Eileen Malone











She shows him how to throw down enough frozen peas

for the stoplight parrotfish and yellowtail snappers

to swim between his legs and nibble


when he goes too far she pulls him inland

wants him to walk heavily, steadfastly

afraid of the ledge


but he likes the overhanging face of rock

walks to it dangling one foot over the abyss

likes the rush of adrenaline when he almost falls


loves to catch himself at the very last second

feels alive, feels light,  wants one day to drop

from the coral-cliff edge to the bottom

where lobsters crawl in and out of small holes

to the bluing rhythm of giant sea turtle shadows


wants to go where the green moray eel goes

remain still and quiet when the big stingray

slides straight to and over his face

and slurps through his hair in its squid search

he wants to let himself go until he thinks he is drowning

but isn’t


she has told him how the mystic swims

in the same waters in which the psychotic drowns

but he knows more, knows that when he can reach the eel

it will offer itself like a rescue rope


she doesn’t tell him the rest, how she will either die or go mad

when he goes so deep, deeper than deep, enough

until he can see it is not an eel, nor a rope

offered by her to reel him back up, but a hand

hanging weightless in the warm water

there for him to do whatever he asks, a hand

that eventually he will recognize

as his own.







I jump, collide with you and you

lean into me like a ski jumper

stomach to stomach, heart to heart

holding, slightly rocking side to side


like people in Chagall paintings

floating just off the ground

toes pointing in odd directions

we soar free of ties and ropes

lift through ourselves balloon light


a bottomless green-blackness tingles

in the upper air; the empty sky

flies into pieces, the present moment

ten thousand white crowned sparrows


trees collect wings, the gull beaks

of unopened magnolia strain upward

as if pulled by strings, leaves

become promises of us, together again

promises that send  us reeling apart

drunk, deaf, breathless

trembling as if we had just been fighting


we turn from each other

hold hands, take a step forward


and the world is made flat

once again.







Night slips from the skies

drowned and drowning

in wet stars to be felt

like rain to be touched


when you are here, with me

all of you is never really here


and when you are gone

you are almost gone

as though in the moment

that drilled and damaged

the one just before this one

you died


night rain becomes snow

you are closer, closer


a caught flake melts

in the palm of my hand

I feel what once was


a crushed amber moon

fights to rise from the grove

its quick flame, turned up to gold

lets me suddenly see

whirlwinds, essences of white atoms

–the dark.





You believe me whenever I say

I like the whole verandah to myself

tell you to go with your friends

and you leave me merrily, bare-legged

summery, athletically, waving arms

of sunburn and freckles


it gets late, I light the fire, keep watch

from an empty house on an empty hill

can’t stop examining your leaving

don’t be ridiculous the shape of it says


in the valley the deep-toned clock tower

bells and peals the hour, it’s always a surprise

the  way the hurt of your absence strikes


I slide the screens wide open to the ringing air

the thorny wood smoke that floats down

from my dark twilight chimney

the welcome to the very pain I seek to avoid


there is a new ringing in the background

a signal from another place, a phone ring

long, short, long, a brief quiet, then a beep

I want it to be your voice saying soon

you will return soon, it isn’t


there’s nothing left for me but to fall

on the screened-in porch mattress

cup my hands to my ears, twist, buckle

my body away from the puncture pain

of my private, on-demand, personal tinnitus.







I refuse to lunch at that simple little unnamed three-table place

identified only by an « elf service » sign; the « s » has fallen away

no one has bothered to put it back, instead I pluck a can of beer

from mounds of manufactured snow while you buy fifty cents worth

of seal food to toss at the sea lions that bark and splash in the oily water


I don’t want to do what you want to do anymore, won’t compromise

feel guilty, selfish, don’t care, care, offer to share the beer in an act of giving

toss my own pennies when the organ grinder’s monkey begs for coins

but the enthusiasm keeps leaving me, it evaporates there on the wharf

into the glistening cold sea-air, even the monkey retreats from my deficiency,

won’t even reward my donation with a peck on the cheek, but you do

oblivious to the sense of something falling away, the inability to put it back


I am less than I was before, squid and red snappers stare openmouthed

as if startled at the sight of me and the initiative that flees from me

I become sentimental, want to treat you with unusual gentleness

we buy walk-away crab cocktails, sit on a bench of worn planks

attached lovers crazily and drunkenly pass like we used to

you think we still do, but the « s » has fallen from the self, I am elf

serving up the last scrapings of affection, no sense in telling you it’s gone

suddenly, having lost it, more than willing now to deem it fondness


the sky fades to gray, the sea creases into a sheet of aluminum

we watch tourists emerge like noisy frogs after the rain

they migrate comfortably across the wharf without purpose

we continue to sit, list together and apart, shift, shudder, grow slack

I politely let you take my hand and as the afternoon begins to fracture

a banshee takes up silent keening at the final loss of her long dying elf.













Eileen Malone’s poetry has been published in over 500 literary journals and anthologies, three of which have been nominated for Pushcarts. Her award winning collection Letters with Taloned Claws was published by Poets Corner Press (Sacramento) and more recently, her book of poetry I Should Have Given Them Water was published by Ragged Sky Press (Princeton). She founded and directs the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition and is a voting member for the Northern California Book Reviewers Awards. As a mental health activist she serves on the Advisory Committee for Caminar.  She lives in the coastal fog at the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area where she taught for the California Poetry in the Schools Program and for local community colleges.





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