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copyright 2006 Elizabeth Slaughter-Ek


Where do the quick minded go
When things get slow around here

When it picks up, do the slow witted souls
spin from waltz to jitterbug without a pause

Whose feet am I stepping on when I dance?
Whose brain am I stepping on when I think?

When the mind bends around a notion, this motion,
does speed count for anything

Points are not awarded for the time elapsed
Ribbons are not given for the dancers who collapse

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When These Things Cease

When these things cease
to amaze me, bury me:
trees, light on the water, light on the leaves,
the bowl of stars, the shining silverplated moon;
a cloud of pigeons ascending
between high-rise buildings;
the sweet movement of a summer evening,
a summer night; and the spectrum of the seasons;
the sharp cracking utter stillness after ice storms;
the unexpected, the sublime, the sudden sureness
belonging to animals.

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Reading Between The Lines

Riding the trains,
I watch the faces of the people,
making bets with myself:
Can I see their history or their futures in their face?
Older ones are harder
They catch me staring.
I try to see the child, or at least decipher
the young man
the young woman
limned in those faces like an optical illusion.
I smooth wrinkles, tighten skin;
eyes widen and flash.

When I see pictures of an earlier someone I know
the recognition hits in a jawline,
in the angle of the head.
I can see where the new began to turn
to the old. I can see it
in my own pictures, in my own skin.
I want something to remain
hidden in my face
written on my body
even as the tattooed lines of age claim me.

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Other poets must know this:
the art of catching hold
when the poems fan your face
on their way by.
They listen and hear them.
What's the trick? I grope and
oh . . . a poem, but wait

too late

There are poems braided in my hair.
Peering out, behind my eyes.
In my skull, they are churning,
a big brain soup.
All around my head they hover
but I can't hear what they say.

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The Weight

I didn't understand the world was so full
despite having flown halfway around it
until living in this barnacled shore,
this town, this wheeling chaotic anthill;
these hardened shells of buildings.
If I relax my mental vigilance
the enormous realization: all these brains
humming in tandem, random
bursts upon me; a dizzy array.
Everyone stomping on the earth.
Even God: a little mad with this immensity.

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If I fell in the forest, would the trees hear? Would they see
the slow crashing, lumberous descent,
the mutilation of the undergrowth?
A great groaning need to rest.
The trees stand silent; mute and sentinel.
They see as a crowd sees.
A thousand leafblinks later,
my body, felled, lies riddled and decaying
and my eyes watch those falling around me
with some similar indifference.
If I fell on a crowded street, the trees would bend and sigh
Littering the lined cement with the shadowed seeds of beginnings.
Staring at those who stand there,
the unresponsive silence of my kind fells me daily.

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Give them what they want
Smile and look back over your shoulder
Swing your hips as you walk away
When you look at them keep your eyes lowered
Don't forget to bat your lashes
shave your legs
bind your feet
Giggle when they stare
laugh at all their jokes
allow the whistles
Flattering takes you everywhere
and leaves you cold
Don't object

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When they don't pan out
and you know it in advance,
are you psychic? Or just realistic?
One friend calls me cynic.
One says, at least I never whine.
Too true; I bitch instead,
twice the mileage from the same complaint.
First impressions leave me cold.
My blood is stilled within me;
sluggish red ropes. This winter,
this cracked ice reality encasing me.
I gobble experience with impunity
leaving a shriveled, withered husk
for those unlucky enough to come after.
That's what dating's for.

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No fireplace to turn and burn in front of now.
Music washes over me, no flames
in point counter point companionship.
Slow moving masses of glass;
my windows breed a clearness in my head
winter breathes a frozen breath.
The veins in my body: wide and
running with crystal water. I am so cold,
so warm. I think you can see through me,
I am that translucent.

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Speaking in Tongues

I'm learning a new language,
in the process, forgetting
the one I already knew.
Two words for one thing
they cancel each other out
I'm left gaping like a fish
no bubbles, no sense
The brain deflects and rejects
and the new words sputter
to a stop.
Can I be content with everyday
phrases the way I am
in the tongue I have now?
I'm only fluent in my dreams.

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What No One Knows

I hear the buzzing recede,
There's no sound now.
In the absence of sound, you hear more;
In the absence of light,
you see more.
I'll tell you a secret; the sky isn't black
at night in the desert, the stars shine it white.
Kill your engine, turn off the lights
the biggest of ladles low to the right,
the hum of crickets, stars, more stars.
In the desert at night,
silence becomes its own kind of sound;
Your ears stop up with the noise;
while stars replace your eyes.

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My Tongue

pink muscle
flutters and flaps
tries not to spit
wants to escape its confines
hides below my teeth
would roll in circles if it could
never thinks of exploring what lies
behind it

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Impressions of Oregon

White thunder crashing, the green and green
of a thousand leaves in my womb in my hands
in my heart. I can feel myself
leak out and run downriver with ice mountain water.
Here is majesty; here are choirs of angels.

The numbers of movements amaze me,
rob me of speech: how can I see so much?
My eyes become my face, become my skin.

A solitary bird above the car, warm above
the heated asphalt of the road: a hawk? a falcon?
I do not know its name and am ashamed
but it's name isn't necessary, just it.
It is flying the natural speed limit which we exceed
as humans, that has been our way.

Later, as the sun eases over
we walk a well-worn path away from the water,
through, around, over, under forest
high in the mountains, so high I can almost
hear the four-part harmony, a silverquick snake
stops and watches us watching him.
Does he find us as astonishing?

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I Never Thought I Would Grow Old

Surrounding myself with the fires of learning
I buried my head in the books.
When I speak or espouse what I know to be true
All I get are contemptuous looks.

Beauty is in the eye of the seeker
But age; in the eyes of the young
What is relevant now, though then I knew not
Is the length of song I have sung.

The lyrics and melody fall by the side
The rhythm is scattered and flown
If I don't have the time to finish my song
Then the truth and the beauty are blown.

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All Poems Copyright 2006 Elizabeth Slaughter-Ek
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