More poems in our Fall Issue.
To read a selection from Aliki's study of Emily Dickinson“Mastering the Master”
To order books at bn.com by Aliki Barnstone
To order Madly In Love, call:
Cornell UP Services
“Blue” and “Bathing Jesus” are from Voices of Light: Spiritual and Visionary Poems by Women Around the World from Ancient Sumeria to Now
“Blue,” “Bathing Jesus,” “Wild With It,” “Bedtime Story in Serifos” will be included in Wild With It forthcoming from Sheep Meadow Press.
All other poems are from a work-in-progress, tentatively titled Bright Body
Aliki’s poems are also online at Exquisite Corpse
To visit Aliki’s website
Wild With It
I am your underground river, filter and fiber of your blood,
your Mississippi calm beneath hills clambering from its banks,
Mississippi flooding its banks, volcano flaming the sky
to ash, tidal wave, Greek island, redolent with oregano and thyme,
dry salt air, sea stroking your naked thighs, sunlight drying
blond hairs on your legs and arms, your sun burning away all sight
except its own light, sun pumping color and shape into the land,
the little whitewashed house, the bed below the windowful
of mountains breathing deep into the earth, bones of knees,
elbows, flesh of breasts and cocks, cunts and shoulders,
broad chest where the heart beats making the capers
and daisies tremble, all the nerves of thistles and sticks,
electric and telephone wires buzzing on your skin.
I am your full moon spreading its lustrous white skin
across the sea to New York, to oil and rain-slicked streets,
to millions of shoes scuffing the sidewalks, and windows lit
with lovers and families, kitchens where pots and pans dangle
from the ceiling, bathrooms—a guy’s bent head as he fills the bowl,
pens, notebooks, computer screens—I am your world wide web,
an easy chair—you hold a book on your knee—
a bare belly appearing before the shade goes down,
the kiss deepening to a bite on your swooning neck.
The one who comes between us I will burn, bury, break,
shoot off in a rocket to the nothing of space. I am I am I am.
And in you I am for you are the sun that whites out
and recreates, even undermined, our two entwined shapes.
I listen to the wind lecture across the northern plains
but it’s not content. It rubs its shoulders
against the house-I guess it wants
to be understood, wants to slink
across the sky with lightning, that glamour queen,
wants to be one with it all, the sexy one, the warbler.
So it belts out a vibrato, then hardens itself,
yowling through storm windows, making the walls
of the house and the bed where I lie tremble.
And now it sobs. Why won’t it stop
bellowing frustration? Calm down. Grow warm.
Settle into a murmur like our voices talking in the night,
though all the while, beyond will, I am wild for you.
Bedtime Story on Serifos
Tonight the moon rose over the island, full, orange, and laughing,
and made a wide orange path on the sea,
lighting vous, the deserted island called ox.
We carried our daughter through the village.
First I carried her, then you,
and I watched her watch
the children running through the square,
laughing and gathering around the ice cream chest
outside the bright fluorescent grocery store.
She lay her hand on one shoulder,
her cheek on the other
as you spoke to her and she to you.
I thought of the first time she said moon.
pointing to the light face
peeping through trees.
I didn’t know then if you would be with us now
in the whitewashed village, this spiraling labyrinth
of the mountain, designed to confuse invading pirates.
We know our way here most of the time,
know the ten paths to our house,
which steps are most gradual,
the greetings to say to the old people
who gather to talk in the cool night
and call out goodnight and sweet dreams to passersby.
She cried, wouldn’t let me put on her diaper
or pyjamas, or kiss her or hold her,
wouldn’t laugh when I tickled her.
You came from the shower, calmed her instantly
with your low voice, dressed her for bed,
read her to sleep.
She must have been tired from a day in the sea,
laughing in shallows.
I worry an unspoken sorrow swells her gasping face.
You close the book when the lost invader,
tricked by the paths we walk every day,
turns away and fades into the sea’s black periphery.
Good night, little girl. Good night, laughing moon.
She is safe now sleeping in your arms.
The village murmurs inscrutably with the owls’ night song.
I think when Aphrodite rose from the foam
and walked the rocky beach of Paphos
she smelled of apricots. Clambering
on the land, she followed the scent of apricots,
found herself in the orchard
where trees confound time
and flower and bear fruit at once.
She made wreathes of the flowers for her head
and to wind around her sapling neck
and ate apricots until midnight.
Fragrant skin, soft skin of apricot
touched her palms and she brought
to her lips all the rounds of the body
and her tongue tasted all the creases
where round meets round.
At midnight she lay down in grasses
and traveled from star to crystal star,
letting her light breath travel the cosmos
and whisper, in each human ear,
craving for apricot flesh and a juice sweetened tongue.
The Sea Inside
The last swim of the day
eyes level with water flat as a mirror for the sky’s face
you see a school of fish leap above the horizon
a silver quarter-moon made of a hundred silver quarter-moons
the shimmering sand sends up
gold neon double-helixes to wriggle on ultramarine and torquoise
how completely inside your own skin you are
your hands below the sea’s lucid surface
reach and reach as if you would never stop
Blue is Greece where fishermen tame their boats,
where I float naked in the color of truth, the sea
humming in my ears, lulling me with ultramarines
like a baby kicking in amniotic seas, like god
whose throne is this transparent blue bowl,
this star-sapphire studded cradle of waves.
She must have blue skin and eyes, lapis lazuli
looped in strands and strands around her rounded belly
and her breasts amply squirting blue-white milk.
She must make love on silk sheets of azure air.
She must have been there in the window,
that narrow shaft in the hospital wall letting in
pale blue spring light the morning my daughter was born.
She hid in the forget-me-nots in the wallpaper,
fluttered in the doctors’ and nurses’ dull blue medical gowns,
glinted in the metallic hue of the scissors that cut the cord.
Her indigo threads embroidered the bloody placenta.
She colors the newborns’ eyes with her cyan hand.
for babies come from her inside-out world.
She is in the bluish spit against the evil eye.
When I’m blue I close my eyes and see with my third eye.
Cerulean light comes from the island in my brain
where sunflowers crook their necks, weary of time.
Sunflowers, your wild fire hair burns in blue.
Peaceful blue, luminous blue, keep my daughter safe.
She splashes her little feet in Aegean sea,
reaches her hands into blue beauty. I hug her dry
in a towel deep blue as Mary’s timeless robes.
If he were a word made flesh I would want to wake him from his
and wash his godliness from him as I bathe his feet in my laughing tears
and dry them with my heat and hair and anoint the topography
***** of his head with euphoric oil
and comb his beard with electric fingers and pull his face close to mine
to see the multitudes in the pores in his skin, God’s intricate human
***** handiwork in his cheek.
He would see the flame in my eye burning in time’s skull, deep
***** as the first breath that lighted the Milky Way.
I would pull the shirt from his shoulders and the shirt from mine
until our garments lay on the floor, cloth lungs pulsating
***** with the curtain’s white muslin and the little breezes
***** coming in the window, everything alive,
even the wood floor under our feet warm with the oak’s broad
***** and branching spirit.
And I would pour warm water on his back and thighs and wake
***** the man in him, wake his hand
reaching for my flushed and water-slicked arm, his palm singeing
***** the place below my collarbone,
make him taste each word on my tongue, each complex mix of sweet
***** and bitter and sour and salt
and make him sing out from his body, the lips, the tongue, the throat,*****
the heart, the blood, all the traveling heats of flesh. Praise them.