Aliki's poems at Exquisite Corpse


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alikibarnstonephoto Aliki Barnstone


Outside the car windows dogwoods are a thousand
white flashes in the woods. New green
recedes into the circular red barn and the neat farmhouse
where oak trees line a gravel lane and two black carriages
rest in the lot. No electric or telephone wires lead there.
The Amish farmer drives six horses down the highway,
and fishermen stand up to their crotches in cold water,
casting their lines through steam into the brook.

I’m the strange one here, remembering a dream or something
far away that comes and goes like these scenes sucked away
through windows.
222222222222 Some child climbing out of the water and running
toward me with hands out for these blackberries and blueberries,
so sweet I scarcely put half in the colander for pie and jam,
and stain my white pants, big hand prints down my thighs.
What’s your name? I say.
222222222222222222 You name me, says the child,
name me.
What a lulling voice you have when I fall into the manhole,
not minding at all because I float down like Alice, my other name,
then always float back up again elsewhere,
2222222222222222222222222222222 say, in a Santa Cruz bus.
Outside are seals, cormorants and pelicans, surfers and cyclists,
monarch butterflies drifting in air sharp with ocean and eucalyptus.

The bus exhales as it pulls into the next stop.
Along the rubber floor are sandled and sneakered feet,
some relaxed so the arches hold a globe of air, some crossed coyly
as if the big toes were pointing to a riddle.
222222222222222222222222222222 Who is it?
The girl standing before me, her fingertips on the rail, just the tips—
she doesn’t need to hold it—bends her knees a little with the lurches,
and balances there with one sock up, one sock down, one button
of her jacket buttoned, one fist in a pocket, strands of hair freeing
themselves from her braid, and she stares, just like me.
How can she be?
222222222222 How can I fall back into sleep, letting
my breath
out slow,
slow, slipping under the surface, belly first, where shining
pebbles shift with urchins and coin-sized abalones.

How can I
let her disappear again, so I can stumble-leap down bus stairs,
calling out thank you! to the silent driver. He won’t tell the route,
won’t tell the street names, but the houses are familiar
and the gardens full of flowers whose names I can recite for you:
lobelia, delphinium, camellia.
22222222222222222222 When I call out hi! to the clean-cut guy
with weeds in one hand, garbage in the other, she’ll find me again,
her hair wild, dripping with fever and weeping.

Though she is
and I wake to find her and wake to find her and wake
to find her gone again, she’ll ask why I chose to send her away,
why I let her and her brother flash their life-lights in my window,
only to speed away in one moon cycle, to be sucked away
in a few breaths, one long suppressed scream, my fleshy being
contracting around nothing, nothing at all, while a machine pumped.

Now in the car, your hand on my thigh, these scenes flicker by
while my voice and your voice admire dogwood and farms,
dark cows below the sunset, clouds a sleek spaceship,
the gingerbread on that sky blue house, the one on the hill.
Let’s go home, you say.
22222222222222222 Let’s have a cup of tea, I say.
We stand in the kitchen and the steam howls out for us to hear.

I find you through telephone lines, traveling toward me
in cars or books or with a look through the spaces in rooms.
We coil and turn, your hand on the small of my back,
your chest against mine, breath on breath, legs intertwining.
I see my eyes in yours, as we call out, come, laugh.
You put your hand on my abdomen. There were two.
Who are they? The boy with berry-stained lips and hands,
the girl with her sock falling and brown staring eyes.

They are
these words
on the screen, on the page, the round air in our mouths
before we speak, or perhaps they are old snapshots thumbtacked
to the wall, you or me, your blond hair, cheekbones,
the grave humor in your voice, your fine-boned hands, my skinny calves,
belly sticking out, my dark eyes and too-sensitive nose,
no attribute, no word makes sense of these children
whom I can never hold, nor can I stop traveling back
to where they are not, not even when I give birth.

In the Basement of the Body

We hold each other in the basement of the body
and nine full moons shine through the high windows
and your eyes are the sun in the sky’s blue iris.

Flowers we’ve never seen before line the crimson walls,
all their colors warm—

succulent petals like fingers and toes,
centers like eyes winking open and shut,
stems like elbows and knees,
Jack-in-the-Pulpit vulva and penis.

Who will you be when we are three?
Will you be my lover, passionate as the moaning ocean?
Will you travel by my side, steadfast?

The skin of your belly warms the skin of my belly,
and our baby climbs like a quick mountain goat against my ribs.

Yet still there is a distance to traverse.

Outside these walls in a wild field poppies are blood,
crickets and birds
and new frogs the size of pennies
leap and sing from the grasses.

At the horizon the forest is a dark feather.

All the way across the field, flowers blooming like membranes,
and through unlit woods,
I must labor with this quivering weight
before I return home to you with our child.

Questions on Serifos

The half-moon lit gold
above the cupped hands of black mountain
is perfect.
I don’t understand forgiveness.

Your snores mingle with our daughter’s.
I watch headlights move up rock cliffs to the village,
motors groaning uphill,

people who have swum all day,
who ate by the sea, laughed, flirted, drank, danced.

No other women, I’ll say, though we’re both turned on.

People are so sexy here in Greece,
you feel giddy, cross and uncross your legs,
wiggle your foot just watching
the evening walkers move slowly in summer air,
the breeze teasing their skin with the taste of sea,
the lights of restaurants, bars, shops enticing.

What’s your pleasure? A Greek salad, fresh bread,
ouzo, island-made wine, a silver bracelet of dolphins
to wear around your wrist as a talisman.

Sit down at this table, kick off your sandals,
let the sand sift through your toes, listen
to the plash, plash of the Aegean on the shore.

No other women, you’ll say, taking my hand,
squeezing it on my knee.

We’ve just made love
and I’m naked beneath your old denim shirt
which shrank in the dryer and you finger
when I wear.
Such a beautiful shirt, you say, my old shirt.

What is forgiveness? What does it mean?
that I let go and forget? Even when it feels good,
feels good, feels good, my ghost slips out,
sits by my head remembering her entering us.

I wish she would suffer as I did, want you
to stand by loving me as I kiss another.

The truth stinks when you tell it, sometimes,
just as the truth of our love smells
like the night-blooming jasmine, thyme,
and salt scents breathing into us,
invisibly, intimately,
the mountains, the moon, and the sea.