The year was a litany of complaint: I shouldn't have agreed to be the Book Review Editor, and why was I thinking that being pregnant again (Raian was born on December 25, 1999) would be as bearable as it had been ten yeare before? I know some people who can write wonderful poetry when they're poregnant -- all I can say about that is, "It takes all kinds."

Consumptive Muse

It's been poverty for a while, my dear.
Your waistcoat that much more threadbare,
your face that much yellower, and you debate
switching to cheaper tobacco or waiting
that much longer between cigarettes.
Your charming European tastes!
I wonder how much you regret
that choice to become an emigre
and to take up with the likes of me,
to dwell in a cupboard with hardly any language
and wait as patiently as good grace will allow
for me to come home and open the door
and give you a quick kiss of breath.

Sleeping beside an empty space,
a glacial crevice. The house spirit
howls softly at your absence,
your body detained elsewhere.
Missing. All my channels,
all the meridians, it turns out,
pour heat and energy
into that place, and my skin waits,
heart and the other muscles wonder
where is the habitual return
of warmth and succor?
I lie here pouring and flowing,
fingertips flowering, pausing,
chilling, until I'm as empty again.

I gave myself a fairy name after
sixteen long years of bearing God's numbers
and the white lace mantilla.
Some corner of my heart leapt
when I read it with my eyes,
weary as I was of wisdom.
And sure it sounds fair as a song:
a quick bell, a silken skein, the tongue
pauses ready for a kiss.

But I notice my soul is alone,
my story is naked, and my prayers
go streight to the core of the light
without intercession, my angel
still watches, but puzzles over what
to call in welcome or warning.

And why, having been so casually
bold, do I doubt it now,
and hew to habit,
wear sensible dark shoes
and shun abysses?

I was going to dance. I brought
the little light shoes, a flimsy top,
I fastened a bandage to the back
of my left heel.

Everyone has
some vulnerable spot, and mine
seems to be trying to limp along
when the sock has sprouted a hole
and ought to be tossed out, not worn
to work.

So I sat by the side,
I had time aplenty to ponder
all those old things that should
be discarded.

Material Culture

Wingèd words: their flock
across the cloth points as clear
as the spring geese's cuneiform,
yet every one, each sweet species
remains clear and distinct,
each bears its habitat, together
they utter the unfettered
confidence of the fourth day.

And tiny beads, the mute thread
that binds them into shape
and sense consecutive lies hidden
in deep folds of red velvet,
only the logic of their shades
changing, only the communal petal
or arm of a star appears
to the naked eye, snags the corner
of unattended ears. The woman
who sat in the corner of the exhibit room
told me: they're duller because
they're freshwater pearls.
The fishermen would gather them
and keep them soft inside one cheek
to bring them home, drill them
with a sharpened fishbone
and string them onto horsehair
(that ancient urge to ride beauty).

Their wives, she said, would meet them
at the shore, dignified in heavy
embroidered garments, mossy stones
in caps and earrings blooming
with the same mute tiny pearls,
voices chiming like treble bells.

The key to the magic pot and wallet
is never to empty them: leave a spoonful
of porridge in the corner, one coin
of bright fertile gold, and by next time
when the piper muse be paid, your hand
will come out rich again, the ladle brimming
the poor housewife's fantasy. Always
leave a bite or two uneaten on your plate
as a seed for the future, a tiny faith
that more can come from a little.
The wallet is what the hero wins
to advance his quest, a small sack
of leather closed with a cord.

My treasure though is a woman's chest,
a steamer trunk with a domed top
and hangers for a dozen gowns:
it swon't fit in a pocket, I must pay
the porters to carry it (will you take
a small silk scarf, my good man?), to move
is so expensive that I usually stay
and review th eriches in my garret.
And it too is never empty, I leave
the oval portraits of great-grandmothers
and great-aunts, it refills with muslins
and crinolines, its little velvet drawers
heavy with brooches and lockets, garnets,
pomegranates and grenades.

Infidelity to the place,
to the peace, to the circle
of odd luminous blooms
in the wood where I dreamed
of dancing. Since then
my legs are idel, the point
of my toes rubbed dull,
my voice rusty and breath short.
I don't even know
what would happen if I went
back there, if I tried.

And the idea if not the music:
my best theft, on a brash day:
leprechaun syllables, though ever since
I've turned and betrayed
them, and their place,
again and again, praying
that when I come to them
at last, hat in hand,
they'll still know me
by the glitter of my name.

Fragrant magnolias: milky white
kid gloves, dropping on the parquet
one finger at a time.

Today it's a dizzy blonde, loose curls
that turn honey gold as they slip
softly across your chest, as they gild
ancient phrases in the changeless
darkness of your own hair.
Today the wrists are so delicate
you could snap one with a careless
gesture, today, as you sip the juice
compounded from many blossoms
you'd never guess how soft tendrils
wrap around the youthful bole,
pencils, then snakes strain to the light
we will share henceforth, while below
a thickening stem compels the trunk
to join it in a corkscrew journey, bends it
to obedience and spiral compliance,
still whispering promises of champagne.

I always wished to be a latex vixen,
stretched taut and light bending
around every explicit curve: come close
and see your poor distorted face
in the surface of my breast,
desiring, but unsure: is ther a way in?
Any blow or glance would bounce
back: how badly do you want
to hurt yourself?
No, the only key is a secret combination
of heat and liquid oil -- plastic goddess,
no caress could pass my metal skin.

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