Orphan Poetry or Paradise Lost: IV. The Vinegar Scripture

The Vinegar Scripture

I am blue in the face
words unexhaled;
sky’s edge, distant,
cracks and curls.
Ozone’s filthy fingers
ruck parched dusk.
I drink;
water and vinegar
think of Christ
Roman soldiers,
rough sponge,
cracked lip:
“E’-li, E’-li, la’-ma sa-bach’-tha-ni?”
After that
this same
amber thick, sour smell
slaps against our Savior’s sense.
Now he’s off –
Hard business for him to harrow hell;
Hard business for me,
just sitting still.

To listen to the poem, click on the player below.

Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embellished Errors – (Pax Texana)

Pax Texana - copyright 2012 Bonnie McClellan all rights reserved

The inside cover of my Cultural Atlas is covered with Italian shelf-paper. I used it because when I tore up the front cover, I thought that the inside should be stabilized (another embellished error). This paper is still made in this country; a lovely, heavy, egg-cream ground with black, red, dark blue, or green patterns. When I had first moved to Italy, I lived in a rural valley outside Florence; I was trading work for a place to stay with an American-Italian couple. One of the first things Adele asked me to do was strip off the old paper from her kitchen shelves and re-cover them with new paper. It marked one of my first trips into the treasure-palace that is the Italian ‘whatnot’ store. While I was living there I was in the process of a separation that turned into a divorce and a cultural shift that involved re-evaluating the (then) 38 years of my life in Texas.

The poetry/story of this can be found in my Orphan Poetry series; however, later, I also made, from the empty tissue paper ‘books’ that remain after one has used up the thin sheets of gold leaf, a series of impressions of my left hand made with white marble-dust and gum arabic. In these two ‘books’ there is one page and one hand-print for each year of my life with the year written in pencil on the bottom-left and my age on the top-right. They overlap and stick, they are messy (as my life has been) and made of the dust of rocks that were once marine fossils, our common calcite frame.

PAX TEXANA - detail (copyright 2012 Bonnie McClellan, all rights reserved)

This attempt to make peace between my Texas past and my Italian present is included in the collage on the first page of the Cultural Atlas. The envelope from the gold leaf (delivered from Italy to Texas and then repatriated when I moved here) holds the book. Above the envelope is the word PAX – which speaks to the common Roman/Latin cultural roots between the two places – from the instructions for an IKEA shelving unit – representing a more recent, consumer empire that uses those common roots to try and make clients feel ‘at home’.

Orpan Poems or Paradise Lost: X. Virgil/Vigil

Virgil / Vigil

Will you boldly walk with me the road our good intentions paved;
Or stand balking, faint
    with fear at that long path from there to here
Trusting my hand, like Virgil’s to lead you through the gates?

Orphan Poetry or Paradise Lost: VIII. Enchanted Rock / The Ides of March

Enchanted Rock / The Ides of March

I will remember the branches and the light
filtering through the locust grove.
You will remember the emerald brilliance
of the grass.
We will remember together the unyielding line of granite
that still gives way over time:

the fine fullness of the moonlight across our whiteness
the vermilion flash of the cardinal
Cool air rolling lightly over and under everything like water
filling our mouths with flower petals
tasting of honey olive oil fresh bread

The sacrament of breath.

Orphan Poetry or Paradise Lost: VII. Tishomingo Granite

Tishomingo Granite

From the Quarry at Tishomingo
Comes this Pre-Cambrian intrusion
Begotten when the first rain dropped on boiling rock.
Only later to be named
With sounds recalling some child’s summer game.
These random elements, the stuff of stars
Cooled by Bowen’s ruled order (though he was not invented yet)
Pyroxene first, then salmon coloured plagioclase;
Last, cloudy silicate of common quartz
All this a billion years ago.
You know I loved you even then;
The day this rock was formed.

Orphan Poetry or Paradise Lost: V. Dream/Moted/Motet


The air is saffron with moted dust.

We sit

(on a bale of used clothing

raised and round as a dais).

Joined at the hip,

Gemini’s twins

but with legs facing out, opposite,

mirror fashion.

Left arms crossed inwards,

left hands rest

lightly on the other’s right hip;

I can feel the familiar arc of it

humming through cotton and skin,

the current of relief

turns over the silent, glacial lake within.

We are thisclose

(heads bowed, our temples almost touch).

Your face broken into cubist planes by proximity

seeing the whole would mean

dividing a fraction.


From the corner of the room

she’s looking at me;

Madonna Dolorosa,

cheeks as pink as Fra Angelico’s

forbidden mistress.

Orphan Poetry or Paradise Lost: III. Eau de Vie/Spirits

Eau de Vie

J’aime bien cette image (ce tableau?)
d’un homme nu et beau
au bain chaud…ses mains, inoubliables
comme ses yeux – les deux,
plein de ma poésie…
C’est assez á dire qu’enfin
les pages ont perdu,

Je viendrai et lui retrouverai
reconquérir le territoire
de chaque phrase,
chaque mot,
chaque virgule,
et chaque point.
Je suis sûr que leurs sont inscrits
à la surface de sa chair,
et mes mains, mes yeux, mes lèvres
retrouveront encore


It pleases me this image (this scene?)
of a man, bare, beautiful
in a steaming bath…his hands as unforgettable
as his eyes – both full
of my poetry…
Enough to say that in the end
the pages are lost

I will come and find him again
reconquer the territory
of each sentence,
each word,
each comma,
and full-stop.

I’m sure they are inscribed
on the surface of his skin
and my eyes, my hands, my lips
will find again
each one.

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