Space Before Memory

space before memory
charlotte rotterdam

dPress 2007 Sebastopol
36 pp handsewn

Photography by Jampa Dorje

space before memory

the page chooses its ink
retreats from the weight of borrowed words

                (i want to) tell a new story

which part of memory do we choose
before words sink

               (i want to) live in the pages

if matter is neither created nor destroyed the
world is a thrift store of borrowed stories
and we
dealers selling them as new

            (i want to) wake each morning
                            in the space
                         between leaves

                 (i want to) meet myself
                             a stranger

like a cat fresh out of water

this day
marched right on through me
and now i feel
an empty tunnel
with only a bit of soot
to show

i do not believe them
the promisers of tomorrow
there were times before today
when i laid myself to rest
with thoughts
of what might be

this is just
this is just another day
how glorious
to remember the color of a rose

i thought of you the other night
if only because the darkness smelled
of wild mint and sage

how soon the mind returns to memory
where does it begin
this endless search for the night
that has already escaped us

bicycles wait at every street corner
to take us just beyond the bend
these are stories about waiting
but it has always already been too long
i forgot who it was i thought might meet me
when i finally turned

where do we begin to reassemble
what was never broken
in the first place

a thought
dangles from silver strings
into this night


at an angle
                      late afternoon sun spilling into a dusty room
i see you
riches pouring over
2000 faces
reflected in all the mirrors of my life

and there where blood meets bone i sing with you
my heart aches
your ribs
the bend of your wrist
i chant your body

we meet
            the edge
like golden onions
we peel away our skins

we shall not tire of singing prayers

i would dance with you forever
but we are called
and we shall walk
my love
into this battleground
                                  this paradise
of life

snippets to my own passing

in the end is my beginning
the pink crab apple blossoms fall
together we will travel
into the cool promise of yesterday's rain

in the beginning is my end
and this morning the flying insect
was cleaning its tiny head
one antenna curled with each stroke
they say it is the little things that count

if this is it
then indeed it is grand
the audaciousness of red
would be enough for a lifetime to remember

and you and you and you
i ask only that you never pass a blooming flower
without a kiss

rock my bones into the sand
i know they will be dancing till late into the night
waiting for the sun to rise

into the cool promise of yesterday's rain
together we will travel
the pink crab apple blossoms
in the end is my beginning


one blooming agave
would have been enough
skeleton rising to an African sky
presenting yellow pillows
offerings to the sun

i would sit on their perch
and watch the clouds
roll in
and the lightning
bolt into the distant hills

one blooming agave
would have been enough

but there was more beauty than a day
can hold

the stars hold the ceiling of my room
on silver strings
and they will rock me to sleep
amid the dreams we dream

coral holds up the moon

inspired by a Chinese koan translated by John Tarrant Roshi

for papa

each drop

the earth

branch of the twisted
pear tree

the wet underbelly
of leaves

of whom do the rocks dream
when there is no rain

coral reaches her white hands
into the whispers
of waves
stories of sand
and the way sky

holds the melody of blue

there is no time
as beautiful as this
the moment
before dew rises

into the womb of clouds

the mind opens
flows a hot river
into the sea

moon sings
of the rise and fall

we have been waiting so long for silence

one rain drop falling

since the world points up beauty

inspired by a phrase in the Tao Te Ching

for mama

since snow fell in the night
earth is wrapped in crystal
morning sun collects a thousand tiny mirrors
strewn across my garden

could there be more glorious a day than this?

the long white arms
of steaming tea
weave winter air

world folds back her sheets
not yet certain of weight
the hazy fields and skeleton trees
rise like dreams beyond the giant pine

we have come to believe too much in the hardness of edges

points and lines
and angles of floors
even now
rays of light
caress the frozen trellis
ground begins to lift into the sky

up above the fingertips of cottonwoods
mountains dance with clouds

beauty spins her silver symphony
she has been singing to us all along
singing of the curve of things
of how the willow bends to better kiss the wind
of how we are called  you and me
into the arms of day reaching through the window pane


there was a time before nonessential goods
when you were the blue of my painting

monkeys and diamonds
and the way we formed a common market
skimming the edge of what could be
red frills to safeguard history

we were free of foreign
borrowed our own patents
and framed the whole
picture in green
just because

where have you gone
i have never heard of Tanganyika
they have eliminated trade
and now like late rains
i am squeezed into the
narrow black border of your graph

it has been years since exports and imports
there are thin lines around our colors
white is not available
they say

but i will not forget you
you have etched your name onto my canvas


yellow papaya flesh
                                  its sweetness
into the blue glaze of a Japanese bowl

softened wood spreads its grain
under the caress of setting sun
           (Courtesan reclining before her lover)

the broken flower pot
embraces its heart of blackened earth

It is all too much.

i could spend eternity relishing the angle of a window frame!

barely enough time
to snatch
of this exotic language
we call the world

it would be enough
to understand the greyness of a rock

rooted bone

i have always loved


lush bleakness
where growth is said to end

            among remains of decay


shares its deepest red
                                    with eyes that do not blink

bones live
than muscle

by bookends of


that never felt
the warmth
of sun

in fertile moistness

roots of                      


                                            let us begin
                                            where mind becomes mountain

nestled in the valley's hollow belly
we sleep
until a ray of rising sun
strokes the soft grey rock of our cheeks

day pierces the seam of lids
eyes open
and we behold ourselves
stretched along gleaming peaks
bodies carved into cracks of canyon walls

let us dip the fingers of our branches into lake's clear mirror
dance in cathedrals of ancient bristle cone pine
conspire with the raven
           carve the wind on wings of black
move soundlessly with the mountain's lion
           our paws        cushions of strength

                                                        each step a prayer

and when cliffs become houses
           and moss becomes road
we run along gutters of crooked sidewalks
curl up in potholes of crowded streets
climb onto the torn sleeve of a child's red coat
and whisper sweet honey into his growing bones

night unfurls its silence
we slip into the company of stars
glide between galaxies' shadows
and rest
where the rock bed
           drowned in the spotlight of a rising moon
dreams its rock dreams

                                            where mind becomes mountain
                                            let us begin

taste of loss

no metaphors
the only voice       poetry
in sweat
ache                 of ribs
where roses

there are times
when speech
is                      muscle
no need
for metaphors       when broken
things break
we are thrown
to the thickness
of our own blood

ubiquitous cricket

that time you always think of
when it is not
and now that it is
it slips through your fingers
like a silver fish

days so long
i forget this morning
wonder how this story began
i run
as though the road beneath my feet
were quicksand
i take refuge in the speed
of mountains
and turtles

the quickest way between two points
is silence

away and toward and from and into
spinning around ourselves

i would sit for a while
and listen
to the ubiquitous cricket and the sprinkler
remember the way the night sounds
before it swallows me
sinking into my pillow


inspired by the teachings of Kilung Jigme Rinpoche on Longchenpa's Way of Abiding

and through
and straight into the heart

like rain seeping into cool earth

truth drips

words spin
weaving a silver web that holds nothing
and still enough to let the sun
hang crystals on its translucent thread
frozen dew clinging effortlessly to dried grass
promising everything
and nothing simultaneously

already always
and yet beyond grasp
the magical display of this and that
like so many angels fluttering their wings


such rain today
washing dried tears
muddied dreams
into the streets
where rivers
gather into lakes

if grief were drained away
would the world be sweeter
would we gather around this last puddle of sorrows
and offer our final farewell
with rose petals
floating among falling rain?

even as we danced through the garden of bliss
would we not smell the bitter sweetness of forgotten loss
remember the softness with which
the petals kissed
the water's lips

wishing well

i cannot say where sadness is born

where the spring that gushes tears is hidden

i walk through the day
basking in sun and spring sweetness

                                                                       only to stumble

upon this fountain of broken mirrors
refracting the light of dreams

shards crack beneath my step

chip from the delicate lips of a wilted rose

if my eyes could scream
my throat could cry
i might undo the brickwork of this well

scrape clean its brown moss

fill myself with new rain

emerge                          a warmer animal

and find my spot again

in the sun


i found myself
                      searching in a thicket of brambles
thorns tear
                      seam by seam
each step
each grasp
                      an undoing

i sew myself with scissors


i step into the open field


only now remembered

(how could i forget
the way the land arches its back
falls away into the curve of rising sun)


continuously dissolving

all ways
speak of this

only now we see beyond the brambles


because you do not expose
your inner sanctums
for anything less than blood

because you hold your juice
secret oasis
not like other flowers
that drip their sex into the sand

your armor of thorns
a treasure revealed
if only by the height of its fortress

you are
in the dry heat of desert

when i am drawn to you
i inch my finger
through your spiked sentinels
to stroke your side
chiseled angles
insurance for shadows

and then i love you

because you do not give your softness easily

you are a lover i shall never wrap my thighs around
and still
you let me in
my own risk

when i try too quickly
i come away with invisible memories
only against the sun i see
the shadow
the slender sword
that is your parting kiss

for p

i will not dream you any longer
yet there is no end to my dream of you
you have walked out of the shadow of imagination
to meet me where my skin begins

i will not remember you
yet there can be no end to my memory of you
you have stepped from the archives of thought
into the cool wind of this day

why is it
dancing around you these eternities
i never truly know you
yet i have known you always

my eyes have been watching your path through the ages
yet the slant of your cheek
surprises me each morning

i have loved you so many nights
yet i await your kiss
like a fawn's first suckle of milk

may i have the courage to walk from the stage
to meet you
over and over and over

not because i know the way
not because i see
only because i love and i dare and i would live this one life
with you

borrowed time

this day feels put together hastily
                                                                            —AUDRE LOURDE

it's because of the wind
even the colors of dawn were swept together
like crumbs and vegetable scraps from a dirty kitchen floor

it's because the sun rose before the day was ready
it gathered its fields and roads
its slumbering mountains
extracted from sleep grass that needed to dream a little longer

it's because skin takes time to grow
and we cannot rush the touch of bark

it's because cities need the night to fold their broken hopes into
need dark rain to wash the blood of forgetfulness from curbs

this day feels put together hastily

and sadness can find no comfort in the peaceful rays of late afternoon
even now
i see it wandering among lost streets
trying to find its way home

and then again

again today i see them
shooting forth as though for the first time
tender pink
most delicate
most fragile
into the war-torn field of dead grasses and old roots
not the weathered artillery
not the hardened soldier
not thorn or bark or steely spine
instead she sends her youngest out

i am ambushed by lilac
thwarted by the shadow of green
no chance against this
desire for life

and this i know
is why i came
entranced by the hyacinth
humbled to my knees
by the white cherry blossom
this i know is why i came
for the breath of a strawberry
for the birdsong this morning in the grey skeleton tree
for the sound of a yellow tulip petal
for this i will be felled
for this i will surrender
again today

brown robes and hot sun on shaven heads

inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh's monks

there is only ever time enough
to do       one       thing

the moment       expands
one step
in front               
of the other

stand still              for speech
within the walk              of mindfulness

brown robes
and hot sun on shaven heads


there is time
for everything

to exhale

i stop

for a lilac

no hurry
a sequence
from one       to one       to one

do not try
to pack all your belongings into one suitcase

you only need
what is right


i cannot even touch you
for fear the world will crumble

           loose red earth
                      the rain has never kissed

no mind


savor the elixir
of molten honey

i sink my body into

until thought and falling rock
are still