You Look Up Pictures of Icelandic Ponies

Ruth Madievsky

before sleep
and carry a box cutter
for protection
you are an animal that is all loins
and no dexterity
you are the loneliness
and non-loneliness of a planet with a flag in it
and something ugly raccoon-paws
the inner lining of your throat
but you swallow it
and you smash a snow globe in a parking lot
and you leave the door open
to the tea factory’s peppermint room
contaminating everything
the sleepytime blend
the almond sunset and genmaicha
the hibiscus broth your parents made you drink
to prevent recurrent UTIs
and outside the palm trees
in need of treatment for exotic diseases
keep dying
slowly like a woman circling a parking lot
and if you had to name what you think you are
you would say bogwolf
and the thing clawing your throat
draws blood
but you swallow it
and you live for the ways people in love penetrate
each other
for the sweetness of lichens
for the return of normal hand smell
after wearing latex gloves
you thank the bones that made your soup
and all the brake pedals that aren’t broken

More by Ruth Madievsky

Electrons

The eye chews the apple,
sends the brain
an image of the un-apple. Which is similar
to the way I throw my voice
like a Frisbee, like salt
over a shoulder, a birthday party
where someone’s brother
is grilling hot dogs, a little speed
in his blood,
some red balloons. The eye
is the most deceptive
organ in the body.
Followed closely by the hand,
which refuses to accept
that touch comes down
to the repulsion of electrons,
so that when I hold
the hand of the person I love,
mostly I am pushing
him away. Which has something to do
with the striking resemblance
between a bag
of individually wrapped candies
and the human heart.
The sticky glass
of their shattering. How love
can crack like a tooth
kissing a sidewalk,
the way right now someone’s car leapfrogs
a sidewalk, her body
making love to the windshield
and becoming
the windshield. And still the fireflies glow
with their particular sorrow.
The police tape
separating the mind from everything
that is not the mind
proves imaginary. My eyes
find the face
of the person I love
and pull out their fork and knife.

Ficus

I split three pills with my ficus and now
it’s being weird. It won’t drink my breath or eat
the sun or fight off
the spider and his wife, whom I also
split three pills with,
because it’s Christmas, because
I was sad driving past
the shuttered stationery shop and the woman
dragging her kid on a leash.
I split three pills with the woman
and three pills with the kid. I measured my heart rate
and pronounced myself legally dead. My ficus
gave me three pills. I felt better. I told
a bath towel, and my friend’s bulldog,
and the dregs at the bottom
of my tea. I told the three pills in my pocket
and the three pills
in my bed. Each one
a loose pearl
ready to string together
in my belly, in the bellies of people I loved
or thought of when I watched a pigeon
disappear inside a hawk.

Related Poems

Why I Am Obsessed with Horses

Because when I saw a horse
cross a river
and named it Ghost Rubble
it said No my name is 1935
because it also spoke in tongues
as it crossed the black tongue
of the water
because it still arcs through me
with its zodiac
of shrapnel-bright stars
because the river’s teeth
still gnash
against its flank
and its eyes
still have the luster
of black china
glowing black-bright
in the glass hutch of memory
because a horse’s skull
is a ditch of wildflowers
because a horse’s skull
is a box of numbers
a slop bucket
resting upside down
under barn eaves
wind in an empty stockyard
orange clay that breaks
shovel handles with a shrug
because a horse is the underwriter
of all motion
because a horse is the first
and last item
on every list
of every season
and because that night the air
smelled green as copper
and lath dust
and that night as it scrambled
up the bank and stamped past me
it said Unlike you
I am the source of all echoes.

Transfigurations

Though neither you nor I saw flowering pistachio trees
in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, though neither
you nor I saw the Tigris River stained with ink,
though we never heard a pistachio shell dehisce,
we have taken turns holding a panda as it munched
on bamboo leaves, and I know that rustle now.
I have awakened beside you and inhaled August
sunlight in your hair. I’ve listened to the scroll
and unscroll of your breath—dolphins arc along
the surface between white-capped waves; here,
years after we sifted yarrow and read from the Book
of Changes, I mark the dissolving hues in the west
as the sky brightens above overhanging willows.
The panda fidgets as it pushes a stalk farther
into its mouth. We step into a clearing with budding
chanterelles; and, though this space shrinks and
is obscured in the traffic of a day, here is the anchor
I drop into the depths of teal water. I gaze deeply
at the panda’s black patches around its eyes;
how did it evolve from carnivore to eater of bamboo?
So many transfigurations I will never fathom.
The arc of our lives is a brightening then dimming,
brightening then dimming—a woman catches
fireflies in an orchard with the swish of a net.
I pick an openmouthed pistachio from a bowl
and crack it apart: a hint of Assyria spills
into the alluvial fan of sunlight. I read spring in
autumn in the scroll of your breath; though
neither you nor I saw the completion of the Great Wall,
I wake to the unrepeatable contour of this breath.

An Offering

Animals come down through stars
to reach the valley. A coyote with
its nose pressed in a rabbit hole.
Two Sandhill cranes as tall as rain,
and listening north. And when a cougar
screams its human scream, I’m suddenly
a child again, awake, the parched air
raked by drumfire blasts, window panes
all gleam and vast, animals angling
through ripe alfalfa fields. My grandmother
holding me to the thunder-headed sky
as if I were an offering. Saying, There,
see how meager we are made. How our
bones ring with fury and light.