Frances Ruhlen McConnel


The muse that inspired “Chimera” is a puzzle to me as I hadn’t written a persona poem in a long time. But now I want to write more. There are two voices here and each is lodged somewhere inside my head. I’ve been fascinated with twins since I first met my twin cousins Merritt and Marian Ruhlen when I was a child. They spoke a different language from anyone else—a twin language. When Merritt grew up, he became a linguist and, when he had children, he had identical twins. He dedicated his book The Origin of Language to his “three twins,” puzzling a lot of people.

When I first read about twins in which one was absorbed before birth, I was not just amazed, but it seemed to strike a chord of knowledge. I could think of several people whom I thought had had an unknown twin before birth. Perhaps even myself.

The poem itself has links to my love of various poems which are dialogues between the body and soul—Andrew Marvell’s brilliant one to begin with, but also poems by David Wagoner and others. “Chimera” isn’t exactly that, but it grows out of that tradition. I wanted it to be metaphysical as well as psychological and I hope it is.

I think of the persona poem as related to the novel—it gives one the pleasure of creating a character and speaking through that character, often telling a story in the process. It feels liberating and quite pleasurable and these feelings come out in the best persona poems.




Chimera: A Dialogue

One of the strangest instances of the vanishing twin within the womb is twin cannibalism in which the surviving twin literally ingests or absorbs the remains of the other one.



Two in a pod, two in a hold, two in a teacup,
commas curled together, Yin & Yang tumbling end over end.
Yet one grows fatter as one thins. One drinks in
as one seeps away. One’s shape sharpens
as the other’s lines blur. One grows fingers and toes;
for the other, at the wrists and ankles, clumps,
then knots, then fraying threads,
as cells flake off, migrate across the black waters.

Twin One:

Come to me then, you who are but a shadow,
a print in sand filling with water.
Gulping you down, I make you my own.
I make you immortal.

Twin Two:

One body is not one mind. One mind is not one thought;
even one thought is not without its undertow.
Your world ends where your senses end.
Though you’ll think always what you see is.
I’ll know it is only what you see.

It’s better to be contained than container.
I, the cell and you, the mitochondria.
I’ll be the cell and you the bee larvae.

You, the cell and I, in prison.
You will be queen bee and all else slaves.

Then for your freedom, I give you my sleep;
I give you my dreaming.

Is this your dream then-my nightmare? 

I give you the choice of dreams:
the nightmare is your defiance

The only other choice is to go quietly.

Quietly, then, dissolve quietly on the tongue
as bland and gossamer as a wafer.
In this way we’ll share a blessing.
And you needn’t ever be lonely.

And you will always be lonely,
remaining without; though you think
yourself sum and substance,
want will be your maiden name.

Why must you curse me?

Millions are cursed daily, as millions are devoured.
There is no devouring without the stain on the teeth.

There is no devouring without love.
For who would devour what one hates?

But many learn to hate what they must devour.

And you can give me no blessing,
though I bless you, as you go down.

Such blessing obliterates the supplicant.

It obliterates only your pain.

“Only” is all I have. Only in holding myself
back can I save you.

Save me from what--from ourself?

Yes, if ourself is an illusion.
To grant the boundary of surface
is to grant breath-right to others.

You’ll have my senses.
To share the same surface is the most complete love;
You’ll breathe when I breathe, suck what I suck.

Your desire negates surfaces,
the skin where nerves lie.
In the depths is only dumb satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

But I can satisfy both of us.

You’ll satisfy yourself only.
There is no self without say-so, without yes or no.

Do you think yourself my conscience, then,
Old Crosspatch, Old Scold, Old Naysayer?

I am your supreme nothingness,
the distant plop of a bloody thing
at the bottom of a dank well,
as amorphous as algae stink.

Not my nothing so much as your almost, your perhaps.

I’ll be the hesitation between desire and act
I’ll be the scoffer, your second thoughts
and your last failure of nerve.

You won’t see me in mirrors,
but perhaps in running water.
My image will both confirm and cast suspicion,
both deepen and fracture, will bring you doubt
and make belief necessary.

Though you learn double-talk with your forked tongue,
I will be left with the old language
of nudge and tickle, hiccup and slap.

Then preach no more, tiny flaw in my surface.
Slip away, tadpole, slip back to the egg
and before that the blind thrashing of last season’s urges,
go as the weak go into the maw of unbecoming.

I don’t say “goodbye.” I say in your deepest within
will be an unknown darkness, a restless being
you can’t reach, a question you can never resolve.
If this is immortality, I give it thee.
Also if it is the buried pip of the Fall.

A tendril, a filament, plants itself in a soft skull and sucks.
A last gulp and the body is smooth as a pearl, smooth and smoky
with one dimple only where outside is in and inside closes over what is other
and what is left but the need, desperate but not
out of the question, for an Other, an outsider’s love.




fmcconnel.jpgFrances Ruhlen McConnel's new collection of poems, The Direction of Longing, was published last year by Bellowing Ark Press. A chapbook of haiku and other short poems, white birches, black water, was published in 2006 by the Alaska fine letter press, Bucket of Type Printery. She is presently putting together a collection tentatively called Rising is the Same as Falling. She has lived in Southern California longer than she ever thought possible—over 30 years. But she still misses earlier muses--in the Northwest and in Alaska.