Stridulation Sonnet

Tiger beetles, crickets, velvet ants, all
know the useful friction of part on part,
how rub of wing to leg, plectrum to file,
marks territories, summons mates. How

a lip rasped over finely tined ridges can
play sweet as a needle on vinyl. But
sometimes a lone body is insufficient.
So the sapsucker drums chimney flashing

for our amped-up morning reveille. Or,
later, home again, the wind’s papery
come hither through the locust leaves. The roof
arcing its tin back to meet the rain.

The bed’s soft creak as I roll to my side.
What sounds will your body make against mine?

Nude Series VIII

O’Keeffe, to Stieglitz [Canyon, TX, to New York, NY; 1917]

Naked swimmer, I am your
blue lake—a hot moon

lifting from my throat. Tonight,
I am full of wheels and empty

canyons. Desert
so open we walk without

roads. I throw bottles
at the made-to-order stars

for my sister’s rifle
to spark, break,

burst glass
to belated sunset.

The sheet on my bed
is a great twist.

It is strange to write you
just because I want to,

but I hate to be undone
by a little thing like distance.

A Question to Ask Once the Honeymoon is Over

Big around as my bike helmet and high as my ankle, the box turtle
was halfway from my side of the road
to the other. The warm sun felt delicious;
my legs, strong, and it was almost
to the center line. I hadn’t been passed by a car
for miles. Figuring if it was still there, I’d pick it up
on the way back, I cycled past.

                                                                Years before,
the woman across the street was shaped like that turtle,
or more like a toadstool, really, squat bell
of a body atop the thin stalks of her legs, milky and bare
beneath her frayed black housedress. It hurt her to move—clear
even from my second-story window—so she brought
her trash out in increments, in small, bursting
grocery bags. She tossed each out the door onto the porch, then
nudged them, one step to the next, before easing—carefully,
painfully—herself down, a step at a time. Then she toed them,
finally, slowly, slowly into a crumpled heap at the curb. I left
my window to help; then took her trash out every week after.
                                                                That story—
                                                       I hadn’t yet
                                                                told it to my wife, had I?

                        But there was the turnaround
quicker than expected and I spun
to find a beat-down bus trailed by all the fuming cars
that hadn’t passed me.
                               Steadying my handlebars against the wind,
I rode back hard, dodging around crushed
squirrels and tire-splayed birds.
                                                 The turtle
was just where I’d left it, but with the top of its shell
torn away. The dead turtle,
a raw red bowl, its blood slashing the twinned yellow lines
into an unequal sign,
                    as in a ≠ b, as in thinking about doing the right thing
is not the same as doing it. As in, how many times
did I watch that old woman shuffle bags down the stairs
(really, how many?) before I went from watching
to helping? As in, with my wife beside me
I am the woman who does not hesitate
to lay down her bike and give a small life
safe passage. As in, I biked slowly
home, told no one. As in:

                 Will she love me
                      less when she learns
                I am not equal
                                      to the person I am when she is watching?

Sing, O Barren One, Who Did Not Bear a Child

—Isaiah, 54:1

Her hand sharp in the small of Hagar’s back, Sarai, that barren
punster, pimped her handmaid to her husband, saying, “As I am barren

please ‘consort’ (בנה bo-na, in Hebrew) with her” by literally saying,
“I shall be ‘built up’ (אִבָּנֶה ibaneh) through her.” A barren

women can still be clever, though rabbis tea-leaved this to imply
a childless woman is a ruined structure in need of rebuilding. Barren,

however, was not a ruin forced on us, but a path my wife and I have chosen. A choice
not so much against a child as for other things—our art, each other: a life barren

only of all we’ll never know. God said, “I’ll call you
by a different name and your destiny shall change.” Sarai, barren,

had no children but Sarah did. Mom is a name I’ve cried times beyond counting,
yet is a name I’ll never be called—less a name than a state of being; once borne,

innate as DNA. “Wife” or “writer,” though, are titles non-familial,
vocational, requiring daily upkeep, a renewal of Yes, I will still bear

this—and be stronger for it? Who can say. Perhaps we’ll end up
most defined by what we are not. Yet bared

by the roof of our ruined structure, we count the countless stars, grow
our shared life in place of bearing

a new one. Because before Sarah and even before Sarai
was the first of the three names she’d eventually bear:

Iscah, whose root might be סָּכְתָה sakhta (saw) which would make her sight a prophet’s,
divinely inspired, or סוֹכִין sokhin, a duller lot, meaning all “gazed upon” her beauty: barren

Iscah—precursor to the name Jessica—like all women, torn between being a seer
and being the one seen. So, prophet, tell me: Is the only happy ending really a baby?