the lost art of bulletproofing

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” -John Milton, Paradise Lost

“We were two birds of paradise . . . ” -Chrissie Hynde, The Pretenders

I.

when we were young, I
built you a cage; I pried
my eyes open every night
for two years, leaving you
alone to dream, I’d count out
three hundred paces
from your center, hiding
steel bars, in a perfect circle
behind winter-stripped trees,
across graying branches,
I sank spikes under leaves,
threaded snares to saplings

I was found out in
the first forest fire,
the fleshy pad of
my right thumb
striped black
from the match

you dug up your
blighted heart,
turned sideways,
invisible, wasting,
and vanished,
a smoke ring,
a wraith, a small
bruise fading

the faint essence
of burning wet wood
stays, forever seething
in my sorry lungs

II.

in all those years that
I was dead to you,
I dreamed for you
high walls, legions of
faithful, faceless men
who might give up
their lives for you –their
queen, I counted
their corpses, stacking
high against a wall,
one for each
horror imagined

I slept, I worried,
I slept and I quarried
great stones until
my knuckles bled,
never amounting to much,
never enough to
fortify your bed,
never enough to hide you
from old ghosts and
new monsters, and
one beast in particular:
muscle-bound, gruff,
your chosen one, with
one body, two spirits,
one empty soul, and
so much more adept at
building you prisons

I broke the jawbone
of the ass, split the lip
of the philistine, and
only provoked the
goliath to cast me out,
a fallen angel, then,
beelzebub misunderstood,
my paradise lost, I learned
to swim in lakes of flame

III.

all those years later,
when you found me,
you were luminous
and free, and full
of new words, new
legends, 78 tiny
panels, stories
illuminated,
carved, colorful

you wrote of
fortunes changed,
of damning cards that
reversed, revealed
your Page of Cups,
her love overflowing,
her soul shining, a sphere
of absolute peace

you told me how
magnificently you
learned, at the soft
steady press of
her hands, ancient
wisdom ground into
pertinent words, new
languages in the
divinity of her mouth,
fed to you like
ten thousand
delicacies

she was raven-haired,
beautiful, and together
you two knew no fear,
your Page of Swords,
her strength bursting
with light, while both,
with hands clasped,
eyes on the horizon,
walked together through
menacing winds, cloud
banks black and blue,
hearts burned together
in the crucible
of your escape

you grew strong,
and when she
was wounded, you
kept her moving,
only holding
tighter to her
weakening hands

IV.

it was more than
I deserved, but you,
and your stories,
both saved me

I learned the cages
I kept building
were for me

V.

we are old now, we
laugh at ourselves,
poke fun at each other
with blunt sticks and
gentle words, our love
is without guile, our
tongues wish for
better words than
“just friends” to describe
the wars we fought,
together and apart,
as enemies, as allies,
and how we find ourselves
now, one another’s
constant guardian,
white winged and
well intentioned

VI.

myself, I found a golden thread
in the endless dark woods,
and I found my way,
my Queen of Wands,
an alchemist, turns
old terrors into new
passions, my Queen of
Pentacles keeps me
fed and safe, contained

she has strong hands
and endless patience,
she wakes early, at dawn,
to take apart the fortresses
my fear builds in the night,
I wake later, needing nothing
but the soft slope of her body
to keep me breathing

VII.

today, I see your beloved,
mere mortals at a party,
fine strands of silver gleam,
woven into her hair, still
dark as crow’s feathers,
she is beautiful, still,
(and you, at any age,
still take my breath away)

you are up nights, worrying,
and I’m across town,
worrying for you again

“She dropped my hand,” you say,
and you tell me sad stories
in which you give chase,
and you stand still, and the distance
between you grows greater
until dusk arrives, then
she is just a faint blur,
a stroke of watercolor
running lengthwise
across the paper sky

in the morning, she returns,
small, angry splinters from
unknown bones, bits of
fruit or flesh between
her teeth, you hold your breath
against the cold and the heat,
you provoke her with such
expertise, take fine needle
aspirations of what, unknown,
grows within her chest wall, she
blames you when she bleeds,
or coughs up tar, or sheds
blue-black feathers on
the soft wood floor

the card faced one way
reads anger, the other way,
peace, one way anguish, the
other way, your will to believe
she will come back every morning,
and stay, I quietly ask, “What else
could she do?” I turn the problem
in my hand, make it smooth,
I suggest when I want to promise
she will always come back to you

VIII.

we walk around the park,
an urban forest, the ghost
of your golden dog
panting and smiling in
a shared memory

I pull apart the leaves,
I show you what you’ve
been up to in your sleep,
bait and bear traps,
precarious deadfalls,
salt blocks and deer blinds,
I say, famously, “I could
be projecting, but I worry.”

we walk further out and
are stopped by some force field,
some heavy air, something,
we trace our hands in search
of seams, and instead find
scratches in plexiglass

your eyebrow lifts,
mine dips sheepishly, as I admit
I’ve been practicing the
lost art of bulletproofing

these woods are a mess
of plastic and steel, and
we no longer know what was you
or what was me, but
we move slowly,
preserving our old bones,
and we take it all down,
all of it, together

IX.

when we get back to
your home, she’s there;
her smile leaves us
swooning, snowblind

her hand reaches,
turns, palm up, lowers
gracefully, then lifts,
catching yours from below
so gently, like a fallen
nestling returned
now, to safety

———————————————————-

This poem is my entry for tonight’s prompt at the dVerse Poets Pub, in which we are challenged to leave behind our many modifiers in favor of verbs and verb forms. I began this piece over a week ago, and the more I tried to end it, the longer it got. So it is still flooded with adjectives, but full of verbs, too. This was the rare poem started with a title, in which I wrestled with a word precisely because I wanted to write not about a bulletproof thing, but the process by which we try to shield ourselves and others. It is part poem, part fable, part memoir, part letter to a dear friend in need. If you haven’t fallen asleep yet (this is a long one), I urge you to read some other entries tonight. There is always at least one incredible piece that makes doing so beyond worthwhile. – xo wb

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About Wyeth Bailey

Raging my mid-life crisis. Reclaiming my riot girl youth. Resenting my overdeveloped intellect. Wyeth Bailey is a pseudonym. You may follow me on twitter @DangerousSweets View all posts by Wyeth Bailey

3 responses to “the lost art of bulletproofing

  • Cressida de Nova

    There is always at least one incredible piece that in doing so makes it worthwhile.

    Guess what…this is it! I need to immerse myself in this one with a few more reads. Brilliant heartfelt work!

  • brian miller

    ok, cool title…love all the tarot connections and the blend of the reading into the story of their life relationship is pretty cool…there is def humaness as well in the baiting and …the no longer know what is you and me as well…nice touch…ha, it is epic…but i enjoyed it

  • Victoria C. Slotto

    So many layers to this well-written )almost-epic) poem. Yes, it’s long, but it flows so well and says so much that it works.

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