Poems by Christine Donegan Segall 2016

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. 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. Her work has been published in Tiferet Journal.


There is an intimacy
in patience,
a holding of the world
close enough
to breathe with it,
close enough to pierce
its scarred heart
with a tender gaze,
to quietly penetrate its skin
through a pore,
through a pain,
through a nick where a hurt
once entered, and hear
its ancient keening,
close enough to swim deeply
in the blood of its dreams,
its desires, its disquiet,
and not have a ripple form,
not have a sound heard.


When the world lowers
its lights and its noise
and we weep

for no reason, have we
turned in the night
toward the breath of agelessness and felt it

enter us? When an impervious
wall is suddenly breached
by a gentle leaning,

and the great unknown
peace on the other side
splays its shining fingers

through the crevice
to reach us and hold us
for a fleeting, timeless moment,

is that paradise? When we hear
the whispering voices of our loves,
when the knob moves,

and then is still when we turn, when we
drop from the trance
into the space

of the infinite womb, cherished
beyond worlds in a brief
shift of knowing, when we

know tomorrow as a dream
that has already unfolded, is this
the world inside our boundless, secret hearts?

Is this heaven?

(From Tillie Olsen, to be held
at Chris’s house, tomorrow at–
was it seven?)
This thing I ask torments me, heart and soul.
You think I have the key to all these years?
She comes, she goes, and now she wants a bowl
Of your fine fare, to add to wines and beers,

And she’ll, she says, create some casseroles
Of greens and fruits and things without a face–
What kind of thing is this–should I bring rolls?
Is this the way these things are done these days?

There’s not much time to buy, to call, to cook;
I feel I’ve left you all in such a lurch.
I might have done this much more by the book,
And not just rested on my little perch.

I’m told we’ll eat, then gather for dessert,
Of what, I simply cannot weigh or say.
Our hostess–I don’t want to simply blurt–
May not be great on details, so I’ve heard.

But come, we’ll talk, we’ll make a time that’s deep
And fun, I hope–perhaps someone will sing?
I assume the night will shine, not cause your sleep.
If all goes well, perhaps…who knows such things?


Be a god
And create a universe.
People it with characters
And messengers snatched
From the world next door
And breathe into them
A new life.
Poke them or pull a strand of hair
From the backs of their necks or
Show them something beautiful
To make them react and, when they do,
Create a language for them,
A dreamy, harsh, paradoxical
Language, one that makes up words
That can break a heart or stop a heart,
Make it race or slow it down to the rhythms
Of emptiness or anger or anguish.
Take pity on them or leave them alone
Or jump inside their skins and feel
Their blood and guts against
Your fear; look out through
Their eyes.
Toss a handful of matches
Into the night sky
And light it up.
Forage and scavenge, rake the ground
With your fingernails, for the remnants
Of food that other souls have left behind,
For their lost keys and abandoned questions.
Siphon their memories
And their histories and their prayers
And build houses and forests and meadows
Out of them.
When you’re done, reside there
For a while.
Let the warm rush of accomplishment
Wash over you.
Resist the recurring doubt that pulls at your hem,
And surrender
To imperfection and a greater God.
Become a mortal again.


(nod and apologies to Wallace Stevens)

You do not know which to prefer,
The pain of infections,
Or the pain in your end toes,
The yellow jacket stinging
Or the swelling just after.


I used to break at the sound of mourning doves, their
soft cooing laments in minor notes echoing my
melancholy soul. I used to be hypnotized by the
unspeakable beauty of a crystal ripple lapping gently
against stones at the lake’s edge, full of meaning and
memory. I used to melt at the rhythmic rocking and
smoothing of my hair being brushed by the strong,
tender hands of a man. I used to tether my night
dreams to the sun and pull them into day, in order to
muse a little longer, because I had all the time in the
world to dream. But now, I dash, I hide, I escape, I
charge, I race ahead in order to have more time, more
time to run from the encroaching timelessness, which
I’ve forgotten how to feel.


When the snarling steel, like
a hideous trap, holds
their soft hearts gone quiet,

what will I feel?

When the ash of the broken
children of God and the ash
of broken rock rain down from the heavens
like the tears of betrayed angels
and stick to the clothes and faces of
a stunned world,

what will I do?

When children fall from the precipice of
this precarious world, or the flesh
falls from the bone of a man, or
a dream is lost or abandoned,

what will I say?

Will I say,
There but for the grace of God, go I,
as I scoop up, like a gambler,
all the treasure at my table
that I’ve won at the expense of
the poor unlucky discarded?


The moon shone on his face,
his beautiful face, as he lay
on the cool sand of the beach
and I wanted

to study him, his lovely amber eyes,
his full lips, his wild
hair, my face above his.
I wanted him

to know, in that exact
moment, of that exact phase
of that moon’s glow, that
he was adored.

My eyes, in wonder, mapped his face,
as the waves, silver-crested,
crashed to earth and
opened it,

like hands in supplication,
begging for more than this
breath’s life of beauty,
for the moon, in its eternal ardor,

full and fickle and mysterious,
to remember us where we lay,
my hair lightly touching
his beautiful face.


The child cries
when it is nudged
into the future,

where the toy
no longer fits,
where the

blocks are no longer
a castle made of magic,
where alien

battles are not
allowed to be won
or lost.

Be the child
before that moment,
where the air

exists only in your
sphere, and you

only the heartbeat
of your focus, and lose

to the all, to the
magic, to the
smallest of



a brook or stream or river
winds through the uneven
terrain of human pathos,

tripping and bubbling
over the rockiest regions, where
the patois of experience and emotion

is spoken, where the waters
of sorrow are bottomless
and inscrutable, its banks

littered with empty clothes,
where the soft, undulating
waterfolds of wonder receive

the open mouths of the leaves
that feed there, where, from the brush,
a betrayal spills its toxins into the silt,

or a wave of longing engulfs the reef,
or a tear


An angel slipped inside my dream
And sang her sweet unworldly song.
I saw her light for which I long,
Gently in the night’s moonstream.

It was the truth, I did deem,
A perfect presence all along.
An angel slipped inside my dream
And sang her sweet unworldly song.

So many lost, the heavens teem
With spirit voices, wild and strong.
I called to one who might belong,
Who might inside my darkness gleam;
An angel slipped inside my dream.


You are secret; you are underground,
Your collar’s up, you make no sound, you look around.
Your hair is done, now done again,
Don’t stick out, just blend, just smooth,
And blend again.

You are hidden; you are mission bound,
Sent south of here, not sure just where, no papers found.
Your arm just inked, dead giveaway,
Don’t stick out, just fade, just blend,
Or you may pay

There’s an old conundrum, which may be a ruse:
How can you be a spy when you have tattoos?

How can you be a spy when you have tattoos?
You must be more rebellious than you ever knew.

You’re clandestine; you’re intrigue,
Still surprised, can’t believe you’ve got a sleeve.
Such blatant hues add to mystique,
But jeopardize your deceit; should you concede
You’ll be discreet?

How can you be a spy when you have tattoos?
You must be more rebellious than you ever knew.


Inside the hole
of desire, where we
hide like rabbits,

a sadness dwells,
a twitchy, fearful

for the broken glass
that holds, like a shiny
puzzle, our masks, and

for the colored thread
that holds our skin
together where it has

come apart. Who are we
in the dark? We are the broken
unbelievers of our bones,

of our scars, of our warrened
stories, brambled and

orphan-makers, who sit
in the dark, in the sacred melancholy
of our broken yearning.

JAGGED SOUL TO REST (Heroic Couplet)

You bring your tired, jagged soul to rest,
To listen to divinity’s rhythmic breaths,
And upon its verdant chest, you place your head,
To dream on jasmine’s floating, fragrant bed.
The path is like a tender invitation
To the cloistered refuge of a hushed elation
Of the temple of the hills, of the shrine of lotus lake.
A flower from Mary’s hair you take,
As she sits with child in gardens deep and lush
And warm beneath the heaven’s noontime blush.
The swans are fluid, pure, and full of grace,
As they levitate, entwined in an embrace.
A windmill chapel sits at water’s edge,
To leave your cares on its receptive ledge,
And leave your worldly clothes upon its floor,
To free your jagged soul and bare your core,
And pick a cross, a star, an aum, or wheel,
Or crescent from the garden where you kneel.

9th Book, 9th Page, 9th Line
Tell Me a Riddle — Tillie Olsen

There is all that life that has happened
outside of me, beyond me.
How will I know which dress to choose?
Did she like green or purple? Would she want
makeup? I don’t know these things,
I had just found her, you see, just
found her, so how will I know
if this hymn is right, this chapel?
How will I know if she loved me?

THE CODE: Questions for Rilke

How will we create the code?
Is it sometimes as a language, whole,
sometimes as a dot or dash, alone?
How will we make the rustling leaves
of the forest floor, the mossy dark,
a place where God enters, wordless, on tiptoe,
the bankrupt heart?
How will loneliness be named, or solitude,
without a witness or falling rain?
Will we slip away, like sand or rage,
or penetrate, deep, the eye of the panther,
as it closes its will or ponders
its cage?


Maybe this soothing slop-slapping
is like the sound of the mother world
that I lived in before, wobble-weary
and rolling silken waves
to her shore.
Maybe the gentle lapping
is like the lenient lullaby
I heard through miles of swaddling space,
I heard through my own cry.
A shore of memories tapping,
A lake of last goodbyes


I sip a prayer from your cup,
sweet eternal amrita,
like a nectar, like ambrosia, like honey,
left lingering on my lips,
a remembrance:
God’s kiss.

I bathe in the sound of your name,
the nectar of your name; I exude it
through my pores and tears,
an intoxicating and plump perfume.

Then I become you
in your brokenness,
in the bones and burrows
of your neglect.

I become you,
as your motherbreath
revives the hungry child,
vainly rooting for the breast.

I become you,
as the man is the woman,
as the heartbeat is the blood,
and I sleep in the temple
of your everyday dreams,
your shore, your sky, your home,
unseamed, beloved.


I fall in love
with every man
I dance with.

It is not
the fault of the music
or the late hour.

It is not the drink
or the smoky air
or the sweaty swagger.

It is not even the open shirt
or the great pinky ring
or the impressive pickup line.

It is that string of moments,
like a string of notes,
where we are transported together.

And we are in the clouds,
looking at the fools below,
with their gyrating hips and bad haircuts.

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?

April 9, 2016 (Glosa)

Often when I imagine you
your wholeness cascades into many shapes.
You run like a herd of luminous deer
and I am dark, I am forest.

–Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, I,45,
(Rainer Maria Rilke; Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, trans.)

Often when you touch me,
it is when I have been my least holy,
when I am surprised and startled
by a whisper or a longing,
in a stubborn night that won’t yield,
where the taunting myths and shadows are breaths I drew.
I dream a hunger
that carves its name in my thigh
and it is yours that comes to view,
often when I imagine you.

I have looked away, enchanted
by solitude and the pallor
of my own skin kept hostage from the light,
and the eloquence of my own sorrows,
and have pandered to the moon
for one of its variable moods or fates,
when I have been weary of my own.
I should have noticed your eyes
within those fragments of such traits;
your wholeness cascades into many shapes.

I run to purpose, as if it were my lover
returning from a land far off,
the intention-drenched fever
rising fast and then running its course.
I search for the world,
for the “I am” to be clear, and
when I have lost you, have lost you,
it was not out of hubris,
more out of fear.
Still, you run like a herd of luminous deer

through me, you run, into my shadows,
through me, into my stillness with a thunder
or a hush, soft hooves snapping
my awakened underbrush, my tired heart.
You have blazed through my night
in a golden dreamlike blur, in an ancient chorus,
and through the shade of the immortal pines,
you slip like melted sun,
so purely light, so purely promise,
and I am dark, I am forest.


The green outside the kitchen window
Was even more vivid for the autumn rain,
As if each separate drop were a magnifying glass
That intensified its color, sharpened it,
And his tattooed bicep twitched
In anger at its audacity.

A swig of cold beer from the bottle
And the old sickness rose up:

This was not his body’s home, not his comfort,
Not the place he deserved.
All the memorialized moments of his life
Adorning his chest and arms
And legs–the names of a new mama,
New sweethearts, new babies,
A beloved retriever–could not change
The view of needle-littered
Dirt and peeling shacks,
Of men and women with sunken eyes
And dead hearts, who beat children
And then lost them,
Where he foraged alone for love
And rarely found it,
To the nurturing greens,
The grieving greens, outside his window,
Just beyond his reach.


Along the path that encircles
the primordial ultraviolet lake,
walk the possibilities of man.
In this intemporal garden,
lush dreams buzz and whisper
and grow reluctant raw stories
from the shared seeds of many souls,
and then ripen and tumble
into time and tomorrow,
each fluttering awake
in its own skin.


She’s tough in her black leather
motorcycle jacket, silver-zippered
at angles, one eye squinting from the snake

of smoke coming from the Kool 100 dangling
from her lips. She’s been corralled, and now they’re in a storefront
doorway, she, leaning back,

arched, hips thrust forward, one
knee bent, thinking: go ahead, try it,
I’m not afraid of you, and he,

local rock star with inky hair and
black smudged eyeliner and smelling of testosterone
and pheromones and Jack, he’s still caging her,

his palms pressed against the wall behind her,
murmuring, oh, baby. Her breath is short, and he thinks
it’s passion, so he puts his hand on her right

breast, and she, to prove she doesn’t care, lets him,
looking him squarely in the eye. He takes
the cigarette from her full

lips and leans in slowly, smoothly, his hot
breath on her neck. She never averts
her gaze as she shoves him, and he

reels. As she leaves, she looks seductively
over her shoulder, skimming his manhood,
taking charge, doling out hope.

He is weak with lust, but she,
she is tough. She’s not afraid
of anyone

The purpose would be
betrayed, indeed, the very nature

if a rebellion were
fomented, if an

took hold. This
must not happen!

would be the
downfall of the human

the cause of much
suffering, and for

So as not to conform? Not
to be seen as too

or soft? Giving comfort,
nurturing intimacy, those are

and they should not be
tampered with. Please
sleep on this.


It was his birthday and it was gray and the horizon had been
scrubbed away and the mist stung her face like tiny needles
and made a halo of ringlets around her long chestnut hair.
She held her bent legs tight against her chest as she sat on
the damp sand. The day, this gray day, matched her mood,
this weeping day, this day with no division between sea and
sky, between yesterday and today, between memory and reality.
Then, out of these spaces, out of the swollen heart of the sea,
she heard a sound, like a voice, like a gull, like a child, calling.
He is lost, she thought frantically, he is lost in this gray mist and
can’t find me. From the conch shell near her, she heard a soft
cry and picked it up. “Mommy,” it said, “don’t lose me.” She
whispered, “Never again,” and put the shell in her jacket pocket
and stepped out of the gray, out of the weeping.


The drums beat low
For lands unknown,
For dreams upon
A different home.

One remembered,
One forgot; it may be
Real or not,
It may be real or not.

The drums, a textured pattern beat,
A pattern brave, a pattern lost,
Designed with blood and mixed
With love, some strips of silk and some mud cloth.

The drums beat low
For the suckling one,
Who dreams within
The native home.

Unborrowed blood,
A swaddling cloth, in pulses
Hard or soft,
In pulses hard or soft.

The drums beat low, the drums beat fast,
For the tribe of Gaels, for the tribe of Masks,
And the tribe of Joy and the tribe of Mali,
The tribe of Crow, and Spirit

(Inspired by Mark Rothko’s painting, Red, 1968)

Rebellious black flowers stain
The room in their angry
Vases, their lustful
Pots, sex-pots, laughing
Vessels, unpruned
And feral, with gunpowder
Fury, those heavy
Black flowers, in a
Cringing beige room,
In a clinging
Bloodshot home.


In it was night,
Black and vulnerable,
Where, cave-like, the echoes
Of life returned, unheard.
Over and over, footfalls passed
The emptiness, in collusion
With the clutter of the world,
And the thing became even more reticent
And alone.
Then, for a moment, one set of footsteps
Halted, and a flash, the dazzling
Glint from the eye of the sun, blanched
The cowering shadows and turned to notice
The trembling beauty and color there,
And that was enough.