Monday, January 31, 2005

Fatal Attraction

by Zinta Aistars

(Painting, "Lovers in Moonlight," by Marc Chagall)

This bursting vessel
that I am, filled with memory -
scents of ocean-salted breezes
coiling into the many cups of quicksand.

Why do I so fear the remembering?
Surely it was joy that so scorched my spirit
and gave it flight across that black
glassy sheen of endless water

like magnet to star, metal core,
heat-seeking missile, echo worn
from valley to valley to final abyss,
journey to the highest note.

Unworthy though you were,
so was I merely flesh to flesh,
curve to concave, concave to curve,
palming the knots into song,

playing every last harp string
to vibrate taut and trembling,
trembling one pitch short,
only one more,
this note
only once.

(Published in Winter 2001 issue of coilMagazine!)

Friday, January 28, 2005

Spring Fever

by Zinta Aistars

Painting by Andrew Wyeth - "Study for April Wind"

The very cells sink into longing,
heart palpitating like red fist,
holding and refusing to release
a tattered vision, or several –
of the sort that dispel sleep,
hang misty over Sunday mornings,
cross the flames of evening candles,
causing them to stutter, spit, turn blue,
then hiss again with new air.
Longing like the migrations of birds
heading north again, wings cutting wind,
slicing life like a whipped pie, sweet,
light on the tongue,

like the taste of yours,
quick bitten lip, scarlet dot of blood,
forgiving laughter, and more,
always the need for more, the longing,
the insatiable appetite
for the last crumb, finger dipped
between lips, your lips, mine, and catching it,
and more, and more,

forever pleading, begging for alms,
stubborn with hope.

Even the ears are finely tuned,
unwrapping the sound
from other sounds, jumbled and discordant,
muddied cacophonies and still
unable to silence

the one note
that vibrates memory
like song

and heart left wondering
is this pain or is it joy,
knocked loose at last,
or the final gasp of an approaching
finish line.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Fall of Superman

by Zinta Aistars

Life would be so much easier if I were a cartoon character. Problem solved in the next frame. But life has nothing to do with easy, does it? Never did. Never would. Part of the recipe. I know all the answers, really I do, fine intellectual platitudes and golden edged advice that resonates with its soundness. Pain is part of the plan, yes, our own damnable human natures that so rarely learn from joy to blame. Pain is such a prize teacher, even if she hits us over the knuckles with a ruler edge. Go easy and we skate along, taking joy for granted. Full bellies, solid roofs overhead, more cars in our driveways than inhabitants in our pretty houses. Loved one warm and constant beside us in our bed. Spoiled brats.

Sure, me too. Spoiled to the core, wormy hearted. I deserve this pain. Push my face to the floor. Go on, cut me off at the knees. Teeter me precariously right on that cliff edge. Deserve it all. I’m not arguing.

Oh Lord, but that doesn’t take away one iota of the sting.

I can list my past sins from here to the far horizon, but still I whine and wheedle, squirming at the spank. Ask me for my excuses and rationalizations, and they come twice as fast.

Man in my life had chosen another bed, and you’d think I had lost the sun in my day. Hell I have. I’ve lived too much of my life on my own, or keeping man-toys at tether end, to think I can’t make it taking this path solo. Catch me in the right mood, and I’ll probably even convince you it’s a preference. Solo. No man is an island, but woman, she’s another story. Didn’t I read in a recent article, some paper somewhere, citing scientific evidence that the Y chromosome is a faulty chromosome by definition, doomed to disappear in the ruthless process of evolution? Who needs him.

I do.

Going gets tough, and I look for his shoulder to lean on. Even if he does lean on mine twice as often. It’s a rich comfort to look up and see him there. In his favorite armchair across the room, perfectly angled for my view as I lie back on the couch to read my book. Over its edge, I see him. Tangle of dark hair, wisp falling over one eye, and I’m sure he knows that concentrated look over his own book kneads my heart soft. My own book falls to my chest. If it weren’t so cliché, I’d say: heaving.

Chromosomes be damned.

I rise from the couch, adding slink to my step, and make my way across the room. His eyes lift immediately, sensing movement. Swear he knows what those dark eyes do to me. Uses it. I’ve never known anyone with such a dark and intense look, nearly evil, if I didn’t know better. Or do I? Yet the next moment, the gut wrench of regret is there, the light sharp against the dark, and it stops me midway. I stand in the middle of the room, abandoned to every storm, nailed to the floor. Prepared for argument, he looks at me with something akin to submission, admission, regret. If I had wanted to punish him, I have but my own empty hands.

“Forgive,” he exhales, leaning forward, his face pressed into my two palms, his own beneath them. I feel heat; I feel the wet from his eyes. I feel the silk of his hair. His mouth to my palm, mouth I know, mouth that nourishes me, words whispered into my hands, unheard but felt.

“I won’t,” I hiss. Refuse even this kindness to myself. I loose one hand and touch that hair. Black strands tangled in my fist. “Not yet.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Slug Days and Storybook Nights

by Zinta Aistars

Stained with grief,
this day creeps across the threshold
like a slug,
slimed with despair,
sunk into its own sticky weight.

Surely the night will sprout
wings, gossamer dreams,
newly minted hopes
like golden coins tossed
into a bruised sky.

See, there they are,
every last one,
like a child's fairy tale.
Magic dust and good deeds
repaid and a fool's heart
naïve with love,
each a hope once held dear,
each a prayer once whispered,
clear and shining,
from your lips to God's ear.

(Published in coilMagazine! Winter 2001 issue.)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Interrupted Picnic

by Zinta Aistars

We wade waist-deep into the swirl of maddened water,
women and children, children first,
pinked cheeks flushed with their eagerness,
arms drawing arcs around their slight and tiny bodies,
paddling through the fluid resistance,
pushing, contracting, expelling their
miniature forms into this watery sluice
or gateway to another mysterious dream.
The women wade more slowly, bare toes
clinching slippery stones, algae-slimed,
testing the waters, sacredness
of first and last breath branded indelible
into the reflex of our maternal souls.
We move in a jagged circle
tightening around the soggy form,
bird tethered to stream, wing spreading splayed
and oddly-angled across the shimmering surface,
blurring black bead of an eye staring,
staring unblinking at the clumsy approach
of promise, either of possible death
or possible life. Children bobbing
like golden apples in this raucous game,
shirts blooming open like a field of burst flowers
around their pudgy waists,
tracing and retracing the arcs of their own untried wings
and excited by this heady chance
to play God. Kingfisher,
damp and defeated, neither king nor fish,
but a trembling blue miracle dethroned from a kingdom
of sky, the mothers scoop him from the baptismal soup,
shattering crystal necklaces over our children's faces
suddenly crowded around,
mouths open and waiting.
He breathes. Tiny heart hammering
in fear and hope of either
swimming skies with giddy speed
or the sheer luck of a quick and painless death.
Collapsed sodden and formless
against a human breast,
he surrenders in simple trust
to either.

(Published in coilMagazine! Winter 2001 issue)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Mark of Courage

by Zinta Aistars

Dedicated to all at Camp Courageous - those with secret call and those with sweet reply. Camp Courageous is a place of respite and discovery for the disabled in Monticello, Iowa.

(Photo of Lorena Audra Rutens, AmeriCorps volunteer - and my daughter, working with Ruth at the "Tree Climb," where Ruth will be lifted from her wheelchair and up a tree in a harness for the first time in her life... because everyone should know what the world looks like from the top of a tree. June, 2003.)

To speak without words, walk
with limbs of jellied bones, see
through eyes rolling up to search
distant inner skies,
starred with clues,
to another vision, stretching
out its length and width
alongside this untouchable other
in the grasp of all
but you. You alone.

Hand outstretched for another
hand, reaching through
and across that silent wall–
hold on, hold to a world
that reels with color,
mad carousel of spinning
clowns and prancing horses,
plumed and painted
with grinning mouths.

Reality blends with dream,
outlines melting into blurs
of memory and passing time:
Are you in yesterday? Or has time
stopped its dizzying spin
to shuffle in tiny steps
towards the voice that calls
and calls with open arms–
your mother who never grays,
your father who is the child
playing in the garden, piling blocks
into towers that sprout
butterfly wings and fly
away to perch in trees ever
green and dangle there
like forgotten ornaments.

Every day is a holiday.
Every day is a nightmare
waiting at its very edge–
fine cliff line between
your heaven and their hell,
their fear reflected
blinding on your trusting face.
You understand, your heart
on its lacy sleeve knows,
when the laughter wounds,
or when the laughter shines
its healing light
over your stooped shoulders,
warm embrace of one
who out of the cacophony
hears your voice,
your wordless voice,
your secret call,
and sings in sweet reply.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


by Zinta Aistars

His few years course in a sizzle of blue fire
through a network of blissful veins—
how alive is this blossoming life
even now reborn and electrified
in its second decade of hard won knowledge,
slow-sculpted understanding, newly honed wisdom,
for youth, too, can be wise.

I watch from my place
this tireless vigor, hope unbeaten
by first hard knocks,
a series seemingly without end,
a battering, a beating,
slapped silly by life.

This resilience of propped wings,
elasticity of childhood hopes
to find and form his rightful place:
that solid and steadfast fit,
a rock rooted in rapids,
holding steady in whitewater,
unmoved and uneroded.

My son, my manchild, my shining moment
born of darker ones—
my purest pleasure and prideful selfishness,
my joy. You are
my fisted protest
in this rebellion of survival.
Beyond all, through all,
in spite of everything,
in this vicious yet delicate life.

Friday, January 14, 2005

This is the Poem I Never Wrote

by Zinta Aistars

This is the poem I never wrote.
Its skeleton is good, of sturdy build,
pure and white as Baltic sand.
Feel: such bones lie smooth in the hand,
weighted and heavy with life as it once was,
in the shape of faith, however blind,
a blossom of bliss, a hope like new sun,
a hint of death held always at bony arm’s length.

Here is the life I never lived.
Its allure is warm like sirens,
sweet and seductive on the mind,
as blameless as a fool’s fantasy,
imagined in its faultless shape,
but it was almost mine, almost mine.

Here is the love I never made.
It arches the back and leaves the cry unvoiced
in a pale white throat that whispers the name
of a lover who has left the heart unscarred.

These are the tears I never wept.
Dripping like pearls, bejeweled evidence
of a blameless heart, a soul unfurled
and open to all who might find need
to wipe their feet on its welcome hearth.

Listen to the song I never sang.
Melody of dulcet tones, shimmering clear,
without rasp or break, no missing beat,
notes so high they shatter glass.

Behold the child I never birthed.
His life is a continued promise of mine.
Legacy of virtue, brave and true ,
he washes clean all that was muddied before him.

There waits the death I will not die.
In her robes she stands tall and vigilant,
eternally patient as any mother, even kind.
With her shadowy wings she wipes all slates clean.

Elusive and slippery with regret,
this is what might have been, what almost was,
the promised paradise evaded, the Eden lost
and only remembered, faintly, with sting,
like the joint that aches during a long hard rain.

Yet I choose this, stubborn and clenched:
the poem I've written, creaking and old,
the life I’ve lived, broken and wrong,
the love I’ve made, both bitter and sweet,
the tears I’ve wept, beast howling at the moon,
the music I’ve made, out of tune,
the child I’ve birthed, failing with efforts made,
the death I will yet die, struggling against her,
however inevitable her final victory
over the gift of my marred and jubilant human soul.

Photo above - my thrice perfect imperfection - instead of the photo that was never taken.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


by Zinta Aistars

A gorgeous accident, our meeting,
blind leading the blind
with our perfectly matched set
of crippling addictions –
where you sway, I lean,
where you lean, I pull away,
eyes rolling back into a soul scream.
This path I’ve never walked,
yet know: it’s mine, shaped
to catch the clip and pace of my stride.
To learn to walk like this again,
child in me knocking about,
bruised knees and scraped elbows,
cherished hopes long ago lost,
and lost again, reclaiming
ancient treasures as an elderly girl,
gray at the temples,
young at the bruised heart.
Where do such paths lead?
If first through a bramble,
wounding as often as healing,
spilling old blood, ripping open
jagged and aging scars, badly stitched.
Festering memories, still living
ghosts, familiar demons,
favored crutches lifelong
come to dance in our living room.
Enough. I speak it, taste it, now: enough.
Mantra, battle cry, death throes
cry: enough, enough, enough.
Where this path may lead,
matters less than what is
left behind – boundaries drawn,
encircling a dignity regained,
a place for respect,
fertile ground for love,
if no one else’s, at least mine,
the face in the mirror
found. Another gorgeous accident,
our meeting, my face and that
reflection with clearer sight.
I lean into the path, and it catches me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Father in Shades of Blue

by Zinta Aistars

to my father on Father's Day 2004

You own the colors, open your veins
to paint—the azure cool of dusky dreams,
the blended greens of hope,
white as pure as a lost childhood,
an ochre memory of endless fields:
buttery dandelions among illusions of lives
you might have lived.

Your women brush mantles of hair,
flowing like water across the soft slope
of light-kissed shoulders, or kneel
at the pale edge of mirrored water,
skin like sunlight,
dappled by shadows
the shape of a lover’s hands.

Your forests whisper green secrets,
cupped in hollows between stones
worn by the ages, edges smoothed,
belying the rough of your own worn faith.

A faith tested by stolen lands, a home
broken open and smashed like overripe fruit
left to rot on the cobblestones.
The countryside torn, houses with rooms ripped open
like flesh, ravaged, raped,
foreign armies as assassins
lining up the futures of young men
against a brick wall,
to puncture skulls with the clean
execution of one bullet hole
per dream. Gone. All of it.
Your youth, blasted into the beyond.

Starting over, fresh off the boat,
you painted more boats, lost at sea,
fishermen casting empty nets
for coins of light floating on waves,
always the next one, the next, the next,
curling into foam, dissolving in salt,
a mere vapor in the long day’s heat.

Still, you believed. In a woman
with jade green eyes
and a mantle of dark hair
flowing across her bare shoulder,
stepped down from canvas,
a daughter enfolded like a new promise
in the crook of each arm.

You believe in beauty, the colors of it,
the light and shadows of it,
its transparent qualities, its calm effect
as it flows from your fingertips.

Standing midway on a path
you painted as smooth as you could for me,
as smooth as you knew, so that I too
could believe, and I believe in you—
a father’s fears annulled
in one solitary brushstroke
of midnight blue.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


by Zinta Aistars

The time is now:
this moment, this
blink of an eye.
All changes, all breathes,
all life swallows
its own core
and is reformed.
Each cell regenerates,
every heartbeat leads
to another to flush
lifeblood through veins
that snake through a body
each day reborn.

A hatching thought,
epiphany – burst of bright,
inflaming an idea
to burn the torch of mind,
this place where life begins:
not seeded in flesh or womb,
but in grooves and coiled
fist of thoughts.

The creator in all of us,
semblance of divinity,
creator giving creation
a legacy to light
the candle beneath its cover –
lux esto – burn bright,
be light, creator
and creation both –
oyster and its pearl.

Touch the cool waters
and know your powers.
Illumine pathways,
blaze the trails,
mold the clay,
claim the life
steaming inside your soul.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Thousand Deaths Plus One

by Zinta Aistars

(Photo courtesy of J. Conrad Guest)

This flash fiction was published by the literary e-zine Burning Word in 2003 and featured on air in a radio interview via AuthorsDen later that year.

Mother and son - his need for her touch, for her love, for her unconditional acceptance, even as he closes her out. This one is for you, my sweet son. You know I would.

"Don't shut me out," she whispers to the back of his head. "Would die a thousand deaths for you, know I would, know I would, you know it," she whispers with her lips against the rough short growth of his hair.

Her hands reach around to touch his face, turned away from her, his body turned away from her. Light fuzz, bit of rough, cool cheeks, she smoothes her palms over his face and contours her fingers to the shape she has created. From a single micro-magical cell deep in her body, eighteen years ago, she created this face.

She is perched like Mama Bird on the high back of the couch and her legs are up against either side of his shoulders. She could talk and talk, her knees pressed into his shoulders, and he would never even flinch. Only the occasional tilt of his head would hint at some listening, random catching of a word.

Her fingers spread through his cropped hair. She loves this rough stuff, this short scrub, on no one else but him. This isn't just for him, this touching. It's her food, too. Her spirit leans into the touch, drinks of it, breaks its bread, and inhales. Heel of her palm stroking the length of his skull, fingertips down to the base of his neck, tracing the cords, tensing and untensing of his muscles. He wants to resist, she senses that he does, but her warm hands turn him inside out. His head drops back lightly into the cup of her hands.

"Miss me when I'm gone," she croons, singing her heartache for him to hear, "but deny me when I'm here. What the hell is that?"

His head tips, then rests, tips, neck tensing, rests again.

"Think I don't know, think I don't understand, but oh baby," she hums, "oh baby. Oh…"

She scrapes nail tips across his skull, his hair snapping to attention. Presses her thumb pads into the valley at the base of his neck until she feels the knot give. Circles at his temples, ever so, ever so softly. His shoulders droop.

"You give me hell," she hisses, "and I'll catch it. Kick, scream, tear, doesn't matter, I'm not letting you go into your own hell without me."

She lays her cheek against his warm skull. The scent of his skin, of his hair, makes her weep. Just like the first time. Eighteen years, eighteen minutes. Makes no difference. She'd rock this baby until he was seventy-three. Then she'd be gone. But her wings would whisper soft as her voice now in his dreams. Never let go.

Her fingers trace the curl of his ears, cool to the touch, like intricate shells. If only she could make him hear. Patter of rain on the roof, splash of a foaming wave, chatter of a pesky squirrel, sigh of a lullaby. If only she could make him hear.

She lets the silence linger a moment longer, then hums, then sings, ever so, ever so softly a lullaby from those long ago years… of little bears and dancing sheep, and sleep, sweet child's sleep, and the promise of so many bright blue mornings to come…

A tremor in his shoulders. She stops and presses her lips to the curve of his skull. Closing her eyes, she prays to all good and protecting spirits: spread your wings across my child, spread them wide and hold him close.

"Don't shut me out," she says once more so he won't forget, but it doesn't matter. She will stay by the closed door. She will wait.

He gets up slowly (her hands drop between her knees), stands for a moment, still, and leaves.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Spells Spoken at Dawn

by Zinta Aistars

"I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

--from the "Conclusion" to Walden by Henry Thoreau

Say the words, go on, say them: e-lu-ci-date.
Divulge the unfettered stream of synonyms
for a good day (benevolent, satisfactory, excellent,
virtuous, merciful, prime, effective, productive, choice),
the very finest kind, sun quickening
through the blinds in new dawn,
(beginning, daybreak, sunup, aurora, cockcrow),
a hastening of gossamer hope
(optimism, faith, confidence, trust, wish, aspiration,
desire). Seek that place,
nebulous dream (vision, incubus, imagination, muse)
come true in the seeking itself.
Pronounce it begun—the soft delirium.
Call it done—the undoing,
the initial mess of gathering seed,
choosing the grains one by one, the plump
and promising ones, firm to the touch,
eager for the field (clearing, pasture, realm, domain,
blank white page, unmarred)
of the day ahead, a radiant reverie
of possibility, a harvest
even before the hull splits in two, the root
feathering into delicate threads that grasp
(hold, squeeze, caress) the earth to suck
(breathe deeply and inhale)
its life-giving vigor, startle of life,
and you (every dawn, each one)
the sprouting urchin with buckling knees
standing, again, for the very first time.