Friday, April 11, 2014

One, Two — National Poetry Month

One, Two



One girl was taller and one was brown. They played ball

Without a ball, happily kicking an orange through the dust.

My notes say this: because, when you’re young, fear and the other emotions

Are so close together you can’t tell them apart.

I fill the blue tin cup with water, swallow its shocking cold. Again, again,

Though when I move my hand beyond the light I bring back air.

The dress I wore to his funeral lay for a year on the floor of my closet.

Then I washed it, hung it up, and that was the second year.

The body is not the soul the soul is not the body. Repeat this daily

In times of war, plague, flood, famine, drought, or the guillotine.

My great aunt died in summer. Her mad friend, a painter, hid two pounds of bacon

And all her silver on the roof. Guess how they were found.

“On the first day of war, already there’s no getting out,” a man said, stammering.

You can see the wolf in the dog by the way it stands, with its elbows in.

I got through the days by making a list: wash face / get dressed.

A horse can be utterly dusty and still smell all horse.

At Stonypath now a temple and gardens and, still, a stony path.

For example, if he was faithful to me but wished he were not.

It is better, I think, to suffer a nightmare under the heading

War comma Slanting Light.

He was studying words someone had scrawled in a margin,

So he copied them into a margin and left the center blank.


At dusk the deer I once fed daily stand head-to-tail in the yard like a little train.

The drought has ended. They turn their heads as if a bell had rung and then stilled.

What is not ours, he asked me. Or was it not a question, was it what

Is not ours: the black bowl, the morning light, the tea leaves, the soul.

Ten years have passed, and still I feel the rope-burn on my palms, the lightning

In my hair the rain not fallen yet, the moment, as I let the horse go.

Twin beds in a room with a high ceiling, a bare floor.

Outside, Seville stood with its light disheveled, its cold pure.

If I could have turned away it would have been there,

Which we called now and spoke of, even then.

What are the odds, I asked him, touching my hand for the first time

To Shiva’s brass body, the whirling world.

“But don’t, now, don’t—” My friend on the phone,

Trying to talk through hail on the roof, a radio, some kind of bird.

My notes say this: a red poppy blooms where it is not wanted, a not-quite-red poppy,

Which marks it as American, and less acquainted with grief.

A teabag is called Origami and the stitching is called Sincere.

The kettle boils, he handed me tea, and handed me tea again till our life ended.

For a moment I could not find the war, in memory. Then I turned my head and everything

Again was islanded, a raised hand, ripened breath, nothing fallen, still.

When the saw-whet owl flew into our window glass, I made him come out to the night and see.

He was naked and cold and pleased. It was kitten-like and alive and the grass was dry.


In the part of the form where they ask for annual income

I listed all the countries he had been to that I had not.

In one of the mudholes, someone had laid the wire shelf

From an old refrigerator. Under our tires it sank, bent, held.

This is the doctrine of heaven, heaven, hell. For example, his arm was heavy.

For example, beating my fists and tearing my hair.

Where the creek runs over the footbridge I meant to write under.

The notebook was spiral-bound and the ink was dry.

We walked through Fez when I was young, though not so young as I had been.

From vats of dye the steam was steam-colored, and the men were almost naked, barefoot, warm.

It took a year to teach that horse to pick up his feet like a gentleman.

Right, right, left, left, pick them clean as a whistle, clean as bone.

My notes say this: if two people stand on the bridge, they are lovers but not genuine.

The plate is old, but English, not Cantonese.

“America went down a rabbit hole,” they say, and they mean the war. That spring,

At the foot of a pine, we found a rabbit’s skeleton in the decomposing stomach of an owl.

Every page is a prayer flag, I said, and meant to ink them. Instead, he began to turn them

Faster and faster the farther we went from home.

We visited the Streets of Charcoal, Tin, Barrel, Drum, Brick, Bell.

We did not visit the Streets of Copper, Sugar, Jars, Mats, Shoes, Sails.

I asked him to choose a moment when I was not dead, but nearly,

And carry me up the mountain to a lion’s den.


I wonder if falling he knew; and if, what. It was our first night together.

I was young and in love and still trying to guide him past the door.

But you can’t hold his hand, they said, the bones are broken.

They said kiss his cold cold lips and walk away.

When the tall girl kicked the landmine, her sister caught it neatly in two hands

As she had been taught. For example, a short fly-ball on a windy day.

My notes say this: eyedrops, goggles, a wet handkerchief in a plastic bag,

And Vaseline doesn’t prevent burns from tear gas: it makes them worse.

That night they washed his face and they combed his hair. For months thereafter,

Memory was a page of writing from which words had been randomly erased.

My notes say this: the fields are cut and the wine is pressed.

Earth is a ball on an elephant’s back: blue, white, near, and it never falls.

In Hanoi it was raining, so the Street of Votive Papers, Ghost Money, Counterfeit,

Became Straw Mats and Rope, became Mirror.

The word Alba means Scotland, white, the soul, a robe, or nothing.

In the dictionary: nothing. And that was the second day.

The horse was called Nimbus and the mountain called Adam,

The vase two hundred years old and the flowers fresh.

We paid three pennies, lit three candles, took off our shoes and knelt on them,

Not because we believed, but because the path to that temple was long and steep.

Word-like sounds that are not words, or not words I know.

They wanted to tell me how many hours it would take for him to burn.

by Susan Tichy
Courtesy Beloit Poetry Journal

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