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Alexandra Teague

Alexandra Teague is the author of the poetry collections The Wise and Foolish Builders (Persea Books, 2015) and Mortal Geography (Persea Books, 2010), which which won the 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry and the 2010 California Book Award. She is also the author of the novel The Principles Behind Flotation (Skyhorse Publishing, 2017). In 2011 she received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is an associate professor in the MFA program at the University of Idaho in Moscow and an editor for Broadsided Press.

By This Poet

4

Adjectives of Order

That summer, she had a student who was obsessed 
with the order of adjectives. A soldier in the South 
Vietnamese army, he had been taken prisoner when 

Saigon fell. He wanted to know why the order 
could not be altered. The sweltering city streets shook
with rockets and helicopters. The city sweltering 

streets. On the dusty brown field of the chalkboard, 
she wrote: The mother took warm homemade bread 
from the oven. City is essential to streets as homemade 

is essential to bread . He copied this down, but 
he wanted to know if his brothers were lost  before 
older, if he worked security at a twenty-story modern

downtown bank or downtown twenty-story modern.
When he first arrived, he did not know enough English 
to order a sandwich. He asked her to explain each part 

of Lovely big rectangular old red English Catholic
leather Bible. Evaluation before size. Age before color. 
Nationality before religion. Time before length. Adding 

and, one could determine if two adjectives were equal. 
After Saigon fell, he had survived nine long years 
of torture. Nine and long. He knew no other way to say this.

America: Hepatomancy

If the liver is the source of blood: if the liver is the source
of life: if the people live with blood, visceral, on the sidewalks; the news
ticker divining Police Kill:  the news ticker divining Supporters Shout;
 
if the people mow the bright green golf-course grass
of battlefields:  Pea Ridge, Antietam:  dust the sky with flags
and mow the grass, and the liver blinks toxic as a neon sign,
 
and the men move the pegs in the stock market
and the men water the grass; and Hate and Hate; and the men
say, Let the President; and the people say, Compassion; and the liver
 
reveals its dark deities on the walls of buildings;
its ancient symbols; and the liver reveals the people’s bodies
coursing strange bloods; and the men lean in closer to observe
 
how their pockets fill; and the liver shines like the knife
that opens it; the liver shines like a safe word on a tongue;
and someone says, It’s all consensual. And someone says, Help.

Late American Aubade

Man in a chicken suit, you’re the only one today 
not selling beauty: 5th Avenue star-struck with Christmas,
three-story diamonds and flocks of ballerinas pirouetting
clockworking gears as if the Industrial Revolution
were a life-sized music box of desires and we’ve just kept 
on winding. If. And Wish Upon. And shopping bag. And you
with your wind-ruffled feathers and flyers, pleading 
for our primitive hungers. That inelegant grease spot 
and crunch to remind us. The mannequins don’t 
even have bones. I’ll never have a purse nice enough
to hold a wallet worth the money to buy the purse
at Barney’s. And what does it matter? There are drumsticks.
I’m a vegetarian. You are no masked creature worth hugging
for a picture. No Minnie. No marble nymph of Beauty
in pigeon net outside the library:  old yet ever new eternal voice 
and inward word. As if we hear it clear in the gizzard: 
Beauty is God and love made real. You will be this beautiful
if. You are the rock in the crowd-raked garden of traffic,
just past the corner of jaguar-made-of-dazzle and flapper
reading Shakespeare bound in bardic sparkles. Your yellow,
a scant flag to claim us:  ordinary strange as holy chickens
in a gilded cage in Spain. Their ancestors, heralds 
of a miracle. A huge mechanical owl recites Madonna 
in a window Baz Luhrmann designed since February. 
It takes all year for a miracle with this many moving parts.
All of us in a rush to wait for the catastrophe of personality 
to seem beautiful again. As if this is the best we can hope for:  
seeming to ourselves—like panhandlers dressed as Buddhist 
monks the real monks are protesting. Asked for her secret, 
the model for Beauty said, The dimples on my back
have been more valuable to me than war bonds. Asked for proof, 
one orange-robed woman said, I can’t tell you where, but I do
have a temple. Beaked promise of later lunch, catastrophe
of unbeautiful feather, how can we eat the real you
that you are not? Which came first? The shell to hatch 
desire, or desire? Which skin holds my glittering temple?