August 30, 2009
VILLAGERS AT THE ROUND TABLE
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.
GIVE ME TUNNELS, BRING ME RUST
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.
SKYWIRE, THROATSONG: AFTER ARCADIA
“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
Come stanza my stone
steady my rucksack
Beneath a gargoyle garden
boasting rooftop pondscum
slow broadcast the birthing of our
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
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,
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.
meets gutsy pageantry,
chipper slogans urging
new hollow space,
Their want to wool me over.
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
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
So started plucking moths from my hair
out of habit
Have a peek inside my canon
IF AFTER EVERYTHING
To brittle gold limbs
reeds rushing skinside
from this dark
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
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
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.