The Betrayal Of The Flesh

When I was small,
I lived in my own little Ellis Island--
I could not make myself understood.

See the ghost woman,
With a clever tongue in Prague or Stockholm--
Thought backward and ridiculous on a new shore.

Certain words
Beat me before I spoke them--
People said, sharply, "Speak up!" until I went mute as a stone.

It was not my history that was foreign,
But my flesh that betrayed. And now again, when I am cold or tired,
Words lose themselves before they reach my lips.

It makes me feel small and stupid,
Though I have taught my hands to speak
In languages no one else can touch.

In 1915, a diva visited Detroit--
She was the darling of the Italian opera,
But she couldn't order her own breakfast.

At the next table, some swells snickered at her accent
And her fumbling. That night, the same dandies wept when she sang,
Remarking nervously to each other,
Isn't that the same dumb wop bitch from this morning?

After the performance, she spoke in the cadences her lips would allow her,
Saying, I feel lost here, it is so cold
And I am tired.

for Fireblossom Friday at Real Toads

art by Alphonse Mucha


HermanTurnip said…
The first half of this poem...heck, you could have been talking about me growing up. Nicely done.
Sherry Blue Sky said…
Oh this poem comes from that deep remembering place. I love when you write about those times. I, too, was silenced young. I so hear "words lose themselves before they reach my lips" the building of the three last stanzas. The last three lines are perfection. Wow.
hedgewitch said…
Your gift for character always astonishes me--here you pack so much personality in the protagonist, and yet, this poem is way beyond a personal tale and off into something that will probably force you to throw a dead blackbird at me for calling mysticism--like souls speaking through souls, imperfectly, and dreams and the power of the interior going where speech can't go...I especially loved the passage containing:
"..I have taught my hands to speak
In languages no one else can touch..."
Kerry O'Connor said…
This is an instant favourite, not favourite like the chocolate I prefer over a different brand, but as in this is one of the best things I've read, so good, it goes into the top drawer of my mind and lives there forever.

I am used to your dry wit, your deprecating tone, the way pleasure and pain may become confused but here you have shown a deep empathy for the gifted individual whose language is not understood, who feels the need to constantly translate every thought and emotion in a way that 'others' can understand, or remain forever isolated. Yet, when such a person reveals the gift, it is the 'others' who are dumb-founded.
If ever you publish your work, remember that this one is Kerry's choice.
Sioux Roslawski said…
What a gorgeous poem, Shay.

(And I'm wondering how can Kerry choose this one as one of her favorites? I TRY to do that, but then the next day, another poem rears its head as worthy of the label "favorite." And then the next day, the same thing happens...)
ayala said…
Great tale..makes me think of all those with inner gifts that are not seen.
Hannah said…
So amazing what you've done, Shay, truly! I love this,

"And now again, when I am cold or tired,
Words lose themselves before they reach my lips.

It makes me feel small and stupid,
Though I have taught my hands to speak
In languages no one else can touch."

So MUCH! Really enjoyed all of your poem, very thought provoking, thank you.
I am swept away by your story telling ability not to speak of your creative writing skill.

I grew up in a household exposed to Mario Lanza, mothers' favorite male operetist. She, mother, was a professional stage singer and performer in Mexico in the ninteen forties/fifties.

I appreciate this story, Gracias
Lynn said…
Love that music - it goes great with the poem.
Mystic_Mom said…
A poem I can relate to in so many ways, and the sad story at the end just makes me weep for the cruelty of people. Great write, as usual!
Tawnya Smith said…
Great portrait, both the singer and the narrator. Do you feel like the singer sometimes? Fully expressing yourself only through your art? I know I do. Thank you for this lovely song.
Anonymous said…
Sad to be judged by our inability to communicate as other's would have us. But we find our way, don't we Shay?
Cloudia said…
please please please submit please this PERFECT POEM to the New Yorker and a thousand other meadows to bloom in the light of SO many MEs who need to recognize ourselves
again Please-

"Poetry is a big space and I love it."

" There's the space that you soar into, the space that you sometimes break through to, and hang in. A sort of gasp or gap. "

Selima Hill
Unknown said…
I'm always surprised at the depth and details you manage to work into your pieces, and effortlessly so...
Daydreamer said…
I wonder why it's always been that we humans always tend to fear, or mock that which we don't understand.
How sad for the diva to be thought of as such and yet she was able to make them weep with the beauty of her voice.
What a lovely read.
This is one of my favorites; I just love this part:

"Certain words
Beat me before I spoke them--
People said, sharply, 'Speak up!' until I went mute as a stone."

The story at the end speaks volumes.

Kenia Santos said…
This is truly gorgeous. I love reading you tale-like poems, you're a storyteller. <3
Anonymous said…
What a truth you've revealed. I hope those guys learned not to judge.
Mary said…
So very sad that that someone who did not speak the same language is thought to lack intelligence!
Lolamouse said…
I love this one as well. You bring the personal into the more universal and weave it into a fabulous story. I could subsist on your poetry instead of food (as long as I had my Diet Coke!)
Maude Lynn said…
This . . . this is so good that you share her shame and hurt. That's all I know to say.
Lydia said…
When I go to the opera it takes only moments after an opening scene for me to begin my flight around the room. It's the only way I can describe the nearly-out-of-body sensation I have during those productions, and no other place. Except just now, here.
Anonymous said…
In your carousel of selves a surprising sea-horse so frequently surfaces, fresh-minted and so satisfying to read even though the eloquence is almost painful on the tongue. The heart has no place in the market, and its speech -- we'll call it poetry, OK? is fairly useless, even foreign, in the everyday. And though the ever-lovin' spirit is exuberant, the flesh is weak, especially its coin the tongue, which seems too often to betray the spirit getting the exchange rate down. But whattayagonado, with angelic currencies in a foreclosed land? Ah well. Though the diva's tale leapt from the second half, I read it in the poem entire. No distinction necessary between the persona of the first five stanzas and the last three. Loved it. - Brendan
Ella said…
Cold and tired resonated with me. This chick has thyroid disease, she needs some hormones stat.

Well done
Susie Clevenger said…
You have created a character I can see, feel, and hear. She was slammed by prejudice that even her talent couldn't overcome...marvelous piece
Joanna Jenkins said…
"Words lose themselves before they reach my lips."
You are so stinking talented.... again, you blow me away.
xo jj
Herotomost said…
Like a subtitled movie filmed in sepia....great characterization, the start to novel I think. Reminded me of a particular episode of Northern Exposure for some reason, funny how things interconnect sometimes.
Margaret said…
This isn't just a poem... this is a full length feature movie... How do you pack so much in a few stanzas? Have you ever thought of writing a book?