Peacock Island

From the island
he saw the castle
 
and from the castle
he saw the island.
 
Some people live
this way—wife/
 
mistress/wife/mistress.
But this story isn’t
 
the one I’m telling.
From the island
 
he saw the castle
and that made him
 
distant from power
and from the castle
 
he saw the island
and that made him distant
 
from imagining
what power can do.
 
The story I’m telling is
the war coming.
 
How can you go from
island to castle to island
 
to castle and not give
birth to a war? No.
 
I still can’t explain it.

More by Jennifer Kronovet

With the Boy, Outside

Twigs collect 
by the side of the path.

Wild flowers space 
themselves. Pigeons 

respond instantly to being 
chased. The ground rises

to the tree. If I look 
through the boy—to loss, 

to a future, to else—
nothing is enough 

to hold the ground 
into one place. 

This is your foot,
I say. But people don’t 

talk like that. 
I watch people gather 

their faces into 
thoughts I can’t 

hear. This is the space
between us, I say 

while waving my hands 
to make the distance.

On Translation: Celia Dropkin’s “My Hands” (Yiddish)

She had emigrated to New York when she wrote my hands, and I was in New York again again looking at my hands when I typed my hands. She wrote two little bits of my body on the next line. She had children at this point. I typed the words in English on the next line and didn’t have the boy and then did and brought two little bits up to the first line with my hands. In her time, ideas sat on different lines, but in mine—living against being shown where to rest. Is that me now or now? I decided now. 

*

She wrote that hands are two little bits of my body I’m not ashamed to show, and I said that and then said I’m never ashamed to show. Does not mean never? No. Yes. Never makes the positive of the negative happen. I change my changes using the following excuses: I’m more like her now. I’m more like me now. I’m now, and she was explosively then. 

*


She wrote my hands with fingers, like the branches of coral, and I typed that and then later typed With fingers—the branches of coral and went on shaving off the markers of distance to close the thoughts in me. I used to try to hide my strange hands, but now I want to touch everything I can.

*

She wanted to touch some things she probably shouldn’t have. She wrote a word that was impossible to find in any Yiddish dictionary, but was found in a French one. Fingers were like the thoughts of blank question mark are now the thoughts of a nymphomaniac. She reached and reached outside of her tongue so her hands could reach away from her life in words. I typed nymphomaniac as myself and then again as myself as her and met her there reaching toward her hands.

*

My Hands 

My hands, two little bits
of my body I'm never
ashamed to show. With fingers—
the branches of coral,
fingers—two nests
of white serpents,
fingers—the thoughts
of a nymphomaniac.

Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897–1941)

Whorf worked in insurance, studied the causes of fires in the files: faulty wiring, lack of air spaces, a problem of materials. 

Additional patterns emerged: Workers took great care around gasoline drums, but not around empty gas drums. 

Empty: put your hand in there. Can you feel anything? When the night sky is empty there are still. When the mind is empty there are still. When drums are empty there are still vapors more flammable than gasoline. They are English empty—waiting for the spark. 

Limestone considered safe from fire because of the stone. Watch it burn. Watery can’t catch fire, but it does.

These discoveries become a metaphor about language—whip back to being language language. Language shapes experience and kaboom. We classify instead of swarming in the undifferentiated waters of the unsaid. Drown or the risk of fire. But when the habits of category fail: the burnt structure of there once was speech here—faulty. And paperwork, of course.

Related Poems

Earthquake Country Before Final Chemotherapy

For the first time tonight,
as I put my wife to bed
I didn't have to shove her off me.

She turned away in her sleep.

I wondered what was wrong with my chest.

I felt it, and the collar bone
spiked up, and where she'd rest
her cheek were ribs.

Who wants to cuddle a skeleton?

My skeleton wandered from the house
and out onto the street.

He came, after much wandering, to the edge of a bay
where a long bridge headed out—
the kind that hangs itself with steel

and sways as if the wind could take
away its weight.

There were mountains in the distance—
triangles of cardboard—
or perhaps the mist was tricking his eyes.

The instant the mist made him doubtful,
it turned to rain.

The rain covered everything. The holes
in his face were so heavy
he wondered if the water was thickening—
if he was leaching into them.

He panicked. Perhaps he was gunked up
with that disgusting paste,
flesh, all over again.

If I were alive I'd have told him
I was nothing like what he was feeling—

that the rain felt more like
the shell of a crab
than the way I'd held him.

That it felt more like him.

But I wasn't alive—
I was the ghost in the bridge
willing the cars to join me,

telling them that death was not wind,
was not weight,

was not mist,
and certainly not the mountains—

that it was the breaking apart,

the replacement of who, when, how, and where
with what.

When my skeleton looked down
he was corrupted

in the femur by fracture,
something swelling within.

Out of him leaked pink moss.
Water took it away.