Gabrielle, Gentle Gabrielle

[This poem is biographical.  It’s about a woman I knew some twenty years ago. I have tried here to be as faithful to the facts of her life as my memory now allows. I think she deserved that much, but some folks might find her story disturbing.]


Gabrielle is dead.
I heard today.

Dead at 26.

She opened her veins
More than a month ago,
Mike said,
But the word traveled slow
And her body already has been left,
Left beneath the grasses of L.A.,
Left so far from here.

Mike knew her better than me,
Watched over her like kin,
Like a brother it seemed to me.
Maybe he even loved her.
He was trying to be hard,
Blinking fast, lying about dust in his eyes,
When around noon he told me the news.

She never said why
She returned to L.A.
Mike and I can only guess
And none of our guesses seem good.
Maybe even she didn’t know why.
Maybe only god knew why.
Maybe it was fate that sent her back,
Back to those who had raised her.

Neither Mike nor I believe in god or fate,
And we know it could not have been love.

Gabrielle is dead.

Gabrielle whose mind was shattered
Into three persons
While still a child

By the beatings,
By the cuttings,
By the burnings,
By the prostituted rapes,

By the thousand murderous
Cruelties of her parents
And of her johns.

Gabrielle is dead.

I remember her best when in the warmer months
She would sometimes sit with me
In the quiet of the morning sun,
Sit with me at a sidewalk table outside the coffee shop
With her feet up on the chair
And with her knees drawn up to her chest —
Perhaps protectively.

She would look at me, look at my face,
Not lifting her gentle, easy gaze,
Not glancing away to any distraction,
So that sometimes I thought,
“She’s trying to to connect
But doesn’t know how.”

And she would speak,
Speak for perhaps an hour or more
In a soft voice, in a quiet chant,
Speak all but without pause
Words that were soothing and pretty,
Words that were vibrant with colors and life,
Bright words that never strayed far from the light,
Gentle words that were lovely to hear,

But words strung in ways that made no sense,
That sustained no meaning:
Words fragmented, fractured from each other,
Homeless words, lonely words, isolated waifs  —

— Until now and then
She would abruptly spin those words
Into some thread, some string of meaning:
A remark about the rent or groceries,
An opinion about the weather or sex,
Maybe something about a movie —

Or on one of her bad days,
Some fact or another that was
Crawling up out of her past,
That was clawing its way to her heart.

She said the Colorado wind could blow hearts down in the winter,
But far up in the mountains
The stars exploded in the night.

Sex bored her and she’d learned, “Love always turned her lonely”,
Yet she had seen two eagles court,
Cartwheeling through the sky.

She loved the sound of rain when it beat against her window,
And she wanted to find a dog
So she could make a friend.

She said she believed there was a god, but not there was a child
Who needed to be fucked until she bled
Then raised in closets and in chains.

Gabrielle is dead.

Despite all,
I never knew her violent.
I never knew her angry.
I never knew her rude.
Her sapphire eyes were open and innocent.
Her eyes were clear as a child’s eyes.

Yet she could not braid
The separated strings of her self
Into one person, and once said
A banshee inside wailed
At her by night and by day
To take a knife and cut her life,
Cut it loose.

Gabrielle is dead.

I wondered how despite it all
She move so gracefully
And kept her body firm and fit,
Her skin and clothes clean.

There was that about her body
That was whole and wholesome.
There was that about her body
That was beautiful.

And there was that about her
That stretched my heart to care
Beyond its normal caring,
That wanted her healed and happy,
That wanted for her the impossible.

Gentle Gabrielle
Is dead.

12 thoughts on “Gabrielle, Gentle Gabrielle”

  1. What a poem! It’s so dark and point-blank, i can really feel the suffering in the poem. Such a tragedy the girl had to go through, i wish it weren’t so. I think this is one of my favourite poems of yours Paul. It’s really heavy. I don’t typically see that in your work, but you do it well 🙂


  2. I would nave got to this sooner, but blah…

    You ask me whether this poem speaks clearly enough. I’m only just managing to hold it together; I hope that gives you a clue. You speak gently, and with enormous respect, yet you convey true horror. It is an incredible achievement which displays your empathy and compassion, as well as describing a life that should not have been treated so cruelly, or have ended so prematurely. What kind of monster gives a child the name of an angel, only to deliberately destroy her? It makes it seem even more perverted, somehow.

    I keep writing and deleting. This is a big poem, beautifully executed. There’s a lot that could be said about it, all of it good. I’ve bookmarked the page so I can come back to it easily. I suspect that once I stop running around in circles and read more of your work I’ll bookmark more. Between you, me and anyone who reads this comment, I find very little poetry that I want to keep track of.

    This is sexist, but at the risk of offending you, I’m going to ask you anyway: was there a strong feminine influence in your childhood?


    1. I am deeply grateful to you for your comments, Jane.

      Yes, my father died when I was two years old. I was raised by my mother and — to a lesser extent — by her sister. Both were strong, resourceful women, especially my mother, who racked up an amazing 35 year track record as the successful CEO of a small business, and as a community leader. Why do you ask?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not suggesting that men are devoid of the gentler qualities, but most although not all – of the men I know who show genuine empathy for issues like female abuse have been raised mainly by women, and you have gone so far as to look into the science behind women in abusive relationships.


      2. Ah, I see! Thanks for the explanation.

        You know, my second wife was abusive. In the back of my mind, I always knew something huge was wrong about her treatment of me, because my mother had raised me to expect much better. However, there were at least a half dozen overriding reasons I stuck with her for over five years.

        As is true of a lot of abuse people, I was not consciously aware of her treatment of me as abuse. For just one of a dozen reasons that was so, I couldn’t see how she could abuse me, a big man, while she was much smaller than me.

        It might interest you to learn how I finally woke up to what had happened. A few years after I’d left her, Jane, I had fallen in with a number of people half my age, several of whom were in some kind of abusive relationship — most often with their parents. I wanted to help them, but didn’t know how. So I went to the book store looking for help with that.

        Found a book on “battered women”. As I read a list of factors that might indicate someone was being abused (e.g. your partner insists you ask his permission before contacting your friends or family members), I had the revelation, “Hey! That’s me! That’s exactly what she put me through!”

        To me, its simply downright curious that abuse more or less follows the same heinous pattern no matter who is abusing who. Man abusing woman. Woman abusing man. Men or women abusing same sex partners. Parents abusing children. Children abusing elderly parents. Or even to some telling extent — and most people can’t seem to see this — governments abusing citizens. It’s all the same grand pattern with variations on the theme.

        1) Charm them, get their loyalty — make them emotionally dependent on you.

        2) Once they’re dependent, committed to you, criticize them.

        3) Once they accept your criticisms as legitimate, begin condemning them to break down their sense of self worth to the point their sense of self is reduced to “feathers”.

        4) Then begin punishing them for their “failures”.

        5) If they fight back, gas light them. Undermine their sense of what’s going on, who is to blame.

        6) If they start to break free, switch back to charm, or escalate to violence.

        7) When they come back, rinse and repeat.


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