–Tracy K. Smith
Spring comes forward as a late-winter confection, and I cannot decide if it advances a philosophy of meekness or daring.
This year’s snowdrops: is it that they are spare, and have a slightly fraught lucidity, or are they proof that pain, too, can be ornate?
Even a propped skull is human nature. And its humor is monstrous, rich with an existence that owes nothing to anyone.
Fat little pearls against the ice, battering softly, try even fewer qualities—
To say that you love someone or something to death is to hover around the draw of irrevocability.
More faith is asked of us, a trained imagination against the ice-white.
Sunflowers in the MedianEverything is a union of one kind or another.
Foothills know this. Highways too.
In the median—wild sunflowers for miles.
Cheerful, unassuming. They are no one’s bouquet.
My dad and I try very hard to seem at ease
with each other. We comment on the bison
stampeding across the casino’s electric sign.
Pixilated, their clouded breath leads them
again and again over an imagined prairie.
Later I will make this drive every day,
memorize little landmarks: the row of cottonwoods,
the peaked shelter at the reservoir’s edge,
the water towers marking the reservation.
I will become so sick of the sagebrush,
the snow and the sun, an incessant blue sky,
that I’ll wilt to think of this place being home.
But today it’s a morning I’m not sorry to be awake for,
so that’s something. And no one mourns a coyote
with his russet head resting on the road’s shoulder.
Neither does the ditch fire elicit sympathy.
The sunflowers did not teach me this,
but their small faces look so cheerful
bouncing in the slipstream of traffic—
I will believe anything they say.
HalfwayYou were between two animals.
Between two attributions.
At the crotch of a river’s fork.
At a loss, at least.
Between all losses, tendering alms.
By the skin of one’s stolen teeth.
The lethargy of one newly shorn.
To derive, say, attenuate, say
starved to a taper. A porousness.
False asphodel if aphasic, if sticky.
Vaseline-smear a focalization.
Ocean maw and mountain blade
recede. At last, at least—this. A figure
gathers line and edge. She is between
two roars. Who devours or drowns.
Say shore when you mean precipice.
Say split when you mean in pieces.
Redoubled at the jut of some far
becoming. Between, to say the least.
A shade and its absorption. To
swatch a sea’s phonemes, to score
what of light she keeps to let through.
Work without HopeAll Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—And Winter slumbering in the open air,Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,And Hope without an object cannot live.
sometimes i want to ask the earth,
was it beautiful here
or maybe you were lonely too
my nephew asks me why his paper airplane
never really flies from here
& i ask the same of our bodies
is it the vessel; is it the way that we’re made
was the sky all lilac & orange for you too
how many nights have i been
at this window & when did it become a door
lately, i’ve been dreaming
of catapulting to a bright moon
& all this grief turned to
to blue light
all this dreaming makes me wonder
if there’s always been a sky
in the air i am briefly starlit
What Bodies Move
–Kristene Kaye Brown
Let the world come hungry at me.
Let the hours learn the tender curve
of this neck. For so long I’ve wanted
to believe that I’m made of star stuff,
a glittering spigot
funneled from the blue spiraling arms
of our milky way.
the clap of hands inside my chest.
I swallow. The body
softening against it. Who hasn’t wanted
to climb atop a roof and jump,
prove we too can come back
like the tulips after a bitter winter. A small body
pulled from dark,
a city of animated dust. I believe
sleep is night’s apology for day,
dreams the only respite from dark. I dream
of fog, fog slowing morning minutes.
Another day drained. Still,
there has only ever been one setting sun,
one rotating light chasing one unreachable
for billions of years.
A small good miracle,
were I swallowed into a black hole
I could live without shadow. I could live
inside that sunless system of tunnels.
I would be fine
dying there. And still, there is the question:
More god or less?
Me, I could go either way.
I have been told
that nearly all the atoms in the oxygen
and the carbon in our skin
fell from the hydrogen furnace of a star,
which makes us less star stuff and more
weeds in a field of buttercups.
The Extravagant Stars
Everybody says the stars are dead.
By the time the light reaches us blah blah blah.
As if the light itself is not enough—
Or maybe everybody says most stars are dead? Or some of the people say all the stars are dead, and all of the people say some of the stars are dead.
Is the sun dead?
I don’t know. I can’t remember.
1 in 2 women can’t remember 1 in 2 things.
I have all these “facts” in my “head.”
These “claims” about the “world.”
Caterpillars, supernovas, the days getting shorter, longer again.
The riverbed. Our great confluence.
The buzz of that particular fly.
Did you ever get my postcard from Mexico?
Mostly, I write the same word over and over, and mostly that word is light.
I keep saying, it seems very unlikely that this will kill me.
But why unlikely?
Medically speaking, you have a 1 in 500 chance of being born with 11 fingers or toes.
I had a student once without thumbs.
I wanted him to write a poem about it.
He used his hands like lobster claws; he made me so sad. Or I was so sad, and he reminded me of my sadness.
He didn’t want to write about his thumbs, he said. Okay, I said.
Probably he wrote about outer space.
Some years after that, I had a terrible late-term miscarriage and had to go to a terrible late-term abortion clinic with terrible, terrible lighting. Afterwards, they gave me a rootbeer-flavored lollipop. I sat in a blue chair and sucked on my lollipop. I was an old woman and a little girl. I cried audibly. I was in my prime.
1 in 4 women this. 1 in 8 women that. 1 in 15 women thisandthat.
And yet, the death rate of stars is only one about every 10,000 years or so.
Meaning, the naked eye will probably never see a dead star. You’re looking into the past, yes, but it’s unlikely, though not impossible, you’re seeing a dead star.
Looking into the past is like sticking your thumb in the dirt of a Dixie Cup.
But a high-powered telescope changes everything.
I think what I’m saying is: I’d rather live than not live.
When I was writing about my terrible late-term miscarriage, I gave a reading on the upper eastside. Afterwards, several women came up to me to tell me I was brave. So brave, they said.
I didn’t want to be brave; I wanted to be brilliant.
In hindsight, this strikes me as incredibly dim-witted.
1 in 1 women will look back on something and feel foolish.
Now, I will take brave any day.
I will take brave and fold it into my little kerchief and tie it to my stick and carry it to the top of the highest hill I can find, and when I get there, I’ll rest my tired legs, unwrap my little hunk of pie from its wax paper, and stare up at the brilliant, extravagant stars, knowing that they are not dead, not even one of them, not dead at all, but living, pulsing, pressing their light as far as it can reach.
Almost dusk. Fishermen packing up their bait,
a small girl singing there’s nothing in here nothing in here
casting a yellow pole, glancing at her father.
What is it they say about mercy? Five summers ago
this lake took a child’s life. Four summers
ago it saved mine, the way the willows stretch
toward the water but never kiss it, how people laugh
as they walk the concrete path or really have it out
with someone they love. One spring the path teemed
with baby frogs, so many flattened, so many jumping.
I didn’t know a damn thing then. I thought I was waiting
for something to happen. I stepped carefully
over the dead frogs and around the live ones.
What was I waiting for? Frogs to rain from the sky?
A great love? The little girl spies a perch
just outside her rod’s reach. She wants to wade in.
She won’t catch the fish and even if she does
it might be full of mercury. Still, I want her
to roll up her jeans and step into the water,
tell her it’s mercy, not mud, filling each impression
her feet make. I’m not saying she should
be grateful to be alive. I’m saying mercy
is a big dark lake we’re all swimming in.
It’s not pointless to love,
Just like training snakes, it calls for
a refined technique and losing our shame
of performing in front of the world in loincloths.
And nerves of steel.
But loving is a job
with benefits, too: its liturgy soothes
the idleness that maddens—as Catullus knew—
and ruined the happiest cities.
Under the tightrope there stretches—don’t ask
for a net, it’s not possible—another rope,
so loose, but ultimately
so pointless at times,
below which there is nothing.
windows that air out your anger and show
to your night other nights that are different, and like that
only love saves us at last from the grip
of the worst danger we know of:
to be only–and nothing else—ourselves.
This is why,
now that everything is said and I have
a place in the country of blasphemy,
now that the pain of making words
from my own pain
has crossed the thresholds
I need from your love an anesthetic;
come with your morphine kisses to sedate me,
come encircle my waist with your arms,
making a life preserver, to keep the lethal weight
of sadness from drowning me;
come dress me in the clothes of hope—I almost
had forgotten a word like that—,
even if they fit me big as on a child
wearing his father’s biggest shirt;
come supervise my oblivion and the gift of unconsciousness;
come protect me—my worst enemy
and most tenacious—, come make me a haven
even if it’s a lie
—because everything is a lie
and yours is merciful—;
come cover my eyes
and say it passed, it passed, it passed,
—even if nothing passed, because nothing passes—,
And if nothing will free us from death
at least love will save us from life.