Be careful if you take this flower into your house. The 
peony has a thousand lips. It is pink and white like the lady’s 
skirt and smells sharp and sweet as cinnamon. There are a 
thousand ants living inside but you will only see one or two at 
a time. I am like that down there--pink and busy inside. The 
dark is a bolt of cloth, crushed and blue, and I unfurl against it. 
If you lie down on the floor of the closet the hems of silk will 
lick you. My own gown is thin as the skin of dried grass so I 
can see the ants dancing down there. The night has big paws. 
I imagine the wool of the bears, the cloth of monkeys. the night 
smells like vetiver and cedar. His mouth is cool with mint and 
warm with rum, and I am not afraid as he rubs his wool against 
me. I saw the bear dancing at the circus when I was small. He 
was wearing a green felt cap with gold bric-a-brac and kept by 
a thin wire thread. My brother bought me a sucker for the train 
ride home, and I am like that now on the inside, burning soft 
with lemon. What fruit do you like best? I like tangerines. 
And the night leaves me these. A small paper bag on the bedside 
table. The wrought iron and roses like an altar. I am glowing now. 
My teeth are stitching kisses to my fist. I go to the river. My legs 
are frogs legs. Tiny wands, see how they glisten. A thousand fish 
swim through me. I am a boat now. I know no anchor. My hair 
unfurls, copper and cinnamon. Look how it opens, beautiful world. 


They are everywhere--those sunflowers with the coal heart center. They riot 
without speaking, huge, wet mouths caught at half-gasp, half-kiss.
Flowers she promises I’ll grow into, sweet gardener,
long luminous braids I’d climb like ladders, freckles scattered 
across our shoulders in a spell of pollen. She’s sleeping there--on that table
with its veneer slick as a glass coffin. She’s fed us fiddleheads, the tine fists
of Brussels sprouts, cupcakes, even the broken song of the deer’s neck. Singing.
Flowers everywhere. In my bedroom chaste daisies and the vigilance
of chrysanthemums. Dirt under my nails, pressing my cheek to the shag rug
with its million fingers. You could lose anything: a tooth, Barbie’s shoe,
this prayer. She loves me. She loves me not. I stare at my reflection, 
a posy of wishes. Morning glory, nightshade, tulip, rhododendron.
In this poem I would be the Wicked Witch and she Snow White. Waiting.
My father talks to me about their lovemaking. My mouth empty
as a lily. I try to remember the diagram. Which is the pistil?
Which is the stamen? Roads of desire circle our house: Lost Nation Severance,
Poor Farm. Branches catch the wings of my nightgown.
There is a crow and the smell of blackberries. 


Tiny jewels of sand and salt spill from her mouth. Her lips lie like cloistered nuns. But her ears—they open like lilies. And suddenly all around her there are songs being sung. New notes slick and green, currency on everyone else's tongue. Her own was slow, cut from the wrong cloth, it hadn't been out on the town in years. When it slipped out it wore shoes of cordovan and danced the old dances like somebody's grandmother. There had been a book like the big screen. She had slept for years on pages of silk and sweet organza. Her legs opening fields of lavender and white space. And the babies. It's true she had wished for them. But this chapter she had wrapped tight, kissed their little heads and left them sleeping. She was prepared to be a murderer, to be the worst kind of woman if that's what it took. She would alter her best black dress and make it new. She would pray for red shoes. She who had chattered away inside her own mind through miles of salt and sea was not afraid to dine alone. She would go to the finest of restaurants and point to the menu. Her teeth would bite and her tongue would remember: asparagus, quail egg, tiramisu. When she cleaned her plate she would stare down into it like a mirror, the tiny pond where she had said goodnight to her two sons. It would blink back, her third eye. The city sparkles before her. Oh glory of glass, oh gloss of steel. Waltzing back through the maze of brilliance, past the park and public library, the lions purring, her teeth clicking, the alliteration of old avenues and boulevards, the constellations necking with the skyline, the chambers of her heart glowing now, her blood orchestral, the little cells, the millions clapping—the men she passes, their mouths itching Aren't you? Do I? Didn't she?


Needle to thread. Scythe to wheat. Foot to pedal. Hammer and 
sickle. Work, work, work. She has three sisters. At dusk she drinks tea. 
From the silver belly of a samovar. In the dark she drinks vodka. She 
takes a lover who smells of fresh meat and the pines. The hunt is on 
him, like his tongue on the crest of her sex. Like the little forest of 
white down on her breasts. On the nape of her neck. A hunger 
grows. Grows inside her. Note: She is not hungry for him. He is a 
symptom of that hunger. An empty cup she could keep replenishing. A 
clue: bread crust, apple core, chicken bone. Wishbone. Knowing three
 languages is a useless luxury in this town. A sort of unwanted 
appendage. A sixth finger. She can’t remember the Italian for 
window. She climbs the ceilings. The water spouts. She eats 
strawberries, using her lips like a blind girl uses her fingers. Little 
match girl. Little lamb. Little shoe. Black boot. Achoo. A little red 
wine? Red Riding Hood. All the better to see you with. To read you 
with, my dear. Follow. Over the river. Through the woods. To the sea. 
Knees deep in the salty water. To the island of Crete. To Tunis. To 
Florence. To Russia. To Moscow. Finally. Finally, you say, to Moscow. 
She will arrive on that page. That splendid stage of trajectory. Of 
destiny. Destination. She is splendid. Sexy. Oh baby. She is Little 
Miss Adjective. She will wear her best black dress. Sings a soft song 
when she walks. Syllables of silk, of organza and tulle say hush, we 
are almost at "The End." She wears a veil of Swiss lace. Real, they said 
about the lace she was wearing. Little accents, little umlauts, tiny 
apostrophes like snowflakes sting her cheeks. She does not blush. 
She makes the sign of the cross. She makes a date. With hunger. 
With the great black cloak of a train. But this time she doesn’t lie 
down. She refuses to make her bed. To spill her blood like children. 
She doesn’t set herself on fire. She won’t sign her name or spell you 
her secrets. She won’t uncross her legs. She opens her mouth 
instead. She opens her mouth and she. She eats. She eats it all: 
porters, nannies with babies, the tracks, the coal, the iron, the ore. She 
dines for pages, for chapters. Eating paper, drinking the sweet black 
ink, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. Then she eats her best black 
dress and so she is naked. And so she is huge. And it is you, it is you 
she is holding like an open book, well-loved, in her hands.