At a Deli Counter in Vermont

Your ride home complains      the grocery store is freezing
they’d rather wait outside       the burly guy
with the walrus stache asks whether you want your Italian
with the works              You’re not sure what that means

So you ask and he tells you    laboriously surprised
and also do you want tomato              thanks
you lean on the counter and focus     on condensation
the chill on your palm and forearm    and under the glass

the meats in trays and butcher paper beds
some sausages            sad stacked-up tongue
a leathery souse or loaf            so out of it

that when he wants to know if that’s your order
and calls out loud         Is that your order ma’am
you startle and then apologize            for taking up his time
but he called you ma’am          so you don’t mind

More by Stephanie Burt

At the Providence Zoo

Like the Beatles arriving from Britain,
the egret's descent on the pond
takes the reeds and visitors by storm:
it is a reconstructed marsh
environment, the next
best thing to living out your wild life.

                  *

Footbridges love the past.
And like the Roman questioner who learned
"the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg,"
flamingos are pleased to ignore us. It is not known
whether that Roman could learn to eat upside-down,
by dragging his tremendous head through streams.

                  *

Comical, stately, the newly-watched tortoises
mate; one pushes the other over the grass,
their hemispheres clicking, on seven legs
in toto. Together they make
a Sydney opera house,
a concatenation of anapests, almost a waltz.

                  *

Confined if not preserved,
schoolteachers, their charges, vigilant lemurs, wrens
and prestidigitating tamarins,
and dangerous badgers like dignitaries stare
at one another, hot
and concave in their inappropriate coats.

Having watched a boa
eat a rat alive,
the shortest child does as she was told?
looks up, holds the right hand
of the buddy system, and stands,
as she explains it, "still as a piece of pie."

Indian Stream Republic

No one should be this alone—
none of the pines
in their prepotent verticals,

none of the unseen
hunters or blundering moose
who might stop by the empty lodge or the lake

as blue as if there had never been people
although there are people: a few
at the general store, and evidence of more

in clean vinyl siding, and down the extended street
a ruddy steel pole the height of a child, its plaque
remembering a place called Liberty

at Indian Stream
, 1832-35,
between the disputed boundaries
of Canada and New Hampshire, meant

as temporary, almost
content to remain its own.
Each household, their constitution said, could possess

one cow, one hog, one gun,
books, bedding and hay, seven sheep and their wool, secure
from attachment for debt no matter the cause.

The state militia came to set them right.
The legerdemain of the noon sun through needles and leaves,
revealing almost nothing, falls across

thin shadows, thin trace of American wheels and hands
for such high soil and such short reward:
the people... do hereby mutually agree

to form themselves into a body politic
by the name of Indian Stream, and in that capacity
to exercise all the powers of a sovereign

till such time as we can ascertain to what
government we properly belong.

Silt

Things you know but can’t say,
the sort of things, or propositions
that build up week after week at the end of the day,

& have to be dredged
by the practical operators so that their grosser cargo
& barges & boxy schedules can stay.

The great shovels and beaks and the rolling gantries
of Long Beach, and of Elizabeth, New Jersey,
can keep their high and rigorous distinction
between on-time and late, between work and play.

“Since you excluded me, I will represent you,
not meanly but generously, with an attention
that is itself

a revenge, since it shows that I know you

better than you have ever known yourselves,

that if I could never have learned
how to be you, nor how to be
somebody you’d like to be very near, nevertheless

you could not do without me, or keep me away.”
 

Related Poems

Blue

Blue, but you are Rose, too,
and buttermilk, but with blood
dots showing through.
A little salty your white
nape boy-wide.  Glinting hairs
shoot back of your ears' Rose
that tongues like to feel
the maze of, slip into the funnel,
tell a thunder-whisper to.
When I kiss, your eyes' straight
lashes down crisp go like doll's
blond straws.  Glazed iris Roses,
your lids unclose to Blue-ringed
targets, their dark sheen-spokes
almost green.  I sink in Blue-
black Rose-heart holes until you
blink.  Pink lips, the serrate
folds taste smooth, and Rosehip-
round, the center bud I suck.
I milknip your two Blue-skeined
blown Rose beauties, too, to sniff
their berries' blood, up stiff
pink tips.  You're white in 
patches, only mostly Rose,
buckskin and saltly, speckled
like a sky.  I love your spots,
your white neck, Rose, your hair's
wild straw splash, silk spools
for your ears.  But where white
spouts out, spills on your brow
to clear eyepools, wheel shafts
of light, Rose, you are Blue.

Epithalamion

        For Nicole and John

     She drew a name full of winning flesh,
Victory, I mean, so that any Yes she has to say
     We might say is a Yes achieved happily all her own—

And he drew a name large as any god,
     Large as a wall in the center of the night, and as calm,
God in the most gracious, the tenderest way.

     To be, like them, in a tenderness now,
Chill as April; to feel ourselves, like themselves,
     In a communion of that sprung blood; and to trust

That in the dark, in even the wild, forbidding dark
     Which by fact must come, is no threat,
No sudden evidence to break and unheat—

     Then we’re complete. Flesh falls away. Gods do.
I will make a man out of you, says one
     To the other. I will make a woman. Isn’t that

What to say I choose you means, means I let go
     The name I held only for myself to step sharply into yours,
Into that bareness each for the other makes,

     Outside the old conceptions, the old laws,
No she, no he—but together you become a single self
     That spans the sense of the imagination,

Wiser than the oldest language, which is love,
     More patient than the deepest song.  

from "feeld"

        bieng tran is a unique kinde off organe / i am speeching

        materialie / i am speeching abot hereditie / a tran

        entres thru the hole / the hole glomes inn the linden / a

        tran entres eather lik a mothe / wile tran preceds esense

        / her forme is contingent on the feeld / the maner sits

        cis with inn a feeld / wee speeche inn 2 the eather / wile

        the mothe bloomes / the mothe bloomes inn the yuca