after Lucie Brock-Broido

winter crossing

bleak annulled

dulcimer damaged

choir miraculous

air &

monstrous ravishing

animal fallen

calls nightsky

ghost spectacle

again lynch

light loved

flint bliss

starfish tissue

shrouds lukewarm

sheathes everything

fanatic vanishing

More by Constance Merritt

A Study in Perspective

I.
Looking at you was the hardest thing.

Taking off my clothes
While you stayed dressed,

II.
Nothing.

III.
My body a knife, my shoulder
Its blade, I cut a path before me.

Or sometimes I’m an apprentice ghost
Unsure in the art of haunting;

No one sees me as I pass.

IV.
No one sees me as I pass
Though someone is always looking,
Translating texts of skin and eyes
As: our lives are whole without her. 

V.
The intention of the taker doesn’t matter;
Shame lies only in not being had,
Pain in too much having.

VI.
If you weren’t older by twenty years,
Superior in race, middle-class
By marriage and sighted,
You couldn’t whisper strip
And then refuse to do the same.

We get away with what we can,
And this poet gives what she gives.

VII.
Historically, it was a woman’s fate, a slave’s:
Submission to a gaze s/he can’t return.

VIII.
I am not you; that’s you and not me.
From a distance the boundaries stay clear,
And fear lies coiled and sleeping in its place.

IX.
Up close, I look at you, give you
My body without its mask of blindness,
Allow you to see me, my eyes
As they work at seeing you.

And not because, as I have said,
I loved you more, or am most good,

Just well-rehearsed as vulnerable. 



Invisible Woman, Dancing

All Hallows Eve, Sweet Briar College, 2003

I came as a ghost to the party,
no costume required, I only had to wear
the brilliant skin, the ruinous eyes,
the body poised in transit, unwriting
the myth of sex. I came as a ghost
to the party, though we pretended
not to notice a palpable hovering
in the interstices of conversations,
a presence so insubstantial
eyes passed through it, hands
reached through air, bodies jostled
on the dance floor and never felt a thing.

Still, some there were haunted,
drawn away from the company,
its clenched knots of desperate clever banter,
to contemplate the thinnest air
as if, despite themselves,
they heard and heeded a ghostly tongue;
their bodies swayed in answer.
Staring into that void they glimpsed themselves,
turned back, shuddering, to the masquerade.

I came as a ghost to the party
against my better judgment
at the persistent, earnest
urging of my friends, as if
a ghost had friends when they hoist

the flag of whiteness and huddle there
under purity and privilege, surrender—fatal—
the furious, frailer, darker parts
of themselves. Recently they had rallied
to kiss the ass of a black man who had accomplished
admirable things—though most there had not read
them or only read a story,
as pleasantly exotic and sweetly soothing
as those wonderful spirituals
about wading in the water and summertime.
So extravagant was their ardor
that I, a member of his tribe,
could not get near him or have one word.
Still, I know he saw me, sitting there, tense, alone,
before his lecture, unmoored and vanishing
in the cocktail Hell before his dinner—
did not only see, but recognized a kindred ache.
The first and second and third rule of thumb,
the commentator said, is do not scare
the white people. And so we stand apart,
raise no specters of over-educated house
niggers breeding insurrections, mustering
ghost armies of strangers, lepers, freaks,
the wretched of the earth, furious,
innumerable and not afraid to die.

I came as a ghost to the party.
you didn’t wear a costume, someone said.
I came as an activist, I replied,
modeling my black ACLU t-shirt,
Lady Liberty emblazoned down my front,
at my back, a litany of rights.

I might have said the costume’s in the eye.
You will weave for me a shroud
and I will walk among you like a ghost,
mask of the red death, memento mori.

Blind with pride and rage
(I will ask no one for help), I quit the place,
leave the lake behind, the band’s god-awful
din, the strafing voices—the rent
in the world’s fabric miraculously healed
by my going. The dark deserted road
is unfamiliar, its grade, its curves,
the woods casting shadows from either side,
but any path is right that leads away.
I lose my way, keep going, going,
deeper into the maze, finally turn back.
Returned, the band’s on break;
They’ve put a mix tape in.
I dance like one possessed, furious grace.
When strangers, not of this place,
say a quick goodnight, I run after,
take me with you, I say.

A solid hand upon my solid knee, warm hands
returning the pressure of my warm hand—
two women rescue me, deliver me—
ghost in the machine
once more human girl—home
with promises of brunch and company
they will or will not keep.
No matter. I lock the door
and slide the chain, rest back against

the frame, breathing relief.
May they all die horribly in a boathouse fire.
The malediction takes me by surprise.
I say it once again with clear intent:
May they all die horribly in a boathouse fire.
These words be kerosene, dry wood, locked doors, a match.

Related Poems

Return to Winter

That day the starlings didn't eat.
That day was a sudden return
to winter. In the fields,
snow on a base of ice.

The birds couldn't bear
to set down except
on the clear face
of the road they remembered.

My husband leaned on the horn
the way you lean on a railing
until they lifted
before the unstoppable metal.

I pushed into the floorboard
as if I were doing the driving,
as if I could halt
the laws of physics,
while somewhere, my brother's chest
rose and sunk and rose.

So much you take for granted,
like going to sleep in spring
that you will wake in spring.
That the blossoms were right
to push out, there was
no contradiction.

But when we hit the slick
and slammed hard against
our own forward motion,
the roadbank spun
and the orchard of stunted trees
that had just begun to soften.

Wolf Cento

Very quick. Very intense, like a wolf
at a live heart, the sun breaks down.
What is important is to avoid
the time allotted for disavowels
as the livid wound
leaves a trace      leaves an abscess
takes its contraction for those clouds
that dip thunder & vanish
like rose leaves in closed jars.
Age approaches, slowly. But it cannot
crystal bone into thin air.
The small hours open their wounds for me.
This is a woman's confession:
I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me.



Sources: [Anne Sexton, Dylan Thomas, Larry Levis, Ingeborg Bachmann, Octavio Paz, Henri Michaux, Agnes Nemes Nagy, Joyce Mansour, William Burroughs, Meret Oppenheim, Mary Low, Adrienne Rich, Carl Sandburg]

How Can It Be I Am No Longer I

Winter was the ravaging in the scarified
Ghost garden, a freak of letters crossing down a rare

Path bleak with poplars. Only the yew were a crewel
Of kith at the fieldstone wall, annulled

As a dulcimer cinched in a green velvet sack.
To be damaged is to endanger—taut as the stark

Throats of castrati in their choir, lymphless & fawning
& pale. The miraculous conjoining

Where the beamless air harms our self & lung,
Our three-chambered heart & sternum,

Where two made a monstrous
Braid of other, ravishing.

To damage is an animal hunch
& urge, thou fallen—the marvelous much

Is the piece of Pleiades the underworld calls
The nightsky from their mud & rime. Perennials

Ghost the ground & underground the coffled
Veins, an aneurism of the ice & spectacle.

I would not speak again. How flinching
The world will seem—in the lynch

Of light as I sail home in a winter steeled
For the deaths of the few loved left living I will

Always love. I was a flint
To bliss & barbarous, a bristling

Of tracks like a starfish carved on his inner arm,
A tindering of tissue, a reliquary, twinned.

A singe of salt-hay shrouds the orchard-skin,
That I would be—lukewarm, mammalian, even then,

In winter when moss sheathes every thing alive
& everything not or once alive.

That I would be—dryadic, gothic, fanatic against
The vanishing; I will not speak to you again.