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About this poet

Katie Ford is the author of Blood Lyrics (Graywolf Press, 2014), Colosseum (Graywolf, 2008), and Deposition (Graywolf Press, 2002). She is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Levis Reading Prize. She teaches creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.

Colosseum

Katie Ford
I stared at the ruin, the powder of the dead 
now beneath ground, a crowd 
assembled and breathing with 
indiscernible sadnesses, light 
from other light, far off 
and without explanation. Somewhere unseen 
the ocean deepened then and now 
into more ocean, the black fins 
of the bony fish obscuring 
its bottommost floor, carcasses of mollusks 
settling, casting one last blur of sand, 
unable to close again. Next to me a woman, 
the seventeen pins it took to set 
her limb, to keep every part flush with blood. 


*


In the book on the ancient mayfly
which lives only four hundred minutes 
and is, for this reason, called ephemeral,
I couldn't understand why the veins laid across 
the transparent sheets of wings, impossibly 
fragile, weren't blown through in their half-day 
of flight. Or how that design has carried the species 
through antiquity with collapsing
horses, hailstorms and diffracted confusions of light.  


*


If I remember correctly what's missing 
broke off all at once, not into streets 
but into rows portioned off for shade as it
fell here, the sun there 
where the poled awning ended. Didn't the heat 
and dust funnel down 
to the condemned as they fought 
until the animal took them completely? Didn't at least one stand  
perfectly still?


*



I said to myself: Beyond my husband there are strange trees 
growing on one of the seven hills. 
They look like intricately tended bonsais, but 
enormous and with unreachable hollows. 
He takes photographs for our black folios, 
thin India paper separating one from another.  
There is no scientific evidence of consciousness 
lasting outside the body. I think when I die 
it will be completely. 


*


But it didn't break off all at once. 
It turns out there is a fault line under Rome 
that shook the theater walls 
slight quake by quake. After the empire fell
the arena was left untended 
and exotic plants spread a massive overgrowth, 
their seeds brought from Asia and Africa, sewn accidentally
in the waste of the beasts. 
Like our emptying, then aching questions,
the vessel filled with unrecognizable faunas. 


*


How great is the darkness in which we grope, 
William James said, not speaking of the earth, but the mind 
split into its caves and plinth from which to watch
its one great fight. 

And then, when it is over, 
when those who populate your life return
to their curtained rooms and lie down without you,    
you are alone, you 
are quarry. 


*


When the mayflies emerge it is in great numbers
from lakes where they have lived in nymphal skins 
through many molts. At the last  
a downy skin is shed and what proofed them 
is gone. Above water there is 
nothing for them to feed on—

they don't even look, except for each other.

They form hurried swarms in that starving, sudden hour
and mate fully. When it is finished it is said 
the expiring flies gather beneath boatlights 
or lampposts and die under them minutely, 
drifting down in a flock called snowfall. 


*


Nothing wants to break, but this wanted to break,
built for slaughter, open arches to climb through,
lines of glassless squares above, elaborate 
pulleys raising the animals on platforms
out of the passaged darkness. 

When one is the site of so much pain, one must pray
to be abandoned. When abandonment is 
that much more—beauty and terror 
before every witness and suddenly 
you are not there. 

Copyright © 2008 by Katie Ford. Reprinted from Colosseum with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Copyright © 2008 by Katie Ford. Reprinted from Colosseum with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Katie Ford

Katie Ford

Katie Ford is the author of Blood Lyrics (Graywolf Press, 2014), Colosseum (Graywolf, 2008), and Deposition (Graywolf Press, 2002). She is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Levis Reading Prize. She teaches creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.

by this poet

poem
Despair is still servant
to the violet and wild ongoings
of bone. You, remember, are 
that which must be made 
servant only to salt, only 
to the watery acre that is the body
of the beloved, only to the child
leaning forward into 
the exhibit of birches 
the forest has made of bronze light
and snow. Even as the
poem

Morning opens with the comforts of my unbeaten body
a tinkerer’s stack of quiltings and cannings the cloth finch

half-attached to a mobile of warblers and wrens
in the meantime my country sends post to mothers and fathers

back again fly a trinity of boys
with their throats torn

poem
I began to see things in parts again,
segments, a pen drawn against the skin
to show where to cut, lamppost through the stained glass
with its etchings of light against the wall —
it was the middle of the night. It was something we would tell no one:
The hospital roads with standing water, I drove quickly