The Julia and Alice Guerin Suite

These drawings and paintings by my daughters, Alice and Julia, with the exception of "The Magus Waits," are part of a much larger sonnet sequence, "My Human Disguise." They also work together as a "suite" within the larger work. (Click on the images to see larger versions.)

Lake Michigan Lightning (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #363

The mantle of the lake, the shield of the sky
Holding back the stars, and, on cloudless nights,
The sunset, button the lake and sky closed.
The first barely audible thunder sigh
Is preceded by a cloud-blurry light.
The sound grows orderly, almost composed.
It’s midnight and I stand at the window.
The lightning never flashes where I look
And blinds me from above and below,
The lake refracting every crooked hook.
When it’s upon me, I cover my ears
And close my eyes to resurrect old fears.
Then the rain comes and the violence flies
Up the hills behind me and quickly dies.

A Screech Owl Being Petted (Julia Guerin), Sonnet # 349

The first eastern screech we took in was healthier,
But not enough to be released into the wild.
He'd hoot twice when I came close, as he perched
On my wife's glove, and at first I thought it was fear.
I wasn't wrong. It was the distress of a child
As if unsure he was to be scolded or birched.
My wife encouraged me to pet him. I deferred
That to her -- what could pets' pets mean to a wild bird?
Our second screech (the first found a home in a zoo)
Was badly hurt and required medicine and time.
Often he bated, broken wing flapping, and flew
Straight down to the end of the leash, then climbed,
With my wife's gentle coaxing, back onto the glove.
Petted, eyes closed, tufts up, he accepted her love.

Note: "Bated" is a term from falconry, meaning the raptor's
attempt to fly off the gauntlet or glove, in this instance when

Animals Extreme (Alice Guerin and Julia Guerin), Sonnet #266

Animals extreme are everywhere:
A laughing camel, sober wildebeest,
And four horses of the Apocaleast,
Dancing with a tang of Devil-may-care.
In my back yard the chipmunks chuck, chuck, chuck,
A sound like the jake braking of a truck.
The hummingbirds have taken to swilling
Berry wine. Our cats yowl like Bob Dylan.
The horses cavort until they are one,
A heady beast just dying to have fun.
The wildebeest needs to cheer up a bit.
It's not the end of the world, friend, not yet!
And you, my humpy friend, laugh all you want,
As you'd want me to, like Emmanuel Kant.

Note: Horses by Alice Bea Gurin and Laughing Camel
by Julia Rose Guerin.

Pileated Woodpecker (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #260

Complacencies of the dead tree,
Every inch of bark hiding ants.
In bare patches a filigree
Of rectangular holes. He rants
And drums, but always at a distance --
The hardest god damn bird to see.
I followed him once by a stream.
I could not get close until I
Stepped into the water, thigh high.
To him I ceased to seem to seem.
Above, he ripped a branch apart,
Hungry savagery, like art
From a chisel, mallet, and drill.
For hours, I watched him kill, eat, kill.

 Omta (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #252

"The answer," says the spirit mask,
"Is in the gaps between my teeth,
In the black hole of air I breathe,
Beat back with my wings. Do not ask.
I once saved the world with my eyes,
Unblinking for a thousand years,
So not one face could disappear.
I said, 'While I see, no one dies.'
One day the sunshine grew fainter
And I could not see moon or men.
I blinked and prayers filled my beak.
Oh, you, you spirit mask painter,
You must make the world new again.
All my powers grow vain and weak."

My daughter Julia invented the word Omta
to name these masks, a combination
of the Buddhist mantra Om, and Ta, which
is British slang for "thanks."

Multi-Dimensional Snake (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #251

The snake ends in a thinning tail
Of muscle, tiny bone, and scale,
A diminution of its head.
Like the forking of its tongue,
Its tails distend to seek, to flick
The next-dimensional-instead.
Can it hear the hissing songs sung,
Like fire from two extra wicks?
He tolerates the division
Until the fangs of other snakes,
Coiling beyond his vision,
Bite him once, again. He awakes,
Lunges, bites his own tail, angry,
Only to find not one, but three.

Iguana (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #206

Clark Air Force Base, Philippine Islands, 1960
Iguanas in the mango tree behind our house
Knocked down rotted fruit (smell of sweet dead mouse),
The sickened pulp caught in a blackened baseball glove.
The hope was to catch one still firm and ripe enough,
To save it from rupturing, to bite through its tough
Skin and suck warm pulp, while the lizards above
Threw at us more and more than we could hope to catch.
The Philippine iguana caught would bite and scratch,
Its venom put you in the emergency room.
We were taught never to climb the trees or crawl
Beneath the house where a cobra's hood might bloom.
It was a kind of Paradise, after the Fall.
In a typhoon, Mt. Pinatubo erupted
And buried our home, leaving it uncorrupted.

The Magus Waits (Julia Guerin)

A whim of his, to fly untethered earth,
Gripping leafless trees, mast and sail;
Steering with a few puffs of breath,

He follows the river though rocky vail,
Bows to the sun piercing the mists,
Then roils the winds about into a gale.

His hands have never been balled into fists,
Only his eyes have ever formed a smile;
There are scars from chains on his wrists.

He's long been without illusions or guile,
Attributes of silly young men,
Whose avarice he's often put to trial.

He sends beautiful women to tempt them
With promises of wealth and sex --
Few see through them to redemption.

Today, he'll attempt to remove a hex
That has long plagued the human race.
It will require erasure of this text,
And be his final miracle of grace.

Cecropia (Alice Bea Guerin), Sonnet #203
This drawing (though freehand) isn't its symmetry,
Or the choice of Butterfly Bush or Rosemary,
Bleeding Hearts, Lily of the Valley, Lavender,
Or (seeming an afterthought) the signature bee.
"Cecropia," in its perfect detail, renders
What my daughter Alice, over weeks, remembers.
In cafes, on a bunk bed by Lake Tekapo,
She draws, on the far side of the world, a momento
For her mother, tapping all her creative will,
Love, intelligence, and her finest-tipped pencil.
Look closely. She captures mottled dust on each wing,
And a consciousness in the Cecropia's eyes.
Feelers tremble at the assault of everything 
In the air, and if we should look away, it flies.

Untitled (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #201

Night, then thought-crushing life-bleaching lightbang
That burst your house before the thunder rang.
When it's right above you, it slaps your soul;
The sound turns the valves in your sacred heart,
And leaves your mind a maelstrom of a hole.
(The gods threw a lightning bolt like a dart,
At each other, playfully, or at men,
To prick forth their prayers again and again.)
Last night the city's lights withstood the storm,
But I, briefly, succumbed to its thunder.
A detonation ripped apart all form,
Idea or emotion, buried under
Avalanching nerves, reflected in skeins
Of lightning, and bare trees, stuttering veins.

Question, Sonnet #200

For Michael Antman

My daughter brought these stones from New Zealand.
At first we arranged them in a circle,
The white veins touching, mostly, band to band.
They seemed to me a kind of miracle,
Holding everything we know inside,
And all we don't brought in from far and wide.
But soon that seemed too pat an arrangement,
With a history, yes, and silent, but,
However Zen-like, it didn't hit my gut.
The circle must be cut open and bent,
As the thing it did not contain, allow,
Was questions (the world just is, here and now?).
The stones, like this 200th sonnet, speak,
And answer with a question what we seek.

To ask or not to ask, that is to be.
No answer has been satisfactory.
I can't know the secrets of my own soul,
Because, like Richard Wilbur's star-nosed mole,
I can only pass by the graves of men,
Whose own souls, if at last revealed to them,
May be whispering, like wind in the grass --
Language meant only for the dead en masse.
Instead, I'll ask for nothing but the sun
To answer with its rising tomorrow,
And listen to cicadas, one by one,
Respond with obliterated sorrow.
I love you all. That's an answer for now.
Someday I might learn more. I'll let you know.

Michael Antman has been the editor of this sonnet sequence
since I began it in February of 2011. His unerring ear, tact, 
and encouragement, are deeply appreciated, as is his friendship.
The stones were collected as a gift for me by my daughter Alice Bea Guerin.

Cicada (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #175

The flight of insects has none of the grace
Of the bald eagle or the albatross.
Yes, they may have eyes, mouth, even a face,
But anthropomorphically, a total loss.
They're occult, as no other creatures are,
Colonists from a misanthropic star.
In late summer we find the chitinous
Emerald corpses, wings perfectly preserved,
Strewn up and down our root-ravaged sidewalks.
Why where we jog? Maybe to remind us
That flying is not something we've deserved.
Perhaps, too, their blaring summer song mocks
All wingless and unarmored nobodies
With insistent, monotone melodies.

Lessons (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #176

The Eweman, still barren, had so far failed
To teach the terrified rhesus macaque
To see only with her eyes; he just quailed
And whimpered in her palm; he hunched his back,
Clutched his knees and stared into her eye prongs,
Which unrealed for him all the world's wrongs.
(Meanwhile a tiny snail climbs an Everest log
About to roll into a fern-choked bog.
The monkey sees it! "We must save the snail!"
He weeps. The Eweman spits, "Just like a male.")
She refocused her stare, poured spectral light
Into pupils; he saw what's not allowed.
It was too much. He tried to scratch and bite.
"It's ever so," she sighed, yawned, and swallowed.

Yei Be Chei Dancers (Julia Guerin), Sonnet # 173

From six to six the Yei Be Chei dancers,
Blessing herbs, heads in white and turquoise masks,
Shout and chant and stomp to summon answers
To ageless questions the Navaho asks.
Comic relief, the Coyote capers,
Makes faces, mocks the gullible gapers.
A Yei Be Chei also, he's serious
About making laughter delirious.
Only through disorientation
Will blessings descend upon the nation.
They are true spirits while the dancing lasts,
And as night becomes morning the sun casts
Shadows on faces in the audience --
At that moment the universe makes sense.

Holy Blood (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #170

The raven plucked Man's pupil and holds it steady
So Limbo is still visible through its black lens.
Blind and po-faced angels live in holes, ready
To fly away the moment eternity ends.
Here is Purgatory too: vines and flowers
Extend from a woman's neck, but her legs wander
Away beneath a shower of black holy blood.
A chemo spirit struts, though she's lost her powers
To console or restore the faith others squander,
Lost all but her rage to escape the coming flood.
Little live hands reach through the clouds yearning to touch
What they can't comprehend, like the Klein-bottle-brained
Devil with the tied shoestring eyes, who knows too much.
He is no god, this clown, though he has often reigned.

The Reach of Time (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #155

All the clocks drowned in the gutter of time,
In wax melted from a trillion tapers,
The hours from face to face no longer rhyme.
Lady Gone, her head done up in papers
(She turned blue when her capillaries froze),
Buffs the planets on her thigh with a rose.
Our red Lady of Soon, pregnant with love,
Runs and with her hand reaches above
The horizon to push the moon away,
And instead erases its ageless gray.
The sky behind leaks through. Her baby's birth
Will be ballyhooed with a lunar frown
And Gone will steal the infant for her own.
No matter. Soon is soon pregnant with Earth. 

Aunt Vidalia's Living Room (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #150

Aunt Vidalia has an onion for a face,
Lives only in her niece's imagination.
Her living room is a madly beautiful place,
Where family history, all tessellation,
Stares (or not) from portraits and drawings without frames --
Ancestors, animals, some with forgotten names,
Attest to the attenuation of the race.
Unsmiling Utrum never made a decision.
His brother Achilles wore jammies till he died.
Great Grannie Grout's mink was her only possession.
Son Ozimand's tin suit was handsome, though he fried.
Large sisters Dawn and Faun loved to pose in the nude.
(Not sure about the rooster; ready to be stewed?)
Vidalia's niece still adds to the family tree.
Will she ever include herself? We'll have to see.

The Ruler Tree (Julia Guerin), Sonnet # 138

Rulers, like any tool of measurement,
Define the point of stoppage at each end
Of a thing, not the distance in between.
The moon and earth limit the firmament.
The lunar clock compresses each second.
Our sight stops the seen short with the unseen.
I greedily pluck from the ruler tree
The limitations that will set me free.
Someone has marked the bole. I must hurry
To get back and pluck all I can carry.
Evil men will soon come to cut it down;
Perhaps they watch from that darkened prison.
I'll have enough to build an entire town
If I stay unblinded by my vision.

Wing Song (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #139

The sand wasp and the cecropia moth
Pray to the ruby-throated hummingbird.
Each thrums its own avian oath.
It's flight they worship, swift and blurred
Almost wingless, their supreme art.
They envy throwing one's self like a dart.
The sand wasps stun cicadas and bury
Them deep in nests for their larvae to eat.
The mouthless cecropia must hurry
To mate, or their larvae become parasite meat.
But the hummingbird need only sip sweets
And build a nest with the first mate it meets,
Or, having some objection, speed away --
Freedom for which the wasp and the moth pray.

The Scoop Tree (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #94

Each bare tree is all that's left of today
And those with leaves will vanish soon enough.
My daughter paints what we call the Scoop Tree,
Home of a squirrel who never ran away
When nuts could be scooped up, frantically stuffed
In his cheeks, ignoring my child and me.
I wrote a story about the squirrel,
Read it to her often when she was young.
Now that she's no longer a little girl,
She's painted what the tree's been all along.
There is as much of life in line and ink
As in the existence of tree or tale.
Fail to see or to concentrate (don't blink!),
And what counts will dull, memory will fail.

Untitled (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #77

We should all live in homes on stilts,
As I did once (and now again).
Officer's quarters in the Philippines
Like godown barns, were built
On cement pillars typhoon rains
Relentlessly surged between.
My daughter depicts our home
High above the ocean, a rowboat
Tied close to negotiate the moat,
Barely visible through foggy foam.
Will all be well when the storms
Blow in and the waves swarm?
She holds the image in her hands,
Raising her home above dry land.

The Secretary Bird (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #76

Called the "archer" for his quiver-like crest,
He's a snake stomper, earth-bound hunter,
Stalking the edge of brush fires, gobbling
Reptiles and rodents fleeing their nests.
Like all raptors, he has no eye but hunger,
No thought that doesn't lead to swallowing.
He has the selfish absorption of an artist.
The world disappears, leaving him to create
A bitter order composed of what he ate.
Though he is never satisfied, never at rest,
He glides in flight like a dream of sleep.
His crane legs forgotten, his wings sweep
Away the wind. Soon, he'll wonder why he flew,
Flying just to fly -- something we can never do.

Hands and Feet (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #40

I am not the amalgam of my parts.
Not the knuckles, the joints, the palms.
These are merely the hands of my heart.
I am always hot. I've never been calm.
Sometimes I am nothing but an eye.
Seen through the circle of sight,
The darkness is all I need to know why.
My grinning makes my knuckles white.
My thoughts are like wiggling fingers
And my emotions are clenched fists.
I am my own twisted harbinger.
Look at me. You can't resist.
But we're all skin, sinew and bone,
Running from each other, alone.

Hawk in Snow (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #38

I feel better after snow—
The gray world gone white,
The field a spruce torso.
I am a roaming kite,
Hovering above the mouse
Who dies without a fight.
I swallow, mite and louse,
Leave not one red drop
On that immaculate blouse.
My wings unsheathed, I hop
Into spangled air. Let no
Man think I'll ever stop.
I am only what I know,
That I am because of snow.

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