The socks came in a pack of five.
What is the most boring subject
possible? Translucent blue
with punctures pierced to shape
a star around the ankle.
I carried them along the aisles
as if I needed them. I fingered
lacquered dishes and the rubber heads
of mallets, crystal trinkets
stitched to underwear.
Wherever you go, this buffering.
A dull hour. All that time
I could have touched you and didn’t
or did absentminded, getting in
or out of bed or trying to reach
something behind you.
I didn’t need anything
I could buy. I bought the socks
and a slatted spoon I haven’t used.
Blue interrupted by the living points
of constellated skin. I’ve been
looking for a long time
at the stretch of table where you had
your hand. I am afraid
to touch it. Love, all I’ve ever
seen is things in airless dense
configuration and no transparency.

More by Margaret Ross

Saturday

It was, it was explained to me,
a holiday to enter spring
while honoring the dead
and so its celebration was

a picnic in a cemetery. Flowers
and fruit and fish
cooked as her father liked
and a kind of pastry

that had been her uncle’s
nickname. Her aunt was
bringing paper iPhones, purses
and a little villa just for fun

to burn. I passed carts
selling them as I walked up
the slope behind the city
hospital. A child

climbed a parked car
shouting that he was
a horse. I took
a picture and the colors

on screen looked richer, less
treacherous. Downhill
a stadium surrounded
by white trailers. Underwear

hung from the clotheslines.
I took a picture of myself
but I did not appear
the person that I was.

The picnic would be
nearly done. She’d said
they’d leave behind
chrysanthemums

made of cloth to last
and scented so they smelled
not like chrysanthemums
but like a woman.
 

Evolution

The corpses weigh nothing, nearly nothing, even your breath
is breeze enough to scatter them

We steamed them in tupperware with a damp sponge
then we tweezed the stiff wings open

The wing colors would brush off if you touched them

3,000 butterflies raised and gassed
and shipped to Evolution, the store in New York
rented by an artist hired to design a restaurant

He wanted to paper the walls with butterflies

Each came folded in its own translucent envelope

We tweezed them open, pinned them into rows
on styrofoam flats we stacked in towers in the narrow
hallway leading to the bathroom

Evolution called itself a natural history store

It sold preserved birds, lizards, scorpions in lucite, bobcat
with the eyes dug out and glass ones fitted, head turned

Also more affordable bits like teeth
and peacock feathers, by the register
a dish of raccoon penis bones

This was on Spring

The sidewalks swarmed with bare-armed people
there to see the city

You could buy your own name in calligraphy
or written on a grain of rice
by someone at a folding table

Souvenir portraits of taxis and the Brooklyn Bridge
lined up on blankets laid over the pavement

The artist we were pinning for had gotten famous
being first to put a dead shark in a gallery

For several million dollars each he sold what he described 
as happy pictures which were rainbow dots assistants painted 
on white canvases

I remember actually thinking his art confronted death,
that’s how young I was

We were paid per butterfly

The way we sat, I saw the backs
of the other pinners’ heads more than their faces

One’s braids the color of wine, one’s puffy headphones, feather cut
and slim neck rising from a scissored collar, that one
bought a raccoon penis bone on lunch break

Mostly we didn’t speak

Another life glimpsed in a detail mentioned, leaving or arriving 

She lived with a carpenter who fixed her lunches

Come fall I’d be in college

I smelled the corpses on my fingers when I took my smoke break
leaning against a warm brick wall facing the smooth white headless
mannequins in thousand-dollar shift dresses

The deli next door advertised organic toast and raisins on the vine

Mornings, I tried to learn from eyeliner
and shimmer on faces near mine on the train

Warm fogged imprint on a metal pole
where someone’s grip evaporated

Everyone looking down when someone walked through 
asking for help

At Evolution, talk radio played all day

A cool voice giving hourly updates
on the bombing of another city which it called
the conflict

The pinner in headphones sometimes hummed
or started a breathy lyric

“Selfish girl—”

I watched my tweezers guide the poisonous exquisite
blue of morpho wings

Their legs like jointed eyelashes

False eyes on the grayling wingtips
to protect the true face

The monarch’s wings like fire
pouring through a lattice

Related Poems

The Long Meadow

Near the end of one of the old poems, the son of righteousness,
the source of virtue and civility,
on whose back the kingdom is carried
as on the back of the tortoise the earth is carried,
passes into the next world.
The wood is dark. The wood is dark,
and on the other side of the wood the sea is shallow, warm, endless.
In and around it, there is no threat of life—
so little is the atmosphere charged with possibility that
he might as well be wading through a flooded basement.
He wades for what seems like forever,
and never stops to rest in the shade of the metal raintrees
springing out of the water at fixed intervals.
Time, though endless, is also short,
so he wades on, until he walks out of the sea and into the mountains,
where he burns on the windward slopes and freezes in the valleys.
After unendurable struggles,
he finally arrives at the celestial realm.
The god waits there for him. The god invites him to enter.
But looking through the glowing portal,
he sees on that happy plain not those he thinks wait eagerly for him—
his beloved, his brothers, his companions in war and exile,
all long since dead and gone—
but, sitting pretty and enjoying the gorgeous sunset,
his cousin and bitter enemy, the cause of that war, that exile,
whose arrogance and vicious indolence
plunged the world into grief.
The god informs him that, yes, those he loved have been carried down
the river of fire. Their thirst for justice
offended the cosmic powers, who are jealous of justice.
In their place in the celestial realm, called Alaukika in the ancient texts,
the breaker of faith is now glorified.
He, at least, acted in keeping with his nature.
Who has not felt a little of the despair the son of righteousness now feels,
staring wildly around him?
The god watches, not without compassion and a certain wonder.
This is the final illusion,
the one to which all the others lead.
He has to pierce through it himself, without divine assistance.
He will take a long time about it,
with only his dog to keep him company,
the mongrel dog, celebrated down the millennia,
who has waded with him,
shivered and burned with him,
and never abandoned him to his loneliness.
That dog bears a slight resemblance to my dog,
a skinny, restless, needy, overprotective mutt,
who was rescued from a crack house by Suzanne.
On weekends, and when I can shake free during the week,
I take her to the Long Meadow, in Prospect Park, where dogs
are allowed off the leash in the early morning.
She’s gray-muzzled and old now, but you can’t tell that by the way she runs.