Shadowbox

That night the air stank, the stars obscured behind wild horses
of clouds. I walked on cobblestones on the edge of something

I could not name: new land of unalterable decisions
like a retinue of assassins coming right for me, who kept coming

in a bad dream that dissolved like a black-and-white movie, the dark
mouth enveloping the entire screen. The End. Then the aftermath

like a heroin addict waking up in the overgrowth of a river path,
no longer young. There are nights that pummel your life, chart

an alternate course unasked for and colorless—the way it was
the first time you encountered the one ready to eat out your  heart—

an innocent remark—a joke about ocelots or the weeds of purple carrots.
That night I was caught in a before and after, an unsayable horror film

of half-lives as we hipswayed and grunted along the Seine.
When someone passed us, their teeth shone like those of a vampire

happy with the waste of the world. Ready to drink it in. My body
was four months pregnant, crossing over to a nightmared path

of no return. But isn’t this the truth of every moment?
To revise our lives into the I belong—to this tribe of the unreliable

narrators, luminous in our stories and in our squalor.

More by Susan Rich

Boketto

Outside my window it’s never the same—
some mornings jasmine slaps the house, some mornings sorrow.

There is a word I overheard today, meaning lost
not on a career path or across a floating bridge:

Boketto—to stare out windows without purpose.
Don’t laugh; it’s been too long since we leaned

into the morning: bird friendly coffee and blueberry toast. Awhile
since I declared myself a prophet of lost cats—blind lover

of animal fur and feral appetites. Someone should tag
a word for the calm of a long marriage. Knowledge

the heat will hold, and our lights remain on— a second
sight that drives the particulars of a life: sea glass and salt,

cherry blossoms and persistent weeds. What assembles in the middle
distance beyond the mail truck; have I overlooked oceans,

ignored crows? I try to exist in the somehow, the might still be—
gaze upward to constellations of in-between.
 

To the New Journal

 
after W. S. Merwin
 
 
Let’s just listen—  
 
before the spent words and the hidden nests
of sentences begin, before the musical count
 
of vowels and consonants, the ink
 
not yet slippery with wild grief
or souped-up grandeur.
 
I wish to arrange you—
 
with a few half-formed couplets—
inquiries without answers.
 
But what can we do? These mountains are still
 
young and rising, I write. Yet,
even the fields call to an orchestra of stars.
 
Even the birds sing to-do lists.

Still Life with Ladder

Today, the sky saved my life
caught between smoked rum and cornflower.
Today, there is a color I can’t name cruising past

the backdoor – it is the idea of color.
Cloudscapes evaporate like love songs
across lost islands, each a small bit coin of thought.

Today, I am alive and this is a good thing—

clams in the half shell, a lemon rosemary tart.
I live in the day and the day lives past me.
If I could draw a map of the hours, a long

horizon would travel on indefinitely ~ a green, backlit thread.

The sky? It is never the same – it is sour milk
and whipped cream, a sketchbook and flour-dusted jeans.
Today, I am in love with the sky.

It doesn’t care if my father is dead,
or that I live by myself with his Masonic watch.
I sew time with my mother’s button jar.

I’ve improvised my life ~ let the sky pull the strings.

Tonight, I will borrow the golden ladder from the orchard,
travel from this sphere into the next and expunge
the leftover sadness of the hemispheres, to move beyond

the beyond which is here, present, alive in this hyacinth room;

time leaps over itself, after and out of the tangled past
over shadows of weather falling across a back window~
to forgive one another; to try once more to live it right.

Related Poems

Dirt Being Dirt

The orchard was on fire, but that didn’t stop him from slowly walking
straight into it, shirtless, you can see where the flames have
foliaged—here, especially—his chest. Splashed by the moon,
it almost looks like the latest proof that, while decoration is hardly
ever necessary, it’s rarely meaningless: the tuxedo’s corsage,
fog when lit scatteredly, swift, from behind—swing of a torch, the lone
match, struck, then wind-shut…How far is instinct from a thing
like belief? Not far, apparently. At what point is believing so close
to knowing, that any difference between the two isn’t worth the fuss,
finally? A tamer of wolves tames no foxes, he used to say, as if avoiding
the question. But never meaning to. You broke it. Now wear it broken.