At the Very Beginning

Katie Peterson

When I named you I was on the verge
of a discovery, I was accumulating

data, my condition was that of a person
sitting late at night in a yellowing kitchen

over steeping tea mumbling
as his wife remotely does the laundry.

My condition was that of a mathematician
who cannot put the names to colors,

who, confusing speaking and addition,
identifies with confidence the rain

soaked broad trunked redwood tree (whose
scent releases all of winter) saying as he passes one

More by Katie Peterson

Pleasure

I remembered what it was like,
knowing what you want to eat and then making it,
forgetting about the ending in the middle,
looking at the ocean for 
a long time without restlessness,
or with restlessness not inhabiting the joints,
sitting Indian style on a porch
overlooking that water, smooth like good cake frosting. 
And then I experienced it, falling so deeply
into the storyline, I laughed as soon as my character entered
the picture, humming the theme music even when I’d told myself
I wanted to be quiet by some freezing river
and never talk to anyone again. 
And I thought, now is the right time to cut up your shirt. 

After the Disaster

A picnic in the sequoias, light
filtered into planes, and the canopy
cut through. Fire raged in that place
one month ago. Since I’d been there,
I’d have to see it burning.
Nature of events to brush
against us like the leaves
of aspens brush against each
other in a grove full of them
carved with the initials
of people from the small weird town
hikers only like for gas. Messages
get past borders—water
across the cut stem of the sent
sunflower alive with good
intentions. People who mistake
clarity for certainty haven’t learned
that listening isn’t taking
a transcript, it’s not speech
the voice longs for, it’s something
deeper inside the throat.
Now, from the beginning, recite
the alphabet of everything
you should have wanted, silverware,
a husband, a house to live in
like a castle, but I wanted
fame among the brave
.
A winter night in desert light:
trucks carving out air-corridors
of headlight on the interstate
at intervals only a vigil
could keep. Constellations
so clean you can see
the possibilities denied.
Talking about philosophy
might never be dinner
but can return
your body to a state
of wonder before sleep.
The night reduced us
to our elements.
I wanted water, and whatever
found itself unborn
in me to stay alive.

from “After Dinner Was Over”

I am enlightened, a man
says after dinner, and he doesn’t
mean what you think
he means, he means he’s a product
of the Enlightenment, he’s talking
over his pain in the abyss
inside his gum, it’s called
an abscess (we actually call it
that, he’s taken painkillers,
he’s swallowed them
with the wine offered him). 

*

Hawks in the trees. Men
talking about philosophy. Lemon
julienned over the chicken
turning colors
in an adequate oven. Good times,
for a minute. The argument
about the correct use of the word surveillance
falls over my body.

*

The first time, I drank a beer
and hated it. The second, I craved
sugar water the colors of Gone
with the Wind
, the third,
I just saw everything disappear.
Most men say they would
give birth if they could.

*

The crossroads. What you bring
there to bury. The journey. Constant 
circling back, later at night,
and in darker weather. Terrible
to lose touch with your friends.
Forgive the metaphor that defends.
The usual becomes treacherous.
In the dream, all of them 
had children and lived
together in the same
house where it was always
Halloween, decked
with pumpkins and ghosts.

*

I could try
to be scared but not afraid.
Looking into the chicken
coop like a wolf.

*

Days late, I could see a snake
moving across the surface
of the lake, writing its path,
unwriting the path it did
not take. But it wasn’t
to be, that time. The effort
made towards what I wished.

*

You climbed the mountain with me, a recovering
moralist. You wanted
to stay on the path,
I wanted to find it.