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 it was fate that sent her back,
Back to who had raised her.

Neither Mike nor I believe in 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 she doesn’t always 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.

8 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 🙂


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