Sarah's work is online at:
Her book The Assembly of the Shades is forthcoming from Salmon Publishing www.salmonpoetry.com
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I dream I am found at my cousin's fourth funeral,
a girl who tried but always failed,
in the end, to die. Four times
her mother—dressed in quilts and braids—
has prepared the event, hired chefs
and banquet halls, white-gloved
garçons to serve cassoulets and baguettes,
soup in Limóges tureens, place punch
bowls on the long, white-clothed tables,
in a room where the girl's coffin lies open,
empty. She watches us mourn
from her sallow bed while
a pianist plays Clair de Lune ceaselessly,
like a wedding march for a bride
who's changed her mind.
The funeral, by necessity, goes on for days
in a town no one can name—waiting,
feasting days, everyone provoked
by some holy sadness, the girl abstracted
by a diligent rowing toward demise.
I wander out onto the slender snow:
there is a cave. Limestone steps
ascend like a skinny pyramid
to where Our Lady of Sorrows
stands perched in plaster.
Some girls had a vision.
I scale up crevice by crevice, eyeing
the gifts in piles at her blue feet: wild
violets, baby's silver rattle, daisies and booklets,
gaudy white roses, blood oranges, baskets
of ribbons, heliotrope, rag dolls, rosaries,
photographs. Suspended above the statue
is a flying Virgin hung by a plastic thread
like a marionette from the cave's dark ceiling.
But children and tourists arrive on the scene,
crowds of dream-quick imposters, pointing
and shouting. When I get to the top
to touch the Lady's hand, to offer a penance,
her arms end in stumps—each fallen finger
smashing to dust in the riot.
The Birth of the Virgin in an Initial G
Grace curved left where the heart lives
Gold stars or apples sewn to the sleeves of women
Gravid peculiars in miniature grown faceless
God below and around but a window where hook can't meet ledge
Green sky, angels winnowed green from the before
Guest like all foreign creatures
Grasping white fingers thin as an infant's, only this one can't get out
Take from me something,
a grape not round enough
to see through, a kiss
too muscular for my face.
Take the two globes
that observe you behind green
glass, that woke last
week to read how the weather
took you from my sleep
and wore you whitely
on feathered trees, long and
diamondly gloved, the whole city
enchanted by my glistening,
conspicuous offering. Take the salt
from my fingers that linger
like strings in the sea:
season your banquet of taking,
anoint your bath with the whisper
of continents and shipwrecks,
the furious weight of the sea. Take
from me anything,
nothing, these petals,
the cleft of breath
at my middle's latch;
take even these bones
crumbling like years—
dead moths in the space
where my want
—for Lillian Stillwell
When despair squints in at the snap
of the morning's shade, consuming
dreams of your lover brushing your hair,
his hands taking your hair like a scarf
against his face, like a cool cloth in the desert;
when suddenly you find it grinning in shadow
from behind your bedstand's lampshade, taking
the shape of your grandmother's drooling
eyes, her beard, her imagined bus rides
to Japanese prisons, her sterile insomnia,
the brain's cruel hoaxes, her nose plugged
with two tubes that lead to the tank
at the back of her wheelchair;
when your sister's friend falls the wrong way
in a game, catches his chin on a step, clips
the thin wire that strung him straight, who
lies now perfectly still, every motion
diminished to his eyes and his mouth;
when the tricks of despair in the shade
take the face of your father's arthritis, the body's
stubborn vacations, the failure of soups and remedies,
the nest of mold that hides like a tyrant in your basement,
weeds, trees whistling in their windy cages,
beheaded marigolds in the vegetable garden,
the despair of the mail and the mailman,
the possibility that the mind will abandon you
at your finest moment, a solitary elephant lumbering
with the sun toward his final dusty sanctuary;
when you are not prepared to greet the morning's
guest who comes with baskets of late bills,
your daughter's nightmares, collapsed
houses and your limbs caving in at the seams;
when you wake and snap open the shade on the window,
when you find in the yard the peonies,
clown mouths bombing open, the crazy
notion of restraint lost in the fuchsia
and impossible white of their luminous
despair, the whole yard filled with the sweet
dying fragrance of peonies spilling
like lunatics for one loud ride
on the reckless spin of a day—
listen as they hum to you
from the pivot of their grief:
All Souls' Day
The sparks scatter everywhere. . . they flutter about in the movements of the world, searching where they can lodge to be set free.—Martin Buber
Are snowflakes living things?
My daughter asks this, wisps
of the year's first
snow already sparking out
like tiny flints on her mitten.
She bites off a mouthful,
makes a hard clump on her
tongue. Snow spools
out from the corners of her
mouth and chills her chin red.
We drive to the church.
The morning is clean with a quiet
cold, the two of us alone
on the road watching
snow propel itself down
in cross-stitches, like
delirious chains of X's.
Snow butters the grass;
the not yet fully fallen leaves
crown with frost and pumpkins
that last night gleamed
like beacons at the dark doors
sit stooped and languid, freckling
on porches battered by snow.
Are there enough
snowflakes in this morning's throng
to impersonate every lost soul—
all the men and women who refused the far flight,
the unlucky infants whose eyes never glimpsed
the loss they long to fly back to,
even the bedraggled mystics who still can't
decline the hysterical brass of this seductive
earth, who wander barefoot around and around
the peripheries like swirling tornadoes of snow?
Today the heavens erupt in a snow piñata,
a tantivy of six-sided enigmas,
each extravagant in its own
miniscule and mysterious perfection.
There are a million faces
appealing at our windshield,
peering in through the pane
at our large and dazzling gestures—
my daughter unwrapping the foil
on a bar of chocolate, my
hands on the wheel, my eyes
following the path of whitening
road that leads to the church where together
we will pray for these outcast
souls trapped in their bad
weather The snow
comes storming raucous
out of the sky, a bevy of hungry
souls grasping for anything, even the most
transient of forms—even snowflakes,
fragile as fontanels. We watch as each
flake flickers weakly out, brushed
aside by the car's casual wiper,
drowned in a child's mouth,
swept away from all our sundry transits
and sights like folly to the wind.
—for Steve Healey
Sometimes in summer the sky retreats and leaves in its wake a fog of gray sweat that hovers like a migraine headache, producing nothing. Rain nor shine. A sheet of cloud—fitted sheet, king size. A dark scarf thrown over a lamp by a man who will meet his lover in bed, who will read her body like a foreign language he longs to hear, as much as he longs not to comprehend, as much as he longs for a translator. “To Shut Our Eyes is Travel.” She sat in a low-backed chair at a desk in her white Amherst bedroom. Without gloves, she pulled the cloud down, syllable by syllable, and began to rectify a grail, her braille. Morning floats a breezy alphabet that winds down in dark to dread. We turn to God and he does not turn back. In our terror, we scream through sound to sense. We make fire. On cave walls we transform ourselves into horses running. We draw with the burnt blunt ends of sticks.
I don't know why trees fall
into their bowls
or how to get out of my own—
all motion is wooden.
Let me explain: like history,
like low-fi sputtering
I love yous.
And a blank table—what is this?
My eyelids are boats.
Pages pull together at their seam
with red string:
twine blown down,
cat toy, floor's
At times at night in my bed
I believe that the world can't be
any different from what it is.
Outside snow falls and then stops
falling. I can't see the window,
but I believe the snow is still
and that nothing moves in it now.
As a girl in winter I rode Spring
Theme, the horse I loved. She opened
her mouth for the bit to slip in—teeth
green and sweet with grain; set
her nose in my palm like a silked knee. I
levered the girth and flipped down the stirrup.
We rose and entered the woods, her hooves
pressing bowls into the snow.
Once in the night I stretched
flat across the hay, davening
against her allowance.
In the deep night there is
still snow. Horses sleep past
the cold, in barns and pastures.
There are horses who will
awake and sleep and
awake again and again.
Get dressed, go out.
The snow is still.
The moon lows in its field.
Horses shift and nicker.
Prowlers and saints look out over rooftops.
A girl lays closed in dream like a bulb.
My boots empty the snow in scoops. Somewhere
stones cling to each other
in a river.
—for Fred Schmalz
some hands are skin
got the whole roll
of unsound queered
couplets involved in
cloistered kissing two men
filling their mouths
with sun, or gravel
drunk boy hopscotching
on a bed olives
at the tips of his fingers,
ordinary ahs, wind
from the gullet heatstroke
on a miracle mile no
anchors, no note ever quite
lands, ever quite sinks
or stains—coughs off like a baby
into the nowhere.
Everybody Loves Eric Dolphy
—for Brian Engel
Father glues the hippo back
together, as he's done before
when the others broke.
It's no small task.
Opened envelopes hang
like cranes on a line. Herons,
in real life, are bigger but hard
to make with a piece of paper.
When Elvis died, nothing
happened to the weather. Nectar
toured the planet, nesting
in the mouths of bees.
A cello murmurs something
about tennis, or sailing.
Only the walls know for sure—
they're so discreet!
Days are short here, nights
shorter. We sleep
like blind sailors in beds
that deliver us secretly home.
Vast delirium—a fluttering
making the net tent
go dark light dark
light like blinks.
All around her butterflies:
papery and like lanterns
lit from below; like wrinkled
half-moon mirrors and metallic
in the tarantella morning.
My love and I stand on the outside,
watching the young girl
who wears a daisied sun-
dress, two printed daisies
over the two pale points
on her chest: butterflies flock
there as if to drink a new
wine, two manic rosaries
gathered sucking from two
flowers on the dress of a stunned
girl, a calm statue girl
alone in the wing-thick tent.
A butterfly whorls to her lip,
a tender tutor. She is
a child wrapped
in butterfly raiment,
a girl shaded by wild,
a delirium vastly blinking.
My love and I in the young
unevenness of sideways,
learning to be
on the body's dark
muttering strata, a frantic
balance between shadow
and shadow. My love
and I, watching the girl
shuttle, almost capsize,
in the curtainy butterfly
beatitude, a Pentecostal currency.
This is when it happens.
My love and I bend in
then, our shoulders barely
touch. We are watching
the girl, all the butterflies—
she is all butterfly, like Eros
dissembled to all these creatures
warring to drag her up, “Come
away, we adore your flowers,
you will be queen here.”
And this is when it happens,
we are touching bare-
ly, we are two people
joined to watch the girl
of twos everywhere else
in this loud morning, but just us
two here, through the whole
thicket of nature and random we
reduce to two people joined
to watch the girl
together. And it happens:
born from the skin of her hand,
light from true light, a flat
live brown thing, folded,
tissue laid over knuckles.
And it happens, an opening
too blue like tinsel,
like the entire night, opens
the size of her one hand
rises up from her and out
and ascending in the marvelous
vast delirium of the dark
thrumming tarantella morning.