Poems by Christine Donegan Segall

Christine Donegan Segall is a New York native, now living in California. She has attended NYU, taken writing workshops at The New School, worked as a copy editor, and is a mother and grandmother, and guardian to a very active three-year-old. She is a writer, artist, student of spirit, and loves the musicality and imagery of words, the rhythms of emotion, and believes that the arts and spiritual life are wonderfully intertwined.


Birds spill their colors
Across the darkening sky
To welcome the moon.


We have been told

Tomorrow the world
may tremble and thunder as we
all fall to our knees
in unison upon its
holy floor.

Tomorrow the heart of heaven
may split open and the dazzling
light of its pleasure transform us,
and its rivulets of mercy
cleanse us, as we are raised
in tender and adoring arms.


Today, today,
the world is shuttered
and dazed, and the slant of its hills and
sanctuaries cast a bitter shade, as it
tips and falls, with dizzying disgrace,
into nothing.

Have we listened?


Haven’t we prayed for the nations
To loosen their grips on shallow victories
And empty their graves of their neighbors’ bones?
Haven’t we prayed for foreign faces
To become as familiar as our children’s
And their tears a piercing in our own hearts?

Haven’t we prayed for the cities, the towns,
            the villages
To fix the frantic fissures in their crowded streets
And pave them with decency?
Haven’t we prayed for power
To come from strength of character
And not from bankruptcy of spirit and violence?

Haven’t we prayed for the families,
The mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers,
To let their personal power come
From strength of character,
And not bankruptcy and selfishness of spirit,
Not from abuse and betrayal?
Haven’t we prayed for the families
To loosen their grips on shallow ego-victories,
To let the tears of their kin pierce their hearts,
As if every pain, worry, fear
Were a bleeding from their own souls?

Haven’t we prayed for the families,
Who are the villages,
Who are the nations,
Who are the world?


You can search your catalogues
For the classification
Of the kind of penprints these are
That have left their indelible tracks
Across this once spotless landscape,
But it would be hard to find.
These marks are borne of one woman’s reflections
And their shapes, the graceful curl of
Their lines, their boldness, their slant,
Their rhythms,
Represent her alone.
Look at their lucid and varied forms
Under your magnifying glass
And you will see more deeply
That they dance and vibrate
With joyful or anguished sounds,
That they moan and whisper and beseech.
And as you lean in closer still,
To hear, to see,
They will gently touch your cheek and say,
Yes, you.
You will clasp your hand
Over your mouth and softly
Draw in your breath
In recognition,
And embrace what is
Now yours.


Ask me of the song
And I will tell you of
The movements of my life:
The penny-topped arm
On the record player
Pressing into melancholy,
Scratching out the
Sting of unfairness,
Singing in my voice.

Ask me of the song
And I will tell you
How my pen rode its rhythms,
How the dead were remembered,
How a touch, once, at the small
Of my back still
Causes trembling.

Ask me of the song
And I will stand
In the rolling hills
And hear the soft
Whispering buzz
Of solitude and reverence

Ask me of the song
And I will sing you my life.


She stood there ironing, tormented,
The creased poem-stories smoothed
And worn by regret,
And recast in a different language.
She sang a song of lamentation
And longing to the women
And the poor, the voiceless
Members of the tribes,
And when it was heard,
They said, You unfolded us
And made us beautiful,
And let our restless words and hungers
Travel across the tumultuous tides
Of time.


Wordless Knowing,
We have dreamed you
And remembered you
Without words.
Are you here now,
Would we see you,
In our shattered cities,
In the empty men
With the dead
Shark-eyes who lack
Compassion, if we could
Simply shift our vision?
Are you running
Through us like
A loving transfusion, replacing
Our poisoned blood-stories
With your tears,
If we could only receive it?
Are you the voice,
The wordless knowing
That we dream
And remember
And then forget?


Who is that woman?
She is not a list,
not a part of speech,
not a definition,
not a description, not a category.
She cannot be peeled away
from a raw and revelatory core.
She is whole in the asking
and answering,
whole in her pain, her design,
her imperfection.
She is the growth over the sharp
edges of disappointment or the dream
that presses like a bandage
on a weeping memory, no longer
the disappointment or the memory,
amorphous as the air,
and held as the secret
of her unfolding self and the universe.


What seems like the interruption is
The everything:
The breaths between doing,
The parentheses around the other-thans,
The long dream between bookended days.
The pages are blank until the babies
Crawl into them and leave
Their sticky prints and scream
Us away.
The heart is burdened and irresolute
Until the interrupting now
Stomps its feet and blesses us into the center
Of the moment, the center of
The Soul.


The day was normal, so normal, and I was laughing and eating and
sharing stories over frozen strawberry margaritas and fajitas and
refried beans, and the sky, without evidence of a single
brushstroke, was a testament to celestial perfection. It was so
normal, until it wasn’t, and I became tired, so tired, as if one minute
I had been made of helium and the next, concrete. At home, the
sound of my phone penetrated a heartsick dream, but I could not
move to answer. In my shade-darkened room, when my bed no
longer entombed me, I listened to her voice on my phone: this is
an emergency, it’s about your brother, please call me back, she
said, please, it’s urgent. Again? I thought. Again? When will
this stop? God, what flight will I take? Which hospital? Then,
as if the breath of the world stopped so I could hear, she said:
He’s gone. He’s gone. He’s gone. And now, in an instant,
there was no more hope, no more reprieves, nine lives used
up. No more lectures, understanding, no more, no more, no
more, and I realized I had died in my bed that day, stopped
breathing with him. The day was normal, so very normal.
Until it wasn’t.


You, the great homesickness we could never shake off,
You who meet us in our solitude,
The last word that can never be spoken,
Time of continuous light:
I will choose what enters me, what becomes
A wave of the sea in a bucket,
Or the beauty of innuendos,
To say yes, to say no, to open.
For their bones have not lasted
By the terrible incantations of defeats,
Leaving their bodies like old clothes upon the shore.
Their exit has no grace or mystery.
One knows not what, but something real is gone.
In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind.
There with vast wings across canceled skies,
We discover the color of God.

Sources: Rainer Maria Rilke, Walter Benton, Marge Piercy,
Piero Heliczer, Iris Orton, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore,
Archibald MacLeish, Theodore Roethke, Nancy Sullivan


There was such noise in the world,
It seemed, such a tantrum of sound,
That I could only hold my ears, and swallow
Hard, swallow myself,
While tenderness was torn
And thrown in pieces around me.
Then people would ask: Why
Are you so quiet?
I wanted to know–
does the combustion of air and thought
Equal a person?
Is that the only thing,
When so much of it is
Padding and bluff
And filling
For the holes in life?

NEGLECT – A Villanelle

You feed your form to make you whole,
Adorn it with such glitz and flair,
But then neglect to feed your soul.

A sumptuous meal will fill the hole
Of an unnamed thing that seems more rare.
You feed your form to make you whole.

You’re empty, so you play for droll,
And act as if there’s not a care,
But then neglect to feed your soul.

A worldly image is the goal,
And no expense will you spare.
You feed your form to make you whole.

You eat up praise as they cajole,
As long as you’re considered fair,
But then neglect to feed your soul.

You’ve played the part; you’ve got the role,
Accounting not for wear and tear.
You feed your form to make you whole,
But then neglect to feed your soul.


The rain glazes the window
And blurs and softens the edges
Of existence.
I salvage the mementos
From the dusty boxes, and the oolong
Steam swirls lazily toward my nostrils.
I am smudged and dappled
And disintegrate into the whole by intuition.
Babies and quarrels are quiet,
And fertile verdant longings with woody fragrances
Penetrate my clothes and hair as if
I had bathed in the earth.
I am lush and voluptuous
And overgrown with everything,
The stillness a soil to plant
And blossom my own creations.


I knew, before I understood
The strange symbols on their pages–
The code of bursting imagination and experience
And thought–that I loved
The world and its people.
It was not because of the gift of the stories themselves,
But simply because I heard them
Through the wondrous lilt of my mother’s voice,
Nestled in the crook of her arm,
Against her breast.


This morning, the orchestra of the world tuned
Its instruments just outside the window
Of my weary mind: rutting cats caterwauling, sirens
Blaring, sandpaper scratching, babies wailing,
All at once, and I thought I longed for silence, peace, the sound
Of my own indigenous voice.

I might have even settled, at first, for the mere
Sounds of words, without
Meaning or nuance, so deaf had I become to their
Personal and unassuming intonations.
But that seemed such a cloistered devotion.

Would the world ever be quiet enough?

Perhaps my yearning is to hear
As the angels hear our human voices: A melody
Of melancholy, fear, farce, elation, exasperation, dreams,
Vibrating together, like the rush and hum of a river,
Until it transforms into a chant, a hymn,
A prayer.


I am dark and gutted
After witnessing
Your languid, sensuous tour.
A torrent of sorrow
Stammers my heart
Right now, but beware:
Your dangerous obsession
Could make you war’s witness,
If I should decide.
A fierce insurgency
Could render your rule impotent,
And your life,
A life under scrutiny.
You could be forced, each day,
To wear my skin.

Or I could forgive you.

How will you compare terrors?


So…you sent me your sincere little note
(that your mother probably made you write) because:

You wonder why I drink. I don’t want to,
But you lie and lie. I have to
Badger you until
You tell the truth. I don’t want to
Have to beat it out of you, but what can I do?
It’s your own fault.

You wonder why I yell. I don’t want to,
But you don’t seem to listen. I have to
Repeat myself and repeat myself
Until I’m blue in the face. I don’t want to
Raise my damn voice, but what can I do?
It’s your own fault.

Hey, I’m a good guy, but a man
Can only take so much.

You wonder why I strike you. I don’t want to,
But you back talk me. I have to
Let you know who’s boss
Any way I can. I don’t want to
Crack you across your whiny mouth, but what can I do?
I’ve never shown fear to any man (except my mother ha-ha)
And I ain’t gonna start now.

It’s for your own good. Believe me, It hurts me more than it hurts you,
And If you didn’t need it, I wouldn’t do it. But you gotta be
A tough cookie in this world. You’ll thank me later.

Kid, you’ve got the nerve to wonder why I drink?
Well, what the hell can I do? It’s your own fault.
You never take any responsibility for anything.

And a man’s gotta relax somehow.


You are finally asleep, my precious boy,
My precious boy, you are finally
At peace, my little man.
You are twitching as you dream,
And I wonder what you’ve seen,
Have you seen your mama’s face?
Would you know it if you had?
You are finally asleep, my little boy.

You are brilliant and you’re wild,
You are everybody’s child, do you know
That you are loved? Do you miss your mama’s
Touch? Are we keepers of your song?
Do you know where you belong? Do you know
How much you’re loved, my little boy?

I will hold you in my care, as long as
There is air, I will sing away your fears,
You will always see my there, do you think
You were afraid, before the time
I came? Do you know how much
You’re loved, do you know,
No matter what, do you know
How much you’re loved, my little boy?

Hush-a-bye and dream your dreams,
Ride the safety of moonbeams, Never doubt
That love is yours, and it will be evermore, do you know
How people love? Some love as best they can,
Don’t forget that you are loved, my little man, my little man,
Don’t forget how much you’re loved, my little boy.


Look out to the sea. Today
there is no horizon

to mark a far-off place. There is
only a wash of gray, that
in-between color, that state
of detachment from black or white,
that place between sun and moon.

A misty island, unanchored, floats
into nowhere, and a lone gull,
barely seen, caws a brief
reminder of life.

This is a prelude to the emptiness
of the beyond, where

we step into nothing, to expect
everything, where there is no need to choose
to swim or to fly, but simply to be in the calm
of eternity’s hush.


The whale offers

Its underside to my fear

A gift, as it ascends to the light.


They have come and gone,
But the racket remains,
Like children who take over
The sanctuary,
Who scrape cartons
Of noise on floorboards,
Who plop themselves
Down on the swivel chair
And spin, whee-ing
With delight,
Who write their names with their fingers
In the settled dust.

The stirred papers are still floating
Down on boisterous
Air currents,
Like protesting parachuters.
The commotion has made
The fluent pile, once stacked
So methodically for reference
And reverence, teeter, till it crashes
To the floor.

The yanked and released window shade still
Thwacks and spins against the rail,
The light charging in like
Shoppers, when store doors
Open, grabbing deliriously
At bargains:  three ideas,
Ten thoughts, seven reveries,
Spilling over greedy arms.

And each time, I must perform
The magic of mind
And mood on the disheveled syntax
Of the room anew,
Consecrating the calm, straightening
Abstraction and impression, moving
Restless metaphor to its proper place,
Each time reshaped.

Darkened now, the room twitches,
And the tea in the cup trembles just a little
From a sound far off, like hooves,
Like an incantation, like a drum.
I lift my eyes and listen.
A smile starts to form, and a form
Starts to appear, then
Another, and another.
A horde.
Riotously mine.


What would I be
If my young trust had once been treasured,
And I could have slept as safely
As a child unborn, floating
On dreamless waves, protected
From the harsh hands of the world,
Protected from the protectors?

What would I be
If I had not let my no
Be so easily taken, not volunteered it,
Almost, as an offering of love
To a little girl’s dream,
To a grown woman’s unfounded faith
In the decency of men?

What would I be
If I hadn’t always been that moment
Just before the tsunami, with the pulling
In of myself, with the mysterious calm,
The receding of my powers
Without the climactic promise,
Without the compulsion of fury and will?

What would I be?

Perhaps I would have been freer,
Louder, less anxious, or more sure.
Perhaps I would have awakened
From different dreams or broken
In different places, or not crumbled
Quite so much at the flash
Of sadness in a face, not ached so much
At what is fragile or lost.

Perhaps this world would have been enough.

Perhaps I would have been enough.

Perhaps I would have still been a poet
Writing a poem.

But not this poet, not this poem.


You gaze at me deeply, with a very serious passion
That furrows your brows, and says: The world
Is officially closed. You pull
My hair from the nape of my neck and hold it
In cartoon fury, or Rhett Butler style,
As you suck my waist toward you,
And snarl lip-glistening gems of desire.

And I’m not sure I believe you.

But I bend to the moment, fall into the game.
After all, I can bite a lip or drink bathwater
From a navel with the best of them.
I can come-hither and upward-gaze
From beneath jet black-mascaraed eyes like nobody’s business.
I can ooze animal magnetism and cook it up in a pan.
I can roar.

But I’m not sure I want to.
I am too much woman for this.

Today I want to fall into ripples of laughter
As we share anecdotes of toddler antics
Between sweeter kisses, and prance in mock bawdiness.
I want to watch a little TV before we’re done,
And maybe even snooze in your everyday arms,
While you stroke my hair.
I want to love you in thanks,
For the easiness of these moments,
And for the twinkle in your distinctly unmascaraed eyes
At my presence, and for not caring, and loving
Me anyway, if I wear mismatched flannel
Pajamas and socks to bed.
And eat crackers.

That’s love.


Release your babies, with their ancient knowledge
And eyes blurred with wonder, with their skin
Plump and pink with new blood and invention,
Out into the universe, birth them
Into the waiting hands of possibility.

Your eyes were veiled with a vision,
So that you could look inward to your dreams,
And not be distracted by old suns and stars,
So that you could imagine, unfettered,
A world that could hold you
And cherish you.

Release your babies as they wail, as they smile
At private comforts, as they cling to you.
Let them go into the Greater Mother’s arms,
Or into nothing,
But what they will make of it.


My heart could break
At the loss of that part
Of me on a piece of paper,
On a calendar, anything,
That says:  I once was here.
They are usually not grand things,
But the tributaries
That flow into
The river of my soul.
They say:  Yesterday I was hurt
By a man,
A month ago, I walked three miles,
Five years ago, I saw
A movie at Mann’s Theater on Niguel,
Which I loved.
They say:  In case I forget
Who I once was,
I was here.
They say:  When I am somewhere else,
Remember that I was a real person,
Who lived a life.  Remember me.


We tumble through time,
And slice it into arbitrary cycles
Of opposites:
Day-night, sleep-wake,
Light-dark, as if
That will give us clarity, renewal.
We tumble through time,
Believing that each day
Must end before we try again,
And try again.

We fail, we succeed;
We live, we die, we live
With each attempt.

These are the waves
Of the world, and we
Ride them and drown in them
And struggle against them,
Exhausted and self-congratulatory
In the effort.

There is no resurrection,
Just a plumbing of the depths
Of stillness,
Like a mystical diver
In an intimate, infinite sea.

There is no resurrection,
When there is no end.


Darkness came across her,
Like the muscular shadow of Earth,
Blocking her lunar light,
Her womanly essence.
So fully was she gone
That there seemed no coming back.
Yet there was still a shimmering
Within, an answer to the question
Of herself that only she could hear. She had
No need to take up arms,
No need to break a will
That would not be broken,
No need to fall, weeping, to her knees,
Or hush the lion to sleep
While she tiptoed past.
She simply had to hear herself, and rise,
Uneclipsed, to the sky,
Where her light would proudly
Announce her arrival