Page 15


BOOKS & THE CULTURE I Am Choma: Do Not Feed Me Sign on the monkey’s cage at the Hotel Molino de Agua, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico A small girl-child, human, strokes the dove-grey fur of my long arm, stretched out under the netting. Outside. In the shadows, my arm lies in dust, angled at its joints, built to swing my small body in the company of my whole clan along the complex paths of the high forest built to grasp each branch between thumb and fingers, rotate with the arc of my momentum, and let go in the rhythm of catch and fly catch and fly. In well of deep shadow under the mango tree the girl-child touches my arm and my one touched limb lies outside with her. Outside this cage. She touches in the rhythm of repeated hellos. Her fingers in my fur say I’m here; her fingers, parting my fur carefully, say I’m here with you I’m here with you What Happens When You Die? Do you slide gently over the edge as the blossom, floating like a cup on the river’s current, hovers on the lip of the falls then tilts and slips into oblivion? Or is it an upward surge as all the myths would have us believe? the soul ascending, a thrust of such power that you rise right out of your body leaving behind skin and teeth, toenails and bones, in a heap like the little pile of clothes that mark the last stop of the drowned swimmer. When my old dog died she lay on her side on the table and, tired of living, she stopped. I saw no rising, no slipping over the edge, though I watched as carefully as I would have watched my mother if only I could have been there with her. I felt the dog’s warm side under my palm as I might have felt my mother’s hand, and smoothed down her wild grey hair with a gesture drawn straight from regret. I stroked as carefully as I would have stroked my dying mother if only I could have been there. Judith Barrington JUDITH BARRINGTON grew up in England with a horse called Magic. She has lived, taught, and written in Oregon for many years. She is founder and director of the Flight of the Mind Summer Writing Workshops for Women, held every June in the McKenzie River wilderness \(for information, write to 622 S.E. 29th Ave., Trying to be an Honest Woman and History and Geography. Since first reading her poems, I have been taken by their astute combination of courage and tenderness, their rich love of rhythm and image creating a fine and sturdy textural weave. Barrington tackles difficult subjectsincluding the loss of her parents in a shipwreck when she was youngwith penetrating concern and care. Here there is a deep sense that well-loved language may act as a lever or a pocket-knife, prying open, bit by bit, the mysteries we live with. Naomi Shihab Nye 14 FEBRUARY 9, 1996