Lola Ridge

(December 12, 1873- May 19, 1941 / Dublin)

Betty


You can see the sandhills from our new room.
Butterflies
live in the sandhills
and lizards
and centipedes.
If you keep very still
lizards will think you a stone
and run over your lap.
Butterflies’ liveries
are scarlet and black.
They drive chariots in air.
People in the chariots
are pale as dew—
you can see right through them—
but the chariots
are made of gold of the sun.
They go up to heaven
and never catch fire.
There are green centipedes
and brown centipedes
and black centipedes,
because green and brown and black
are the colors in hell’s flag.
Centipedes
have hundreds of feet
because it is so far from hell
to come up for air.
Centipedes
do not hurry.
They are waiting for the last day
when they will creep over the false prophets
who will have their hands tied.



Night calls to the sandhills
and gathers them under her.
she pushes away cities
because their sharp lights
hurt her soft breast.
Even candles make a sore place
when they stick in the night.

There are things in the sandhills
that no one knows about…
they come out at dark when the young snakes play
and tell each other secrets
in the deaf logs.

Sometimes… before rain…
when the stars have gone inside…
the night comes close to your window
and sniffs at the light….
But you must not run away—
you must keep your face to the night
and walk backward.



When it rains
and you are pulling off flies’ legs…
mama lets you play houses
with Lizzie and Clara.
Because you are the Only One—
and because Only Ones have to live alone
while sisters stay together,
Lizzie and Clara
give you the dry house
and take the one with the leaking roof.

Rain like curly hairpins
blows on Lizzie and Clara’s two heads
turned like one head—
two mouths
spread into one laugh.
Lizzie is saying:
why don’t you want to play—
when you feel you’d like to braid
the crinkled-silver rain
into a shining rope
to climb up… and up… and up… into the wet sky
and never see any one again.

Our gate doesn’t hang right.
It must have pawed at the wind
and gotten a kick
as the wind passed over.
The sitting sky
puffs out a gray smoke
and the wind makes a red-striped sound
blowing out straight,
but our gate drags its foot
and whines to itself on one hinge.



What do you think I’ve found—
two wee knickers of fairy brass,
or two gold sovereigns folded up
in a bit of green silk,
or two gold bugs
in little green shirts?
If you want to know,
you must walk tip-toe
so your feet just whisper in the grass—
you must carry them careful
and very proud,
for their stems bleed drops of milk—
but Lizzie and Clara shout in glee:
Pee-a-bed, pee-a-bed—
dandelions!
You look in the eyes of grown-up people
to see if they feel
the way you feel…
but they hide inside of themselves,
and so you do not find out.
Grown-up people say:
The stars are bright to-night,
but they do not say
what you are thinking about stars—
not even mama says what you are thinking about stars.
This makes you feel very lonely.



It’s strange about stars….
You have to be still when they look at you.
They push your song inside of you with their song.
Their long silvery rays
sink into you and do not hurt.
It is good to feel them resting on you
like great white birds…
and their shining whiteness
doesn’t burn like the sun—
it washes all over you
and makes you feel cleaner’n water.



My doll Janie has no waist
and her body is like a tub with feet on it.
Sometimes I beat her
but I always kiss her afterwards.
When I have kissed all the paint off her body
I shall tie a ribbon about it
so she shan’t look shabby.
But it must be blue—
it mustn’t be pink—
pink shows the dirt on her face
that won’t wash off.



I beat Janie
and beat her…
but still she smiled…
so I scratched her between the eyes with a pin.
Now she doesn’t love me anymore…
she scowls… and scowls…
though I’ve begged her to forgive me
and poured sugar in the hole at the back of her head.



Mama says Janie is a fairy doll
and she has forgiven me—
that she’s gone to the market
to buy me some sweets.
—Now she’s at the door
and a little bag tied to her neck—
I run to Janie
and kiss her all over….
Ah… she is still frowning.
I let the sweets drop on the floor—
mama
has told you a lie.



Chinaman
singing in street:
gleen ledd-ish-es, gleen ledd-ish-es—
hot sun
shining on your face—
it must be a new day.
But why aren’t you happy
if it’s a new day?
Because something has happened…
something sad and terrible….
Now I remember… it’s Janie.
Yesterday
I took Janie out
and tied my handkerchief over her face
and put sand in it
and threw her into the ditch
down in the black water
under the dock leaves…
and when mama asked me where Janie was
I said I had lost her.



I’m glad it is night-time
so I’ll be able to go to sleep
and forget all about it….
But mama looks at my tongue
and says she will give me senna tea.
When you smell the tea
you shut your eyes tight
and pretend not to hear
the soft, cool voice of mama
that goes over your forehead
like a little wind.
And then you lie in the dark
and stare… and stare…
till the faces come…
yellow faces with leering eyes
drifting in a greeny mist….
I wonder
if Janie sees faces
out there… alone in the dark….
I wonder
if she has got the handkerchief off
or if the water has gone in the hole
where the whistle was
at the back of her head
and drowned her…
or if the stars
can see her under the dock leaves?



It’s smoky-blue and still
over the red road.
Wind must be lying down with its tail under it—
doesn’t even flick off the flies.
And you can hear the silence
buzzing in the gum trees,
the way the angels buzzed
when they flew through the cedars of Lebanon
with thin gauze wings
you could see through.
Nice to hear the silence buzzing—
till it comes too close
and booms in your ears
and presses all over you
till you scream….
When you scream at the silence
it goes to jingling pieces
like a silver mirror
broken into tiny bits.
Perhaps its wings are made of glass—
perhaps it lives down in a dark, dark cave
and only comes up
to warm its wings in the sun….
It’s cold in the cave—
no matter how you cover yourself up.
Little girls sit there
dressed in white
and the dolls in their arms
all have white handkerchiefs
over their faces.
Their shadows cannot play with them…
their shadows lie down at their feet…
for the little girls sit stiff as stones
with their backs to the mouth of the cave
where a little light falls off
the wings of the silence
when it comes down out of the sun.



Moon catches the flying fish
as they dive in the bay.
Flying fish
spin over and over
slippity-silver
into the water.
Mom bends over jungles
and touches the foreheads of tigers
as they pass under openings made by dropped leaves.
Tigers stop on the trail of the deer
while the moon is on their foreheads—
they let the stags go by.

Moon is shining strangely
on the white palings of the fence.
Fence keeps very still…
most times it moves a little…
everything moves a little
though you mayn’t know it…
but now the little fence
wouldn’t change places with the great cross
that stands so stiff and high
with its back to the moon.
Moon shining strangely
on the white palings of the fence,
I am shining too
but my light is shut inside of me
and can’t get out.



Old house with black windows—
blind house begging moonlight
to put out the shadows—
why do you want so much light?
You creak when the wind steps on you—
you cough up dust
and your beams ache—
you know you will soon fall,
the moon just pities you!
Don’t waste yourself moon—
come on my bed and play with me.
Wrap me up in blue light,
you who are cool.
I am too hot,
I am all alive
and the shadows are outside of me.



There are different kinds of shadows.
The blind ones
are the shadows of things.
These are the tame shadows—
they love to play on the wall with you
and follow you about like cats and dogs.
Sometimes
they hiss at you softly
like snakes that do not bite,
or swish like women’s dresses,
but if you poke a candle at them
they pull in their heads and disappear.

But there is a shadow
that is not the shadow of a thing…
it is a thing itself.
When you meet this shadow
you must not look at it too long…
it grows with your looking at it…
till you are all alone
with nothing around you…
nothing… nothing… nothing…
but a shadow
with its eyes full of black light.



There’s a shadow in the corner of the shed,
crouching, lying in wait…
a black coiled shadow,
watching… ready to strike…
but I mustn’t be afraid of it—
I mustn’t be afraid of anything.
Poor evil shadow,
the candle would chase it away
only she can’t get at it.
Do you think that every one hates you,
shadow with your back to the wall,
afraid to lie down and sleep?
But I don’t hate you.
Even the moon means to be kind.
She just treads on you
as I’d tread on a worm that I didn’t see.
Don’t be afraid of me, shadow.
See—I’ve no light in my hand—
nothing to save myself with—
yet I walk right up to you—
if you’ll let me
I’ll put my arms around you
and stroke you softly.
Are you surprised I’d put my arms around you?
Is it your black black sorrow
that nobody loves you?

Submitted: Wednesday, February 08, 2012

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