- 1950-
Liquid alignment of fabric and outer
                                       thigh. Slip.
Which mimics the thing it’s meant to allow.

of air on either side of the tongue whose meat
                                       as if
to thicken the likeness of substance and sound
                                       meets just

that plot of upper palate behind the teeth.
                                       And yet  
at normal speed the very aptness loses its full

“Salomé was wearing red pumps and the palest of
                                       pale blue
satin slips.” I would in my predictable girlhood
                                       have much

preferred a word I took to be scented like Giverny:
was wearing red pumps and a pale blue satin

It’s taken me all this time to hear the truer
which only wants a little lingering in the mouth
                                       to summon how it

thinks about the contours of the body. So the
                                       speed of it—
slip—and the lingering can resume their proper tug-
                                       of-war. The boy

they’d had the wit to cast as Salomé, both nude
                                       and may-as-well-be-
nude, was every inch presentable, flawless, as
                                       though one

might live in the body and feel no shame. No
forced to endure as they did the reek of the tidal
                                       Thames, our

predecessors took this for the universal object of
The history of the English stage right there in the
                                       slippage between not-
quite and already over and gone. And yes I
the part about predation the grooming in all of its
                                       sordid detail,

I was never half so fair as this but fair enough
                                       to have been
fair game. In a town with limited options.
                                       I’ve spent

more than half my life trying to rid myself
                                       of aftermath
so let me be enchanted now. Youth at a safe

More by Linda Gregerson

Narrow Flame

Dark still. Twelve degrees below freezing. 
            Tremor along
      the elegant, injured right front

leg of the gelding on the cross-ties. Kneeling 
      The undersong of waters as she bathes

the leg in yet more cold. [tongue is broken] 
            [god to me]
      Her hair the color of winter wheat.



Choose any angle you like, she said,
the world is split in two. On one side, health

and dumb good luck (or money, which can pass
for both), and elsewhere . . . well,

they're eight days from the nearest town,
the parents are frightened, they think it's their fault,

the child isn't able to suck. A thing
so easily mended, provided

you have the means. I've always thought it was
odd, this part (my nursing school

embryology), this cleft in the world
that has to happen and has to heal. At first

the first division, then the flood of them, then
the migratory plates that make a palate when

they meet (and meeting, divide
the chambers, food

from air). The suture through which (the upper
lip) we face the world. It falls

a little short sometimes, as courage does.
Bolivia once, in May (I'd volunteer

on my vacations), and the boy was nine.
I know the world has harsher

things, there wasn't a war, there wasn't
malice, I know, but this one

broke me down. They brought him in
with a bag on his head. It was

burlap, I think, or sisal. Jute.
They hadn't so much as cut eyeholes.

(Magdalena Abakanowicz)

Because the outer layer (mostly copper
with a bit of zinc) is good for speed

but does too little damage (what
is cleaner in the muzzle—you've begun

to understand—is also cleaner in
the flesh), the British at Dum Dum (Calcutta) devised

an "open nose," through which
the leaden core, on impact, greatly

expands (the lead being softer). Hence
the name. And common enough in Warsaw

decades later (it was 1943), despite
some efforts in The Hague. I don't

remember all of it, he wasn't even German,
but my mother's arm—

that capable arm—was severed at
the shoulder, made (a single

shot) a strange thing altogether.
Meat. I haven't been able since

to think the other way is normal, all
these arms and legs.

This living-in-the-body-but-not-of-it.


Sisal, lambswool, horsehair, hemp.
The weaver and her coat-of-manyharrowings.

If fiber found in situ, in
agave, say, the living cells that drink

and turn the sun to exoskeleton,
is taken from the body that

in part it constitutes (the
succulent or mammal and its ex-

quisite osmotics), is
then carded, cut, dissevered

in one fashion or another from
the family of origin, and

gathered on a loom,
the body it becomes will ever

bind it to the human and a trail
of woe. Or so

the garment argues. These
were hung as in an abattoir.

Immense (12 feet and more from upper
cables to the lowest hem). And vascular,

slit, with labial
protrusions, skeins of fabric like

intestines on the gallery floor.
And beautiful, you understand.

As though a tribe of intimates (the
coronary plexus, said the weaver) had

been summoned (even such
a thing the surgeon sometimes has

to stitch) to tell us, not unkindly, See,
the world you have to live in is

the world that you have made.

An Arbor


The world's a world of trouble, your mother must
                    have told you
          that. Poison leaks into the basements

and tedium into the schools. The oak
                    is going the way
          of the elm in the upper Midwest—my cousin

earns a living by taking the dead ones
          And Jason's alive yet, the fair-

haired child, his metal crib next
                     to my daughter's.
          Jason is nearly one year old but last

saw light five months ago and won't
                    see light again.


Leaf against leaf without malice
                    or forethought,
          the manifold species of murmuring

harm. No harm intended, there never is.
                    The new
          inadequate software gets the reference librarian

fired. The maintenance crew turns off power one
          and Monday the lab is a morgue: fifty-four

rabbits and seventeen months of research.
                    Ignorance loves
          as ignorance does and always

holds high office.


Jason had the misfortune to suffer misfortune
                    the third
          of July. July's the month of hospital ro-

tations; on holiday weekends the venerable
                    stay home.
          So when Jason lay blue and inert on the table

and couldn't be made to breathe for three-and-a-
                    quarter hours, 
          the staff were too green to let him go.

The household gods have abandoned us to the gods
                    of juris-
          prudence and suburban sprawl. The curve

of new tarmac, the municipal pool, 
                    the sky at work
          on the pock-marked river, fatuous sky,

the park where idling cars, mere yards
                    from the slide
          and the swingset, deal beautiful oblivion in nickel

bags: the admitting room and its stately drive,
          of the town's best view.


And what's to become of the three-year-old brother?
                    When Jason was found
          face down near the dogdish—it takes

just a cupful of water to drown—
                    his brother stood still
          in the corner and said he was hungry

and said that it wasn't his fault.
                    No fault.
          The fault's in nature, who will

without system or explanation
                    make permanent
          havoc of little mistakes. A natural

mistake, the transient ill will we define
                    as the normal
          and trust to be inconsequent,

by nature's own abundance soon absorbed. 


Oak wilt, it's called, the new disease.
                    Like any such
          contagion—hypocrisy in the conference room,

flattery in the hall—it works its mischief mostly
          The men on the links haven't noticed

yet. Their form is good. They're par.
                    The woman who's
          prospered from hating ideas loves causes

instead. A little shade, a little firewood.
                    I know
          a stand of oak on which my father's

earthly joy depends. We're slow
                    to cut our losses.

Related Poems

A Boy Can Wear a Dress

A boy can wear a dress
    by cliff or by
creek, by God or by
   dark in the caul of the devil.

A boy can wear a dress
    bought with a tin-
can full of cherries on the
    day of his daddy’s dying.

A boy can weep in his dress—
    by boat or by plane, he
can sleep in his dress,
    dance in his dress, make

eyes in his dress at the
    flame at the hotel bar.
Goddamn it all to graceland,
    how stunning he looks

in his blue cotton dress,
    just stunning! Nothing can
keep him from
    losing our minds, sluicing

my heart in that way he does.
    Nothing can keep him.
On the walk to his daddy’s wake,
    persons of rank may

question his dress,
    raise their brows at his dress,
so he twirls and twirls
    till his dress is its own

    unaddressed question, un-
veiling the reasons he
    wakes every morning, like an
x-ray for colors beneath

    your colors, your
zygote soul, your naked twirl—