photo by Vivienne St. John


– FROM THE GHOST OF YESTERDAY


DIPTYCH: FISH-EYES

            – Sink or Swim

Once at the lake was the summer of blood:
I was eight, had fish-eyes to see around

Corners as the doctor with the spongy mole
Put my mother on the white kitchen table

And took the not-quite baby away. The towels
Were wet-red. Then, while I danced alone in

A ring of mushrooms, they rocked my sister in
The toilet where she didn't know to swim,

        

            – Swim or Sink

Later, I pried chips from the bright fungus
On the jack pine by the road, returned the crow's

Rasp, and picked goldenrod, which made Mother
Cry. The wash machine window showed pink

Bubbles, but I was a spider then weaving a web to
Wrap my sister. On the ends of her ten fingers,

I put salty Bugles, made her a sand castle,
And wondered if the water was clockwise or not.



 

Thanks to Passages North in which this poem was first published.

 

Photo by Vivienne St. John



 

TROMPE L'OEIL

Grapes to eat, a fresh-killed hare, bloodied
and dripping, white lilacs. Delft dish—
does a willow weep at its center,
the one that will not hold? All these things
placed by unseen hands—rifle propped,
blossoms strewn across butcher block;
yet the flowers have no scent, grapes no taste,
windmill or willow won't shift in the wind.

It was a day she thought she could hold and arrange.
Easier than peeling grapes or skinning a rabbit.
This day: hers to spend. Time would have
a taste, distance could be measured.
Slit the canvas and step into a darkened room.
Pull the curtain and throw the spread aside.
A place of no place,
here no dimensional colors glazed by time.

But this morning… the dish empty, fruit shivered
to raisins, the gun spent. No sun, no smile, no touch.
Time is stilled. Don't believe illusion.
There's no story. No picture—no eye nor I.

 

THE JOURNAL

 


GOLDFISH: A DIPTYCH

– Science has proven the goldfish
   has a memory of a second and a half.

1.  TALE OF A GOLDFISH

Look, there's a castle,
submerged so its world magnifies
in water hazed with algae,
but I see willow, sun, a dragonfly.

Look, a castle—
rays of sunlight through its doorway,
a mermaid on a rock
amid roots and burnished shells.

Look, there's a castle,
and I angle through the door, out the window,
everything static,
yet behind I sense a shadow.

Look—
its distorted world is pooling,
until I see a rock with no mermaid,
sense jaws of darkness.

Look, there's...

 

2.  A MAN IS A GOLDFISH WITH LEGS

Look, there's a castle,
where Circe turns seamen to swimming pigs
while the universe expands,
so watch out for solar glare.

Look, there's...
and at its hearth, a clockwise flame,
but below continents of ice,
stress lines.

Look, a castle—
and a pearl at my throat to keep me alive,
yet if there's heat lightning,
Venus will wink at daybreak.

Look—
how Circe takes up the pearl,
and Venus, in morning sun, floats fire and ice,
and may her lightning give you pause.

Some days — it's less than a second.

 

FIELD MAGAZINE, Fall 2005

Selected for PUSHCART PRIZE XXXI, Best of the Small Presses