Fort Night

The snake is 
a sleeve the deer 

puts on, its mouth 
a beaded cuff 

in the haze men 
make of morning 

with each release 
of their fist-gripped 

guns. Is this a dream 
of shame? Is this 

a dream of potential
unmet, of possibility 

undone? School, 
no pants. Brush, 

no teeth. Podium, 
no poems. Open

door, all wall. 
Dear Monster,

none of the guests 
we disinvited arrive. 

In the darkness 
no lion comes.

More by Lisa Olstein

[white spring]

I am working on a specimen so pale it is like staring at snow from the bow of a ship in fog. I lose track of things—articulation of wing, fineness of hair—as if the moth itself disappears, but remains as an emptiness before me. Or, from its bleakness, the subtlest distinctions suddenly increase: the slightest shade lighter in white begins to breathe with a starkness that’s arresting and the very idea of color terrifies. It has snowed and the evening is blue. The herders look like buoys, like waders the water has gotten too deep around. They’ll have to swim in to shore. Their horses are patient. They love to be led from their stalls. They love to sharpen their teeth on the gate. They will stand, knees locked, for hours.

Where the Use of Cannon Is Impractical

Stranger, mislaid love, I will
sleepwalk all night not girlish
but zombie-like, zombie-lite
through the streets in search of
your arms. Let’s meet at dawn
in the park to practice an ancient art
while people roll by in the latest
space-age gear blank as mirrors
above the procedure in the stainless
steel theaters where paper-gowned
we take ourselves to take ourselves
apart. Tap-tap-spark. So little blazes.
Cover the roofs with precision hooves.
Push back the forest like a blanket.
A bird the right color is invisible,
only movement catches the eye.
My most illustrious Lord, I know
how to remove water from moats
and how to make an infinite number
of bridges. Here we are at the palace.
Here we are in the dark, dark woods.

Run Every Race as if It’s Your Last

as you round the bend
keep the steel and mouse-skinned
rabbit front left center
and the track and the crowd
and its cries are a blurred ovation
as you stumble and recover
and then fully fall even if
only onto the rough gravel
of your inside mind or outside
in what is called the real world
as how many drunken grandfathers
holding little girls’ hands
and broken peanut shells go
swirling by why are you racing
what are you racing from
from what fixed arm does this
moth-eaten rabbit run
captive is different than stupid
near dead is different than dead
they call it a decoy but we know
a mirror when we see ourselves
lurch and dive for one

Related Poems

Bridges and Crossroads

WPA bridge over the Neosho I
Stood on it in full flood with my
Dad the water just
Kissing the underside of the boards the
River moans shivering up my legs it stood until a
Flood licked out the
Footings they
Replaced it but when I dream the Neosho the old bridge is there

They took the zinc out until they hit the
Daylight of 3rd street you could
See the crack in the pavement
Looked like another pothole and there was
Sunlight in the mine
Sunlight just there with the
Dull ache of lead and the grim
Scowl of jack

Those cottonmouths know some songs too they
Know some fish songs and once crossing Tar Creek
Bridge a grandma snake got hit by a
Pickup and in her last breaths we
Drove up on her there like a burning
Library her songs falling away in curls
Taken by updrafts like smoke prayers near the water she
Looked me in the heart and whispered just the one secret

Animals Above Me

My neighbor cradles a coyote at the top of the hill behind my house.
She is screaming at me to stop being so afraid.
Then the keening yet ecstatic cry of our neighborhood hawk, and then
The plunge, the lift, the rabbit, crying.
Worst, the nightly dreams of the snake, huge, yellow and green,
On the high shelving in my old house, sometimes the bedroom,
Sometimes the dining room. The dream makes me sick
And I wake from it every night between 3:30 and 4:00. Comforting
Books do not comfort, so I get up exhausted and start the day.
Other neighbors keep telling me: as long as you see it, you don’t need
To be afraid. Then in the next dream, I cannot see it.
I am sick and afraid. I wake up again.
The bear straddling my maple tree, about twenty feet up.
Is he scared?
I am so sick of thinking about how safe I am, so sick of making
Animals carry all my fear. The human beings in our country,
Half, at least, live in terror. In our world, half, at least,
Terrified, desperate, sick with fear. I see it. I cannot see it.
I see it.

The Sleeping Husband

This massive apartment: a whole room left
Empty to air, where we used to sleep.
So many steps on the waxed wood, like off turns
On the dial of a lock whose combination one’s lost—
All decaying about me like empire,
The moldings moldering while I sit frozen
As a swan on the surface of a lake changing to ice.
Fruit flies and mosquitoes, a water bug,
Carpet beetles, the mouse found behind the couch
Months after it’d shrunk to a puff of fur:
Nothing to eat here but beer and more dark.
The shower where someone’s young wife died
In an explosion of epilepsy while he slept.
One wonders what he was dreaming then.
The same dreams we once made here, maybe.