“Let’s start by making ourselves unfamiliar,” Laura Behr begins one poem, and she does, continuously through her poems that are filled with sudden leaps, surprising twists, non sequiturs, surrealistically tinged phrases—anything to let us see the world and our relationships in it anew. Laura has been a private student of mine for a few years now, starting after we met at the Iowa Summer Writers’ Festival. To be honest, when she began I wasn’t enthusiastic about the work but she is a voracious reader and reviser, and she has become one of my favorite all time students. I look forward to every poem she sends and shake my head in wonder at the new ways she finds to see herself, all of us, in the world. She’s the kind of original that makes us more original ourselves.
Cave Diving With Einstein
Poems by Laura Behr
Reflections on Magritte’s Painting The Therapist: You Are My Suitcase
Let’s start by making ourselves unfamiliar.
Listening, to the puzzles of silence. Travelling
as far as we can go. We’ll form an Optimists Club.
Rewriting ordinary things: a straw hat, reed cane,
the red blanket. I can see every third page is missing,
so you can wear the blanket first. Later, I’ll try it on
for you and invite you into my lap. I want you
to look into my bird cage. If you’d like I’ll turn
and show you my dove-heart, and you can sit
on the heart-ledge of my cage cooing, and keeping
my dove-heart company. Sky and water open the illusion.
Every particle of yellow sand, atoms of myself sitting
resolutely on the beach, the darkness of a midnight-blue sky,
my Sunday hat, meld with every particle of you
collecting inside my portrait. Bring your Lindy Hop,
and uncover me in the quiet music of waves. Breathing in
the scent of sand pines. Stop and rest with me in these
exotic blues of children’s books and imagination.
We’ll lose our bearings, mixing up horizon-lines and dreams,
falling open to each other, learning to love in solitude.
We’ll need a pair of carrier pigeons, trained to carry messages
written in invisible ink. Let’s wash away the old answers,
letting the horizon form a new tracing-line decoding the cipher
between us leading on to the future. Sit with me. The future
of the thing, sees for us without a face, with its well-trained heart
and finds itself in balance, if mystery lifts her veil. The weight
of things, two birds: one free, the other caged by a lover’s cross,
as primal navels open insides first to love all bird-cage heart.
On the Banks of the Cedar River Finding a Rare Igneous Rock
All he wants. A soul’s weight. Washed up
from a century’s flood. Not the rock he pressed
into nameless hands long ago. The felt how
of living. His words bent by gravity and time.
Her name long forgotten. Smooth, black,
almost volcanic. The world outside is not enough.
Pressing his rock into her small hand at recess.
He imagines her now. Her face, nameless.
And every word exchanged transgresses memory.
Working things through as the world wakes.
At the mercy of one task. He wants to be
a time traveler. The best day of his life could be
in the future. Stripping down. Jump and crossing over.
Freed by the river’s forward moving questions.
The chaos seems insurmountable. Time moves truth
into view. Where to go from here? A still quiet moment
poses in dark woods. He wants to go back, capturing stars
hanging above the silent pines. Falling back
into night’s silver lining, as its spirited double-helix hums
an incantation in star-speak counter measures.
And even his affection for living can’t hold him safe
enough to see his own ignorance. He wishes he had
been smarter, moved faster. A regret. Still, the future
is alive with a promise which marks the things he carries
of her into infinity. Uncharted in shadows, he wants.
The world’s beauty, recovering eyes that wonder.
Silent, in a moment that doubts the mystery. Its haunting
stripped and smitten as words lose meaning slipping
into ambivalence. A perfect set of magnets, and closeness
enough to touch fingers and toes. That is all he wants.
Eternity, reliving what has yet to be lived.
Owen Meany at the Alamo
A few stone buildings, a neatly trimmed lawn,
a nice place to take a picture. A reason
to take off a hat. None of it changes the ending.
It’s happening now, expected signs and all the rest.
A home for missionaries and Indians,
a freak storm hits in shirt-sleeve weather.
If you dare ask what will kill you. The ghosts
will tell you. Or ask how you know
what you don’t know. Be willing to do something.
Act like a baby or a fallen star. Both roles have merit.
When life isn’t so beautiful it’s hard
to put into words. Faith isn’t pure
or sure of itself or of you. It’s a word born and blurred,
in veils and regret. It proves itself against
the disorder. Blow it up, you can’t leave it undefended.
How do you hold happiness? It’s the oddest things,
the unexpected turn of a moment you don’t see coming
but you see, and there are no survivors. Practice.
Living with what is missing, an arm,
a father, it’s a no win argument, chosen, human.
Faith in faith means walking, not figuring it out.
A hero is only a street light away.
Cave Diving with Einstein
Two minutes underwater and the last thing
you see is the pale gray shadow of clouds
falling down to uncover angels dancing
within the electric blue glow. Eternity is blue,
holy as the first touch of skin radiating light
thru deep black waters. Within its light lies
the weight of everything that we cannot say.
And, waiting on the lap of gods for a second wind
or a kiss, as ghosts walk, as rain falls clearing the air,
we laugh. Dreaming of love’s savages warm
and expecting summer rains. Suppose the earth
above us is the illusion. Water rushes, siphoning silt
thru a slit in the rocks. Grounded by live oaks
and scrub jays the sandy path above is the netherworld.
The Harrier hawk mid-flight and lost is a Firebird,
his feather tips are your hands. Will you believe
with me in implausible things? A turbulent
storm-tossed sea. Electric blue spheres of light.
Enwombing us, in the binding intensity of heat.
Gravity healing and unruly, shifts its boundaries
and leaning in forces jumps of spiritual force
that spread out and over the tides to woo us away.
Facing the whiteness of surf light, looking into
the blue-sky water, I watch as the shadow borders
of ordinary life disappear. Entering with you
into dimly lit worlds, hidden below a glassy surface,
I hold my breath. Listening for the strange music
of a seashell over a roar of waves, the music tells stories
of our very natures and of places beyond this, where
things are truer than real. Waiting to see this murky
dreamscape with the soul’s eye, we uncover in the quiet
music of waves the taste of salt on tongues, the scent
of ambergris and an ever growing feeling of buoyancy.
Sometimes, when we talk about things the light seems
to go away from us, as lightening over the sea
follows the wind. We almost always need more
than we can ask for and so we don’t ask for anything.
And though we can make anything out of light,
darkness into tender night, we cannot make
things un-happen. This is what makes all the rest
so hard. Even as night is grave, waves erase.
The way it used to be. The way you want it to be now.
This Land Who Could Know
Smelling of cigarettes, you ask me
to turn my bones into a beaded necklace
for Timordee bartering. It’s not that easy.
It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to tell you
what I felt that night, I didn’t know how
to tell you. Splayed out like a broken cross,
my chest rising and falling like fire coils inside a star
or a wave of slaked breath crosses, a catch of longing
wanting more. I was willing to be with you, asking
nothing, taking what comes. Pretending with you,
this can go on forever. There was only one star
in the sky, the moon hidden by a navy haze.
I took that as permission, the moon’s illusion
of what counts. I was older than I’d ever be,
commanding the star to reverse. Giving myself away,
learning the business of love, stuck in the past
where anything worth knowing looms contented
and even the future doesn’t know everything.
Where everything beautiful is a trick. If you knew
anything, you’d know how to run your hand
up my thigh, running your hand over my why not,
until practiced eyes leave off unexpectantly and pass
over truth. But it’s not that easy. Neither of us can say
when it started or how long it took the wind to carve
an arch thru the flagstone wall. I walked thru at the place
where truth pleads for a way to betray or to put up
with each other and the world. It felt like an invitation.
I can’t remember the beginning. So ask
a different question. I remember wavering
and waiting for you in dangerous moments
with empty hands. I remember trying all night
to convince the light to mold itself into an apology.
Wanting to hear, All is forgiven. Learning instead
what goes unsaid never gives fair warning. Today,
the lavender sky takes the light away with you,
all tangled purple-heart. And I can see in the secret goings
of stars the advantages of losing. The night looked
into me to speak. My eyes stripped and final,
a reason to love is destination enough. A lasting solo.
What comes after? All that exists is love’s simple intent.
More than anything precious a cooing then sleep.
Laura Behr lives in Montgomery, Alabama. She is a psychotherapist, a partner in a business consulting group advising business and its leaders on mental health and preventative wellness from a combined Neuroscience, CBT, and Psychoanalytic framework, and the mother of two girls. She has published in The Café Review.