Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tenement Blue

Tenement Blue

There’s not much room in a tenement blue
three room fourth floor walkup, but legs can run.
Cover's in the slum-dirty dystopian streetscape,
ghettoed too thick for the grab of garnet-nailed fingers
gifting purpleblack coins, too far to hear names.

Vacant as a rubbled building, feral as wind
she plays birds all day, thin arms flapping.
On the very next jump, she’ll go up,
a rising speck of sparrow in fields of sky,
not the drying embryo in a fractured brick egg.

High in her masted nest of broken glass
she chirps until the giant’s stick knocks her out,
drunk’s acidsweet breath flooding her lungs,
learning  the freeze, missing the center
as he pulls her harder than he has to

down to the big bed
where her mother is always blind
missing, nowhere, in three rooms
raptor eyes shut so all of the girl
can be invisible. 

Little bird isn’t minding
the neon patterned bed that wavers
in the windowlight; too small, tiny hands
no wings, just the falling to show
for cheeps hushed to silence. 
On the floor cotton feathers, yells

gone to whispers, rustling wind sounds
inchoate touchshadows all
in that hungry fishgrey belly of
a deaf ocean, of a ship rolling.
She boards up her eyes

against the day-blink, engine off,
charts lost, course unplotted
boxing the compass, drifting
from the thick tillering fingers,
pressed small as a diatom

taken in salt waves of
tenement blue.

June 2011

Posted for   OpenLinkNight   at  dVerse Poets Pub

Day-blink – Moment at dawn where, from some point on the mast, a lookout can see above low lying mist which envelops the ship
Boxing the compass – To state all 32 points of the compass, starting at north, proceeding clockwise. Sometimes applied to a wind that is constantly shifting.

Thanks to Fireblossom, Anna Montgomery and Brian Miller for their help and encouragement in writing this poem.


  1. that stanza on pulling her down the mattress brings bile to my mouth...this is grittey and finely textured hedge...give me the shivers actuall...i feel for the little bird girl...ine her tenemant blue...

  2. Thanks, bri. And thanks again for helping with the cuts.

  3. hedge - this is brilliantly written but it broke my heart...i can feel her...the fear..the wanting to be invisible...the pain...you were walking the edge with this one and you managed to keep good balance

  4. Thanks Claudia--this one is hard for me to see. Been rewriting it all day.

  5. Very well written piece, the feeling of pain it evokes and the want to be elsewhere was greatly played. Pic is wonderful too.

  6. Great write Hedgie! Great way to bring a word to life with this write!

  7. Joy, this is a great write but it broke my heart.

  8. Thanks ayala. I'm sorry for the pain, truly. I know writing it has been important for me, but I don't mean ever to make others hurt.

  9. Mastered poetry! Incredible and heart-breaking story very well written!

  10. brilliant, sad...full of emotion. a well layered piece.

  11. I am usually worried about picking out seperate lines - like its a slight on the unselected - not the case here...this piece has all the right words in all the right places - i cant reist though.....

    i)not the drying embryo in a fractured brick egg.

    ii)drunk’s acidsweet breath flooding her lungs.

    iii)pressed small as a diatom.

    'and your out!' - im not getting up from the canvas after that encounter.

    three wonderfully hefty blows amongst a flurry of cool

    words to inspire - lines to learn

    thanks hedge

  12. Thank YOU Arron. This is a difficult read for some I know. And I'm glad to return the knockout you always give me.

  13. Joy, I almost have no words for this. You have used all the words that matter.

    A fractured brick egg.

    Boards up her eyes.

    That poor baby.

    Once again your words glue themselves into jagged little shards of crockery that break the heart to view prominently, like the focal point on a mantle piece, or the only art exhibit in a cavern of light.


  14. Love the language. You've put together some amazing combinations of word choices that not only set a tone, but push the poem. Wonderful write, absolutely enjoyed:)

  15. A darkeness no child should ever experience. Her wings clipped by life is sad.

    Well done. Lines are just right. Flow and sound is great.

  16. Oh my... this is sad and deep. Poor ones the ones who like this bird had and have to live this way Can legs run?
    Wings fly?

    That picture also well states...the misery of a tenement- blue indeed

  17. So stark a contrast between the innocence of the child's play and the ugliness of her environment. The line where I felt the catch most was "Little bird isn't minding". It's that sense that the only thing that saves oneself is a retreating into imagination.

    Truly vivid imagery.

  18. This is terrifying. There is nothing worse than to be a child and to feel abandoned and unprotected in the face of this kind of assault; on the mind, on the emotions, on the body, and the spirit. The idea of this girl playing bird, a thing so fragile and light, just before being yanked into this darkness, is sick making in its stark and abrupt shift.

    This poem makes me angry. This poem makes me cry. But, too, this poem makes me proud of the woman who had the stuff to write it, and be a voice for the betrayed little bird she was. By doing this, you open the cage door.


    ^^cyber hug for mah fren.

  19. @FB: Thanks, and hug returned. Couldn't have done it without you.

  20. This poem is capable of debriding the deepest wounds. When I had my wisdom teeth out I lost one of my back molars (poverty and neglect meant I waited too long and had to have five teeth extracted at once). In addition, I got $400 off the surgery for participating in a pain pill trial. Of course, I got the placebo and spent 8 excruciating hours waiting to be released so I could fill my prescription pain killer. That pill gave me such horrific hallucinations I refused to take it again and spent weeks in pain. One day a bone fragment from my jaw began to stick out of the missing molar socket. I spent half an hour working that thing out with jeweler’s pliers. When the jagged sliver finally came out I nearly fainted with relief. Your poem is like those blessed pliers and I applaud you for the strength it took to write and the generosity of spirit you exhibit in sharing it with us. We all grow as human beings when poetry is raised to the level of artistry and apotropaic magic you’ve created here. I love it, I honor you for the emotional work that went into it, and express awe for your masterpiece.

  21. @Anna: The placebo! It figures, somehow. I'm not fond of pain, but pain pills can be worse sometimes for me also, nausea and nightmares in a drugged sleep you can't dispel. Thanks for expressing so vividly the understanding you have of what's going on here. And thanks for the help and encouragement you gave me to get the pliers out for this one.

  22. Joy! I hope I don't offend, but I am quite literally stomach sick over this write. I wish I could turn that inside eye off. You have laid it all out...without ever having to say it (if that makes any sense) I am angered by this, to the point of rage. The absolute wrongness of it all. My heart has been left in shambles, for the little girl who hoped to simply fly away...My goodness, I do hope she found her wings...and didn't fall prey to the self-hate and loathing that can come in the aftermath as guilt and shame are sorted...oh my. I'm babbling again, but I always do when words simply refuse to convey the raw emotion, still unrefined.

  23. @Tash, you never offend. Thanks for your words.

  24. Hedge...
    You think on a different level than I do.
    Everything was fine till you hit Dystopian Streetscape...
    Then it was lights out for me...Sorry.

  25. Though I have a hard time enjoying painful images like this, I am in awe of your words. The image leaves a bad taste in your mouth and love for the bird in your heart. I love that.

  26. How is your olde friend "The Crimson King?"

    Aloha from Waikiki;

    Comfort Spiral
    > < } } ( ° >


    < ° ) } } > <

  27. I like many of the phrases ... like grab of the garnet-nailed fingers. There are many disturbing images that I think I'll be thinking about later.

  28. Such ambivalence I am feeling. I love your talent, and realize and enjoy your work.

    At the same time I am so sad, not so much what you wrote, but for the fact that for many this is reality. OMG. What we humans have allowed, turning our backs, coddling our criminals, not praying enough for those helpless unknowns out there...I've said enough....

  29. Thanks, Steve. I agree with you completely.

  30. This is simply brilliantly written. It is perilous to be a small girl child in this world, and you have made us see and feel her with your writing. So powerful, Joy. The flapping wings, the tender little heart, the brutality of the harshness around her, the mother not seeing..........the story of a million little girls who, thank God, grow up to be strong women, against all odds. Absolutely first class writing. The very best!

  31. Powerful writing - the images are suitably horrible and haunting. Like Brian, I felt nauseous reading the stanza where she was pulled down on the bed... a living hell

  32. This stings my eyes with tears. You really are an amazing writer. I'm not sure I've ever expressed that here, so now would be as good a time as any. Really powerful in every way.

  33. A wonderful treatment of a difficult subject, managing to be beautiful in language whilst horrifying in content. And how subtle you are, yet at the same time so explicit. I think it's quite a feat!

  34. I'm surprised that Anna didn't touch on the Chicago tenement tenemos of the childhoods you both endured there. The brief years I spend living in downtown Chicago infected me with a vast gritty fallen ground-down ghetto despair, hard on any soul but a black bleak concentration camp for a child. Where to flee when no place is safe? What child's spirit survives the deepest harrows of those walkup canyons of despair and poverty and every spectra of abuse? The wings of escape here are language, the italicized charms which are a "rising speck of a sparrow" getting the hell on out of where there is no escape. Poetry is the lunacy that rescues us from psychic death, an unreal home when the real one leaves us so vagabond. Dark as this poem is, the childhood here is a cave of initiation that an unbreakable spirit survived through poetry, even though the heart it carried may never stop bleeding. Fine fine shamanizing here. - Brendan

  35. I especially like the fourth stanza onward, where you pare things down a bit, distill down to the emotion. Well done.

  36. I can see why there are so many comments. The imagery contrasts are exquisite. The vision of a tiny, vulnerable bird being ravaged by unknown largeness and power, lost in the ocean of tenements blue. I just want to pluck her from the horror and hold her delicately in the palm of my hand. Wonderful stuff, hedge.

  37. I think Rosemary already summed up my thoughts exactly: "A wonderful treatment of a difficult subject, managing to be beautiful in language whilst horrifying in content. And how subtle you are, yet at the same time so explicit. I think it's quite a feat!"

    Also, I would like to add my support and appreciation for sharing on such a topic because it is only in the sharing of our experiences that will let others know they are not alone. Most often this can mean the difference between life and death. The horror of our past can be a light of hope for another's future.

  38. feral as the wind, she plays birds all day

    so to be, to go to that place where everything around is unseen and you can fly....bkm

  39. Thanks, everyone. I truly appreciate your comments always, and even more so this time.

  40. What a powerful write, Joy. I wish to call it beautiful, too, but I wish it not to be taken the wrong way.

    This go round (this week via dVerse), I've read some strong poems, this being the strongest. Strong as in subject; strong as in its power; but most of all the strength I allude to is the grit of the one writing. Poetry allows many of us voice, to express what should be brought to light, but is too painful to unveil in everyday sentences. This piece of blue turned, raw words lets the little girl shine as she should have been allowed when it mattered most, when she was learning to fly.

    Bless you for giving her, giving us, the ability, the wings to find the sky ~

  41. Thanks yhc. A sharp insight, and I agree that there have been some tough writes out there this time, and that each one has freed a hard thought or feeling for others to experience, digest and send on its way, hopefully to everyone's benefit. Your words are deeply appreciated.

    And thanks to everyone who's read this. It was important to me to write, and difficult for me to post. All these supportive comments are truly meaningful to me, and my apologies for any discomfort or pain the poem may have caused.

  42. There is an intense honesty and authenticity to this
    powerful poem. As always your words demonstrate high intelligence and a very remarkable talent.

  43. Joy, a beautifully textured poem, while it is filled with sorrow, it is a gorgeous write.

    I must go read your interview!

  44. Thanks, Pamela. A difficult one.

    Hope you enjoy the interview. Sherry did a nice job with it, I thought.

  45. Great vocabulary and intelligence that yield a very powerful and imaginative look at the dark side.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats