The North Ship

(with apologies to Philip Larkin)

Polar as an iceberg: with just such a bony,
shuddering dryness I might creak
my way to shore — only to boomerang,
sickeningly, with all the wretched persistence
of this numb season.
It has its arctic beauty — unimaginable cold
as the expanse of space, the chill, lacy halo
framing the moon, frozen tree branches encased in ice,
silvery, edged, fragile and deadly as the Snow Queen’s palace —
but this ship’s an icebreaker,
darkening, avenging, toothed and brutal;
it bites into the stilled wheel of the compass
without propelling it. My nights are stark,
but bitterly valid.

Am I a North Ship?
Steeled and calm, signally icebound,
avoiding all encounters, perpetually self-aligned
to the red thorn of the polar thumb,
the darkest, coldest point of it,
leading in this direction:

There is no north but North,
no star but that fixed and oldest one
that bluely draws on the frost-bite sail;
that with its very silence commands
some cold complicity.

on reading this name somewhere with poetry

Marvin Bell – your sonorous name,
ringing and rattling my stiff little heart –
I dash myself against your rock-like unknownness,
I might break again on the pocked reef of your smile.
How can I write and feel this towards you,
when you are so exquisitely alien?
But by the force of your pine-tree, your delicate name
you press upon me all the weight of the brain’s
obscure longings, and sighing I press through the cracks
to meet the imagined you,
bearer of sweet names in a year of cold outcomes.

Tomorrow I will read your poetry and your small biography –
the old birth-year, the colleges my friends might have gone to,
the wife and children to whom I have no connection at all –
I will peer through your window and examine your countenance
like one smudged in a yearbook, that we watch for some small opening,
some hint in the blur to tell why we twitched.
No matter what you say to me in your stanzas,
(for I will take every line as a personal address)
in what power or grace, in what coldness or ecstasy,
I will not know you then as we know the imagined;
I will not love you then as we love the unreal.

This Circus Never Breaks (unlike my back)

I am sister to that goose-gray elephant balancer,
I set the stage for her cool and slanted ride.
I am the one who
stands against the wall.

Sometimes I hold a knife
between my teeth,
sharpening an eye on its
thin brilliance.
I hold out my arms
standing spread-eagled
half-listening to the timed patter
waiting for the perfect set of blows –
thunk
thunk
thunk

(punctuated by their half-gasps)
and I open my eyes and step out smiling,
leaving my handled silhouette.

Continue reading This Circus Never Breaks (unlike my back)

elephant girl

These carnival visions
that possess me with their
weird glimpses of sawdust, and swaying
mis-shapes, slimness:

My other girl the elephant
runner into the grey pack
she is spangle & blink, paint
glitter & perpetual substitute
as if she don’t know
but what she don’t know
can’t make her a shame
of her many acrobatics –
in the cool darkness of that
greenback tent, his fat-handed grope
won’t go unrewarded.
She turns her head to face
the crack of light
that flashes from beneath the canvas
edge, white as a blade.

Continue reading elephant girl