This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.
She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.
She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.
I leave myself about, slatternly,
bits of me, and times I liked:
I let them go on lying where
they fall, crumple, if they will,
I know fine how to make them walk
and breathe again. Sometimes at night,
or on the train, I dream I’m dancing,
or lying in someone’s arms who says
he loves my eyes in French, and again
and again I am walking up your road,
that first time, bidden and wanted,
the blossom on the trees, light,
light and buoyant. Pull yourself
together, they say, quite rightly,
but she is stubborn, that girl,
that hopeful one, still walking.
“Yet Another Poem about a Dying Child”
Poets and parents say he cannot die
so young so tied to trees and stars.
Their word across his mouth obscures
and cures his murmuring good-bye.
He babbles, they say, of spring flowers,
who for six months has lain
his flesh at a touch bruised violet,
his face pale, his hate clearer
than milky love that would smooth over
the pebbles of diseased bone.
Pain spangles him like the sun.
He cries and cannot say why.
His blood blossoms like a pear tree.
He does not want to eat or keep
its ugly windfall fruit.
He does not want to spend or share
the engraved penny of light
that birth put in his hand
telling him to hold it tight.
Will parents and poets not understand?
He must sleep, rocking the web of pain
till the kind furred spider will come
with the night-lamp eyes and soft tread
to wrap him warm and carry him home
to a dark place, and eat him.
“The Hunt in the Forest”
How children think of death is how the shadows
gather between the trees: a hiding place
for everything the grown-ups cannot name-
Nevertheless, they hurry to keep their appointment
far in the woods, at the meeting of parallel lines,
where everything is altered by its own
momentum – altered, though we say transformed -
greyhound to roebuck, laughter to skin and bone;
and no one survives the hunt: though the men return
in threes and fours, their faces blank with cold,
they never quite arrive at what they seem,
leaving a turn of phrase or a song from childhood
and waiting, while their knives slip through the blood
like butter, or silk, until the heart is still.
The second-hardest thing I have to do is not be longing’s slave.
Hell is that. Hell is that, others, having a job, and not having a job. Hell is thinking continually of those who were truly great.
Hell is the moment you realize that you were ignorant of the fact, when it was true, that you were not yet ruined by desire.
The kind of music I want to continue hearing after I am dead is the kind that makes me think I will be capable of hearing it then.
There is music in Hell. Wind of desolation! It blows past the egg-eyed statues. The canopic jars are full of secrets.
The wind blows through me. I open my mouth to speak.
I recite the list of people I have copulated with. It does not take long. I say the names of my imaginary children. I call out four-syllable words beginning with B. This is how I stay alive.
Beelzebub. Brachiosaur. Bubble-headed. I don’t know how I stay alive. What I do know is that there is a light, far above us, that goes out when we die,
and that in Hell there is a gray tulip that grows without any sun. It reminds me of everything I failed at,
and I water it carefully. It is all I have to remind me of you.
We carry the dead in our hands.
There is no other way.
The dead are not carried in our memories. They died
in another age, long before this moment.
We shape them from the wounds
they left on the inanimate,
ourselves, as falling water
will turn stone into a bowl.
There is no room in our hearts
for the dead, though we often imagine that there is,
or wish it to be so,
to preserve them in our warmth,
our sweet darkness, where their fists
might beat at the soft contours of our love.
And though we might like to think
that they would call out to us, they could never do so,
being there. They would never dare to speak,
lest their mouths, our names, fill
quietly with blood.
We carry the dead in our hands
as we might carry water - with a careful,
There is no other way.
How easily, how easily their faces spill.
In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking – they were both walking – north.
She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.
In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.
Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:
Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.
“To The Former Self In Art Class”
Hannah Faith Notess
You didn’t know the boy sitting next to you
in Watercolor 101 was going to shutter himself
in the car, stop breathing, break the heart
of his father and the whole college.
Let’s be honest. His cones and cylinders
were as lopsided, as badly shaded
as everyone else’s cones and cylinders.
When you hear the news two years later,
you search your own tatty portfolio
for clues, sigh If only I had known—
but I want to shake you and say, You didn’t,
and anyway that phrase is a stupider knife
even than Ockham’s razor. If you went,
with your grey lens of knowledge, back to that
minute, you’d still be painting the same
burnt-out cathedral under burnt-orange blood
dripping from the sky, collaged with quotations
from The Waste Land. You thought it meant
you were losing your faith; but look, there you are
sitting in church, five years in the future,
wondering (like a good Protestant) why
you want so much to pray for the souls of the dead.
In fact, you could go back and forth enough
times to wear a rut in the floor of time,
but your awkward brushstrokes would still paint
the same cathedral that lists to the left. You’d still
stay up all night in agony over the alchemical
substance of the soul. Your grand attempts
at phthalo yellow sunrises would still turn murky,
while the same boy sat silent beside you,
washing the globe of an apple with quinacridone
gold, shading it with Payne’s grey,
the same dark worm asleep on his heart.
“A Sad Child”
You’re sad because you’re sad.
It’s psychic. It’s the age. It’s chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep.
Well, all children are sad
but some get over it.
Count your blessings. Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun,
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favourite child.
My darling, when it comes
right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you’re trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car,
and the red flame is seeping out of you
and igniting the tarmac beside your head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we all are.
“There She Is”
When I go into the garden, there she is.
The specter holds up her arms to show
that her hands are eaten off.
She is silent because of the agony.
There is blood on her face.
I can see she has done this to herself.
So she would not feel the other pain.
And it is true, she does not feel it.
She does not even see me.
It is not she anymore, but the pain itself
that moves her. I look and think
how to forget. How can I live while she
stands there? And if I take her life
what will that make of me? I cannot
touch her, make her conscious.
It would hurt her too much.
I hear the sound all through the air
that was her eating, but it is on its own now,
completely separate from her. I think
I am supposed to look. I am not supposed
to turn away. I am supposed to see each detail
and all expression gone. My God, I think,
if paradise is to be here
it will have to include her.
From “Little Gidding”
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
One must be brave to live through
a day. What remains
is nothing but the pleasure of longing—very precious.
purifies as does flying, strengthens as does an effort,
it fashions the soul
fashions the belly.
It is like an athlete, like a runner
who will never
stop running. And this
gives him endurance.
is nourishing for the strong.
It is like a window
on a high tower, through which
blows the wind of strength.
Virginity of happiness.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Now is my misery complete, and namelessly
it fills me up. I stare here as the stone’s
Hard as I am, I know one thing:
You had grown up -
…… and had grown up
so that, as to much pain
and quite beyond the grasping of my heart,
you should stand out.
Now you lie straight across my lap,
now I can no longer any more
A night drive to Ein Yahav in the Arava Desert,
a drive in the rain. Yes, in the rain.
There I met people who grow date palms,
there I saw tamarisk trees and risk trees,
there I saw hope barbed as barbed wire.
And I said to myself: That’s true, hope needs to be
like barbed wire to keep out despair,
hope must be a mine field.
“Island of the Raped Women”
There are no paved roads here and all of the goats
are well-behaved. Mornings, beneath thatched shelters,
we paint wide-brimmed straw hats. We paint them
inside and outside. We paint very very fast. Five
hats a morning. We paint very very slow. One hat
a week. All of our hats are beautiful and we all look
beautiful in our hats. Afternoons, we take turns:
mapping baby crabs moving in and out of sand, napping,
baking. We make orange and almond cake. This requires
essence and rind. Whipped cream. Imagination.
We make soft orange cream. This requires juice
of five oranges and juice of one lemon. (Sometimes
we substitute lime for the lemon. This is also good.)
An enamel lined pan. Four egg yolks and four ounces
of sugar. This requires careful straining, constant
stirring, gentle whisking. Watching for things not
to boil. Waiting for things to cool. We are good
at this. We pour our soft orange cream into custard
cups. We serve this with sponge cake. Before
dinner, we ruffle pink sand from one another’s hair.
This feels wonderful and we pretend to find the results
interesting. We all eat in moderation and there is no
difficulty swallowing. We go to bed early. (Maybe, we
even turn off lights. Maybe, we even sleep naked. Maybe.)
We all sleep through the night. We wake eager from dreams
filled with blue things and designs for hats.
At breakfast, we make a song, chanting our litany
of so much collected blue. We do not talk of going
back to the world. We talk of something else
sweet to try with the oranges: Sponge custard.
Served with thick cream or perhaps with raspberry sauce.
We paint hats. We paint hats.
Insatiable April, trees in place,
in their scraped-out place,
Their red branch areas,
green shoot areas (shock),
river, that one.
I surprised a goose and she hissed.
I walk and walk with cold hands.
Back at the house it is filled with longing,
nothing to carry longing away.
I look back over my life.
I try to find analogies.
There are none.
I have longed for people before, I have loved people before.
Not like this.
It was not this.
Give me a world, you have taken the world I was.