Poems from 2001

I vowed to write More in 2001 than I had been writing for a while -- you know how that vowing stuff goes. What's frustrating about writing only once in a while is that you lose your knack, the wrists weaken, you may still know something really good when it falls on your head, but it's a lot less likely that it will fall -- that you'll dream of the snakes biting their tails in the first place -- and more likely that you'll get a mediocre draft that never adds up to much because the pulse of life never shot through it. Or something like that. Or -- even more likely -- you'll walk around for a day or two with a wonderful tempting idea dancing around in your mind, but by the time you sit down to write it you've either forgotten completely, or else there's nothing left of the diaphonous marvel you were coddling but a few dry splinters. Everything has its laws.

There are a lot of poems from 2001 that aren't yet finished -- I just wanted to include the ones that seemed to be done, not least because I've been seduced by the chronological narrative on these pages, the chance it gives me to pontificate, and (oddly unexpected!) the little buzz of authorship, knowing that a reader COULD find her or his way to it and check it out.

The neighbors' snowman has dwindled
to a lady, hips still broad against
the chilly sod, waist ever more slender
and neck thin as a swan's. Her head's
a delicate stopper on a sagging jug
as she gazes sadly at the lawn,
the path of jumbled concrete slabs,
moss-edged lessons she won't ever learn.

Spared for tonight
by another sunset, do you hear the geese
somewhere above the clouds,
the syllables of your death
dropping in hoarse cork voices?

Take that with you into the earth,
you who are built of the blood of the sky,
you who melt into unsalted tears.
We pass carrying warm bottles of wine,
our breath, our lesser patience in extremity.

I stay near the edge even now,
I never loved the risk
of temporary winter bridges.

I didn't know him, only knew
that he was the favorite son,
the favorite grandchild, smallest
smile in the family photograph.
What was he doing, calling the fishes?

But today I wait to see:
after the rain, the ice breaks up
into flutes, into icicles, and falls
in tiny armies into deeper water,
while the wind lifts the cold
from the lake and takes it up the street
into the city. Breathe shadow, all of you
who walk there, praying for spring.

As the ice dies it chatters "Nick Nick Nick!"
in crystal sugar voices, as my aunt
sings out to his lost body to float home.

The past catches in her teeth
like fluffy seed, the past flickers
whenever she forgets and smiles.

Like thistles, sharp to the step
or fingertip, reminders of ancestors
who bled in sepia. See,
her favorite brother has rejoined
the surrounding atmosphere, nitrates
a century old gone home to silver.

A path is worn bright on her cheek
from so many tourists' kisses.

Did you know that most of household dust
is the flakes of our own shed skin?
Most motes in the fading light.
I smiled when she said it, but I knew
I too would be going there before long,
when the case splits and the down flies.

I imagine them as bats
hanging head down, growing thick
in dark plum hidden places, wings
rich with my blood. (Bats don't
really drink the juice of fruits:
that is a tale that parents tell
to comfort children.)
Folded in neat as an accordion,
another organ, patient as the cycles
that thump through the calendar.
I'm growing my own lampreys,
fastening onto my innermost tissues,
personal lanterns of thick shade.
I'm pregnant with the process,
all of me grows into a womb,
settles in swelling immobility,
gags on the pomegranate seeds.

Almost pornographic:
watching you leave
from the upstairs window,
checking out your walk
as if I didn't know you.

Tight as a fist,
as a knotted tiger,
see my rubber lover
with that hurried bounce.
(He doesn't know I see --

or maybe he always guesses
just in case?) Knit and unknit,
stretch and swing. I can tell
from here how firm and rhythmic
you might be, tonight.

That less than a breath, that single space
from one word to the next, I keep
trying to spot that place, I'm seeing
stone and stone washed by some sea
and the goat legs of the poetess
who leaps lightly across (her hair
is full of wisps and dried dulse,
drifts from one word to the next).

That tie pale as apricot, spider-silk
across my face in the morning, invisible
in the shadow crossing the sidewalk:
and I meant to be lazy and take the car.
What is in that space from slab to slab
of stone or cement, before the moss
comes to green there or ants undermine?

What draws the root? I'm digging
in the sticky void, the glass abyss
of pauses before a cough or gaffe
(a fox paw): what's the beaded thread
from one word to the next except
the tick of time, the surf of pulse
rapid as pouring grains, or spread
in hesitation to wide and few
telegraphic dashes, stop and stop
as the pupils dilate, lips draw apart,

as a word hovers between two breaths?

The dogwood is chary of her blossoms,
while the apple stands dazzled, like a child
who is meeting the sun for the first time,
like a bride, every limb thick with petal
and scent.

The dogwood is a slow kind
of dancer, offering only this, and then this,
mere slices of richness from a religious waitress,
although each blossom holds the sun, each
with a perfect flake of flesh, a tipping platter
of fruits and treasures all bleached white
and embroidered with the palest threads,
balanced at the tip of each chosen branch.

The Queen was so desperate to sow
an heir in her belly, after years
of secret weeping and mocking eyes
at court, lowered as soon as she met them
(and rumors of her consort's wild oats
borne in fields less royal, but fertile),
while whatever it was that was secretly gathering --
how could she know? She also thought
the earth was flat. Then at last
something caught and began to swell.

The Queen went radiant and rejoiced,
had new gowns sewn and ignored the pain,
but nine months passed and the swelling
only grew; her face fell, sorcerers
were summoned, but after a few more months
and many leeches she died, along with the tumor
she had taken for the child so hard desired.

I read about this in a thick book
by a man who had studied History.
What a good job he did, duplicating
the nasty laughter of her contemporaries.
"Stupid ignorant woman! She wanted
so badly to have a child that she took
her tumor for a pregnancy! Ha ha ha!"

Who says wrists and ankles aren't still eroticized?
They're the first parts you can get to, the parts
most at risk even if you dress in all the clothes
you can think of, long sleeves, socks and shoes,
gardening gloves -- hey, I'm not a specialist.

Hauling on the big vines, using your weight
to master them, of course when they snap
you tumble into the little beginning sprouts
that you don't recognize. The next day,
or in three the first touches will appear
like slender irritated necklaces, puss
pearls on a fraying red thread.

Proving who is the true god of the garden.

Poison ivy is like sexual obsession,
it pulls all my body's attention
to those blistering organs of delight.
My body says, touch me there, touch
my ankle. Rub a little. Ooooooooh.

Three minutes later it's calling again
with every seductive swish of my skirt,
begging any passing hands, especially my own.

I was being so good, not scratching
the fulminating bubbles, in spite
of all the temptation: I was doing
what the doctor said, until
I went downstairs to put on the laundry
and stood for five minutes, head down,
in front of the dryer, scratching every bit
of available skin from the knees down
to the cold cement ground.

Weak woman,
leaky vessel!
Now I am seeping,
I must wear the red Letter.

Now that I am an initiate
I see it everywhere, the glossy
triangular eyes of its young
leer at me from every garden
and roadside in recognition.

All these years I didn't know
what might be out there to get me,
but now wherever I walk I keep
an eye out for that glossy leaf
and tendril, lurking at the edge
of the lawn, the soft touch
and proof of my angry imperfection.

The door is never locked,
but every time I walk up
I perform the ritual
of reaching in my pocket for the keys.

There is a blunt red Ares sex in you
(your vast brassy breastplate,
the thick soft cable that pulls you forward
when you half-wake in the morning) --
it meets the surface in the shape
of your warm smile and busy fingers
(a heat and tremor from some ancient fire),
but itís huger and it has no name.

It ignores my face and my desire
(that answering modern conflagration),
seeks hip and breast with the instruments
of your hands, I warm myself beside it
with care and a certain shake of my head,

for I know that when I am not there,
if I'm out of town or in the next room,
it is lurking in the pupils of your eyes,
still aiming its spears at Hip and Breast,
making arcane notches on its buckles
and pointing its bow to loose you
thither. So be a Hero, Father
of the Hero that I shall bear,
and then it will move along to another
Nymph, another Chapter.

Walking down the hall
I feel my shoulder blades sprouting
glowing golden wings, a slight syncopation
in each ankle, and outside the window
huge blood-red hibiscus unfurl their petals
and caress the window. A puff of incense
from under my heels. I am a threat
to work and order, I'm an ambulatory
question, an illicit hallucinogen --
Sibelan the tablet of something forbidden.

I have to stop this, people
are looking at me sideways.
I promised to finish This and That
by the first of next month, and class
begins at one-fifteen.

I put it down for a week,
I put it down for a month,
I put it down for thirty years
(with delirious breaks, of course,
from time to time). I have the habit
of being a serious person, and people
mean that when they say my name.

I opened the fragrant Indian box
where I tucked all those unkempt things
and found the drugs decayed to a grey
inert powder on the stained crimson velvet.
The hibiscus leaves were the color of tea,
folded into flat stacks. When I shook it
no bells tinkled, no more music resounded.

See how powerful I am, and what a success!
No other being could have crushed them so.

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