POETRY NORTHWEST: SUMMER 2000
VOLUME FORTY-ONE NUMBER TWOEditor: David Wagoner Cover from a photo of a balancing act in the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus Photo by Robin Sqyjried POETRY NORTHWEST SUMMER 2000 VOLUME XLI, NUMBER 2 Published quarterly by the University of Washington, A101 Padelford, Box 354330, Seattle, WA 98195-4330. Subscriptions and manuscripts should be sent to Poetry Northwest, Department of English, Box 354330, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-4330. Not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts; all submissions must be accompanied by a stamped self-addressed envelope. Subscription rates: U.S., $15.00 ger ye2(1r, single copies $5.00; Foreign and Canadian, $17.00 (U.S .) per year, single copies 5.50 U.S. . Periodicals postage paid at Seattle, Washington. POSTMASTER: Send address change: to Poetry Northwest, Box 354330, University of Washington, Seattle, W4 98195-4330 Published by the University of Washington ISSN: 0032-2113
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Five Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 03
Teaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11
Torn Bird . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Three Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Poet Anonymous . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Tide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
SUSAN BLACKWELL RAMSEY
Three Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19
Thumbs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Love Poem Relying on an Ethnographer’s Myth . . . . . . . . 22
Three Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
A Woman Brought to Child . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
What I Imagine While Riding the Ferry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
JILL E. THOMAS
Elemental . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Dictionary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Two Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Two Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Two Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Points of Interest between Monroe City and Slater . . . . . . .42
Song from the Antarctic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
JAMES . MCAULEY
Two Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
The Archive of the Future . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
POETRY NORTHWEST: SUMMER 2000
STRANGE THAT THERE ARE NO
Birds called the Glass Bird
Islands named Always
Mountains named Swift
Roses called Rhinestone.
I would buy a Beloved’s Breath Lily,
a cookie named A Kiss Before Sleeping.
I would visit that nursing home, Dismal Harmony,
and stop at Swaddling Towne rest stop.
There is no word for the way little girls run
when their hands are sticky, no type of snow
known as Dead Diamond, no Solace-Dropping
Tree or Deﬁbrillation Symphony,
N0 infant son was ever christened Life Afﬁrming,
though each one could be. There is no city named
Nimble, no Slenderest Street, no Toyota Lithe
or lipstick called Go Away.
There is a kind of crying I call Psalm 911, but no one else
does. There is a sleep
known locally as Severe Tire Damage; do avoid it.
The world may not be big enough for a dance called
a church named Refreshment, a wind known by Refuge.
There are no planets named Polka
and it is too bad, really, and no clouds
called alizerine crimson. Darling, make me a crayon called
Shiny Calico Cat, and find our recipe for Birth of
For you, I would make the quilt called Every Soft Midnight
and ﬂy to Only Ocean. I know there is a Marasmus bone,
named for the failure to thrive due to lack of touch. But
you know –
how to hold mine, in an embrace called Always Welcome.
THE KINSHIP OF HATCHLING AND SEEDLING
Because you can’t hear one of them alone, like snowgoose, like foxglove,
because they live in arpeggios like old squaw and fuchsia,
because they lilt under their own steam and stem, ﬂinging petal peals of color,
I know that birds and ﬂowers are identical.
I know that a green-winged teal is really a turquoise campion, with wings splayed back,
and a common golden eye is an ox-eye daisy, helium-ﬁlled, the string let go, gloriosa.
Name three differences between the horn of the horned lark and comets of columbine.
Perhaps early on there was a uniformed conductor, marking each with a chalk cipher,
telling each fast heart to stand in a Latinate line, dividing groundsels from ouzels,
sprit-tails from mist maidens, leaving a special spot for the rose rising above its whimbrels,
so duck-feather taut that a drop of dew forever remains a globe. The woodrush is first cousin
to the woodthrust (or swamp angel), kin to the celestial longspur, whose daughter,
the Lapland larkspur, keeps its wings wren-high. Is that a boreal limpkin near a shooting star
or an Alaska spring beauty on a roseate spoonbill? In all four, the inﬂorescence is elongate,
the pinions opposite and whorled. If it took a scholar to tell slender hawk from slender hawkweed,
in which kingdoms should we put the lady-of-the-waters and the silver tongue?
Who could tell them apart, the streak-breasted grass sparrows and sparrow-breasted streak grass,
who could divine if the blossom—billed coot is more blossom than bird? So to simplify matters,
some became rooted, in crotches of trees, wherever the dry moss and down dust settled in swirls,
and others ﬂew, dipping and dallying at the pace of a roaming bee, high and safe over the soil.
“HE IS EVERYTHING EXCEPT OLD”
You are the iris blooming in my garden
that I didn’t know had been planted there.
You are the bubble in the carpenter’s level, rising.
My following sea, my thank—god-for—strangers,
you’ve become the one I call with good news.
You are as close to me as my sighs a month ago.
My brain is ﬁring on all pinions; the gods are shining down on us.
I want to have secrets with you, want to carve your initials
in my journal, in my garden, my diet, my calendar.
Cancel the papers, screen all calls — may this be the birth of an anthem —
Drag out the snapshots, buy more bedclothes.
Avoid operating heavy machinery. Swaddle me in your stare.
Hit the pause button, fit more hours between these hours.
Send out the announcements, proclaiming the gospel
of the existence of new passion. Dear lord protect this love.
My tenderness towards you bleeds out like a dye
and extends to the other drivers, the joggers at the lake,
the salesman at the department store, the meter maid.
I want to have a famous love, one that journalists come
from states away to document, because we have made love at least
every day for forty years, perhaps, or because you told secrets
to my belly while I carried our child, or because you took the dog out
up at the cabin at 3 a.m. when it was 22 degrees and the fire had gone out,
or because you buried the cedar waxwing that rammed into our window.
If hearts, in cards, were black, not red
and if you were gone, if you had left,
the world would be too big without you.
RIFF ON RUMIThe stars don’t say, “How long
do I have to keep shining?” — Rumi
The hummingbird heart can’t count that fast, but beats its frenzy.
The skater’s—dream-that he—has forgotten-his-skates travels the world without asking directions.
The humpback whale, south towards Baja, never wonders what night songs are sung in cathedrals inland.
The free—floating ﬂame doesn’t wish to land.
It soars, thousands of feet above, refusing to want a wick.
The raindrop doesn’t ask if it will fall on water or soil.
And the riverdrop prefers not to know the height of the cliff it slides over.
The cloud will run into a mountain or not. It doesn’t matter.
The sun couldn’t care less if the blue planet spins.
The yellowest poplar leaves have no idea how they galvanize the black-gray sky above them.
To run, the foot doesn’t need to know if the earth is solid or a skin of dirt in danger of collapsing, ready to take us to the empty center, where we could look through beneath the rest of the world.
The hundred-year house, held together by memories, chooses not to worry about the life expectancy of the last person‘ who remembers it.
So I will not ask the nature of my future.
Cognac has no way of knowing that its color also lives in the heartwood of trees.
The young woman doesn’t question the cruelty of what the old man knows:
The older you get, the more damn memories you have.
The 300-foot cedar doesn’t wonder why it lifts a ton of water daily, to add another ring.
Fire, however, is crucial to the forest.
The unmatched spoon does not feel lonely, even though the other three are across the country.
The revolving door does not wonder why it can never be slammed.
The dam does not visualize its deafening, inevitable crumbling.
The cartographer doesn’t ask whose hand really traces the shoreline.
And that thinnest membrane between laughing and crying is secure in the seven reasons for its existence.
HOW LOVING, IN LATE MIDDLE AGE, FORGETS THE SONG OF CAUTION
The not terribly recent blonde has a fast glamour to her,
like water drops falling off a freshly washed convertible.
She has a holy groin, pheromones that strike like lightning birds.
She makes men cry out for their ancestors, seeking mercy, loves how
they ease their charitable smoothness into her body, how they say
“I don’t want to not be kissing you,” how such sudden and early
lovemaking can still be a form of prayer. But everything
changed when she retired early to Las Vegas, or as she called
it, Lost Wages. Nothing changed in what she did,
displaying that otherworldly girl-talent of taking her bra off
from underneath her shirt through her sleeves, growing
so close, so soon, with each new lover that they were facing pages
in a shut book, dressing all her men in the colors of their eyes.
They put the leer in lyrical, and it was ogod, I mean good.
But one May, when Jerry was as close to her as a toothache,
trembling, arcing back, climbing the peaks of superlatives,
he died on her. Right on top of her. The police came, the wife
was called, the blonde was left with what noise is left
after a piano falls down forty ﬂights of stairs. She saw a whole year
through a wince, studied how to live to be 100. She took up with
her high school sweetheart, who craved the hospice of her lap
after half a century, with half a lung left. So when he joined
the never after, right at the supreme moment, it did not yet
appear to be a trend. With Ernie, she dreamed of a wedding
in a butterﬂy garden, a honeymoon under the blaze of
Aurora australis, that moment when the front wheel rises up
and the rear wheels still speed along the runway. Elbows locked,
back arched, she looked down on him, but he was a thing,
a carousel horse, frozen but moving as the bed bounced to a stop.
He became her favorite among the dead. And night or wrong,
day or right, she found another, and another, old teddybears in heat.
You can’t slam a revolving door. She studied the difference between
shouting yes yes yes and no no no in the middle of the night.
How naked they looked, like a typo exposed, picked up out of the sentence
of her embrace. Once she told Lewis about the song she wanted to write,
hummed the first stanza for him, but he was gone, the song with him,
before the next morning. She was sued by his survivors, joined the sorority
of others whose partners had died on top, felt the tiny roots her lovers left,
torn out imperfectly, growing inside of her. As she fell ill, she vowed to find
her third husband, the one who had climbed McKinley and never came back,
daub his favorite, dusty cologne on her slack neck, and take him, take him
into her waning warmth, rise together to the mountain, and so very far beyond.
This all I have
Left, a scattering of poems drifting like waves
Of dust, thirty years
Deep, the ghosts of names gliding across pools
Of rainwater, leading to and from
School, essays that describe
What Hemingway might have danced
In Paris, 1925, fictions,
Of crushed hearts, of guilt and blame and innocence
That are always true, voices
That aren’t afraid
Out. The startling shapes and colors
Of hair and eyes, the storied
Touch of ﬁngerprints impressed on every surface
Of the flesh of this room, scraps
Of dialogue on desks—Whoever erases this
erases meaning—I called, but no one answered-
(while outside waves of wind build toward a summer
washed clean as their dreams), the raining blooms
Of their breath, their anger, their laughter
Carved in the window sills, traced
In white-out, marking pens, murals
Of comic faces painted years ago.
When snow begins to fall, they rise,
Rush to the windows, carrying me
With their beautiful shouts, as if for the first
And last time in my life the sky
Comes apart again
With childish wonder,
Kathleen LynchFor Lynne Knight
She slumps in the chair she can’t
wheel by herself, a blither
of trembles, mouth refusing
food. But her hand bolts
for the ice cream cuplet,
jabs, like a snake’s head
striking. I don’t want…
she can no longer stitch
a sentence together
but there is in her face
‘a torn bird, half raising
its wing to lift off, half
mumbling I ’m …mmnn
I daub the corners
of her mouth, guide
Once she saw me
shivering in the shell of our house,
dirt ﬂoor holding hard
to the cold. Pass me mah fan,
she drawled in luscious
fake southern, Ah am just
swelterin’, Honey. Aren’t you?
Cocooned in the quilt with her
body beaming heat, I swear
I heard exotic birds,
ﬁerce, exciting the jungle
canopy with their cries.
I fell asleep believing
I smelled honeysuckle.
Now everything is gone
but the ancient thumbprint
in her brain making her eat,
and breathe, breathe, the last
of her human words snagged
randomly on the thread
of that breath, breast
feathers blowing away.
A ﬂare of daylight sets my face ablaze
in its frame above her bed as the sun
sinks. Full Indian summer but these days
she is always cold, always wanting one
more layer of clothes or cup of hot tea,
grumbling as she hugs herself and paces.
She feels dark vapors in the air, traces
of dust. This is not where she wants to be.
When she sits, a shard of memory glows
and fades, the past an empty theater gone
dark the moment she arrives, curtain closed,
orchestra never launching into song.
For years she has been slowly going blind,
drawing the world into her corner room
beside the sea, drenched in endless gloom.
I am no longer in my mother’s mind.
There is less than one hour left
and my father does not know.
He lies there in faded light
green trunks, turned belly-up
beneath a livid sunlamp,
smoking down his last cigar
before the time comes
for him to rise and dress.
He loves the sheer arrogance
of such heat, its dragon’s
breath across his chest,
and he ﬁlls his lungs with it.
Minutes remain but still
he does not know. He thinks
of the long morning spent
riding bridle paths on a bay
gelding, the mid—day nap,
pinochle on a sun-drenched
patio and whiskey as clouds
turned his bright day dark
in the blink of an eye.
He thinks of tomorrow only
as a long drive home.
Seconds more as he rises
to stretch and blink salt
from his eyes. He does not
know yet. Without the least
thought of time winding down,
he tucks glasses in a towel
on the lounger and strides
across the deck as though
it were nothing. He breathes,
ﬂexes his toes over the edge,
dives into the cool embrace
of deep water and dies.
O’CONNOR AT ANDALUSIA“Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing
and I think those
who don’t have it miss one of
—from The Habit of Being, F lannery O’Connor
It came with the steady pace of dusk,
slow shadings in the distance, a sense of light
growing soft at the center of her body.
It came like evening to the farm
bearing silence and a promise of rest.
There was nothing to say it was there
till she found herself unable to move
and stillness settled its net over the bed.
A crimson disc of pain suddenly flushed
from her hips like a last ﬂaring of sun.
She believed the time had come
to embrace this perfect weakness
that had no memory of strength,
a mercy even as darkness hardened
inside her joints. It was not to be
missed. Nor was the mercy of sight:
she believed the time had come
to measure every moment and map
the place she soon must leave.
At least she had been given time,
though her wish would have been
an hour more for each leaf visible
from her window, a day for trees,
a week for birds and month to savor
the voice of each friend who called.
Though she never belonged in the heart
of this world, she gave this world her heart.
Within her stillness she remembered
the first signs: that brilliant butterfly
rash on her face, a blink that lasted
for hours, the delicate embrace of sleep
veering as in a dream toward the grip
of death, hunger vanishing like hope.
Her body no longer knew her body as itself
but this too was a mercy. To leave herself
behind and then return was instructive.
To wax and wane, to live beyond
the body and know what that was like,
a gift from God, a mixed blessing shrouded
in the common cloth of loss. Half her life
she practiced death and resurrection.
For the same reason I will not run
I no longer rhyme: I can’t afford to.
They are expensive, those words that ring
my tocsin heart;
they cost me jobs selling watches and cars
plus commodity talk used to swing
deals in dark bars
in D.C. Put me up at the P.A.
and they accrue so much interest
the sounds don’t stop
until hawks pierce them with squawking nonsense
no sane caucus would ever elect.
So I’m caught here
in the eternal smear campaign of sound—
less my partner in crime (my vice echo)
to ride shotgun
as the hawks refuse the crumbs I throw.
What was amazing was
we wanted to go there, jumped
up and down when Dad said we could
pile into the car. The road stopped
where it washed away, jagged
green-haired slabs of
sidewalks, bad footing, rusted
monstrous engine parts.
Dad smoked Viceroys,
and now and then the thread
of tobacco would touch us
where we teetered among the suck holes
of sea anemones-and the cringing
crabs with their black, jointed legs,
cavities full of silent water
all the way to the waves
tearing themselves to pieces.
Among the concrete chunks
deep-fried with barnacles,
my sisters found mother-of-pearl
shards, sand dollars, one foot,
then another, almost falling, and I
found objects that had owned human
intent but had altered, spikes fat with rust,
bolts swelling from the inside
with corruption, while every sound
even our own shouted names,
vanished, one big lung holding all the air.
Susan Blackwell Ramsey
EMERSON’S EYES[Emerson] now got his future exactly reversed
when he said,
“You may perish out of your senses,
but not out of your memory or
-Robert D. Richardson
In the end, God cut Emerson a break.
That mind had been stoked nova-white for decades,
reading German philosophers, Hindu sacred texts
to light the meadow where Waldo wrestled with
the angel of existence, demanding meaning.
No one’s word was good enough for him.
And he lived. Any star can fill the sky,
then fall in on itself, demanding darkness,
die of consumption, the Hellespont, the head
in an oven. He mad his name, then kept on living
up to himself, refusing to relax.
His first wife died at nineteen, coughing blood.
His first son died at five. Death circled him
like buzzard on a thermal. He persisted
Finally God allowed that brain to slip
free from the limits of language, like
a watch spring from constrictions of its case.
The ideas stayed’ names went drifting off.
He started tying labels onto things:
an umbrella became “what the guest leaves behind.”
Look at the final photos, the portrait on
The Portable Emerson. The brow is there,
the eagle’s beak. Look closer, at the eyes.
As if through a backwards telescope
you see the nebula which was his mind
spiraling dreamily out into darkness.
BAR TRICKS OF THE OVEREDUCATED
These guys get nasty. Some nights it’s like watching
Hemingway bend a fork in his ﬂexed arm,
throwing it on the table, challenging Hammett.
I’ve learned the warning signs: postmodernists
bear watching, Satre signals trouble. Kierkegaard
means grab the cash and dive behind the bar;
you’ll be combing slivers of contempt
out of your hair for days.
Once or twice in your life you’ll see it swing
the other way. At two beers Wayne agrees
to give ‘em either “The Shooting of Dan Magrew”
or Auden’s “Limestone.” With three he’ll alternate stanzas.
Paul’s singing “Rise Up 0 Frisian Blood and Boil”
in Frisian, with his feet turned nearly backwards.
As the applause dies down Kim takes the ﬂoor
demands silence, announces he’ll recite
pi to thirty decimal places. They start
pounding the tables when he passes twenty.
Backthumps and beer as Dave’s friends goad him up
drunk enough to do his Dylan Thomas,
sober enough to succeed. Di’s bellydancing
for a table singing “Stopping by Snowy Woods”
to the tune of “Hemando’s Hideaway.”
A smell of scorching means Rybicki’s turned
himself into a sheet of ﬂame again
These guys are the Wallendas of tone. They know
it all depends on upping one another
without falling into ridicule
or dignity, piling delight on unsteady delight.
It’s a nine-man tightrope pyramid
paced over broken glass and rattlesnakes,
blindfolded, backwards. A sneer could bring it down.
On the other hand, hearing gasps, look up,
watch one lose his footing, lift his arms
and glide the last few yards onto the platform.
BACKSTAGE DUTY AT THE ]UNIOR CIVIC
These desperate outlaws, these corrupt officials
are so young they take stairs two at a time
for fun. The Sherif of Nottingham, a tall boy
with curly hair, not old enough to drive,
gives me a smile where I sit invisible, knitting.
He goes in to get his makeup done.
I know his mother’s dying, her skin, her organs
slowing turning to stone. He told my daughter
she cries and he doesn’t know what he should do.
The Makeup door’s propped open by a box,
battered and strapped with duct tape. Someone wrote
“Crash Box” on the side in Magic Marker.
‘A kid is curious. The makeup man
picks it up and lofts it underhand.
Landing, it sounds like the Apocalypse.
It sounds like the wreck of a stagecoach carrying
a galloping cargo of anvils and chandeliers.
It’s glorious. They nudge it back in place.
We’re brought up to be brave, and brave is silent.
We strangle on silence, but what words could we use?
Here’s noise commensurate with catastrophe.
I want one for myself, want one for Aaron,
for his mom, for everyone who knows
they’re cast in the big fight scene at the end,
have read the script and know that they will lose.
So that, stripped of costumes, we can climb
those last steps panting, heave our box and howl.
Without them, there’d be no incentive to stand upright,
what with everything we need so far removed
from our mouths. They’re the reason we’re on this end
of the can opener, this side of the steering wheel,
this edge of the water table. Ever since we figured out
how to pick things up, we’ve been picking up
everything, apples, pencils, remote controls. Hold
that thought. Or better yet, follow it
down the length of the shoulder to the forearm
to the wrist to the tip of that fat finger of greed.
Little seductress, she’s got her own pulse, her own phase
of the moon. See the way she holds that cigarette,
twirls the stem of the wine glass? That’s class,
that’s desire, that’s nosing your thumb
where it doesn’t belong, and where it doesn’t
belong is anywhere other than the palm.
Even so, she’s itchy, wants out of the pocket, wants
to shoplift the first shiny gizmo to come
along, wants a ride in a Mustang, a run
through curly locks, a tap dance across the top
of a table, preferably marble, preferably Louis XIV.
But here’s the rub: Without the palm, the thumb
is nothing, the equivalent of one
hand clapping, an actor bowing to an empty room,
again and again, while the audience stands
helpless outside the theatre, staring stupidly
at the door handles and at their eight forsaken ﬁngers.
LOVE POEM RELYING ON AN ETHNOGRAPHER’S MYTH
Here is the word for snow
rising with a gust, one ﬂake settling
onto a lower lip;
and here are the words for snow falling upon a hedge, distinguishing
each twig, snow coating a ledge
marked with the three-pronged prints of chickadees,
the triangle resting in birch branches,
caught in spruce;
the months, their proper nouns separating the last
flurries from the first,
the verb indicating a last snow melting early
into the seed, the arced stem, the yellow ﬂash of crocus;
the difference between snow on Christmas and on Epiphany,
snow casting light onto a photographed facade
and a photograph of snow;
the forms of angels in a backyard, snow dancing
on the hooded heads of children;
the adjective applied to northern constellations obscured by snow
or snow obscured through steam
drifting from the moming’s ﬁrst coffee
brought to you in bed
on a tray with marmalade and buttered toast.
Receive these words, this world
billowing, raucous, abundantly falling.
They have gathered this late afternoon
at the end of October, the swallows
Linnaeus thought slept
all winter beneath ice,
legs tucked up,
their glistening purple
and white covered with gravel.
The swallows circle
above the lake after bugs,
then dive to sip the water,
leaving behind circles that break
softly against the shore.
Why not at such a time
believe in them folding their wings
and slipping beneath the surface?
Why not let a season and its sadness
be dealt with simply as that,
with hardly a splash at all?
Its front leg caught in a steel trap,
the raccoon had tom the ground with its struggle.
The trap’s drag hook was tangled in honeysuckle,
its branches shredded, bark scraped off.
The trap clinked in the dusk.
I lowered my coat over its head and shoulders.
It growled and rattled its teeth.
With one hand I pushed down on the coat,
and with the other forced a stick
between the trap’s jaws.
They opened just enough for the leg to pull loose,
the leg almost chewed through,
the leg from which hung shreds of skin and fur.
I pulled away the coat and the raccoon stumbled off,
stopping once to lick its damaged leg,
then splashed across the stream.
Blood swirled downstream.
Water dripped from belly fur.
What was it that found me after the raccoon vanished
into thick multiﬂora rose? A hand maybe,
or words pushing against my eyes,
maybe out of myself for a few minutes,
my mind like a failed theory.
Next to me, the white peels and splotches
of the sycamore rose into the sky.
Lower down, nothing had changed.
This is the evening I have ﬁnished
the screened porch my father
always promised her.
He stole two-by—fours, nails,
a roll of screen from the Colliery,
but never had the time,
always whistling off around Sammy’s comer
and calling back to her,
Tomorrow you ’ll have the damned thing.
Out she comes,
dry dough under her ﬁngernails,
slowing when she sees the porch,
her old round table, some books,
a View over the red barn
and up Kohler’s Hill.
She lays her hand ﬂat against the screen.
She straightens her dress beneath her
and sits in the wicker chair.
She notices evening primrose
and the last celandine along the swale.
He would have done it, she says. He would.
A WOMAN BROUGHT TO CHILDSherry Greenway 1943-1999
The second law is that the bad news is always
worse than the good news is good:
I won a prize,
and my only sister died.
She never had a chance.
I remember cowering while
our parents upstairs screamed
at each other again about her grades, until
she stood up, threw down her schoolbooks,
and began screaming too.
If anything happened, it happened
to her: nickname Stinky, coonskin cap
with the plastic pate stamped Davvy
Crockett, tonsils, appendix, wren
bones breaking, green eyes behind
batwing glasses, the boys
staying away. Algebra
chased her from nursing school
like nausea, then a brick Bible
college, a redneck marriage, and losing
her babies to the county.
Barmaid, she was trying
to start again when I left her
drunk on the doorstep that
Christmas ten years ago, gave me that old
picture of her as Shirley Temple with
a cowboy hat, white taps, red
sequined cuffs that swayed to “Pony Girl.”
Her new man stayed inside with his
cartoons and vodka in that month’s
dump, as she said goodbye
for the last time, hugged her new
daughter, wept, and waved.
You know the story—it’s the one
the private eye tells about finding
the guilty, who done in the ﬂoating
body of the woman with no last name,
the first something rich, like Candy
or Ginger, who somehow got lost
and fell in with bad companions.
Somewhere near the end of the movie,
the gumshoe ﬁnally tracks the fictional family
down and shows them the picture
of the woman they hardly recognize, yellow
and withered, and they show him the picture
of the little girl they remember——
squinting into the sun, standing
in the doorway to the rest of her life, waving
goodbye, her jelly bread falling
jelly side down.
WHAT I IMAGINE WHILE RIDING THE FERRY
That all the sharp instruments are ready:
that he splits you at the sternum
that he spreads your ribs apart
that your body steams in the cold air
that he notices me in the room
that he puts the knife down
that he comes to me easily
the way saltwater would come
to a river mouth — licking
and lapping at the angle of repose
that he turns to you again
touches each rib, talks
into the tape recorder
lifts the small saw
that he hesitates
that he hesitates
that his decision is arbitrary
that his decision is tidal and lunar
that he looks toward me
that he closes you
back into your body
as a father closes the coat
a child against bad weather
that he leans down over you
that where his lips touch
they leave no scar
but leave a stain
that the stain spreads
wavelike and the wave
becomes a heartbeat
that he’s gone
and his tools gone with him
that you stand again
that you haven’t ridden in the boat
that you come toward me easily
like saltwater to a river mouth.
Jill E. Thomas
In the garden, things that make no sense
continue to make no sense.
I am there at dusk, a full moon rising
to my left, a full sun setting to my right,
watering the earth and imagining
I like to watch the puddle grow between strawberry
patches, to pull back the silver—green leaves
of cauliflower and find the white vegetable blossoms.
When no one’s looking, I water the weeds.
They’re thirsty too. My god is a drought
because I’d rather love plant life to corn height
and wheat proﬁt than kneel in dark cathedrals.
I can’t forget that I like the echo of those vaults,
the way stained—glass plays with light,
and even the painful silence of prayer, but out here,
there is a vaulted blue or falling gray and even silence is not
so silent: the hose is a healthy avalanche,
and ants cause earthquakes.
I could stare at compost for hours, watch it composing .
symphonies of earth-life from bits of browned food, weeds,
waste, But when does the change happen?
Maybe if I watch long enough, wet the shrinking mound
each day, I’ll see the molecular action. It reminds
me of trying to catch my bones
growing at ten while I should have been sleeping.
Here, compost gets smaller; it does not calcify itself,
But builds by shrinking into one heaving life.
I wish we could take things back to the molecular
level, take back the free-
way, the empty carpool lanes, the acres of parking
lots and be like mud: compact, nourished, stronger
when smaller, respected in age when the archaeologist
digs through the sediment instead of paving a new sheen.
Maybe that’s why I love mud: stepping in it, slinging the slosh,
feeling it dry tight under my nails because it’s rubbing
the past into me knowing the future sprouts here too.
Maybe it’s like the name that woke me up, the name
I gave to my small house plant, as if in naming it, I call
it mine and take responsibility for its water. August:
everything warm, orange, austere, wise to live but soon to die.
The name was like a challenge from my dead grandfather,
whose middle name was also that summer month, a challenge
to let life happen while I watched. But I’d like to be a part
of it all —— the future history and present misery.
So please, when I die, forget the casket, don’t bother with ashes.
Let me compose compost, my greatest creation,
like writing in mud.
I could start now, before death: next week I’ll put my ﬁngernail
clippings and all the hair from my comb in the bin.
In a few months, maybe a year — only the worms know — dead parts
of me will live again, will plant and let plant,
and if I’m lucky enough, maybe green will
push through the asphalt and ask me for water.
The dictionary one lover sends to another
Words of her language printed in bold
Interpreted for him in quick-take snippets
Hints on placement of tongue and lip
Pursings and sibilants, fricatives and gutturals
There is so much the loved one needs to learn
And unlearn—each foreign to the other at first
Each learning the life-taught language of the other
The words for breathing, food, and arousal
Habits of native country the town
She grew up in the book she sends
Small enough for hand
Still’ the miles of ocean between them
Fragile language of the heart the only
IF ANYONE IS KEEPING TRACK
This will go down on my list of sins:
running after you down alley after alley
while a sobbing shuddering woman
pulled stocking up, felt
for what the man had stolen,
hands moving across her back,
under her skirt.
I will dream of this always:
us walking home,
arm hooked into you, laughing,
then that noise
in the first alley on our street,
glimpse of a woman
man on top,
from the warm circle
we cast into the cold night,
turning towards our tearing-tuming-towards,
the noise we make as he
runs bag in hand zipper tugging up
the noise she makes
as he runs,
cold rushing in
as he runs
and you run
Searches hands under her skirt,
looking for what was stolen.
This will go down on my list of sins:
how the sight of wool coat ﬂying behind you,
your hair casting erratic halo-shadows
into puddles of hazy light,
my body straining to keep up,
were for minutes my life’s breath.
The woman’s sobs echoing,
begging: help, anyone.
Me running after you, cold, believing
if my eyes didn’t hold you however distant,
my voice not constant siren sound,
then my arms would never again
fold your warmth into stomach,
I will dream of this always:
my screaming —
running after you
down dark alleys where dumpsters
yawn colored mouths, swallow
your name and my voice choking on it ——
the cold bouncing a woman’s sobs
off my guilty breath ——
No one charging to our rescue.
If anyone is keeping track,
this will go down on my list of sins:
my screaming for you,
my selﬁsh heart,
when I should have been screaming
EVERYTHING, ANYTHING, NOTHING
We are thinking of
everything and nothing
at the same time because
anything could happen
I guess you think you gonna
wake up one morning and ﬁnd me gone.
You think you gonna wake up one morning,
A reach a search party of ﬁngers
across the mattress,
have to label me missing
from the caverns I’ve built in your chest.
You think you are gonna wake
and ﬁnd me there
but not, my eyes vacant,
lips kissing without touching you,
my words gone to ash
I guess you think you gonna wake up one morning,
find you are weight—less, anchor-less, hollowed-
I guess I am thinking I’m gonna wake up
one morning, turn, and hit a brick wall,
your back. I’m thinking I’m gonna
wake up, starving from dreams,
ﬁnd an Oklahoma of space between us,
my hunger a keening wind
that dies out before touching you.
I think I am gonna wake, ﬁnd you
frantic with a job you hate, laundry, jogging,
dreding your hair to another scalp,
tying up new love.
I guess I think I’m gonna wake up one morning,
ﬁnd myself cast off, sinking, heavy
with love you have
I guess we are thinking
of everything and nothing
at the same time.
mile-markers on a road
where danger sleeps
inside each curve, and we
the breath we share,
natural as skin.
We are thinking of
everything and nothing
at the same time
anything could happen
THE SEAHORSE BAZAAR
People gather at the wide-mouthed
jars ﬁlled with tapered heads,
bleached abdomens and tangled,
comma—shaped tails. One complete
husk, ﬁnely crushed, is said
to deliver sexual potency enough
to boil the self into an invisible gas,
ﬁlling the atmosphere of one’s lover.
The difficulty is finding one intact
among this hurried whiteness and
confusion of female parts
pressing into male parts. The impatient
buyers haggle over length and width,
the curl of head sections and broken
until someone spots one, a male,
and whole. The crowd appreciates
the slender head, its easy convergence
into a singular tip, like the brush
of a pointillist. The torso,
with its chalky, ceramic overlay, its kiln-ﬁred lattice
suggests knuckle bone,
rib bone, the human form turned outwards
and reversed. They scrutinize the stomach
pouch of the male, with its black wisp of birth hole
bulging with newborns in
The moneyed buyers push their way to the front.
The seller holds up the seahorse
and shakes it over the crowd. Calcified ghosts,
in their hurry to fill all transparent space,
rattle in the womb. Everyone looks up
with his porcelain face.
THE NIGHT GARDENER
Here is the body sleeping. The slender
hull ﬁlling and emptying. Here,
rain on the roof. Beneath it,
the window, the chair, the bed.
Then, the pattern
of the body, its shape and
form pinned to the outer dermis
of the night, the cold, the stillness.
Muddy tulips. A sliver of moon.
Here is the shape
the small of the back assumes.
Insinuation of color,
of knees, sinking.
Here is the color
occupying the narcissus, the petal,
the leaf, the root. Here, the form
of the hands, like a film
of dirty ice in the foreground.
The body sleeps inside.
The head, the knee, the hand.
Outside, the figure in the garden,
the air, the stem displaced,
the head-shaped outline, lifting.
FOR DOUBTING THOMAS
I was tired of the smoke
and mirrors. The loaves, the ﬁsh,
but not enough time.
Not nearly enough time.
What could I say to him, friend I buried,
when he woke and called to me
softly from the shadows.
G0 now. The business of faith bores me.
I could take it or leave it.
Understand, I touched his wounds
because I wanted to feel
his ‘warmth on my own hands.
If I doubted anything then,
it was humanity.
is what happens when men
dabble in magic.
Celebrity is a tree on ﬁre
and of the thousands standing near,
none is near enough
to lick the flames from your face.
Once the embers burning
above us were enough. I believe
he doubled back from death
to breathe home’s balmy air,
to simply stand in light
among us, gaping one last
time beneath the high heavens.
For this brotherhood
I lose a brother; I spit
upon the lot we’ve drawn.
So much for twilight spent ﬂoating
on the river, talking of women
we were not to love, and of their skin
scrubbed sweet as tangerines.
So much for nights passed
in the desert, drunk under the young
stars whose names were new. Once
my friend agreed: No one
could recognize each luminous body
across this broadening,
MEMOIR, IN CIRCLES
There is a sense of touch
transcending the fundamental
distinction: here, there.
I am paraphrasing myself here.
There is no such thing as an open
circle. We curl in, touching foreheads,
creating a closed circuit, inadvertently
falling asleep. His subsequent dreamlessness,
a sky cast over.
I am more out than the stars. My view
from the plane is that of one
traveling alone. Look
at the constellations now, noting
how the lines have changed over time.
We recall them differently than they are.
Any point set on the circumference
of a circle could be called the beginning,
the middle, the end.
Old English version: This is weird.
I don’t want my life back. My thumb,
small with the nail chewed to the quick,
is the same as his but scaled down
exactly one size. Modern translation:
This is fate. Peas still in the pod.
A green taste, reminiscent of cool water.
I’m wondering now if it was even
my suitcase I lived out of all week, folding
and unfolding. Where do I expect
to ﬁnd myself in all of these words
kept at room temperature. I have unleamed
the water from him by ﬂoating
on my back. Vertigo: The sixth sense,
we assume, if five is still touch.
He suspended me in the warm green
surface of the lake, his right
hand cupping the back of my head,
his left at the base of my spine.
My heart was light
in my chest, keeping me aﬂoat.
A column of clouds; a banister without stairs.
Think light: A blue freckled bird’s egg.
Think soft: Stepping out into the rain.
His grandmother is dead. Send the pale
roses with the pretty pink tips.
Meaning: Sympathy is inaccurate.
A name is not a name.
Helen-uh, never Helay-nuh.
We took our grief to the fireworks and sprawled
on the lawn with it, beneath weeping
willows of golden ash.
It was Independence day. From now on.
Until then I hadn’t noticed. There is a point
where even the clouds stop, exclaiming
“the sky, the limit!” Distance
that is mathematically sound.
My grandfather is dying. Turn your head
when you are ﬂoating
and put your ear to the water.
Listen. It sounds like a womb.
The body is your own.
You either reconcile it or it takes you,
frame by frame. Reconsider
that night the sun left without us;
we stood in the clearing looking out
as if the ship we had meant to board
had set sail.
We stood in the grainy darkness
watching the happened
sky. Becoming part of.
There is no such thing as an open
circle, or time, a closed circuit
that if blown could heal us to pieces.
Our books kept falling open
to the same scenes: A clear lack
of skyscrapers, a column of clouds.
The airplane windows, in my dream,
went blank as sheets of paper.
Then I woke. From now on.
A green taste, reminiscent of cool water.
There is a sense of touch.
POINTS OF INTEREST
BETWEEN MONROE CITY AND SLATER
There, into the green hills,
there, along the curve of the river road,
you can feel the old lay of the land.
Here is a house
that has given up to whatever will be.
People are in there.
The ages of the women,
a rowboat in the grass —
things look the same but are not.
You cannot explain these deft hands,
these childhood skies,
these unfinished conversations,
this face at the south window,
nor why they belong to the same place.
You understand the consolation
of these arching maples
on an ordinary afternoon
in utter reality.
Of a simple machine.
A thing seen coming from far off.
In the distance between them
are huckleberries in August,
is a silence that is not silent,
are pages in the cousin’s diary.
Seemingly at random
among the wild rye, the Vesper sparrows,
discarded moments lie where they fell.
They have a language
for a fence line,
an afternoon breeze,
a stripling becoming a tree,
the past arriving,
intimations of a journey,
but they cannot tell you what you want to know.
The thought stretches from spring to fall,
fall to spring,
seed clouds ﬂy on the wind,
again and again
the fir trees, the fog practice to be what they are,
the young father watches his father,
again and again
the blackbirds make their nests in the reeds.
SONG FROM THE ANTARCTIC
The day you were to be saved
dawns at sixty below. The sky
ices over, solid with cold.
You are left to ﬁnger the hot spot
in your breast, the place where
the cancer taps its ash. Above
this wildfire, your hand
is a slow satellite, each ﬁnger
an expert on you. Of second opinions,
you have ten. Of a way out, none
for now. You have x-rays
of a marriage glowing bony;
cracks threaded blue; biopsies
and test tubes. Perhaps it was
something you swallowed. A baby
tooth, snow pinched to a pea, all
of the pushpins on the map. Maybe
you gave the cancer something
to work with, work around and now
it rubs its twigs together, spins a fire
to whisk across your dry tundra,
to thaw the earth you thought too bare,
too cold, to burn ever again.
James J. McAuley
Castle the king and leave the queen exposed
To the knight who climbs like a spider on the file
Marked E. The plot’s fashionable for these vile
Fin—de-siécle politics, now composed
By the megabyte with lowly ones and zeros
Zapped through microchips with the effete style
Of a lizard snatching a gnat with its tongue while
Voice—Over preaches Darwin and the camera rolls.
Press Exit. Press Reset. Press Resume.
After the long ride west from the Caucasus,
Your captive, now your mentor, introduces
The older game: across the board there’s room
For the knights to take turns straddling the queen,
Bishops to bugger each other, the king to fondle a pawn.
Not how you would be thought of, your color
Being grey, silky, ﬁtted like a second skin,
Your hair ﬂecked with it. Now, hearing your way
Of saying iridescent while I read your poem
Three years after your death, I am compelled
To check you out in Ovid, Lampriere, Bulfin, then
A book of ﬂowers, where you’re discovered
On marshy ground, not grey exactly—in fact
A pretty blue-grey, a quiet type, a green cowl
To shelter the thoughtful inclined head.
.Not at all
The bright-winged messenger who’d drown the world
If ]uno put you up to it, but a quiet sylph,
Who could color the import of her message with a sly
Tilt of the head, those grey eyes steady, lips
Pursed, making a pretense of kissing. You could supply
So many ambiguities—gradations and streaks and tones
Of grey, green, blue—that for twenty years I saw
Rainbow, rainbow, rainbow where the sky
Lay on the wintry hills, weighed down with tears
Mnemosyne allows for you: ﬂower, messenger, poet.
THE ARCHIVE OF THE FUTURE
predicts the future, all girls know.
Here is how we choose our husbands:
crack the egg against the edge
of the looking glass, spill the white over the mirror.
You’ll see your future husband’s face.
Or the shape of a coffin. Or the body .
of a woman whose glance can kill a man,
curdle milk inside a cow,
turn churned butter into a sheet of wool.
2. The Body of the Accused Bridget Bishop is Due to be Examined
by the Magistrate of Salem Village at 6 o’clock in the Meeting
House on the Communion Table
The goodwives of Salem Village whisper what their husbands told:
She pinched. She bit
till a bruise blossomed beneath his skin,
purple petals spread up to the sky like ﬁngers.
In bed in the motel we stop spinning to remember.
The last night before I left
I climbed on top of you as if I could weigh you down
with my own body,
as if my hands were stones pressing you into the ground.
My breath stopped.
My throat choked.
I wanted to prove to you that I’d come back.
In the archive, in the bottom of a box
I find the goodwife and man
side by side in miniature,
painted into a frame
the size of a child’s hand.
The past comes back.
The pages of the book open on the table.
Memory is a warning, a winding sheet
the woman in the doorway drops
to show her body to the man
as their future breaks across the glass.