Room 53 • Poetry Hotel
Seven Poems / Zoë Christopher
BUDDHIST CLOWN SCHOOL
Nothing funny about sitting on this zafu,
eyes lowered like a shackled concubine
counting each breath, feeling only the rise
and fall of a shallow heartbeat, the weight
of austerities, teenage angst on the brink
of screaming or dying.
We came here to practice breaking open,
to learn to suffer with dignity, to sacrifice
the ordinary, to feed hungry ghosts the
sacred handbook for living in disguise.
Face to face with the Incredible Exploding
Self, I learn to giggle in silence: mom
sleeping with the roshi, her husband
clueless and begging for enlightenment
TAMING MY MOTHER'S TONGUE
Living too long in glass houses, careless
now with private thoughts on my lips
I descend into a fleshy silence conjuring
my mother’s frayed coyote soul. I can hear
her splintering howl, barbed tongue lashing
like teeth into my innocence and needs.
I could not bolt the door against my ripening,
she said I came to spoil hers. I would learn
I could not cradle her feral demons, soothe her
madness without risking the skin of my bones.
Now too frail to pounce and strike, she’s lost
and stumbles toward me, a plea in her silence.
We sit and pray together until the old camellia
leaves of my childhood glisten in the night rain
and the moon coaxes golden shadows from
the dampened scent of winter viburnum.
And so the sluicing begins, the eloquence
of water taming my mother’s tongue.
THE 23 HELPING VERBS
I am eight, standing halfway down the stairs when I learn she’s dead.
I go blind with the shock of loss
is be been am are
was were has have had
knowing her broad lap and cushioned arms will never hold me again.
I am eleven and his white smooth hands touch me in the pool house.
His half-naked and trembling body presses against my belly
do does did
may can might
me wishing I’d never learned to swim.
I am fourteen and her father washes her mouth out with soap.
He slaps her once for each piece of clothing she left on the floor
could must shall will
should would being
sending her away before grabbing between my legs.
I am eighteen and my mother pummels me, pounding my head.
Like a fetus I curl on the floor
do does did
may can might
giving up my future, an unwed pregnant teen.
And now you, receding into dementia,
fading quickly so that I won’t catch you.
I lean against the closed door,
fists clenched, sucking in my rage
could must shall will
should would being
reciting my helping verbs when no one else can.
COOL BLUE & MAMA'S DYING
for my father
It’s raining and I see you, exactly 383 miles south, gazing out over the L.A. freeway
toward Forest Lawn. The Old Actor’s Home is quiet for once.
Rain shatters the stars, wine blurs my jagged edges, and I don’t want to let you go, to lose
you again. Can’t we just be drenched in the same rain, listening to the same patter on
leathery camellia leaves like the ones that grew at the beach house before you knew you
The same winds that whistle and caress my neck here blow through the holes in your
heart there, and return to raise the sheer curtains at my night window.
Tell me how your heart thumped for that lanky player slouched over the piano teasing a
cool Bill Evans from the keys in the shadows, you so nonchalant at the bar craving a guy
who wouldn’t ask for too much but had the heat to soothe your losses.
Tell me how he made you laugh, how it really was his soul and craft and staccato wit, his
Julliard training in soft faded jeans that made you want to fuck him.
Tell me how you nearly drowned in his mysteries, his resonant hello, his complicated
curiosity, how his ability to improvise his way out of any bag made you trust him even
when you didn’t know with what.
I want to share a joint and a Guinness again, to roll around on the warm rug in front of
the fireplace while you tell me all of it, not leaving out his lyrical hands and scary-cool
rhythm, his lithe physicality as his steps barely French kissed the pavement.
I need to hear you say you’re sorry you left him.
DECEPTION OF TULIPS
They discard their juicy
flesh and descend
into a riot of sea creatures,
jewel-hued petals throwing off
their gracious curves
in favor of eccentric contortions
and seductive grinds,
a raucous drunken party
where stem legs surrender to mush
in an inebriated collapse.
Their broader succulent
petal limbs wizen
into soft angular joints,
twisting into bony contemporary
It leaves me slightly dazed.
When the ovary has dried
stigma loses its magic,
and I lie down at last
exhausted and spent,
my perfect head resting
on the table.
A CRIME HE CAN'T REMEMBER
Mr. P is not among the current litigants.
He has undergone counseling, has no grudge
against the Order.
Do not wear bluejeans. No low-cut sweaters.
Wear slacks. Do not wear heels. No stockings.
These guys haven’t touched a woman in years.
Make simple conversation. Be attentive.
Keep your chin down.
Mr. P has been criticized, particularly because
he routinely speaks on behalf of the Order
and advises victims to reconcile.
Standard haircuts. Time-weary men in blue
workshirts, cuffed and belted jeans,
institutional shoes. Impeccable fingernails.
The air is smoldering and heavy.
Eye contact must never linger.
Thanks so much for coming.
It’s 2017 and Mr. P stands at a podium,
and I can’t hear his poems. I want to unravel
his cool-headed gaze.
I search those soft eyes for crazy,
trace the line of his jaw looking
for a stinging snap, a bite. I conjure
laugh lines but there are none.
We small-talk, cupping hands.
He is dead serious.
Mr. P applauds the friars for facing the problem long
before the nationwide scandal broke. He helps both
them and their victims deal with the aftermath.
I see him draped in black robes himself,
the priest with that holy light
beneath the skin, a radiant sorrow.
What’s he in for?
In seminary and prisons
we must never ask. Most do time
for a crime he can’t remember.
THE DINNER PARTY
My organs fight for space
in this smoldering beast body
stomping mad in the mud.
I beg forgiveness
for its tether to this earth.
Bones rattle a response,
taunting yet melodic,
teasing like second
The heart pleads a place
at the table, tempting
the womb merciful
as receding tides.
In time the body is steady,
old yet still succulent
nesting its space in the
underbrush, seducing the mud
with pulse and scent.
Until I am offered up as feast
on the hillside
to the vultures,
to these rattling bones,
feeding my racing heart
at this table,
offering a good port
to settle it down.
About the Author
Zoë Christopher published her first poem at 16. Soon after she was sidetracked by putting food on the table as an ice-cream truck driver, waitress,
medical assistant, addictions counselor, astrologer, art installer, bookseller, Holotropic breathworker, and trainer of psychospiritual crisis support.
(She didn’t get paid for milking goats, teaching photography, or raising her son.) She holds a Masters in psychology, and spent 20+ years intervening
in various forms of adolescent and adult crises. She grew up in Los Angeles where her mother was in show business, but that's another story.