Look at the clues you missed or pieced
Look at this book—I wrote it and tore it
apart. The ancient doctors thought
they could locate the soul
in the beating heart of a dog or a
chicken so they cut it open.
Put a butterfly into a jar of chloroform,
Amortize it with a pin.
Nothing but pipes, fluids,
which turn noxious once the spark
is gone. Nothing but the you I track
through blinkered windows of night,
phone lines and email waste.
The words give us away—even the “the” and
the “and,” holding their secrets
as stones do.
And you. You who could swallow
any light. Tell me it does not have to be
like this. Tell me I will learn a
different frequency or simply
how long and fluid any road.
Read to me the stories that speak
of this—two children loosed in a forest
who attempt to follow
the bread crumbs home. The birds
that eat the crumbs. The crumbs
replaced by pale stones.
It would not be fair to say I loved
the sickness in you when it was the
sickness in me you revealed. I thought often
of the child with magic glass in her
heart who sits in the palace of the ice
queen and moves around the shards.
Each time they catch the light she seems
almost to see a face, but so quickly the sun-
beams spread their glitter over everything,
Meanwhile her fingers blacken.
These old stories are cruel. One will lose
her feet and receive a pair of painted red
shoes. One will sit in a tree and weave
nettles until her fingers bleed to stumps. This
one will go West of the Sun, East of the
Moon; that one will climb a mountain
of glass—pieces of themselves they sacrifice
to the task that drives them forward. I
wanted to turn the swans into my brothers,
I wanted you like a mirror-shadow of
a panther I had long pursued. I envisioned
constructing a bird of wire, inflaming it so
despite itself it would soar lark-high and sing.
Now that I know you won’t ever return, I
am grateful for mere pavement glitter,
the Styrofoam cup, trash by the road-
side, even the rust-ugly grackles clustering
like peanut-crunching crowds along the
high-tension wires outside the
supermarket. They want things,
and they flap their wings and shout
and shout. Ordinary life, where
everything moves, and I move, too,
The body won’t hold what it loves.
The body forgets and lets go like a
car crossing a distance from
point A to B that can’t bring itself
to stop beside the single luminous
tree growing out of the dull
plain or the way its leaves catch
at the rain, always the miasma: What
the body had and couldn’t
keep. Last night on the phone you
said to me “The boy burned the house
down because that was where
the crazy people lived.” In my head,
a picture of us years ago, striding the
length of Claremont Avenue. The
powdered coffee we made in the mornings,
proud of our thrift. Our riches—
the simple ones of believing the body
would always be this good. You stood
outside in your socks and watched
the flames, smell of plastic streaming
the air. At odd times, a memory
retrieves itself; the cells shiver a little
and wake. Remember the Klezmer player
on the 125th Street Station platform, the
beaver hat he wore to catch our dimes? Why
did we never hear the swoon in the
waltzes he played—echo of countries
torn by ethnic strife. You stood outside for
an hour or more before they delivered you
to the shelter—and the snow, it fell
in feathers and notes, a hush on the purple
majestic skies, skies of middle-of-
the-night, black milk we drink
like morning, the grief of the good body,
which remembers everything.
The Fable of Demeter and Persephone
In the hospital of sad princesses,
they walk with their feet
pointed outward, their washboard
stomachs. They weave friendship
bracelets of violet and crimson lake,
bend their heads like swans
to half-empty cups of water in
which they never see themselves,
not once. Six glowing jeweled
seed are clasped in every hand.
Nights, they picture an earth heaved
open, themselves on a pale throne,
judging souls. Their mothers must wander
the world, carting wheelbarrows of
pumpkins that have lost their stems,
whatever would connect them to the
wormy soil. Their daughters know
what lives down there—what fire
can exist in the chill core of any
stone. They only care for what lasts
while their mothers weep over fields
where winter has stripped every
leaf. In the hospital of sad princesses,
they perform a pageant every day
for the miracle of ice, what strength
in a land where nothing will grow—
planetary florescence of sapphire, emerald,
the trees of underworld whose the
beautiful fruit would break anyone’s
teeth. It is not so different from any
game of chicken—the car speeds towards
you, and you hold a pose, sing the
weeping willow, the singing head floating
the River Lethe, which murmurs on,
swallowing everything that has
ever been. O dark mouth of the world,
here is where all mothers and daughters
must part. How can the girls not despise
that the mothers will make a meal of
About the author
Sheila Black is the author of Love/Iraq (2009) and House of Bone (2007) both from CW Press, and Wen Kroy, which won the Orphic Prize in Poetry from Dream Horse Press. She co-edited the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press), which was named a 2012 Notable Book for Adults by the American Library Association (ALA) She is a 2012 Witter Bynner Fellow, selected by Philip Levine.
I saw your hands
on the table six inches from the coffee cup,
the butterfly shaped stain
where some had spilled, one nail flattened
slightly as if you had hit it
with a hammer. I saw their tremor.
I saw your face in a crowd, body leaning
forward, walking like other bodies,
but you were not them. I saw you--
your face as if red-stained, as if blackberry—
as if I could smell it,
which I couldn't. At the table, your hands,
the ridges of your nails, the
coffee-shop sounds of names being called
as in a ceremony. There was no
ceremony. I saw my hands, heavy at the
wrists, on the table, thirteen inches from
yours. I saw you too much. You diffused like
a sky with a smear of cloud.
In the particles of the dust which glittered,
In the particles of air, which trembled like
flowers in my chest.
Where were you going? What did you see?
I could not imagine across so much distance.
And so your hands.
And so the way your collar stuck up on one side.
Or your hair, not washed, combed back hastily.
I saw you until I couldn't see,
until everywhere was exactly the same—
the gas stations, the men burning tin cans by the
railroad tracks, the whistle like a
color, ratcheting through night.