This Primal Rapture: Five Poems
Terri Brown-Davidson

Bullet Holes in the Dojo Door

I walk toward the glass door.
The dojo is closed.
The sensei is late
though soon enough, I fear,
he’ll pull up in his PlayboyMobile,
discover fresh bulletholes pocking his windows
in a radiant spray reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde’s
final shootout, the glory, the blood-stippled
shining shards,
the spiderweblike splinters of breakage
extending so fragile and beautiful
from each dark, rounded hole.
I touch the multitude of holes,
trace their sweet, jagged edges
with each individual fingerpad,
because the sensei’s not here
with his rage and his sarcasm.
Alone among the karateka, it seems,
I, squat and middle-aged and speeding
toward some distant death that—
at forty-nine—I imagine
as a cotton-candy-soft
dispersal into nothingness,
I alone among the karateka
understand the thrill and the loneliness
in these attempts to destroy our domicile,
the dojo the second home of we
the disciplined
who profess a distaste
for the gangbangers who taunt us
though we’re in love with our own
history of violence: the knee kicks,
eye gouges, crushed windpipes
our sensei evokes each day we bow
and make nice and murmur,


Flying Kicks and Makiwara Visions

A bungee cord around my ankle,
I step forward, tighten against
any slackening
and my flying kick disintegrates,
becomes my crumpled torso
stumbling, palms first, to the floor.
Each dojo tumble is a flight into a universe
pregnant with blank red skies and stars—
white and glowing, tantalizingly immense—
that haze to lavender
though trauma doesn’t induce my vision
but the recognition that I’ve dwelled inside
this tiny, wooden-walled domicile before.
Attacking the makiwara
with bruised knuckles and fists
I coddle before they toughen,
kicking the blond, upright plank
with my thickening first toes,
I ascend in the sudden upward waft
of euphoria
and streams of dopamine dreams,
ride the stark ragged horizon
of darkening mountains
and dimming Albuquerque lights
as they fade into the grayness
of entropy. Dawn.
We’ve all lived here before,
disciplined and hardened our arms
against each other’s outstretched bones,
slept slumped and exhausted
and slack-bodied in beds
that break open suddenly
to vistas of whirling white constellations
we may never remember
though, post-dawn,
we cluster before the dojo again,
ravenous for the salty sweat
of a striving too vivid
to be embodied in dreams
or the bodies we inhabit
with the slowed grace borne
of each consciously crafted
leap into enervation.


Grimms’ Grimmest and the Dojo

I’d abandoned the tiny dark cave
inside my cerebellum
after childhood, the one where
I’d retreated to arrange dark,
jeweled images
I’d carried burgeoning in both hands
from the grimmest brothers
who ever dwelled inside my mind
in those long, sad, lonelier days,
my terror a sudden lift
into inexplicable exhilaration
when my mother creased open the book
and read. Inside that cave,
innumerable dead children lay,
their faces pale and papery
as if they’d been shocked
into unconsciousness,
their necks or hands severed
though rarely bloody
because my brain contained
few physical images
of the raw and the graphic
at six. I often sat
among the children, rocking
with my tiny hands clasped
around my knees
as I struggled to converse
with those I sensed remained voiceless,
whispering a lullaby in the gray-cold
cavern of my cerebellum,
falling in love with my own primal
brain so deeply
that years and years later
my fists coiled unwittingly
into the pure pocketed rapture
of knowing
my hands could detach bone from
jointed bone, the anchored from
its socket, my ravishing
of the pale, stippled flesh
of my beloved
gorgeously male.


Process at the Body Farm and the Dojo

There’s something here. In the flick and snap
and whine of glittering, sated flies,
in the dark, soft loam opening and receiving—
in the first stripped bones penetrating
the earth with some silent shudder
of euphoric relinquishing.
I love to conjure each sweet,
splintering bone fragment
while it decays
as something holy.
This incredible disintegration-love
sings itself into karateka bones too,
into the sturdy and the intact
and the osteoporosis-pocked
and the osteoporosis-prone.
In the dojo, we Zennishly obsessed ones
engage in our own intricate processes:
I feint and kneel and approach
my hard, glassed face in the mirror
as I slide into Pinan Godan,
the fifth exquisite kata of its type,
with its tortured knee bends and gestures
of relinquishment. My reddish hair,
threaded with gray,
shines unnaturally as an animal pelt
from the stillness of my reflection.
Deem me posed here, before a dojo mirror,
or consider me stopped.
These process moments stream into my cerebellum
and make me who and what I am
in this particular dragonfly-fast second—
this flitting, this struggle,
is everything.


Mental Illness Among the Karateka and the Poets

The sensei announces
to all postulants on the wooden deck
sitting zazen, “You’re not here
at the dojo because you’re mentally sound.”
I nod terse agreement, sweat-saturated hair
sliding over my forehead
as I dip my face down
toward the dust-smeared floor,
grip my big, sturdy thigh muscles
with trembling fingers.
Mental illness creates poets, too.
At the age of seven I already sensed it,
how my gaze filtering down
into murky green water
evaporated before striking pool-bottom—
and how that vanishing meant something.
Meditating with our feet tucked tightly
under our buttocks
(the strain of this position revealed
brilliantly in the sweaty,
constricted faces of my dojomates,
languishing), I know that I’m here,
participating in this dojo,
because some small part of me
has spoiled, gone black and rotten.
But there’s gorgeousness, too,
in disintegration and decay,
in the redtipped vision
of James Wright, the father, watching
ponies burst into beblossomed flame;
in the drunken religiosity
of Franz Wright, the son,
walking, hands coat-pocketed, beside
a frozen river to pray.
We are all—in this dojo—
fruit that requires cutting,
the darker parts dug into with a honed
and sharpened knife and then
cast out like peelings.
We are all poems that rise
in the shivering poet’s mind
after she’s considered slicing her wrists
and then observed
a single black hawk, jeweled,
floating by in a blue firmament.


These poems were written on the occasion of my joining a Shorin Ryu karate dojo and my probable “initiation” into that dojo. Now, two years later, having experienced the dark and eminently brutal world ruled by a sensei immersed in his own “guru effect,” having witnessed the mass hypnosis that accompanies the governing of a small but powerful dictatorship, I’ve launched into my first memoir, Dojo Woman, and have switched to a dojo where cruelty and savagery are not so much in evidence and where possible rivalries are held in check. I’m studying Kenpo Karate now. And Tai Chi, which is gentle and meditative in a soul-satisfying way.

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