“Territory of Ladders,” “Elephant Burial” and “Lost Neighbors”

Poetry by Cassandra Rockwood-Rice

“Territory of Ladders,” “Elephant Burial” and “Lost Neighbors”

Territory of Ladders

Who were you before ships

became your shoes? Now you sway

on mesozoic legs wondering why

there’s no stability inside. I heard you pierced

ears with knives and severed free thinking

on every continent before.

Here you find dissolution sung by virgins and bird-god

voices, often dressed like men to make you listen.

When you arrived, you raised a flag

ensigned with the last heart you ate

just to let us know you were in the harbor.

Next you make a crown that resembles it

and tell everyone to stay put for a body count.

You say, Drink and be merry!, offering barrel-aged tears

from a lost pleasure shore, calling casualties saviors,

only so long as their names serve as snares.

When the last remaining bridges have been burned

and the rivers run dry, then you’ll beg:

But wait, see how beautiful your heart would look on a stick?

You could be the next flag stake on my territory of ladders!

Elephant Burial

I revisit the mark where you once lied,

slow moving eyes, creasing like an aerial riverbed.

Dream walks along that mother river,

in and out of hotels with peeling walls.

I end up in other countries,

listening to country boys run on dirt roads.

My friends are all there in small boats,

they are seeing the sky but they don’t see me.

Lighting fires for reflections in water,

humming into hands,

I don’t know if it’s shock or cold

they are trying to avoid.

Priests once led us in processions

where we drank fermented flowers,

washed bodies of lost ones.

I would have washed you,

even of the pain I painted with,

had you given me a chance.

We forgot to tie our fingers tightly with red string

and cut it with an axe.

We forgot to mix the ashes with food,

or wrap them in fresh muslin

so we could dance around the tomb to live music.

I covered my eyes and felt my hands becoming marigolds.

It will never be time to turn my bones

with the bones of others you left behind.

Hold me skyward and shout,

I give you back to your life!

We should have held these things first,

like elephants do, unflinching fascination,

mulling over dead selves, recognizing

what it was we killed in one another.

I’ll keep a lace of your hair around my neck for a year.

Say my name — then don’t say it anymore.

Smear cliffs you visit, river stones &

the inside of natural caves bright cinnabar red,

serve intoxicating drinks when you say

that you once loved me — otherwise don’t say it at all.

Unlike elephants, most animals don’t hesitate

to leave the weak behind.

But elephant herds take good care,

they search among fronds for dropped flowers

and never let their loved ones suffer

a thoughtless goodbye.

Lost Neighbors

The way they have to hover

over insurmountable streets,

tarmac their river, living rooms

of briny cafes, a basement

on Telegraph, beetlejuice vista

on Stanford, an underground

passageway (rabbit hole

only mused about).

The bathroom is anywhere

two doors can be opened,

a shower is hands clasped

around hands under the freeway.

Those naked wear mist

lit orange by too much city.

Once admired for their grace

and humility, they blinked

and became circadian fighters.

New people with new money

took their places, forced them to make homes

of odd things, trash finds: boards, carts,

barber pole rings, red tights, trash bags

their round eyes rely on openness at night.

They are the last who fling themselves

upon the obtuse of our proliferating

ignorance, arms and legs flung wide,

wider holding our greedy

streets in their teeth,

but considered weeds.

About the Author

Cassandra Rockwood-Rice

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Cassandra self-publishes a small art and literary zine called “Rag" and runs a monthly literary reading series at The Beat Museum in San Francisco. Her poems have been published in The New Delta Review, Rip Rap, Hawaii Review, The Lifted Brow and elsewhere. She has a poem forthcoming in 'peculiar: a queer literary journal' and three poems forthcoming in For Women Who Roar. She holds a BA from California Institute of Integral Studies and MFA from California College of the Arts.