How pleasant the yellow butter
melting on white kernels, the meniscus
of red wine that coats the insides of our goblets
where we sit with sturdy friends as old as we are
after shucking the garden’s last Silver Queen
and setting husks and stalks aside for the horses
the last two of our lives, still noble to look upon:
our first foal, now a bossy mare of 28
which calibrates to 84 in people years
and my chestnut gelding, not exactly a youngster
at 22. Every year, the end of summer
lazy and golden, invites grief and regret:
suddenly it’s 1980, winter buffets us,
winds strike like cruelty out of Dickens. Somehow
we have seven horses for six stalls. One of them,
a big-nosed roan gelding, calm as a president’s portrait
lives in the rectangle that leads to the stalls. We call it
the motel lobby. Wise old campaigner, he dunks his
hay in the water bucket to soften it, then visits the others
who hang their heads over their dutch doors. Sometimes
he sprawls out flat to nap in his commodious quarters.
That spring, in the bustle of grooming
and riding and shoeing, I remember I let him go
to a neighbor I thought was a friend, and the following
fall she sold him down the river. I meant to
but never did go looking for him, to buy him back
and now my old guilt is flooding this twilit table
my guilt is ghosting the candles that pale us to skeletons
the ones we must all become in an as yet unspecified order.
Oh Jack, tethered in what rough stall alone
did you remember that one good winter?
HARVESTING THE CARROTS
Ten years later, when it was finally over,
she confessed she had fallen in love
with me that late autumn afternoon
while I squatted, my back to her,
harvesting the carrots.
My eyes were fixed on the carrot tops, ferny green
filigree promising thick scarlet roots
burrowed in the soil, so I failed to notice
if she changed that moment—her face,
her eyes, the way she walked—
When this thing she later called love swept
over her. I do remember that the corn
was behind us, and how she turned then
to photograph it as I tore out carrots
and tossed them in a willow basket.
I never understood what she saw in this garden
she hadn’t worked, or in the ravaged corn
she’d make into a photo to hang on a gallery
wall, or how these things she hardly knew
could stir such deep emotions, but
I’ve come to trust the way the bandit coon craves
the corn, something pure and simple, lacking
pretense. The photograph was one of those
soft-focus works of hers you could
hang any which way and still
See something to satisfy you, so long as you
were not hungry for corn. There was mullein,
goldenrod and bergamot still in bloom,
and the wild carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace,
which she claimed to love as well.
I teased her, called it a wanton weed, useless
renegade from overseas, but showed her,
as if it was a secret shared by just us two,
the solitary purple blossom shuddering
like a heart at the center of each bouquet.
Gather enough of these over a summer, I said,
and you can dye something—a skirt or shirt
perhaps—a dark hue like the stain
of memory, a thing of beauty and utility.
At least until the color fades.
I'd like a lidless Vicodin. Oblivion. Countless sensation of him leaving the room. Come back soon. It occurred to me fait accompli. Clinamen. Phantom limb. Black cat sleeping (you used to be next to me) next to me dreams our lost telepathy.
on the peg over hers, and he’s inside.
buys herself a minute looking for two
matching cups for the lime-flower tea,
not really lime but linden, heart-shaped leaves
and sticky flowers that smell of antifreeze.
She talks a wall around her, twists the string
tighter around the tea bag in her spoon.
But every conversation has to break
somewhere, and at the far end of the sofa
he sits, warming his hands around the cup
he hasn’t tasted yet, and listens on
with such an exasperating show of patience
it’s almost a relief to hear him ask it:
If you’re not using your body right now
maybe you’d let me borrow it for a while?
the first time she met him, propping the wall
at an awkward party, clearly trying to drink
himself into some sort of conversation?
Was it the dark uncomfortable reserve
she took upon herself to tease him out of,
asking, Are you a vampire? That depends,
he stammered, are you a virgin? No, not funny,
but why did she laugh at him? What made her think
that he needed her, that she could teach him something?
Why did she let him believe she was drunk
and needed a ride home? Why did she let him \
take her shirt off, fumble around a bit
on the spare futon, passing back and forth
the warm breath of a half-hearted kiss
they kept falling asleep in the middle of?
And when he asked her, why did she not object?
I’d like to try something. I need you to trust me.
trading bodies with someone, a best friend,
the boy she had a crush on. But the fact
was more fantastic, a fairy-tale adventure
where the wolf wins, and hides in the girl’s red hood.
How it happens she doesn’t really remember,
drifting off with a vague sense of being
drawn out through a single point of her skin,
like a bedsheet threaded through a needle’s eye,
and bundled into a body that must be his.
you can feel yourself fall backward over a brink,
and snaps her eyelids open, to catch herself
slipping out of the bed, her legs swinging
over the edge, and feels the sudden sick
split-screen impression of being for a second
both she and her.
What he does with her
while she’s asleep, she never really knows,
flickers, only, conducted back in dreams:
Walking in neighborhoods she doesn’t know
and wouldn’t go to, overpasses, ragweed,
cars dry-docked on cinderblocks, wolf-whistles,
wanting to run away and yet her steps
planted sure and defiant. Performing tasks
too odd to recognize and too mundane
to have made up, like fixing a green salad
with the sunflower seeds and peppers that she hates,
pouring on twice the oil and vinegar
that she would like, and being unable to stop.
Her hands feel but are somehow not her own,
running over the racks of stacked fabric
in a clothing store, stroking the slick silk,
teased cotton and polar fleece, as if her fingers
each were a tongue tasting the knits and weaves.
Harmless enough. \
It’s what she doesn’t dream
that scares her, panic she can’t account for, faces
familiar but not known, déjà vu
making a mess of memory, coming to
with a fresh love-bite on her left breast
and the aftershock of granting another’s flesh,
of having gripped, slipped in and fluttered tender
mmm, unbraided, and spent the whole slow day
clutching her thighs to keep the chafe from fading,
and furious at being joyful, less
at the violation, less the danger, than the sense
he’d taken her enjoyment for his own.
That was the time before, the time she swore
would be the last—returning to her senses,
she’d grabbed his throat and hit him around the face
and threw him out, and sat there on the floor
shaking. She hadn’t known how hard it was
to throw a punch without pulling it back.
with the liquid cooling in the stained chipped cups
that would never match, no matter how hard
she stared at them, he seems the same as ever,
a quiet clumsy self-effacing ghost
with the gray-circled eyes that she once wanted
so badly to defy, that seemed to see her
seeing him—and she has to admit, she’s missed him.
Why? She scrolls back through their conversations,
searching for any reason not to hate him.
She’d ask him, What’s it like being a girl
when you’re not a girl? His answers, when he gave them,
weren’t helpful, so evasively poetic:
It’s like a sponge somebody else is squeezing.
A radio tuned to all stations at once.
Like having skin that’s softer but more thick.
with the smear of tears still raw across her cheeks
and the spent feeling of having cried herself
down to the bottom of something. Why was I crying?
she asked, and he looked back blankly, with that little
curve of a lip that served him for a smile.
Because I can’t.
And that would be their secret.
The power to feel another appetite
lungful of oxygen or hot sweet smoke,
fill her and then be stilled. The freedom to fall
asleep behind the blinds of his dark body
and wake cleanly. And when she swings her legs
over the edge of the bed, to trust her feet
to hit the carpet, and know as not before
how she never quite trusted the floor
to be there, no, not since she was a girl
first learning to swim, hugging her skinny
breastless body close to the pool-gutter,
skirting along the dark and darker blue
of the bottom dropping out—
Now she can stand,
and take the cup out of his giving hand,
and feel what they have learned inside each other
fair and enough, and not without a kind
of satisfaction, that she can put her foot
down, clear to the bottom of desire,
and find that it can stop, and go no deeper.
You wound a ball of twine around my eyes
then pinned the end between my fingers.
You gowned me in white tissue
like a hothouse nectarine.
The furtive door at last unbarred, I was
amazed at the garden’s suggestion
throating from vining flower-walls
in breaths that quickened with mine.
How long I lingered beneath
sun awnings and a stone-and-mortar sky,
only you know. For when I found the throneroom
festooned with pelvis bones,
the twin-fingered god on whose nether lip I hung
a kiss, a crape-gartered barb,
was you-you the pursued, yours
the bull’s head draped with fragrant lash-black hair.
Steering by Monarchs
She forgot the instruments and steered instead
by butterflies knowing nothing human could be that sure.
—Alison Hawthorne Deming, The Monarchs
Fog thick enough to lick, horizon a blanket,
pearl gleam of sun. Sure, the sea trips
the mind, conjures creatures but what’s
this dusty heartbeat of wing?
First one. Then another. And another.
How to account for this river of wings
flowing south through generations?
She watches the monarchs drift—
cloud of orange and black—
Western mind says discount,
but knows better than to dismiss.
She abandons the instruments,
tracks by dusty heartbeat,
joins the wavering, certain path.
Holly J. Hughes
Mid-drought, more sun.
When did the tumbler
of water, bedside, fill
with dust? When did you
learn you were a riverbed
no river would touch?
Cosmos Revealed Behind a Dense Curtain of Poppies
And each plant has an equivalent
star in the sky: to read leaves
as pages of starcharts, to navigate by
leaf of acanthus! O lovers, swear not
by the inconstant light of the olive tree.
Feed each other madder root
and take comfort in the thought
your bones grow red: your insides
dyed alizarin of planet Mars to help
find each other in the dark.
Greenhouses, lighthouses. The first
astronomers tended on hands and knees
the soil of the universe, smoothing
away moss, seeding by night.
Now our galaxy has the sixfold
symmetry of ornament on the tower of Alhambra,
shoots curled from stem looping
heaven and earth together. Trace
curlicues and rosettes with your finger.
The chamber sealed off to mortals but
open above, like a poppy.
A flattened arch, curved filigree of girders and metal threads raised a little in the middle, not taking one side or the other, plunging its thick hands into the ground, wrist-deep, rooted in both sides, as if it needs to be plural. Not veering or turning to the side, fronting or backing up, not spinning around like a pointer pointing one way or the other, or a swing that swings from one side to the other. Choosing both sides like a mutual dependency, what looks like a scar is only the place where it’s joined together. It’s true, we have our differences, we don’t want to be too close to each other—we prefer to be together when we feel like it, changing sides when we need to, like a book that opens in more than one language. Sometimes you offer to exchange something you don’t want for something I don’t want. I give you my hand, and you give me your other hand. I go over to your side, and you come to my side. We stop telling people where we live. Not staying on one side or the other, I’m not saying it’s an accident or anything. The separation is a bridge that disappears when we’re crossing it.
The Wall Hanging I Never Noticed
I never noticed before
How the red flowers hang from the blue branches
I never noticed before the light in this room
I never noticed the way the air is cool again
I never noticed anything but you
But you but you
So that I couldn’t sleep
I never noticed what was anything but you
Until I noticed you
And could not help it
Until I noticed you I could not help it
Until you made the red flowers alive again
Until the blue branches
The lemons you loved, but also the way you loved me, too
Until all of this I never noticed you
But once I did
I never minded noticing
I never stopped noticing
Until I noticed you
I never stopped noticing
Until you, I never stopped
THE MOST EXPENSIVE FABRIC
When someone asked my favorite color
when I was a kid, I would answer,
I have an affinity for crystal or frosted
spectacle frames. Every time
I talk the doctor into buying those frames they never sell.
Nobody wants invisible glasses.
Don’t be distracted by my body underneath. I want you
to admire the pleats and ruffles I sewed.
The notions and trim are a little easier to see than the cloth.
All the clears don’t exactly match each other.
The print on the fabric is called frost.
My jewelry is composed of air.
Why are you dressed like a window?
A shower curtain liner? A cream soda?
Why are you dressed like a cornea?
I apply sunscreen so ardently, I think
my veins become more and more prominent
but it is actually my skin translucing.
My skirt bells like an overturned glass. My engagement ring
like a faceted doorknob. My hair caught
in a bouffant like a jellyfish.
A half century ago I was a welcoming port of call in
a buoyant place, a person to drop in on or
drop out of, adrift in a private sea of stormy
inwardness, trying to love myself with
conviction. The only ideas to reach my calm outer
deck fell off my young lovers’ backs as they
They sought authenticity, oblivion, and an exportable
knowledge. They had aspirations. They
wanted to become painters or poets or—two of
them—painters and poets, eager to face
a decade or lifetime of envy and disappointment.
Why do you aspire, I asked, don’t you know,
silly boys, that either you are or you aren’t?
They weren’t. Neither was I. Oh how complacent
I was in my ignorant omnipotence: float to
sea with me, I urged, where we can embody no plan,
no hope, achieve nothing worth dying or
living for except perhaps the melancholy luster
of delicious duty-free hand-me-down trips
to bed and back.
Did I know then that in a flash we’d be ancient,
that we’d be tending shrines and gardens
and graves? Did I not know then that the honey we’d
so innocently spread would attract the mob
intellect of fire ants to bedevil us in the night? How
did I know I’d outlive us all to become, at
last, a port of call I’ve come to call my own?
In the heavy moments before something
Happens: start, stop. Breathe.
I believe in the storm clouds before they rain.
I believe in greys:
Not black or white; ink being too final
For me; the grey softness of pencil; clay hands.
I believe in what can change.
I believe in greys:
The fuzz of the car seat; my mother’s absolution
Enough for me. Harsh streetlights—years—flashing past,
A silent film of sidewalks, dandelion wishes.
I believe that lamp posts burn longer than the moon.
I believe in the greys:
In the before, the tomorrows and change-ables;
In the hopes of dirty concrete and second chance.
I believe that
is stronger than hope.
Instead of a street light
angling through your blinds
I am a pale gleam
on the sheets
my mouth the next verse
we lean into
I want to set you loose
like a wind chime
in a storm shaking the house
until our teeth crack
I don’t want a taste
I want my body to be
so full of your body
that you wave at yourself
in the mirror
with my hand