Laura Johanna Braverman – Alchemies of Passage

Braverman LE P&W July 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing July 2023

Alchemies of Passage, poem by Laura Johanna Braverman.

Alchemies of Passage

Materia Prima: Convergence, or the Elements at Hand

At forty-five, I linger – not for dread of grey,
but because now perched on the hill’s crest,

I fear its descent, the next decade’s neighboring mount.
The limbs of my older son grow lean and long,

a steady melting off of being small, while with caution
my younger one tilts towards a beyond outside

the arms he knows. And as I drive towards home
one afternoon – halted by the routine snake of cars

near Place Sassine, I see a woman traverse the road.
She holds a child of eighteen months or so –

how the years of there’s still time drop in a sweep
of dominoes – towards the half-century, they tumble.

Caput Mortuum: Descent, or Variations on Withdrawal

Color 654 of my watercolor pigment-cubes –
I often wondered at the strangeness of the name.
It makes me think of my mother’s Austrian kaputt
for broken – finished, done. Why is the rust-brown

tint named for a skull? Latin’s caput means head,
but mortuum I really should have known:
decayed and withered – dead. Blackening,
the mystic chemists called it, a sinking down

to primal mud. They say it lasts for forty days –
like Noah’s rainfall, desert wanderings and fasts.
And forty days, I remember, to recover
from birth’s labor, for baby to gain strength

outside the womb. New moon, and darkness
of the monthly blood. Consummation of all colors.
Silent precinct of the seed, gestation in the black
and fertile earth. Without it comes no gold return.

Cauda Pavonis: Eyes of the Faithful, or Rising Up

Sometimes colors come easily, they paint themselves:
one ‘I’ can step aside while brush-bristles do their work

of mixing hues on ceramic palettes, but here, a struggle –
tints refuse to settle, refuse the dance. Then I see:

eyes of peacock plumes emerging from the patterned shapes.
One hundred eyes were not enough to defeat the god

of alchemy. He tricked the giant Argus, Hera’s faithful servant,
into a fatal sleep. Then like jewels she placed them

on the peacock’s tail to honor him who saw all. Cauda Pavonis
is the point of turning, when black begins to glisten –

the unguent slick shimmers, does it not? After descent,
comes the fluttering of color’s spectrum – of light.

Albedo: Distillation, or Variations on White

When dark can get no darker comes the light –
winter’s solstice. Birthday, said the Romans

of the sun unconquered. Herald of renewal:
spring’s blossoming, white daffodil in black earth.

Feathers of Albedo’s swan are snow and cloud,
but also, ash and salt. The budding strands

on my head, no longer pigment-rich, but earned.
The white of our dog’s fur gleams silver-tipped

like morning on snow’s crystal crust, expanse
her ancestors hauled sleds across. Named for ice

and the true north’s star, my wolfish companion,
my compass in these borderlands I navigate.

Back one hundred years, an artist paints a square:
White on White in oil pigments. It hovers slantwise

on a canvas tundra, untethered in a white infinity –
his planar apogee, he called it: all dissolves into

the free abyss. And will my sons remember this?
One was perched on his father’s back, the other

reached my knee. Winter in my mother’s country,
a farm of rescued creatures, deer and horse, donkey

rabbit, goat. At the stable doors, I saw it standing
there – like a sentinel, a peacock under falling snow.

5  Rubedo: Union, or Variations on Red

Five days into my fiftieth year now –
blood still flows, but soon the cyclic round will rest.
Who will I be without the patterns of increase and retreat?

The near maternal must widen out –
I’m afraid of missing things: plump curve of cheek,
being needed, small feet and hands. Kabir tells us the jewel

is lost in mud. All are searching for it –
east and west, along pathways of the sun, repetitions
of rising up and going down. But perhaps the jewel isn’t lost:

in this art, goal does not outrank pursuit –
Rubedo’s phoenix calls nest and pyre one, it is both
ash and fire. In antiquity, I learn, the color red meant a call

to arms, a crimson flag signaled defiance –
What will be my battle cry as archers draw their bows?
Hold –, I think. But what match am I for time, or sudden fits

of fury, no less of grief. But Hold, I say –
and my feet stay rooted here. And I take the chemist’s
counsel: when melancholy comes, use music to lift up the soul.

Bach the younger helped me yesterday –
his variations on what became a nursery song, written
for his mother. Twinkling star, our ABCs. How far away they are.

The other day my older son first shaved –
untrained movements of his hands, the blade entranced.
Then I recall another razor and white lather, watching as a daughter.

© Laura Johanna Braverman

Laura Johanna Braverman is a writer and artist. She is the author of Salt Water (Cosmographia Books, 2019). Her poems have appeared in Reliquiae, Plume, Levure Litteraire, Rusted Radishes, New Plains Review, and California Quarterly, among other journals, and in the anthology Awake in the World, vol. II. She is currently a doctoral candidate in poetry at Lancaster University. Austro-American by birth and upbringing, she lives in Lebanon with her family.

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