house is now at rest.
No one is watching.
I move hand over hand
faithless, along a vine,

past overgrown topiaries
whose boughs brush and inflame my lips
so long parched by acedia,
toward another nightshade

rampant in the crux and clove
of an occluded maze
Atropa Belladonna,
mi amada.

In the quiet house
a child is drawing stars
five-pointed ones
teachers' stars
the ones that mean A +
good girl we love you

She has just learned
the moves, the angles.
Her crayon flies
up down left right down
facile as father son holy ghost
skimming head to heart
shoulder to shoulder.

She draws them all over
Life and Look and Post
the Eagle-Tribune
Popular Mechanics
in pure Crayola Red
five swift strokes to closure
ten stars to a glossy page
as if she'd gone mad with praise
or supplication
I love you I love
love me love me love

She is in her Auntie's bathroom
hiding from the radio.
It says missal crisis, twist
and shout, baby
it's you. The tiles are pink,
and cold. In the closet
in the shadows
hang the red rubber things.
She wants blue shoes.
Not those gunboats, said her Dad.
Gunboats gunboats gun,
she thinks, starring and starring.
Where is the secret ladder
out of here ?

iii. K. 626
One headlight scans the gutted roadbed
beyond pass at your own risk.
The sky's blue-black, then black. The stars are moot.
In transit, I'm unreachable, untouchable.
Even with the windows down
my car's as stifling as a cave or tomb.

My heartlight's lackadaisical blip blip
quickens as forked lightning splits the pitch
and vault of thunderheads Requiem
Aeternam I submit they're playing my song
cloud to ground my synapses ignite
I'm wand, antenna, steeple, rod and switch.
A sickle moon snags on the altar clouds.
I swizzle-stick the darkness, sigh and sip.

iv. Late August Hymn
The nightshade's livid rays
have faded, come unbound.
Green calyxes, green fruit
hang from the scrawling vine
in a creche of gauzy air.
Already, in the yew's
dark craze of evergreen
lobe-red arils purse
bitter green in sweet
while broomrape, hellebore,
earth-smoke and devil's-tit
conspire behind the fence
to lash greenstick to stick
and graft red flesh to branch.

My house is quiet, dark.
Across the midday lawn
creep ragweed, bedstraw, spurge.
Blessed are the low,
the lackluster, the mere.
Monkshood is our keep
against both -bane and -balm.
What have I left behind ?
Four walls, a floor, a roof.
The creak of stair and spring
the nightlight in the hall,
the smell of dust, the sting
of salt on a parched lip,
or cold pine upon knees
and, overarching all,
the Word, the Ego Sum.

Good-bye, my quiet house.
I hurry toward nowhere.
No one awaits me there.

     …amada en el Amado transformada
Little a, big A, little a and o,
the minute something hustles into speech
it's all sex and power, so
in my poem, on its dark stage,
Amanda will transform into Armando
and Armando into Amanda
until they are the black and white of a single panda.
Such is the vice of my versa & verso.

I went to Alma's Bar and Grille
and ordered the Nachos Oscuros y una cerveza.
Johnny Delacroix will pay my bill,
we have this arrangement, see,
where first I get to eat and drink my fill
then, after hours, upstairs in Alma's boudoir
we do our little Dark Night menage a noir.
Johnny calls it "Jack & Jill & Jill."

You'd think a poet could come up with something better
for the threesome thing. Poor Alma.
A Trinitarian allusion might well upset her
notion of Johnny as an utter Philistine,
but fall for his smoldering corazon line and forget her
common sense and the ardent vows she made me
when she and I were roommates at Wellesley ?
Never. I'm helping her compose the Dear John letter.

It will take the form of a sestina.
The end words will be Alabama, rooster, hill,
gumball, snake-eyes and ocarina,
and it will (not unflatteringly) compare him to
St Peter Narcolepsus caught between a
cock and a hard place. Me,
I'd trade the world of poetry
for Johnny, face-down, Dark at last, en la piscina.

vi. Arboretum
Sugar maple. It's a dirty tree.
Always shedding something, Flowers, fruits, leaves.
My fastidious father would say that.

Milk tooth to milk, dandruff to clot, his world
is slough and catarrh. Embarrassing,
in the way titties is and tits isn't.

So I'll address the cedar, the one by the walk,
as arbor vitae, ascorbic, anti-oxidant.
Evergreen. Wood fit for a Hope chest

and an impeccable trousseau. Just add
dry ice, naphthelene, formaldehyde,
silica pellets labeled Do Not Eat,

freeze dry, truss and glaze the sweet betrothed,
and he will come, in the darkest nuptial night,
the sugar daddy to the sugar teat.

vii. Recapitulation
Our heroine, performing without faith or net,
has gone forth into the "dark night."
Her house is empty, the utilities, suspended.
Nothing hoovers in or oms out.
Even the walls and floors are debatable.
Poisonous plants have claimed the yard.
Weeds of the Northeast, open to nightshade,
mildews on the sidewalk, while the chainlink
gags on swallowwort, spitflower, godbane.

Our heroine was late setting out.
First there was the unfinished business of the stars.
Then the burial of the ladder, the blue shoes,
the radio. It, of course, had drizzled all week.
She'd only renamed half the weeds
when the ink curdled. The woman in the maze
required kisses. That alone took three days,
and whole new scales. Whom would she engage
to write the commentary ?

No sooner had our heroine gone forth
than she tripped on gone forth. The threshold, no,
the whole house, was gummed to her sole. Swell.
This will be another vaudeville. So,
she ditched her shoe. Compared to this,
the incident with Johnny and Alma was peanuts.
If the inspector had questions
about the body in the swimming pool,
he didn't ask them.

The titflowers surprised her with their sweet pith.
Her old self would have wanted pancakes,
TV. But here, in the "dark night,"
where she couldn't have wanted even if she wanted to,
it was a twelve stations forward, twelve steps back
aposcillation around what was once called
the still point, but what now is simply called
"on" or, sometimes, "off."

Who'd have imagined the "dark night"
was sectarian, a Holy War
of breath holders and hyperventilators
over the pH of visions ? It was enough
to give a girl asterixis or tetany, she complained,
and then confided what she dreaded most
was the the en mi cuello hería part.
Asphyxiophilia was not her bag,
plastic or otherwise. In the end

she could not bring herself to court
"the white oblivion of lilies," as pretty
as that sounded, or even picture herself
phiz down, insensate, on Armando's chest.
She began to fret. It was, what, September ?
Soon the dumpster maples would unload
their inevitable red messes, prelude
to nights that would shame the "dark night"
with their black ice gloss.

How dark had she gotten, anyway ?
We could still make out enough letters and elbows
to get the same old caustic gist of her,
as all along the roadsides the wind whipped
luxuriant stands of St. Johnscrux prostrate.
You ninny, they hissed at her, What did you expect ?
"Palm Sunday," she scribbled, excited
heading home.

Ought I to regret my seedtime ?
     …R. Lowell, "Memories of West Street and Lepke"
In her dream, La Cirque d'Equinoxe
had pitched in, and she was daredeviling
or maybe it was devildogging, she couldn't tell,
on Equus Noctis, The Centrifugal Horse.
Which was more merciless,
the clockwise beast or the counterclockwise air ?
She bared her throat to the big top,
her feet to the horsehide hairshirt flank.
One hand throttled the reins, the other grasped
at the strange bars of light that jigged overhead,
the blind Venetian conjurerer's masterpiece,
garish, she thought, in a deco sort of way,
but so, so continental.

Just as the Human Cannonball
crowned in a gush of smoke and ruddy light,
Her thundering circle of anapests and sawdust blurred
to escape velocity, and she let go
to oohs and aahs reserved for the juiciest disasters.
He arced toward the swaddling net,
she into the longest, darkest night, night's night,
then into night's night's night, ad infinitum,
streaming past solstice, out of REM.
The last thing she saw ?
La Bougie Humaine sputtering in the wings.
Equinoxious, solanine-laced,
two shades of night intoxicate the yard.
Eastern black pocks the maple's fissured root
where it splits the tar,
and bittersweet red vesciculates the yew
between its bird-beckoning arils,
and taxine-steeped darts. They say

You'll die alone on a sunny day, vogelzuwinkend,
your face a third degree, your fingertips ice-gnawed,
breathless, motionless, your pupils shuttercocked
wide as a merciless belle dame's.

Is it better, then, to eat acorns and sourgrass ?
A pyrex of flamingos wades the kitchen mulch
flame-proof-pink as infants' wear,
and Christmas comes earlier every year.
Its berries clapper the unresounding light
even while daylilies, snuffed to wicks, still wave
their rattles full of bituminous seed.

World ! I can't play your jilted lover forever.
I am the pulp that nourishes your germ,
the flesh that suckles your stones,
the poison that feeds your pit,

but first there's Halloween with its trade-in-tricks,
its incantations, apparitions, vellum sheets
of I-holes and knows-holes,
its rin of sweets in tintin death's-head pails,
its noggin of eggs on clapboard, soap script on windowpane,
then Old Sol sleeps it off alone, lampshade still on,
as all saints and souls keep vigil by the bed.

so it's all Lohengrin and vows, then, dear,
and conjugation through the wedding glass ?
Your yews festooned with bridal, bathroom white
will shiver in my closed eye's darkest night.


Physician and poet Paula Tatarunis, (1952 - 2015) made her home in Newton, Massachusetts. Her work often layers medical knowledge and natural landscapes with allusions to history and religion.To see more of her work please visit paulashouseoftoast.blogspot.com


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The most recent addition to The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline is Jane Kenyon by Susan Spear.

Gail White and Nausheen Eusuf are the recipients of the 2017 Mezzo Cammin Scholarships to the Poetry by the Sea conference.

Alice Mizrachi is a New York based interdisciplinary artist working in the mediums of painting, installation, murals and socially engaged art. Her work explores the interconnectedness of individuals and community through the dual lens of compassion and empathy. Through figurative work that reinforces both personal and community-oriented identity, Alice aims to inspire creative expression and a sense of shared humanity through art.

Alice has worked as an arts educator for nearly twenty years for a variety of organizations including BRIC Arts, The Laundromat Project and The Studio Museum in Harlem. As a pioneer in the field of socially engaged art at the local level, Alice has been recognized and selected to develop arts education curriculum for organizations such as HI-ARTS (Harlem, NY), Dr. Richard La Izquierdo School and Miami Light Project. She has also been a panelist discussing community-engaged art for events at Brown University and The Devos Institute of Arts Management.

As a painter, Alice maintains both a studio practice and an extensive body of work as a muralist. Her work have been featured in exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, UN Women and the Museum of Contemporary Art in DC. She has been commissioned as a mural artist for projects in Amsterdam, Berlin, Tel Aviv, and across the United States by organizations and museum including: Knox-Albright Museum, Buffalo, NY; Worcester DCU (Worcester, Massachusettes); Wall Therapy (Rochester, NY); La Mama and Fourth Arts Block (NYC); Miami Light Project (Miami, FL); and, Chashama (Harlem, NY), among others.

Alice's mural and installation work has been constructed in galleries and public spaces as part of site-specific arts education and community development projects. Her work often engages local neighborhoods and reflects positive visual responses to social issues. Her process activates a shared space of love, hope, optimism and healing as a means to connect with participants. Frequent topics include identity, unity, migration and the sacred feminine.

Alice and her art have been featured in a variety of publications including the book, 2Create, Outdoor Gallery: New York City, the New York Times, and Huffington Post and The Architectural Digest. She has a BFA from Parsons School of Design and was an instructor at the School of Visual Arts in 2015. Alice was also the co-founder of Younity, an international women's art collective active from 2006-2012. She has received grants from The Puffin Foundation and The Ford Foundation. Her recent projects include a residency in Miami with Fountainhead, a residency with Honeycomb Arts In Buenos Aires and a mural with The Albright Know Museum in Buffalo. Alice currently holds a studio space at The Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx. Her upcoming projects include a workshop/ panel at Brown University and a book release in Summer 2017.

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