Rachel Rose: Two Poems


Ars Poetica

It is hard won, it is fragile, it does not bring joy.
It holds water, it holds air, it is its own reward.
It is light as cobweb, it is tough as cobweb, it is barely visible.
It is hollow as a victory in the battlefield.
It is heavy as a baby’s coffin, great as a dolphin’s eye.
It beckons, it whispers, it flickers in the wind.
It is impractical, it is laughable, it wrestles.
It is free, it is precious, it speaks the sound of water.
It is mad, it is alchemy, it is fleeting and enduring.
It can be studied but it can’t be learned by heart.
It can be followed in the forest but only by its track.
It can be followed in the city but only by its blood.
It jumps fences, it embroiders, it ferries the dead.
It can’t be captured and it has no price.
It’s in the screaming alley, the ink-blot pines, the village well.
On the threshold of your pain you may find it
holding the door ajar like a rock
and if you do you will lift it, weigh it, curse it
and say it is not enough.
It is enough.


The need roughens in me to have love. The way the paper has tooth.
–Lynn Strongin

You roughened the need in me
the way paper has tooth
the way metal has rust
the way a song has bass
the way silk has warp and weft
to have love.

You silkened the need in me
the way a thistle has silk
the way a baby breaks teeth
the way chilled milk lifts cream
the way the sun pinks a berry
the way the moon silks the sea
to be loved.

I held a need in me
the way the match holds sulfur
the way the lamp holds kerosene
the way the eyes draw light
the way the tree calls lightning
and you lit it and left.

The need grew in me
the way yeast grows bread
the way a scream grows the chest
the way a baby grows the passage
the way a cut grows blood
the way a secret grows trust
the way a burn grows blisters–
till it burst.

A new path traveled in me
the way a ship travels the ocean
the way cattle travel trails
the way needles travel veins
the way robbers travel a highway
the way collections travel the church
the way rations travel to refugees–
and I stepped out.

But you came back–
the way a ring slips back on a finger
the way the cat turns in the window
the way an army returns with a truce

and as my abandoned wish came true
the need roughened in me to choose.

There was the path or the hearth
the heart or the hurt
the lie or the lyre
a new start or a new stillness.
There were the years or the yearning
the known or the unknowing.
There was the door or the wind–
and the wind, the wind had teeth.

I stood in that wild wind, blown and undecided
as Lot’s wife. I looked down that path in the roughened
dark, then looked back at you, pouring salt
in the fire. I stood in the wind, holding it all
in hand, weighing it. But you were not Lot,
we were not lost, we had traversed
flood and storm, you brought the cold in,
I carried fire on my back, we had come to the end
of the odyssey, swept up the debris.
Blown I came in roughened by love
and you met me with your mouth.

Rachel Rose is a dual American/Canadian citizen whose work has appeared in various journals in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand and Japan, including Poetry, The Malahat Review and The Best American Poetry, as well as numerous anthologies. Her most recent book, Song & Spectacle (2012) won the Audre Lorde Poetry Award in the U.S. and the Pat Lowther Award in Canada. Her poems were also selected for a 2014 and a 2016 Pushcart Prize. She is the Poet Laureate of Vancouver for 2014-2017. A chapbook, Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit, is out from BookThug, and a new collection, Marry & Burn, is forthcoming from Harbour. She is currently a fellow at the International Writing Program in Iowa City, where she working on a non-fiction book about police dogs.

photo credit: detail of Crystal formations? (license)