My privilege and my proof, pressing your eternal skin to mine— I feel your fingers touching down on the crown of my head where I pray they remain during this life and in the next. The intricacies of your world astound me. You flickered through the rooms where my mother dwelt, when I was naked and formless as a seal, sensitive to the tides of her body. I did not come too early onto land, did not emerge until my days were written on the translucent pages of your enormous book. The great lid of your eye peeled back to see I was not yet whole. I remember today the day of my birth. Your words washed that which clung to me from the other side, bound to me the promised ghost. I was dipped and sponged, cut free, delivered as I was like a lamb lodged in his dam. Tears and pain were her price, and I was handed over to be wiped with straw. You built me, bone by bone, counting the hairs that would one day thatch my crown, building cleverness in my hands, weakness in my knees, a squint and a taste for cake. You showed me the dip of a man’s clavicle, arrow of ankle and calf, weaving in me a love of those bodies like my own, yet not mine. When you turned to your next task a shadow crossed the room stirred from the muddy banks rimed with ice. In the spot where my skull was soft it set down its stylus and inked a bruise— a scrap used to blot a leaking pen. Since then my mind has raced toward the brink, spun and knit and torn out the same silvery threads only to wind them up again. Still, the bargain you made without my consent has left me here to ponder your airy limbs striding through the sky, the red rustle of your gown. A season ago, I looked out upon the verdure of the small meadow below the house—boggy in parts— the pollard willows gnarling and sipping from gnat-speckled pools, the turkeys scratching under the sweep of green as it prepared to die back for another year, littered with mute papery tongues. You are easier to see when you denude your world with decay. And so I saw you there, flashed in the shallow water, parting the curtain of the willow fronds and warming my face with light. My mother and father call me and sing, sweet and tuneless, their voices worn down by your turning wheel. You have kept us together for half a man’s natural years, these last the tenderest as their bodies break and their minds dip deeper into dust to bring forth the features of distance. My day will be spent here, in the middle of things, feeding split logs into the stove, cats coiling through rooms as the snow ticks at the windows’ double panes. I will read a book with snow at its center, in a forest lost inside a forest in the north, the sun an afterthought in the darkest days of the year. I am thankful for all that buffers me from the cold, all that binds me to my clan, though I see a future strange and tuneless as I push forward into the mind’s blinding field of white.
Well, a great many things have been said
in the oven of hours. We have not been
shaken out of the magnolias. Today was another
hard day. And tomorrow will be harder. Well,
that sounds like our gong. But we’ll have
the boy’s birthday and we will have
music and cake. Well, I will think only
good thoughts and go up and talk to the rock.
C. D. Wright, "Poem without Angel Food" from ShallCross. Copyright © 2016 by C. D. Wright. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
The way clouds taste as they go from castles to rabbits above your head.
You are twelve, your skin damp from the humid tropical day, the grass
under your arms and legs benign even if itchy. The way a million stars
scatter at night, and you in jersey gown and bare feet seek the same spot
from earlier in the day to count far away incandescent rocks and tucked
behind your ear your secret wish to spot a single UFO. The way a slice
of tres leches cake on your thirteenth birthday surrenders in unison on
your tongue its sweet milks. The way at twelve you tasted marvel and
by fourteen you’d tasted war.
Originally published in Poetry Northwest. Copyright © 2016 by Claudia Castro Luna.
Once on a plane a woman asked me to hold her baby and disappeared. I figured it was safe, our being on a plane and all. How far could she go? She returned one hour later, having changed her clothes and washed her hair. I didn't recognize her. By this time the baby and I had examined each other's necks. We had cried a little. I had a silver bracelet and a watch. Gold studs glittered in the baby's ears. She wore a tiny white dress leafed with layers like a wedding cake. I did not want to give her back. The baby's curls coiled tightly against her scalp, another alphabet. I read new new new. My mother gets tired. I'll chew your hand. The baby left my skirt crumpled, my lap aching. Now I'm her secret guardian, the little nub of dream that rises slightly but won't come clear. As she grows, as she feels ill at ease, I'll bob my knee. What will she forget? Whom will she marry? He'd better check with me. I'll say once she flew dressed like a cake between two doilies of cloud. She could slip the card into a pocket, pull it out. Already she knew the small finger was funnier than the whole arm.
Naomi Shihab Nye, "The Wedding Cake" from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
I. IN WINTER Myself Pale mornings, and I rise. Still Morning Snow air--my fingers curl. Awakening New snow, O pine of dawn! Winter Echo Thin air! My mind is gone. The Hunter Run! In the magpie's shadow. No Being I, bent. Thin nights receding. II. IN SPRING Spring I walk out the world's door. May Oh, evening in my hair! Spring Rain My doorframe smells of leaves. Song Why should I stop for spring? III. IN SUMMER AND AUTUMN Sunrise Pale bees! O whither now? Fields I did not pick a flower. At Evening Like leaves my feet passed by. Cool Nights At night bare feet on flowers! Sleep Like winds my eyelids close. The Aspen's Song The summer holds me here. The Walker In dream my feet are still. Blue Mountains A deer walks that mountain. God of Roads I, peregrine of noon. September Faint gold! O think not here. A Lady She's sun on autumn leaves. Alone I saw day's shadow strike. A Deer The trees rose in the dawn. Man in Desert His feet run as eyes blink. Desert The tented autumn, gone! The End Dawn rose, and desert shrunk. High Valleys In sleep I filled these lands. Awaiting Snow The well of autumn--dry.
This poem is in the public domain.
From Some Say the Lark (Alice James Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.