Love Song for My Lemon Hare
Green trees, sap green—streaming the interstate and hemming the fields, ladled as if from Constable’s brush, from Manchester to Nantwich, muted, yet golden, glazed by strange English light, so unlike Michigan’s steady emerald-green flora. Speckled cows grazed along ocher hills, subdued by the unusual torch of summer: 2018. Max drove, my hand softened her thigh. Her black hair rippled a clouded cyanic sky.
from a windscreen blurred
seen through the yester-crossing
We perched at a naked gray picnic table, pond spread before us, surrounded by reeds, a murky olive green with muted yellows and azure sheets of reflected sky. Ducks edged towards cattails and skittered up the bank, looking for bread crumbs. “White trash park,” we joked, with gratitude, at a natural reprieve from her brick-and-concrete town: Nantwich. Small retreats. Moments. Smoke billowed Max’s head—west, beyond her, sprawled fields of unkempt weeds. She lit another and stared through haze into purling, liquid glass. Full of want, I touched her hand, just barely, to see if it was real, a smoke screen between us.
white legs jogged past us
yet another horizon
the ombre of time
York. We walked for miles along its wall, then down River Ouse, through cobbled streets, passing decorated ghosts of Romans, stalking the grounds with flagrums swinging in hand. We paused to behold York’s medieval structures, their mute augustness and mystery—their lurking winged sentries. I photographed Max in front of some crumbling arched ruins, her goofing in one; pensive in another. Peonies and petunias sprouted from bountiful baskets, lining windows and light posts. Sun was hot and grass burned to near-bare earth. Lovers peppered the square. A man in a wheelchair, a woman flanking him. A blonde woman with threaded arms around her red-faced man, standing still in a boxwood’s shade. A city brimming with romance. Even pigeons loved. Max wanted to know why I photographed them. Beauty of the commonplace… in the mystery of this city, with you whom I love. She clasped my hand, our arms swung in rhythm, then released, then touched again as we walked through York’s ruins, vestiges of Romans, rubble-reminder of man’s nature and chimera of progress. We paused near a striped beer tent with its scalloped awning and sprawling thick rug. Max stepped away from folding tables, beneath an English oak tree and dialed her child. “When will you be coming home, darling?” Child couldn’t say…
a gambit of history
her river ran dry
trouble with pigeons
dreams already surrendered
where centuries met
The day was draggy: August: hot. Dark green tapestry of foliage foregrounded giant English pigeons whose pleasant churring crescendoed into urgent throaty warbling as their unrest grew throughout the week. Their wings fluttered violently as they dropped from trees, framed by open panes. Beyond them, through east windows, lay brown scorched hills of grass divided by blonde council buildings. Tattered blankets and linens dried on makeshift clotheslines. Doors were propped open to release summer’s choking heat, and tenants shuffled like ghosts over walkways to smoke and chatter.
her choice[s] wound in [s]pools
strewn in a killing commons
that very last morning
Our tour bus, double-deckered, bellowed through Chester—England’s ancient fort, its bright red brick bursting against my camera’s sensor—Canon hyper-color, more vivid than eyes. Expanse of sky, clear for a bit, an opaque blue backdrop. Max arranged the tour, just for me, scolded two ticketers, on my behalf, who got our pickup location wrong. I smiled. Small loyalties. She was quiet, so quiet, as I skirred between empty seats, between stops, consuming the city’s strangeness, a walled-in melding of Victorian, medieval, and modern. I rested for a bit, my arm around Max, who was off some place between her head and the clock tower—her tolerance evident and her kindness too. Who wants to be a tourist?
how one spells Deva
her children built a brush fort
they came with lit torches
how one says Daeva
they were not safe in their fort
Roman ev’ry man
two foreigners in England
Diva, where are you?
Our bus rumbled over River Dee, then paused by endless Chester Rows, black and white Tudors adorned with wood and stone statues of petrified saints and griffins. Traffic stopped at Overleigh Cemetery and St. Barbara’s Church, so postcard-still and picturesque, and yet a knob welled in my throat. Perfect rows of graves, iron oxide steeple and bursting yellow greens denied the loss of souls plowed under… as time continued to move through lengthening of grass. A nagging hollow followed. I stroked her hair. She, still silent, her olive eyes masked behind dark lenses.
I, the camera
recording each clock movement
then Romans arrive
a bus transports us
doors fail to open
I traveled the Manchester train alone. In my hand, a sketchbook from Max. Inside its cover, her lemon hare drawing unfinished. Remainder, blank pages.
The windows rattle
as wild hares rush through dense brush
Boudica, I see you in East Anglia, along Icknield Way, your long tawny hair scattered in wind—translucent flesh, your arms pulling fast—your reins. Where are your children, your daughters? Your chariot ruptures fiery sky as your impervious steeds bare their teeth in eternal rage. Griffins glide through the inferno, scanning red fields for kill. Flames of hell are reserved for Romans, courageous one. Boudica, you are immortalized in stories, in hearts, and in minds.
vengeance for women
those rapists, Romans, sadists
the poison swallowed
Boudica I smell a storm and each tree’s leaves have turned over. Release the lemon hare from your dress and tell us what will come. What direction does that hare run, fierce-eyed one? Max, your hares are gone from your garden. I saw through your eyes in a hypnagogic reverie. Weeds have overtaken the plot.
wolves lounged in hot sun
hares dashed into the thicket
a wolf snapped her neck
what Romans destroy
Oh Boudica, your kingdom
they all should serve you
Tilly’s—quaint, quiet, with thick green and white paint from Max’s own hand, an old-fashioned café, tucked away on a residential side street. So nice for choices—not franchises—in this foreign English town. Old pickled mismatched tables in a country-cobbled array, smattered with patrons. Their menu, hand-drawn in curly letters of colored chalk on a slate board. We sat in a corner, away from customers. A vibrant sun scattered in rays through open door and windows.
We chatted briefly, then Max got up and approached the counter to greet friends and request tea and coffee. I watched her mingle and noticed her easy open smile. Joan offered her clothes, hand-me-downs for her boys. Max, a foreigner, so kind, so charming, with her alluring melodic voice, made herself comfortable among British folks. Talked to total strangers. Shared a light and smoked with a guy we saw earlier on canal.
She was born an every woman, a classless artist, welcome everywhere, as she had rehearsed a straight life for years, and yet, she didn’t quite measure up, as she was now openly queer. She understood the difference between tolerance and belonging—between friend and acquaintance, the latter of which she had many. Lonely and gay in a foreign place, gentle, yet confident, and so brave—a few things I loved about her.
She returned and sat at one short end of our table, resting her leg against mine. Our tea and coffee arrived in gilt-edged china served with saucers and cloth napkins. I smiled and put my hand over hers. Happiness was such a simple thing and love seemed so easy in that moment… Outside, on porch rail, a magpie poked at winding garland.
two foraging hearts
a magpie finally lands
Saturn on her tail
Flying frenzied through furibund trees, filliped by whirlwinds, searching for a lost son, who sleepwalked through my dream. Calling his name as gods groaned “gratitude” and sky bled black.
daughters and sons gone
Cronos / African Saturns
What have you gods done?
The two of us, alone in Max’s living room—she smelled of sweet lavender. Our bodies released our day as we lazily tangled each other—my head resting in her lap. She ran her fingers through my Indian-dude hair while stroking my shoulder. I caressed her naked calf with tenderness. We stayed like that, with my head on her lap, happy forever.
Saturn controls time
solar eclipse hit London
doves fall from the sky
Max walked away from me, down a stone-walled garden path, getting smaller through my camera lens. Its shutter snapped, capturing her done-in body, bent head, slumping shoulders, Birks in hand. I closed my aperture to adjust light coming in. Looked once more through my viewer, and she was gone.
And So On in a Week
Email request for a reading—then two days later, Devin, the medium, 56, [who predicted Max’s death, and said she would come back and kill her ex] died in his sleep. I saw him a month before in his red-walled, makeshift shop, agitated, distracted, with darkness all around him. Your grandfather is around, he said, and then I smelled Grampa’s Copenhagen—he is proud of you / something he never said. “And Max’s ex is Satan is Satan is Saturn,” he said, shuffling his cards. I see his scythe coming ‘round (it had already landed in a poem, in fact). She’s coming back to take him out.” He drew another card and wiped his cheek. I was disturbed for another week. Last words Max said to him when he took her kids, “I will kill you.”
Three poems, no, groups of digi-text, all lost in the void of Submittable / rejection embracing filter malfunction. Normally I don’t care …
Rewarded for being a whinging ass by a new, too-kind Jean/ her own difficult story unravelling / stranger things and welcome / her grandfather’s ghost showed up in her grapefruit just in time for his birthday / her husband came home from the hospital for the final time.
Denny/Denise with her delightful boy voice, told me (nine months after Max killed herself) that six of her cousins did the same. Young mother of four died so young / the other two offspring of cousins / she gets the gravity of what ifs.
An online hobby friend, Ron, I never met in person, asked me to choose one of his deceased mother’s keepsakes from a Facebook gallery / she died in 2002 / I picked a tiny ceramic boat shown next to a quarter for scale / with a large yellow glue stain and enormous black stitches on the sail.
His father made fun of him for being fat / I will love her for him or just for her but not tell him / I know how to love secretly / Lesbians are like that.
I once wrote him a birthday message on Facebook / he barked back there was nothing to celebrate.
My phone blinked an alert with a message from my California friend, which I played/ somehow from a year ago / butt bumped into the future-past / I called her / she had left no message / her father turned 95 Thursday in his newly-delivered hospital bed / her mother, a hoarder, recently released from her skin / They are still unearthing the trailer / She is a writer / We were both laid off for being over-40 old / And the millennials danced their …
Jean found her brother—plus three others / My lost sisters and mother are sprinkled throughout someone’s south like an unnamed constellation / My mother is a lost-and-found mother on a two-year cycle that grows wider as time progresses.
My schizophrenic grandfather died in a halfway house in New Orleans / he was 51 / nobody knew him or how he arrived from Michigan. He owned a pilled maroon blanket, two striped button-up shirts, a pair of dungarees, a stained t-shirt, some pencils, three large four-foot stacks of newspapers, a ragged brown wallet, and a half-used pack of cigarettes.
Like his daughter, schizophrenics tended to wander once the asylums opened their doors… then closed them.
My mother drove to his body then / one of the times she left us in Florida with the mean French babysitter, her gigantic charcoal poodle, and the closet where I hid from tomatoes I later found out were tornadoes.
I inherited his head, cheek bones, and weirdly-set ears, but not the cleft palette or brain / otherwise I’d be an amazing poet and play the drums and smoke / I have an amber photo of him as a child, screaming down the slide.
Near Tampa, where we stayed at the orphanage, truckle beds jammed like a train wreck throughout the west-side bunker / green shadowed and dim / light scattered through the honeycomb windows / we were spotted and not spotted with measles or pox.
Max’s mother used to take in orphans in South Africa on holidays / and Max, small and horrified, gave them gifts as they shared food on cobbled-together, sheet-covered tables. Later, at 17, Max joined a mission run by nuns / She spent a year in near silence, scrubbing the floors on her knees, handwashing the linens, never bedding even one.
Outside the sun torched the orange trees and scorched the centipede grass / leaving endless sand and a sprawling thicket / clawing through the rusty chain fence / I hunched in a swing / small ass hugged by the black rubber strap / and noted my sister, given to happiness then, pushing the merry-go-round with a smaller, dirt-kneed girl / she made friends so easily with the other pocked dirty kids.
I, on the other hand, sat alone / watched the sun seem to orbit the earth, unable to measure the past or future / making up songs in my head about my grandmother. After her accident in 2001, I cared for her, easing into the switches of time / we sometimes communicated in songs we made up on the fly.
My grandmother later dismissed the time spent in that Florida shelter —“it wasn’t long … ” At four, I knew that time is not a linear thing, but something that circles around and around like deranged planets with their secret charts, weaving between us / into our future and someone’s / those acrid ancestral daguerreotypes before the smile zeitgeist for all white America captured all our pale sepia faces, and we faded back into color like queer rainbows with our orange-peel mouths blossoming open for decades and decades.
I wrote 30 poems for Facebook, then 40, then 80 / ‘til I was empty / where the titles were the poem. I understand the importance of titles, of economy and attention spans, and time constraints, and busy schedules. They rolled up the feeds randomly like dreamy dead digital sea scrolls, into someone’s yesterday, next week / tomorrow / then vanished / archived for good.
One was a leg shooting in our yard by someone playing redneck quick draw / another my long-lost bisexual stepmother’s long ski-like nose / I once angered as a child with a cartoon. I edited her anger out of the title. Her nose might suddenly appear anywhere, on a salad plate, or on any surprised face at some time in the future or past / noses are like that / I got my grandfather’s.
Koss is a queer writer, fine artist and designer and has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Publications include Exquisite Corpse, the Exquisite Corpse Reader (anthology) from Black Sparrow Press, Diode Poetry (Volume 12, #2), Cincinnati Review Online Micro Feature, and Spillway #27. They have a hybrid book due out in 2020 by Negative Capability Press. Keep up with Koss on Twitter @Koss51209969 and Instagram @koss_singular.
Featured Image Credit: Koss, 2019