by Mary Shanley

Parisian Photo Booth

In the metro station,
she was playing a saw
like it was a cello. 
It sounded like a theramin.
The photo booth was
just feet away.  Lisa and I
crammed into the single
space and popped Euros
into the machine and began
mugging for the camera, all the
while accompanied by the
other-worldly, weird and wonderful
sounds being produced by the
spacy musician wearing a black
leather jumpsuit.  She owned
the local airwaves and captivated
the crowd surrounding her.
A slice of Parisian magic,
everyone tossed money into
her black fedora.

Everything Shakes

My heart opens.
There is no sound, yet I hear the wild,
undefined rhythm underlying all.
Every move that I make, everything

My heart shakes
a rhythm that sets
my life’s course
for the day.

Sometimes my entire
body shakes from the
effects of atomic spinning
and excess caffeine.

What spinning holds
a hummingbird in mid-air,
quietly shaking.

When I leave this body, I will
still be shaking. And held
in mid-air for all eternity.

I’m on the couch, writing;
attempting to capture
free-floating moments
of joy. I want to save
them for when my spirit
falls, fast and deep.
The abundant universe
may impart vibrant energy
to set all life a spinning;

but I’m not always able to
access this grace and to
feel welcome in the world.

Ancient French cave paintings
in Lascaux, provide the mystery
and Paul Klee’s Moroccan
paintings provide the back drop
for my visions.
They are projected onto a screen
I can’t stop watching.
The cave paintings tell a story
I can’t crack. I’m too modern.

Rimbaud turned his back on
the encroaching world and instructed,
“Go Back.” No modern world
for him. He refused to be civilized.
He refused all of societies attempts
to control him.

All around, he witnessed:
The spectacle
The substitution
The pretense
The facades
The inauthentic.

Like a painting you pass every day.
Beautiful, but not so much, after
awhile. Predictable colors. Predictable
patterns. People living symbolic lives.

Rimbaud aspired to live archaically.
To live by his spirit map. To listen
to illuminated voices. The only rules,
his own. He contained journeys that
were his alone to take.

His young soul dwelt elsewhere;
deeper than the messages he received
at home, in church, in school.

He plunged into an exploration
of ancient belief systems. He traveled
back to the time, “Before civilization
made criminals of us all.”  (Francis Picabia).

The ragged punk was launched into
an illuminated state where he recorded
a wild explosion of winged words. The value
of his young defiance was misunderstood
at the time. Rimbaud spoke about resistance
in a language I understood, “Don’t let yourself
be one of the captured.”

St. Mark’s Place

Lisa leant me Reshad Feilds’s book, The Last Barrier.
I read it long into the night. The story follows an
English healer whose spiritual journey led him to
Turkey. He wanted to meet the dervishes.

As I read, I continued to return to one particular
passage, “It is important to remain spiritually awake,
so, you don’t miss the moment.” My memory echoed
back through the history of my soul, and I recalled
the many times I received messages about awakening.
I re-read the passage, reflecting on how much loving
instruction and wisdom, I had forgotten.

When I awoke the following morning, I sat quietly
and reflected on my desire to remain awake to
the lessons I had been taught: compassion and kindness,
the true aims of my life.

It was early, and I was going to work. As I walked
across St. Mark’s Place, I noticed a woman with long
black hair walking parallel to me on the other side
of the street. I was in front of the Dojo Restaurant,
when the woman with the long black hair crossed
the street and stood in front of me. I stopped and she
asked me, “Well, are you awake yet?” and she crossed
back over to the other side of the street and resumed
her journey west, walking in tandem with my gait.

At first, I was a bit shaken, but, ultimately, I did not find
the message from the woman all that surprising. I
inherently knew this was not an uncommon occurrence
in the spirit world, where we are all connected. I did
continue to ponder the woman’s question, as I descended
the subway stairs, boarded the train and went to work


One lone bulb
hanging from a tin ceiling,
in the tenement
where I used to fly blind
around the corner
to the bodega
where I never received
any change from the large
bills I often paid with.
I knew I was getting beat,
but I was too high to calculate.

I tap danced on the loading dock
on Broome Street. I visited
Stanley in his macramé shop
on Thompson Street.  He fought
in the Spanish Civil War, but
rarely spoke of it.  This day,
he was making chicken soup
with apples on his stovetop
in the rear of the store.  He invited me
to share dinner, as he often did.
Later, we went to the Back Fence,
where Jill Freedman breezed
in with a brand-new copy of her
latest book, Circus Days.
Her photographs of elephants
became a topic of discussion
in universities across the country.

I was in the wind for many years.
I had a hole in my head where my brain
used to be.  I filled the hole with
fictitious stories and ignored tugs
toward truth.

At times, my life was split between
spiritual growth and breaking the law.
By day, I worked a mail fraud; at night,
I went to healing meetings.

I ran the con job until my legs gave out.
And, as my dishonesty faded, a collection
of wall hanging masks crashed to the floor;
and there I was, crawling around, desperately
looking for a face to wear.

Always a windy being, my thoughts
flow in, out and through my head
so fast and far out, I have worried
I wouldn’t make it back.

When the drugs wore off,
my friends welcomed me back.
“You’ve been gone longer
than any of us.
Gene didn’t make it back,
John didn’t make it back,
Jamie didn’t make it back,
But, somehow you returned.”

My mind was sound, and,
in moments of reflection,
I wondered how many spirits
and prayers assisted my return?

Back in the tenement, the bright
morning sunlight reflected off the maple
kitchen table where I sat drinking a fresh
brewed cup of Gillies Ethiopian coffee.
I drank it slowly, practically meditating
on the deep, rich flavor of the African blend.

Rastas began dancing in a hypnotic moment
that was mine, alone.
I may improvise my life for a moment
or a lifetime; depends on how good
the coffee is.

About the Author:

Mary Shanley is a poet/storyteller living in New York City. She has had four books of poems and stories published and frequently contributes to on-line and print journals.