"And then I tested the waters of forgiveness.."

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Issue 13: Free Form

Issue 12: The Necessary Ear

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Issue 10: Out on a Limb

Issue 9: The Missing Body

Issue 8: The Lily

Issue 7: Passages

Issue 6: No More Tears

Teresa Cader

Six Entries on the Invention of Paper

                        From The Paper Wasp


It begins with a wasp on a terrace in ancient China:
a man invents paper after watching the wasp
spin its white nest from mulberry bark.


Perhaps he has found bamboo too uneven
for letters in black wax.
Perhaps he is weary of verticality.
Perhaps he is ashamed of his private longings.


When his neighbor calls to him, “Ts’ai Lun,
what are you boiling in that large pot?”
he does not show him linen rags found in a basket,
old fish nets hauled off the docks,
mulberry bark stripped from the neighbor’s tree.


His neighbor sees thin sheets of pulp strewn
across the terrace, drying in the sun.
He does not perceive them as treasures.
He is annouyed with the clutter.
His children are forbidden to set foot on the terrace.
He whispers about Ts’ai Lun in the tea shop.


One evening after an inquisition at court—
The inventor has been implicated in palace unrest—
Ts’ai Lun comes home, drinks poison, and goes to bed.


On a table lie stacks of the white sheets.
The mulberry tree looks seamless in the moonlight.
The wasp is poised to devour some workers at dawn.

For Years

I kept the secret hidden from myself; I put it in the feather

In my cap. I wore it to the masquerade. To my audience

With the Emissary. Humility shone from it like rhinestones.

I was invited to serve, to applaud. It weighed nothing,

Sunlight on a diploma. It had the scent of roses—dark

Red roses—in the hands of a diva. Spring air was ragweed

And bottled clapping. My hands ached from clapping. Once

A wind with ripped clouds fluttered into my small room;

The feather was flayed open, a peacock's tail. Clefts

And gaps destroyed its smooth symmetry, its silky flame.

My secret was there on the white spine. Perched on the back

Of my chair. Ragged as a dead owl. Luminous dragonfly

Sex in the garden. It hadn't saved me; it had silenced me.

What veins reside in stones, what ore in the floorboards.

Tiny as a buttercup, unyielding to hammer and ruler,

The whispered phrase I want settled on my tongue,

A fly in honey. Look how the legs broke apart, a messy

Splintered impurity sinking out of reach. Even tweezers

Failed. In the garden the stones were slick with rain. The hall

Vibrated with doors slamming. I want had nothing to argue,

Nothing to prove. It learned it must balance

On the rim of the china bowl, neither seen nor heard.

A crusty cyst just under the skin, swelling with fluid,

It needed to be popped. Child alone in the courtyard.

Burnt bramble of war reduced to prolonged cruelty.

Welcome relief: no napalm, no gas, no toxin, no gun to the head.

A name in a field of a million graves. A poppy blown off course.

No known perpetrators, no guilt. Shame more filthy than fact. I can't,

Of course, remember: God is merciful. I am so humble.

And then I tested the waters of forgiveness: I could not swim.

To doggy paddle like a Labrador, head barely above the surface,

In March on the pond; skimped ice milk left on the porch.

A dog, yes, a dog matters, though no one knows he's slipped out

Of the gate, attracted to the pond by scent of piss and squirrel.

Under in minutes. Unless someone hears the barking. Unless tree

Limbs hold him up. Unless a hapless stranger with a good heart

Hikes into the field and down to the pond, uninvited, thinking

Fault lines in the ice invite carp. And who would forgive him

If he stayed on shore? Who should I forgive, the dog who almost

Drowned the man, or the man who wouldn't save the dog—

Or the one who never locked the gate?


"Dwell Nowhere and Bring Forth the Mind"

            The Diamond Sutra

But I am most afraid of nowhere. It's the vortex of crows
when abruptly they rouse off the ground. That kind

of crying. House without walls. Speckle in the black
expanse that did not become a star. The sutra instructs

To dwell with color is to risk
But I've worked hard to learn the simplest earthly

lessons. Snow Drops breaking ice in the garden.
A tint of lavender in the Russian sage blooming against

my yellow fence. Blackberry in my tea, ochre brine
on the cup. Perhaps to dwell somewhere for now.

This hunter green bed and this white oak table.
There's not enough time—



You're wasting time. Your lilac needs pruning. By the shed,
split birch rots, the compost is amuck in rancid rainwater.

I remember your lemon summers, a table set by a stone wall, peaches
in a basket with white napkins. Tart apples and Stilton on plates.

You have forgotten how to laugh. Tongue in ear. Toes on thigh.
Your body, taut with expectation. Where did you put your body?

We didn't know what would follow. Ice storms out of season.
Microorganisms from the south, spores rising like blades of grass.

Others picked ravaged apple blossoms and put them in a blue vase,
while you filled Italian hand-made journals with complaint.

The stones are tired of hearing your story. Bitter, bitter the crows
pronounce mid-flight. You should hike down to the pond,

late afternoon, now that your legs will carry you. Go ahead: take
your clothes off : you are not special in your broken body.

Feel the silt slide across hair follicles rising like milkweed.
Feet sinking in mossy sludge, you will swim because you have to.


The Raymond-Harrington House, 1872

Large enough to shelter four families, tall enough to eclipse the sun
late morning, maker of shadows a shade garden connoisseur would covet,

the new mansion thrusting against our fence, a mix of catamaran
and state prison, has shredded Japanese cherry trees and left a fifteen

foot mud perimeter for a yard. Stone wall, forsythia, giant honeysuckle
Philip Freneau might have immortalized, gone. The Civil War sycamore

is wrapped for another blacktopping of its root system. Thoreau and Emerson,
one town over, would have had one word, excess. I dreamed I had gone

to a writers' conference and no one wanted to speak in words, to think about words.
It had become fashionable to push small white beads together on a wooden plate.

Asked my reaction, I could say nothing. I could not count fast enough.
Mark Strand walked out of the conference, and others, too. Some loved the codes,

the absence of tonality. I was deafened by hammers and saws,
the Caterpillar jaws spewing asphalt. I tried to sound things out, to capture

the rhythm of spaces. The unsayable is always being said in one way
or another. One needs a permit to build, a license. One needs a variance

to destroy what has already been built. But even words do not capture the my
in “my light will be destroyed” because the my is not mine.

Jonathan Harrington fought on April 19th on the Lexington Green and died
on his doorstep. The troops didn't talk much in that battle. Raymond owned

the land on this street where the work crews start pounding at dawn.
Nothing can be said to stop it. Beads of sweat glisten on new panes.