August 30, 2009


Did he throw the branch to me? to the scorpion? or did he sink the statue for someone else?

Haven’t we been through this avalanche already or are we holding our breath in order to slow down?

Once you tell me the reason for your quivering, will I be able to locate our origin on this map?

If you don’t trust me, cock an ear to this altitude.

Can a sentence become sentient, a shiver become clever, without rearranging more than three pillars?

When we learned to swallow flags for them, did they hollow out a nest for us?

Not a chance, not a chimney delivering silk plumes—por, para, por, para.

Why do we keep puffing on this idle enginge when we should be splintering tree trunks, forging spinning wheel circles in sand?

If she ignores the smoke signal, does lightning really know enough to strike twice?

If every incline leaves me speechless, can my satisfaction be tied to tunnels or trick gardens?

There is no limit to how far we will swim.


After the eyes adjust and light is no longer, delve into dusty foxholes, the mouth of the earth. Did you think to snuff the candles with blossoms, to muffle the mildew with canary wings? Take one lone jackal mummy and two homely bats: call this convergence a night owl neverland. You have dreamt of silver lassos, maybe, obsidian necklines, or slick granite tracing the inside of those thighs.

Shadows spawn words that will not fit under a footstep or stay lodged in our temples. Breathe into each echo, know in every inch of your veins you are not being buried. Only the death of an afternoon, or too distant lifelines cradled in a calloused palm. One by one pale-faced mummies will pucker. Some have known walls like wet fossils, fresh from the underbelly, sour yet smoldering. Give them a secondhand shovel story, lined with ruby intent.

We go sinking, little snakes, down a rabbit hole closer to precious stones or the center of sleep. If only we were able to measure what we lacked, with these half-forbidden map facts we could knit a new language of chisels and crouch. Said give me your hand before slinking humble into periscope posture.

Make it glisten, let your spine curl, all in a day’s ache. When you think of collarbones, say crystal or cocoon. Now is not the time to start cracking knuckles. Trace the outline of another’s belly and circle outward, a path of deduction, a context of crumbs. Stagger your steps, then steady that racheting dagger of a jackhammer, under ceilings run amok, cave drilling clockwise, to pierce the dangling dark.

Mister Soot-stained Cheekbone, Mister Eyesmudge Never-empty-handed, do indulge us in the formula for finding shine: fickle gleaning, one stunning, one bloodstone. You know what to whisper, when to swallow uncertainty folded in two. Half-forgetting the landmarks, the hamstrings that carried us, woven into wallscapes, gouged until threadbare. Little did we know, digging is all that.


“Called back, the world comes into focus at distant intervals.

First the stone slab, then the gray hornet mask. What happens

in between I have walked and guessed.”

–Catherine Imbriglio, “Emily”


Beyond eyesilk and palebody

stonewave and woodshadows

Being blindfolded is not enough

if what you’re telling me is true.

A lover leaves a cave in search of windchance,

cloudscape: flesh and bone without fear.

But come midday stub a mud-cradled

toe on steel girders and howl will follow,

Slick new equations burning wave after wave

tunnels in a dirtmirror; think dogsbrow, dewhumming.


Graphing the church on the corner:

arches spilling bodies

an extravagant ant farm

permutations spelled out in


Two angel-headed bipeds fed healing shock waves,

(ballads treating blisters and bad air) square off

at the shoulders, start speeding, with slight salivation

in opposite directions on the count of

this sun is to your advantage from the last blade

still standing to first shadow cast


Undoing cityscape, sidewalk by storefront, eat some weeping-willow-haired girls on your left, sock the right message to them, unflexing your usuals. Avoid memorizing street names, resist feeling binary. Left-handing the pitch leaves one eager to seek creative ends. Broken jaw diesel headaches add up like emptied suitcases, wax gum wrappers—tap into this nightly telling of the little ones and fragiles to keep the gate closed.


Not everyone is born a hunter

stripped of breath

as gasp would have it

quick to learn the aftermath of

some magnetic solid

sounding smack into a milkworn body

poor now-broken compass chaneling

curb-checked satellites

Come stanza my stone

steady my rucksack

Beneath a gargoyle garden

boasting rooftop pondscum

slow broadcast the birthing of our

inverse pastures:

lily petals arching asphalt

The vehicular homespun forest equals flight

she writes to a waving flag

so speed’s my suitor

One jacket two junkyards

to buckle my battle axe

robin’s egg blue

Rally hordes of rust-free steely-eyed cadillacs

born to outlast the energy of all six horses

blind knights brandishing snapdragons blue throatwort feverfew

foxglove glory lily golden rod larkspur love lies bleeding scarlet

plume scorpion orchid sweet sultan sword lily

burying syllables deep into flesh, into rain gutters

cardinal my cradle

trading words

for what ivory

hello sweet harlequin

polished to bone


Somewhere a girl is gutting a tape with a butter knife. Cleaning a fish. Separate liquid from flesh, sound from source. That memory isn’t mine. The alleyway dreams itself into a stream. You say, jump, I say: blackout. Remind me how’d we get so much glass, steep scaffolding embedded? The fenceline only a brief, sheepish companion. Lay the city sermon out, horizontal. Now even out the folds, following orders, white fluff.


Humble breathing, bronzed nostalgia (framing fourteen stories)

exposes our weakness for thunderstruck

photographs. City sky hums electric.

Farming out our faith in astronomy

to the children, lambs

with telescope eyes.

Some days thud brilliant, static candid

reflections in a puddle. Stealing medieval triptychs,

debris out of monuments—our vaudeville diorama

Of where we walked when there were narrow

stopping places and every other non-hero

forgot to set the flash.

Kissed bliss locks northward,

unswallowing a fascination with

desperate pipelines, winged healers.


Here come the ants again,

choreographing invasion.

We legendary creatures

know frolick beats failure,

but soon stone labyrinths

could follow life-like.

Me carving this soil

with memory by hand.

Jealous yet? Metal

harvest consumes you.

Grassy knoll

meets gutsy pageantry,

chipper slogans urging

new hollow space,

urban happenings.

Their want to wool me over.

Consider this

neon trap undone.


Of sky and bridge and burning tree

meadow blinking outlasts skyscrapers

lakes us under—trajectories in silhouette

fogging it just so

Hip slips left

now make me an offer

What I am talking about when I say:

soapbox, turnpike, nautical and spectacle

The silver-tongued swans will never find us here

leaf pinching industry paving unbridled air


Unassuming light poles, palms

facing skyward

You’ll cradle my insides

you promised you would

Funny, how we are always renaming

things: the soot and etching after

The city sketches an epic under me

I’ve smelled soil all my life

watched evangelists learn to garden

Some sweet giveaway

of tv drama turned seascape

Notching a reservoir

culling it close


Some’s havoc

some’s alive

So started plucking moths from my hair

out of habit

Have a peek inside my canon

ballad’s brewing


To brittle gold limbs

reeds rushing skinside

from this dark

slick matter

nudging stillness

a gentle birch bough

spread wide dirt harbor

trust beetles brush cheek

go plunging green


go tied to reckless grace

and did you bending translate

each swallow and joint ache into handspun?

rows and rows of letting go

the hinges rot out

wood echoes—

edge it

night’s parachute

breath complete with leaks

red knots and tremble

opposite of arched body

each bird heart

howls bright for a better one

less a trauma than a telescope

what tethers knee-high

to lit hither?

a snake coiled under a landmine purrs to lure a hollow tree

puncture bathes me plural in this light

sky-sworn gesturing


Steffi Drewes’ poems have appeared in Bombay Gin, BlazeVOX, American Letters & Commentary, Aufgabe, Traffic, Fourteen Hills, and Beeswax Magazine, among others. Her manuscript, Wheel to Wing, was selected as a finalist for Switchback Books’ Gatewood Prize in 2008. A native Iowan, she now lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a contributing editor for MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine.Steffi

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