(Writers @ Work Contest Winner, selected by Paisley Rekdal)
Smaller than I imagined. Red, like a shock,
and unapologetic. Bright pear
fallen from the body, mistaken rock
that got taken in. I think of the new
life it contains, growing without air,
wonder if I was just as deadly. A few
hours later nothing left but the bare
photo. What home imagines its holocaust,
after all? Some things you work your way through
without knowing, or asking about the cost.
At twelve, I first learnt a star’s residue:
how our sun will burn into blowsy drift,
carried away by nothing. If others—lost—
come after us, chasing our distant Doppler shift,
they’ll find nothing: your name’s been crossed
and signed under. Today the sun’s a pill
of stupid brilliance. In the photo the two fists
of the ovaries are clenched but still.
So much dead weight: how you managed to lift
and console the soft blood’s load I do not know.
This is an accounting: the weekends have lined up, holidays
are flushed with pastel colour. A day’s a whole brave inch,
though everything in it you might rub out with a finger.
Over here a hotel corridor so ugly a man’s body, crawling
down it, resolves into a sack of bare pity.
Here the whine and shudder of a plane’s engine
which is also a god, falling silent over the ocean’s expanse.
Here a child buried in the remains of a building
punctured by a missile laden with good purpose
which is also the drowsy wimple of a backyard sign.
Here my mother’s face, burning, and all but quiet.
Here a bullet composing a path though the shoulder, the
ribcage, the femur, crying for the music to continue.
Here myself emerging in a storm of noise and pain,
not having asked to happen, and receiving it.
Here a boat bleached blood-white and gaping like
a fish, having lost its anchor at the port of origin.
Here my father, whose love was lodged like
a complaint in his throat.
It was pointed out to me that there are many ways
to shuffle a deck of grief. My question was
was what thing supervened over
broken tendernesses, what common factor
or iron fact—as in the ploughing of the days’
many possible orders, when things are worn down.
Sonnet Above Water
Unasked-for, lying against my jarred heart,
you push the door open, steer the tremor of my wrist
back into my spine, where the movement starts.
The path outside flees into water, so first
we fumble for the boat that sits beside the pier,
fingers nearly numb, making the best of the poor light.
If at some point the ocean, thinking better of us, should appear
we’ll nose our craft into the big night
sewing the water shut behind us.
The delta widens with new compassion;
the sails lie their slack faces over the city, thus
making us invisible.
For this while,
at least, we are nothing more than an impression,
disappearing with the tide.
We’ll find our own isle.
Coming here requires that I arrange my face into vicarious
expressions, forms that come from somewhere else and only
complexly express heartbreak, if at all. I will allow feeling to
pass through my body without censure, in the manner of love
which once my father expressed to my mother by quoting, O
light of my life, fire of my something, etcetera. A tap is left open,
running out into grass which surges against blacktop, in open
mimicry of the soul’s ordinary modes. Light crawls over
the skin of cars like nebulae, they put out parallel fifths with
tadpole tails: this is how I remember them. How beautiful
beyond understanding, how necessary given the acres of emotion I
rationalized as asphalt. Touching them as a child I recognized
their genius as overwhelming physicality, since here you never
heard other people’s arguments or their love-making, even my
addled grief was reduced into kerbs and abutments, play-dates
into sundries of chain-link and noise barriers. I learnt to drive
here but dared to take only right turns for months, noticing that
roads waited to give me time (just patience, nothing rising to
affection necessarily). I recognized the things which made a day
a good one for doing the wash. Now I imagine how a Predator or
Reaper could glide right among us, or just above the roofs,
broadcasting objectless benevolence. Kissing babies and women
on the mouth. Now they say Asians are moving in like Kuzdu, they
say my heart has bloomed into a temple standing in alien water,
they say there are things coming.
This I do not believe, since
what arrives is pushed back again by tides of tremulous Wi-Fi.
Observe the autumnal cutlery drying out, phthalo blue of sneakers,
unfinished symphony of sauce curdling in the pan, new voices,
hoodie which gloms the crumpled regions of the mind. If this
is to change there must be more than new grief, new people,
new government. Women speak this too on sun-warmed patios;
men nurse rude mowers, watching the colourful people. The wheel
twists in my hand like an interracial concept: this I allow, admitting
there is no oversteering fresh-machined times. If things change here
there must be new kerthunking in the sky, new principles of design.
The city sleeps; it’s lost its master—
no homing dream assaults the night.
Its eyelid stutters like a secret shutter.
The bridges, flexing their lulls over water,
provide no answer—so despite the lights
this city sleeps, though it’s lost its master.
This is how one day becomes another.
Furled streets that stiffen, anticipating flight—
an eyelid stuttering like a secret shutter—
the stammer of a river that knows its laughter
and is not ashamed. Bereft of shore, without a fight,
my city sleeps, and it has no master
but time. Soon it must wake to start the slaughter
of hours, and, innocent of nothing, pull wide
the eyelid stuttering like a secret shutter—
but nothing happens. The river rises past her
scheduled banks, finding quiet ways to indict
this city’s sleep. There is no master.
The eyelid stutters like a secret shutter.