Valley of Moon

Valley of Moon
Phyllis Meshulam

Cover by Jerry Meshulam
24 pp, hand-sewn
Sebastopol, 2006


(To be accompanied by clapping
in a Flamenco Bulería rhythm)

xxx xx xx xx
Unison palms: la paloma la paloma
Unison knees: la paloma la paloma

xxx xx xx xx
Call to the dance: la llamada la llamada
Call to the song: la llamada la llamada

Pulse’s percussion: crescendo the crescendo

xxx xx xx xx
Seizure: hands eyes; la cesura, la cesura
Seizure: eyes hands; la cesura, la cesura

xxx xx xx xx
Santa Fe hasta Las Cruces: crucifixion
Santa Fe hasta Las Cruces: into dancing

Rhinestones in hair, but her eyes are diamonds burning

xxx xx xx xx
Zia sunlight: la palmera la palmera
Zia shaped hands: la palmera la palmera

Gift of the gods, el Flamenco, el Flamenco
Gift of the gods, el Flamenco, el Flamenco


As the old moon holds in its arms the new,
so I am full of a night that tends toward morning,
so you are full of a fetal maturity
that sculpts you and serves as compass.

As you are led by a new tango partner
into shapes of body you did not know,
so thought in my amoeba-brain
struggles to flex me into new heart-forms.

The periscope of the read-in-bed light clicks,
while the crickets throb and
a motion light abruptly beheads night.
Its sudden resurrection will follow

but, in the meantime, night will have aged,
gone gray. In your room,
I know your breath unravels darkness,
heat making light-like vapors

above the electric blue blanket, and now
your clock radio ambushes
already-dying night. The house wakes up,
popping its doors, clanking its pipes,

temporarily holding you, a being intent
on your own definition of day. As the night
can fill a rock, if only for a while,
making it a handful of cold

and the sun can fill it, too, leaving its legacy-
handful of hot, so you still lend me fullness,
while finding fullness of your own,
in the shape-shifting properties of dawn.


Not much on
but the radio
on the radio
     with skipped salsa beat,
a halt in that waltz,
a little slipped stitch,
a little loss
     a little longing.
What to do
but to move? Step

left with the right foot,
step right with the left,
salsa swivel
of the hips,
samba shimmy
of the shoulders,
bendable pendu-
lum of arms
     cocked wrists,
fingers forming o.
— — Aaah.

Wearing little,
I show my wares
     bare the d’Anjou of my breasts,
sway the honey dew of hips.
the stockings molted
on the ground.

Shrimp cup wants
her cocktail, salsa-hot.
Wants the bounty
of the earth, of sea, to match

the bounteous sound.
overtone canopy
of steel strings,
wishing synchronous incineration,
syncopated sink
     and swimmmm


This child’s parents
are Mexicans
who came to California
for a better life.

The fire took place
in the trailer where they lived,
in the trailer park
near the campground

that floods every winter.
The girl’s hair and eyes
were saved
but her face

is just a skull
with a thin patchwork
of wrinkly grafts of skin.
The cartilage in her nose

was burned down
to the plane of her face
or could not be saved
so that now her nostrils

are exposed holes into her skull.
Her mother has dressed her
in just as many lacy frills
as all the other girls

at her cousin’s quinceañero,
and has clipped
a sheer pink rosette of a bow
to her black, carefully brushed hair.


A fairy-tale name,
a fairy-tale setting
and, down the road,
a fairy-tale castle
easily overtaken by vines,
given a fairy-tale hundred-year sleep.
Valley of the Moon Children’s Home,
earthen cradle, lunar night-light,
halfway between
neglect and foster care.
Siblings in passing,
hot with young blood and Indian Summer,
cold with abandon, sullen with loss.

I am one in the hubbub
of adults that tend
to their day-times.
I have brought them words
which they have then whittled,
resisted and spat,
scribbled, shoved single-file
onto paper, hazarded,
then locked again
with mistrustfulness’ key.

The man with the magic
of song-making enters,
breathes in their poems,
exhales them as songs.
Gilding the room

with the shimmer of sound,
smoothing out facial tics
smoothing out scowls,
he even can tenderize
the Princess-That-Will-Not-Smile
the Prince of the Shoulder-Chips.

We tend to their day-times,
but what about night-times?
Who will empower them
to speak to coyotes,
to climb lunar ladders,
to answer the call
of the barn owl,
                       so fatherly, guttural, low?


At the age of 13, Rene Magritte saw his mother’s dead body pulled from the River Sambre
She was naked except for the nightgown that had drifted over her face.

If it is a curtain,
it is too close.
But it is not a curtain.
It is an intentional veil
held in place by her own hand
on her own throat;

her only hand
unless you count the tuba
whose coils are rounded
like her nourishing arms.
This lanolin hand
is work-softened and

soiled with shadow. . . .
The veil, impressionable
though opaque, is a flannel or a challis,
consistent with the theory
of suicide by nightgown mixed with river.
It takes the shape

of her Greek mask features,
marble Jocasta, statue of a ghost.
But the dress is earthen

and the briefcase,
though boxy and latched,
is earthen with its corners worn.

And the mute tuba waits
as the locale where fire
will be discovered
though not yet; all is still
still under river-silt skies.


They have offered pears, cheese, figs, greens, compote
but he refuses the final meal.
With rich distractions, our consciences are bloated;

the trajectories of his future are being repealed.
Clarity and character: stricken from the record.
And the child witness has been overruled.

Black ink saturates newsprint, not forming words,
just remaking his face like the virgin’s
from roses on cactus cloth. And then we factor

in the dictates of mercy and rain, politics and sloth.
Though we all flee, dancing, to the mutual repose,
the pre-arranged deaths must be purged of rot

so as not to disturb our delicate digestions.
Chilled fate poses warily,
neither guiding errors, nor averting solutions.

Saint Quentin’s head perches precariously,
while Doctor First-Do-No-Harm Hypocrisy commands,
                                              “choose your poison,”
and clemency’s too often a cuckoo in our spaceless aviary.


The usurped solstice, St. Lucy’s night.
Who chose this date, the executioner, the state?
Might we still call back the light?

Instead a ceremonial immolation
in a converted dental chair.
Unsated vengeance on St. Lucy’s night.

Circular reasoning wreathing minds.
Singing dawn of redeeming grace.
Might we re-collect the light?

Darning and sutures, a shot in the arm.
Needles mend and heal and kill.
Injected misjustice on St. Lucy’s night.

Who knows what words the moon is mouthing?
Mercy, earth, and peace so mild.
Calling back, we might be the light.

Night of cataracts, river blinding.
Cells of beeswax, bayberry shining.
Might we still call back the light,
mercy, silence, lucent night?


The conveyor belt “free” way
had brought us — slowly —
in the dark, over the last hill
into the smog-shine night of Los Angeles;
by then I was ready
to rewind my journey
and mentally take myself back
to the mountains: by way of highway 14,
which had veered from the road-most-traveled-by
over into something more hopeful,
something with more breathing space;
back past the Palmdale/Lancaster exits
in the image of LA, to Mojave,
where it was still night,
and the desert was breathing out there somewhere,
behind the mechanical panting at the truck stops;
back to highway 395,
still synonym to me for the Eastern Sierras,
the steep back stairs into the mountains;
back to the Panamints, moonlit,
beyond the Eastern desert plateau
complete with ghosts of pioneers;
back until it was early evening and
Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine, Bishop,
offered corn chowder and saltines
and libraries and general stores;
back to the gas station mirror
with the pink unfamiliar face in it;
back until it was day on the trail again,
aspens quaking greenback white,
a small pine bent into a golden llama,

A mutant goose beak and other
assorted gargoyles on stunted trees,
back to the rocks and ice at Piute pass;
and over into that otherworld basin,
ring of stony clean-shaved chins:
all this to establish mountain’s and my umbilicus,
so I could apply mountain’s pumice to my scabs,
put my hands on its gravelly scree,
my eyes on its glaciated gouges
(rimmed with tufts of dill)
so I could still incorporate myself
(a grain of rice)
into the throwing and firing,
black raku of creation,
rinse and be rinsed,
rinsing. . . .


Like an insolent moon
which has driven up and parked too close,
the mountains loom
flush behind the rim
of the green-shadowed earth,
occupying half the sky

They excite volcanic bombs and miniscule tools,
our marrow and other fillings,
put the creek in high wonderment gear

A bluster of words
whistles through their glacial teeth,

spilling from that world to this


comes sometimes a smoothness,
a mallea- permea-      in-bility,

            in certain honey flames,
the beeswax bodies breathe themselves new shapes

the smoothness:
in certain oceans, each other, sanded,
overcertain (because past) time,

from     in-certain craftsman’s hands,
            the sun,
the polishing qualities of horse-tail fern,
            and time        together,
a smoothness sometimes comes

a soothing flows,
            coming along jaw crevasses
along fault-heart-lines
            an iris blueness balm
                       an azure-hearted        balm

sometimes sensing all the transpired
as in-gathered
and the smoothness as conveyance
through smoothness
sometimes time some overcome