Even as I deliver my body
to the subway’s tenebrous mercy,
I cannot un-know this:
each time daylight invades
our limbs, the sun marching
its restless armies up the sheets,
my love will put entire states between us
and there’s no telling
when the map will tesseract
itself to bring him back.
Always his breath that first
breaks me. His chest a hum
of lightning bugs. Lethal
little darlings. His fingers
swarm my thighs. He leaves
teeth prints to miss him by—
Praise this skin
its miracle cells, their blessed
Under my pillow, a mason jar
where I collect my name
each time it burns his mouth
in the summer porch of him.
I pin their wings down.
I sing to them of the hour
before the wolf comes.
Listen to Victoria Lynne McCoy’s reading of “Aubade in Pieces” below…
7. Olympia, Washington
The Pacific Ocean shovels coals in the distance.
My drunk friends drop pebbles at me as I lie
on the couch losing water. Be happy, be happy, be happy.
I’m trying to see spring sprout, mountain that smells like green apple,
grass younger than me, to see the pink sweater
I wore when the sun sprinkled pink dust and I practiced
xiang gong to make my body fragrant,
not the speeding lines of the steel tunnel,
a hand gridding its fingers on my ribs.
I’m trying to breathe, to reach water or an address.
In the white house
with white windows
who spends the night?
The dead say: don’t
talk so loud
I can hear you
even before the words are said
In the woods
there is a bird
have every color
in the world
You’ve seen it
every name of it
in your throat
Seeds tier in a pomegranate.
Sweat beads convex-mirror corners of a night.
You pick up a piece of coal from roadside,
wrap it in a blue and green checked handkerchief
and give it to me: What makes you feel warm?
In the Himalayas, a snow leopard
spins gold in early morning. I tie a prayer flag
to a balloon and let go. Its little feet step through clouds
and rain falls on the white stupas, the hind-scalps
of prostrating pilgrims who say: om mani padme hum, om
mani padme hum, om mani padme hum…
(Skullcup of Buddha)
holding his consort
In the dancer’s pose
he stands on a corpse
supported by a lotus
Streetlamps imitate stars.
Stains on a hotel ceiling imitate mountains, boats and ruins.
…either do great good or great evil,
the journalist, 23, says. We walk
along the low brick wall into a park. A palm tree
stops us and deepens the ocher of our faces.
A stone bridge shapes an ellipse with its shadow. We
don’t have much to do so we press each other’s body.
Is a compass a moon bringing a finger to its lips?
A mosquito net
with a crimson mosquito
A roach crawls beneath the net
onto her right leg
My leg feels odd
her algebra teacher says
her chief-editor says
the legless beggar says
the manager of Human Resources says
her snoring lover says
On the wall a map
of cherries and water paths
3. Zhongzhou, Luoyang
This area is between brown and purple.
All the apartment buildings look the same.
I need to lie down, call out
your name to one of the black-barred
windows. In the most crowded market,
my classmate is selling embroidered pillowcases and lingerie.
If you appear, I’ll make you look at me balancing
the sick little invisible animal
on my head. I love the sweet numbness of dusk—
we glow before vanishing.
Lay out the grid
of roads and wards:
Align the northern part
of the western wall
the middle stretch
of the eastern wall
and a road that comes
in Gate VII
and heads south
the course of the Luo
Align the other roads
the southern part
of the western wall
most of the northern stretch
and the surviving part
at the southern end
of the eastern wall
When the earth shakes, hunching grandma
picks me up, cousin’s uneven leg shadow-puppets
the window. The sky lowers like father’s raincoat
till the old lady carried out by her son
drums on his head: Let me die at home, let me die.
We live in a tent, eat government bread
and play on a monkey-hill. The world stays
a cotton ball in big sister’s bleeding nose.
Worms swim in my belly, warm air rubs my soles.
“The image of spider web and cocoons in ‘Niujie, Bejing’ came
from Napoleon’s Collection, painted by Elizabeth Schoyer, whom
I studied with at the University of Virginia. In fact, the poem
sequence grew out of an art exercise for her class. For the exercise,
we made a map of the place we grew up. In the sequence, each
poem is a place and consists of two stanzas — the one on the left
pockets traces of experience; the one on the right serves as sort of
notes on the experience. Together they work like lines of latitude
and longitude to locate the experience.”-Ye Chun
Draw a spider web
with small cocoons
Draw one cocoon
one of polyp
one with a man inside
the man with a bird
in his belly
(its singing is its gyration)
with a bomb in his head
(its ticking its nutrition)
Ye Chun’s “MAP”, continued…
A cold flux of the humors can produce heaviness in the tissue, which leads to a blocked affection. The resulting fluids pool in the feet, causing sluggishness. The effect of spirits and devils on this disorder cannot be overlooked. Their natures are various, and their motives obscure. I had a spirit who gave me good dreams and stomach-worms.
A blocked affection makes a man tedious. He is driven to decode his friends’ addresses, convinced of the malice behind each ciphered word and look. A cache of innuendo shines in the light of his diseased fancy. Odd items become significant. Some patients can’t endure mention of a wet towel or a ribbon, from a secret antipathy.
Hooked on the barb of this distemper’s devil, the suffering man must heed its muttering. He shuns company and hoards his pleasures, fearing others’ mockery of his chosen amusements. He suspects even his doctor wishes him ill. He avoids medication on a pretext, being wary of arsenic.
The treatment shouldn’t fully clear the distempered humor. As in bloodletting, draining too much of its chill vitality will worsen the imbalance. Suspicion has sometime a good cause. (Wasn’t my friend a swindler after all?) Anyone may develop blocked affections. If you clasp someone’s hand and his fingers are cold, suspect him of it.
Listen to Sarah Johnson discuss “For Blocked Affections” below…
My wife’s marmalade is the best I’ve had. She peels and crushes
the oranges herself, and for days
the house smells of oranges’ beaten golden pulp. Under her persistent hands,
the fruit submits. It becomes a vivid concentrate,
textured with rind. Stored in jars,
it will keep for months.
Johnson used to make a drink for himself
at our Club, with water and muddled oranges. With a spoon he crushed the segments
down in the glass. Fishing out the peels, he put them quickly
in his pocket—it seemed he didn’t want to be discovered, though his dirty coat
smelled guilty as oranges. I made a bet with a lady,
who didn’t think me man enough
to ask him why he kept the pieces. It was one of his obscure compulsions.
My store of notes was still growing
in those days, rising in ragged pillars in my stonewalled study, away in Scotland
where I’d compile them. Johnson’s voice, unmistakable, kept sounding
through me. When he died, I was in Edinburgh. He left me nothing.
On the morning I dared
to ask him, I stood over his writing-desk, my pen ready. I saw the peels
in a neat stack atop his diary. Under pressure, my friend admitted
his great liking for orangepeel. I noted down his strange unwillingness
to answer freely. Each peel was scraped and dried,
and cut into thin pieces. What he did with them next, he could not be prevailed upon
to tell. Firmly as always, he pressed my expression into vigor
and correctitude: he could not be prevailed upon,
even by his dearest friends, to tell. My pages smell of citrus, still.
Listen to Sarah Johnson discuss “Mr. Boswell Peels An Orange” below…
All day he labours, polishing the plate
(small, nondescript, whose eyes illuminate
his workman’s face), picks up the burin, starts
to etch out in reverse all but the heart
of what he sees, carves worlds in words,
carves tigers, devils, chimney-sweeps and birds.
Varnish and ink and acid-bath stand by,
then, day’s work done, he walks in Peckham Rye
and sees the new-leaved trees through tired eyes,
each leaf a green-winged angel on the sky.
Where the waters cut the gorge cut strata of soft stone where granite
resists and holds itself against the water
where the waters drop in sheets across the rock steps then plunge
in white cascades
like moving ice the liquid of glacial rumbling froths and pounds stone
a heavenly and timeless pressure
the pull of the spin of the moon the star rise the unfathomable magnetism
of polar caps stretching the planet
there beside this monument of the elements we sit
father and daughter in the misted air
miraculous as geology, as history in stone that survives
that we have survived our lives.
Water is clear and moves and you see through turbulence
the struts and buttresses
granite and shale holding up the pounding of dropping water
the skeletal arches cradling
the pounding heart and still peer with the unchanged look of a wordless
now with words across time where air and water and stone
a woman writes philosophy where elements of truth and ethics,
the construction of worlds, are ideas
living off the page as real as the water falling and the mists rising
here capturing light
where surgent waters have cut away the earth
we sit centuries below the surface.
There’s light and reflection, sound and respite from sound
and a moment’s pause together.
The silver-bottomed leaves of the nearby willows turn to tell us more
about the mists and breezes that pass
as if all the lives that have made us packed into the helixes
of our genes come unsprung
dozens of relatives are watching us murmuring questions
in many languages the rabbi
the pharmacist from Minsk the dime-store merchant from Brooklyn
the venetian blind maker from Jersey
all with held breaths perplexed trying to explain
the origins of this scholar
who has hiked through a gorge with her father in Tennessee—
Not all rocks
are alive. Or
so I’ve read.
Someone I love
is struggling, her thoughts
caught in a net.
Her face is full of grace,
her body evergreen,
her heart sharp
as the Canadian Shield.
I’m in Sudbury.
The pine trees looked lovely
as I drove
the treacherous roads.
for this. I sit
by a fake fireplace
that frames a true flame.
I have been crossed
by two crows today.
This tapestry depicts
the biggest bummer
of the new century.
She said you’re hurting
me. She said you’re
not a child.
For Yoko Ono
I dreamed there was a storm.
When it cleared the sky said here
is a half glass of water
to see the seasons through.
When I was a little girl Mother
said I could be anything.
I said a rabbit.
White hare running through white air.
Stand at the stove and heat milk.
Dream of white rabbits dancing
on white chairs in white snow.
Say yes to sleeping in a see-through dress.
Yes to a pair of scissors for the people
who cut holes in my clothes.
I’ll sit here and watch you do it.
I looked up at the night
and saw the moon.
I said Are you cold?
Do you need a blanket?
Oh no, she said. No, no, no.
When I woke up there was a mountain
and I was a cloud floating beside her.
How do we get back down?
Iron your mind out
like a clean white bedsheet.
Hang it on a clothesline.
Call it the sky.
Listen to Damian Rogers’ reading of “Yes, I’m A Witch” below…