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Poems | Poems | Journey to the Sibyl

Journey to the Sibyl

"I have lived seven hundred years, and to equal the number of sand grains I have still to see three hundred springs and three hundred harvests. My body shrinks up as years increase, and in time, I shall be lost to sight, but my voice will remain...."

                              The Sibyl of Cumae


   there's a moment of flowers
the bird-woman building a nest
called love

a bird wakes me
this morning    in my room
stares with frozen black
eyes    the window closed

she uses my bones to build her nest,
brittle as wings

there's one moment
of flowers
when I say trust me, I can

bird-woman, as if I don't know you want
to build your nest here, in my bones


   in sunshine we enter
a strange bay,
entrance of rough
stones, the beach a tangle
of old logs

up the logging road
                    deer tracks
afternoon buzz of insects

          summer now, the season
slipped by, we didn't notice

leaves turn a deeper green
and black flies settle over the marsh


   this time of
wildflowers, noon stillness

a moment now, the body
stretches out beside
another body and calls it

   sweat tastes
sweet, not salty

                    sky slippery
blue, a sun shimmer over it, skin
wet and salty and slippery like the sky

like floating in salt water
buoyant, body lighter than

this moment of flowers
when the tide reaches high slack
when birds stop singing

the mind thinks now, now
commits it
to memory

as if it were always
this silent

          a salamander
slides into water   a crab climbs
sideways under a rock


   this morning the bird
in my room, how did it
get in?

          the woman's hair
like feathers, her smile
a trap, is it jealousy

hearing her mouth open
in bird-shriek, no words
her beaked mouth sharp

wings like melted
I can fly

bird-flight, bird-woman, I want
to build love like a castle

want to build love
like California redwoods



   you can throw grief
into the sea
hook it back the way
swim to the side of the boat

the way gulls
circle over spilled guts

renounce even the jagged rocks
growing out of the ocean

or the flat stones
I collect on the beach

this spilling out
of the word breakdown

how the rocks split as with
a jack-hammer, how the heart

refuses to heal without love


   and still gulls
where the innards
the entrails
are left for picking
at, a knife
from anus to throat

a knife enters
the space between
my ribs

          and I, shaped
from that curved bone



   why, anyway, cherry
trees bloom on schedule

the season returns
on schedule
the heart continues
to pump blood

staring death
in the face
staring it down

skin peels like water
in a boat's wake

it's possible to die
always, by water, by disease
by death filling the mouth
of a child

an icicle sharp
as a dagger
hangs from the eave
ready to fall

I can see my breath
in the room,
cold seeps in
under the door

there seems no way
around this face
with rouged lips
hands folded over each other
in prayer


   the woman transformed
into a bird

the bird carved in a piece
of bone

a smooth white antler
shaped in a graceful curve

of bird wing

or the bird trapped
in stone

the bird beating in me
beating its wings against
my ribs, hollows a circle


   the journey isn't
childhood, the memory
of my grandmother's face
in the white satin

call it a casket
decorate it with flowers

the journey isn't
to a place, only the sense
of place:
my grandmother's funeral
in Castlegar

the beach at Halfmoon Bay

easier to describe
what the journey isn't

not this, this bird's broken

or these dry rocks

not the seagull's

silence as the knife
slips through skin

how I turn the gutting knife
spoon side and scoop out the guts

check for roe, needlefish
in the stomach

not this coast
when late at night
reading a book
the land doesn't matter


   we say "begin here," as if there
were a place, a time
to finish

the poet asks
where do I end?

I plant a geranium
in a clay pot, earth from
a plastic bag soft like silk

the old, sad face of the Sibyl
as she opens her mouth
in bird song,

more afraid of death
than old age

in the garden
next door
pink poppies

pink as the inner mouth
of a baby
as the flesh of spring

is she all women, this
old woman caught

in a net of falling flesh?

a woman
in a cage

a woman high
on a cliff
in a cave of


   the earth says
looks for her lost

left with material
of life
can we love

sky, sea, season?

left with nothing
the Sibyl questions
her fate

meeting the stumbling
block death

the poets answers


   doppelgänger, the old woman
buried in me, the bird's

flight suspended
in mid-air

this companion self
might live for hundreds
of years

impossible to be certain

but the need
to make an image

to invent
an image that carries

a permanent face
a face fixed in stone


   the tide, suspended between sun
and moon

sucks endlessly in, out

the journey to find
the Sibyl

nothing but dried

shrivelled skin

a bit of flesh
blown away by the wind

threads of white hair
hang like moss
on tree branches

only her voice
high in the arbutus leaves

a shriek, winter
in an old wooden building

a moan, as logs rub
against rocks


Copyright by Carolyn Zonailo:, 2004 | Poems | Journey to the Sibyl
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Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Zonailo attended ...
CZ is a visionary poet who writes with compassion and careful detail about the world she lives in.
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She draws on her study of mythology, astrology, and Jungian psychology, for a seemingly inexhaustible source of imagery.
There is a quality in her work which makes all her poems hers, but Zonailo’s style does differ. Compendium is a collection of short, lyrical poetry; Zone 5 of prose. Each book is an extension of her poetic exploration and a separate expression.
Over the years of sitting in Grant's Cafe or the Europa and talking poetry with Lewis Gretsinger, the questions have been asked: why write? what are you saying? what are your poetics?
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I give my soul to God.
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I give my spirit to tolerance.
I give my mind to the future.
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Spanning the years 1955 to 2005, the Carolyn Zonailo Papers holds, as nearly as possible, a currently complete collection of Zonailo's extant literary papers.
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