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
One shattered Dutch oven, a file box of broken
spindles and a splintered set of six red glasses,
rich and crumpled near the mailbox. Where white
petunias, maroon-centered, sit and blink today:
kissed as your face was, as were so many other
incomplete apparitions. My list of all the wonders
missed makes charm of a rustic departure:
one thousand tiger monarchs sinking to the fields.
Twombly’s frantic Leda, the winter palace of Peter
the Great. Carpet wears flat, here in the last
cabin where all the counting happens: how few
folds a flannel shirt deserves; how much touch
can be rough-hewn. How many degrees a curtain
lifts in a breeze from a west-tracing river.
Laurie Saurborn Young
picking up my dry cleaning. Once I lived in Virginia
for four years before I went to the DMV to get a license.
I didn’t want to give up on California, all its sex and sea
and taco trucks and redwoods and freeways.
But, Virginia, you can have sex in Virginia too.
My morning walk is on my laundry list of things to do for the day.
I love to walk, but I tend to sit around in my nightgown
and drink coffee until eleven o’clock when it just might start raining.
I’ll pay the bills then. But not before I take an online poll
casting my vote for who wore Ralph Lauren best.
I wonder what it is like to have sex with a man who is so tan.
Skin that tan and old must feel like a disappointment.
I need to wash my hair. I’d like to have sex
in a shower or in a salt water pool or in a clear bottomed bay;
maybe in a dream, because I look dreadful wet. I water the plants,
run out to buy three or four flats of sexless pink petunias.
I buy some Drano and pick up paint samples:
bali kiss, coconut grove, tidewater rise.
I love putting a stir stick in paint for the first time.
I haven’t had a first time in a long time.
I prop myself up on a washing machine
during the spin cycle, wondering if I’ll feel aroused.
Nothing much happens. I probably need an older, less efficient model.
I strip the bed linens, chase after the dog, sew a button onto a cuff.
I clean the kitchen window so I can see crystal clear the petunias.
I could have sex in the yard, the wind on my face,
on my naked back, against blades of grass or sky.
I’d like to have sex with men I don’t know and men I used to know.
I think of all the sex I could be having when I’m writing
a grocery list, shopping for shallots and radicchio at Whole Foods,
choosing a pork shoulder. The produce manager and I can make a bed
of steel cut oats and flax seeds and paper towels in aisle 8.
Nothing like that ever happens. I think about sex each time I peel
a clove of garlic and heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan.
At the first inhale I’m high and it smells like sex.
I slice an onion along its God given lines to come down. I’d like
some unnamed man to stand behind me and wash my hands in the sink.
Done Playing Hard To Get
There’s more than one way to read that fist of hers.
It might be a defensive gesture—like carrying on
an entire conversation with your arms crossed—
but it might mean something else completely.
Maybe she’s got a tiny apple in there—keeping it warm
so you can eat it later, baked in the oven of her body.
Or maybe a single pearl found at the edge of some ballroom
her parents dragged her to when she was ten.
Her dress itched her knees so she crawled
in the shadows, stumbling upon this pale eye
escaped from some rich woman’s neck.
She grabbed it, kept it secret until now, until your face,
your body, your special way of looking directly at her
when you speak. And she’s about to reveal it to you
if you’ll just calm down and reach out
to take both of her hands in yours.
An Emergency Every Day of the Week
It’s how you know I love you,
the trees along the ridgeline
sway into one another
the way I lean into you.
Clouds rush from us
the way we run away from
the world. An ambulance
screams along the street
at 3 a.m. Inside there’s
you on a gurney and me
on a gurney. No nurses
either side, not even a driver.
We split the cold air like
a scalpel. A bump. I reach out
my hand for yours. Yours
is there in the air and it
clasps mine. The ambulance
just went off a cliff.
Now we’re flying
and we’re fine.
Finding the Best Mathematician
At an Aegean port, surrounded
in cypress, your eyes
speak. I’m not
sure exactly what
they disclose. But what
I hear is something about eight
valleys and a triangle. I’ve
never been astonishing
with math, and couldn’t describe
distances between a ship from Brindisi
and this frail dock. But I do understand
the sag in my ankles
and last night’s spill of moon
from your breath as we
raced the last ship. But that
was years ago
and the collapse
of Rome many centuries before. Funny
now, the way I take
my husband’s hand
and your hand is a bridge between us. I rub
my cheek against
his cheek and am swiped
by a spray of sharp envies—
or were they your kisses. Your shadow, less
pathetic than your presence, I am forced to recall—
the odd ovals you shaped, and that ungainly
cypress I sketched when the sky shone
like white metal and ouzo flooded
my arteries. Easy now to subtract
or add—an urchin’s grip,
a coral sprig, my body’s hum. Hands, interlocking,