Gayle J. Greenlea - A poem of Light and Shadow
I have one happy memory of you, us,
playing as father and daughter should,
your hands firmly grasping my arms,
as I hold on to yours.
You swing me in a great wide circle;
I shrill with delight over
the way my long hair sails behind me
and before me in the glinting sun like
a cape or the mane of a flying wild horse,
as we cut dizzy circles around the room.
The floor spins as your big shoes dance,
drumming the rhythm that keeps me in the air
like an astronaut at zero gravity.
Your feet, trousers, and my hair are all I can see,
except for the oozing magical light that casts its evening rays
through the high windows of our house, golden fingers snatching
at our blurry dance, and missing us. I am happy.
I’m told you pulled my arm out of its socket afterwards.
That pain I blocked to protect the bright bubble of memory.
I guess the golden fingers of twilight caught up with us after all,
casting us into the night where gravity ruled once more
and I was no longer free like that flying horse,
when your hands on me did not make me laugh,
but stole my delight and left me weeping in the darkness.
Your feet became a thing to be feared,
as I heard you creeping down the hallway to my room.
I imagined you were a wolf sneaking through my window,
yellow eyes glinting in the darkness,
solitary remnant of that splendid late afternoon of golden light,
now squeezed small and hard in my chest,
turned frightening now, no longer vibrating innocence and abandon,
but still and cold.
You became a wolf, because you could not possibly be my father.
On my fifth birthday, I asked Mother to make me a red cape.
I wanted to be Little Red Riding Hood,
because she knew her way through the forest
and she always got the best of the wolf.
A red cape replaced the canopy of my flying black hair,
symbol of my bleeding heart and my desire to show
your teeth under grandmother’s cap.
A few years ago, Mother gave me the cape, again.
She had kept it for me all these years.
I marveled at how small it was, and how tiny was the girl
who fought off the wolf in the forest.
I left you in the forest a long time ago.
I overcame my fear of wolves, which lived long in my fear of dogs.
I have a dog named Abby, now. Her name means, "Gift."
The wolf who came through my window was vanquished by Sophia,
the silver wolf who keeps watch over all the animals in the forest,
who guards with her great yellow eyes, fierce
only when she is protecting the vulnerable from harm;
Sophia, the great silver companion who comes
to stand at the edge of the circle on my Vision Quest,
protecting me from my terror, challenging me to go deeper
into my darkness, teaching me not to be afraid,
imparting her wild wisdom, making me recall my power,
howling with memory from a more ancient time,
singing flesh back onto my bones.
Sophia, who visits me still in my dreams, sometimes in human form,
whenever I need to remember the song,
whenever I need to re - member my soul.
And still, despite my wolf friend who never leaves my side;
occasionally, the old wolf emerges from the forest to do battle,
invasive as you always were,
sneaking through my window when I least expect it — a voice on
my answering machine, a package at my door,
a teddy bear to remind me of the power you held over me
when I was too little to fight back
with anything other than my red cape.
And my heart compresses into that cold, hard walnut in my chest.
But you are no threat to me.
You are powerless here in the space I’ve arranged for myself,
in my circle of zero gravity,
where twilight curls and glints in the eyes of my Bone Woman wolf,
who is me, guarding and protecting the creatures of my world,
raising to life all that was dead,
where ancient rhythms thrum and the dance goes on, as I cut
dizzy circles around the room, hair flying behind me
like the mane of a wild horse, wild woman, powerful and free.
The floor may spin,
but there are no feet big enough to crush me,
(The Bone Woman, according to Southwestern mythology,
sings to the bones and raises the dead to life.)
Gayle J. Greenlea
Artwork by Ryohei Hase
(Fair Use for Arts & Humanities Education)
Gayle J. Greenlea began writing poetry at age eight, inspired by a love of trees which has remained a central theme throughout her life. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, she now resides in Sydney, Australia where she works as a professional Counselour and Spiritual Care Practitioner in the health system.
A peace and justice advocate for more than three decades, Gayle has worked to further multicultural and interfaith collaboration, provide care and support in the gay community, promote prevention of violence and sexual abuse and ameliorate healing for survivors. She holds an MDiv in theological studies from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus Ohio and is recipient of the Anna Seidler Award for Systematic Theology, 1988.
One of her poems was commissioned for the Fair-Well to Violence event in San Antonio, Texas in 1995, and she has written liturgy and presided as Celebrant for gatherings of the National Association of Mental Illness and the National Hispanic Ministries Conference for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She has worked as both a print and broadcast journalist, Press Secretary for the Democratic Party and Get Out the Vote in Texas, and co-authored a paper on Spirituality and Health, published in the Australian Health Review, March 2010. Her poem, "Wonderland," received the PROD award from Australian Poetry in 2011.
In addition to poetry, Gayle is writing a novel, sings and plays guitar and dabbles in photography, art, quantum physics, string theory, and cosmology. She has a passion for theatre, nature, Space, cats, coffee, chocolate, cooking, Spanish language and culture, human rights and the dignity of all creatures.