Once you warmed the shower wall with water
before pressing me against it. Some nights,
the bed was feverish heat. You, a man
burning, as the sheets twisted into peaks
not from our lovemaking, but nightmares.
So similar to the snakes in mine: centipedes,
the threat of their endless segmenting. Breaking
apart like mornings you left me for food or family,
the wife and daughters towns away who will never
know my name, theirs on your lips in a way
that gave me pause, that their conjured bodies
might leave the room first, let me have you fully,
before I leaned to kiss you. Tomorrow, I will drive
to the ocean, past the fish camps and souvenir
shacks, to the town where soon my sister will be wed.
She will tell me that she, too, once loved a man
whose brain burst into lace as he vowed himself
to trigger, hammer. She will turn as I enter the room,
careful not to shake loose our mother’s veil
bleeding from her blonde hair, same as mine.
And if I must look away, it will be to the grey
of our wintry piece of ocean, as I imagine a swim
so far from land I might find you whole
and floating, no barrel poised in your gorgeous mouth.
I thought my sadness was a moron’s elbow.
Thought I could offer it a salve,
or the comfort of a well-worn arm-chair.
I thought I could buy a corduroy shirt
and wash it the exact right number of times.
I hope you have better ideas about yours.
Maybe yours is the referee
of the driveway free-throw drill
I practiced evenings after dad’s no-chop dinners.
Back then, he had a rule for keeping things simple,
but lately I’ve seen him take knife to carrot,
tomato. Maybe yours is the referee,
who helped me count how many
out of one hundred I had made.
It is hard to make friends with the pinstriped,
but I have seen signs on television.
Maybe your sadness is the small belly
peeking through the misty t-shirt
of the early morning jogger, increasingly
invisible to all but the most unkind.
Maybe you are the master of sadness and yours
is the beagle’s drooped ears,
or the quadriceps of the bicycle commuter,
or the tear in the beagle’s owner’s tights,
which must be too comfortable to discard
for such a slight disfigurement.
After each miss, the referee stood under the hoop
unwilling to chase the ball, but after a make,
he gathered it, spun it in his hands as if
examining it for disqualifying flaws,
then snapped a chest pass back to me
with the form my youth team’s coach
must have dreamt of while his wife sat up
watching him whimper and squirm.
I caught the ball, with a developing sense
that something was horribly wrong.
I focused, made eight in a row.
I wanted to know more.
To become a world carry your wounds with you:
bright plums split on a dish
a scattered alchemy in the limbs metal upon heart upon glint
could you ever leave? Steal this
in passing, in looking sideways: an owl, a doorway
ever-crooked I have no use for perfect vision
walking downhill always means hold on
to me like a rush of insects ringing heavy in the bells
in a key of light dive bombing outside my window, alight –
my advocate of world-making I assume that you can hear me
tapping along the wall testing poetry or
the solidity of my name language has nothing to do with what I want
these heaps of words, stone upon stone cairn to mark the way above a tree
line, pointing think of the wound instead –
the units of the wound, these lake-worthy moments
the boarded – up houses we sleep in
My mother cuts the legs
off a moving crab.
The legs curl in a bucket
washed to garbage
to sea. When I come home,
I tread water on the carpet
and hang my head low.
Guillotine of the heart,
the wind causes trouble
between two trees.
The trouble causes splinters
enough to build a forest
in just one hand.
What can we learn
from disaster if not
the familiar angles of a face?
How I can touch yours and say Paul.
I crack open a geode
as a reminder of grace.
From the crystal center,
yolk splinters, pours.
25. Ellison, Tony Samuel, et al. Photograph Album. Twenty-two Albumen Prints: Life in the Louis Armstrong Houses with Views of Marcy Ave. Brooklyn, circa 1986.
A quaint example of urban pastoralism typical of an age when public policy and planning isolated urban poor like so many shepherds on a hill, these images capture a distant and harmless charm. A city block is cordoned for a riverless baptismal, for example; the skin of churchwomen in white linen buffs brown and brightens in sunlight beneath the spectrum shimmering from a fire hose, a curious counterpoint to hoses of Birmingham, these aimed skyward as if to cleanse the undercarriage of every chariot in heaven. In a style that marries Edward S. Curtis and Walker Evans, these images witness conflicting efforts to ennoble a stigmatized community. Of note is how the boom boxes of the youths, their fat shoelaces and hair-styling rituals obscure more complex, personal rites that would otherwise lift them one by one from the muck of type. Yet there is joy; the face of the bodega’s happiest man alive is carved from laughter and a lifetime of tobacco use. Carved deep like the rivers. Sentimental and simplifying, these images highlight the ease by which other can conceal a verb.
Oblong quarto, period-style full green morocco gilt; 22 vintage albumen prints, each measuring 8 by 10 inches; mounted on heavy card stock each measures 10 by 14 inches. $7500.
Original photograph album of Urban America circa 1986, with 22 splendid exhibition-size albumen prints
837. Wilson, Shurli-Anne Mfumi. Black Pampers: Raising Consciousness in the Post-Nationalist Home. Blacktalk Press, Lawnside, NJ, 1974. 642 pp., illustrator unknown. 10 ½ x 11 7/8”.
Want tips for nursery décor? Masks and hieroglyphics, akwaba dolls. Send Raggedy Ann to the trash heap. This tome is a how-to for upwardly mobile black parents beset with the guilt of assimilation. Revealed here are the safetypinnings of the nascent black middleclass, their leafy split-level cribs and infants with Sherman Hemsley hairlines. Of interest are bedtime polemics on the racist derivations of “The Wheels on the Bus.” Chapter headings address important questions of the day: How and how soon should you intervene if you suspect your child lacks rhythm? When do you prepare your little one for the historical memory of slavery? And the two cake solution: one party for classmates, and another one you can invite your sister’s kids to. Indispensible to collectors for whom Aesop’s African origin is no matter of debate, a more appropriate title for this book might nonetheless be, “What to Expect When You’re No Longer Expecting Revolution.”
Usual occasional scattered light foxing to interiors; contemporary tree calf
exceptional. About-fine condition. $75.00
Last night I dreamed you gave me a rabbit.
It is time, you said, then extended your hands,
the rabbit unfolding slowly from your chest,
trembling. The rabbit was white with dark eyes,
which I have never seen in waking life,
and lighter than rabbits I have held before.
One of its ears slipped between the buttons
of my shirt and touched my stomach. I tried to think
of what the soft ear felt like on my stomach,
but as I did you disappeared. The rabbit
became an enormous white dandelion.
I breathed on the dandelion and feather-seeds
scattered above my head before becoming
teeth that fell to the ground in sharp rain.
The headwind runs cool fingers
through my hair. The opal
of rain clouds & the treeline
lit up like the eyes of a woman
& I am drunk, pedaling faster
than I am dying. The divorce
getting smaller & smaller behind
me but still big enough I know
when it’s breathing. Drunk & fast,
I’m a procession of heartbeats
somewhere between where I’ve come from
& where I’m going. Long before
I met her, when I was still a child
the great bird of loneliness
came to roost in me. I didn’t want
to drink it to sleep tonight. I let go,
first my wedding hand, sinister hand,
certain hand, then the other, divorce hand,
love hand, writing hand. The frogs
purring in the creek & I close my eyes
as a way to hear everything
better. I pray
out loud because I’m the only human
creature there. I want to be a glad
man. I want to go up singing.
Forgive my hands, false
& true hands, fail & try hands
that each release so easy
let me be an animal
that believes again
& I hear them first, urgencies
of fur over the pavement
then open my eyes & I
see the rabbits
little arcs of their leaping
taking the shape of rainbows,
& disintegrating as quickly,
dozens of them, bolts
of brown & iron light
a promenade before the quivering
of my front wheel as if to say
this is a new road, it is the same
road but it is a new road, the rabbits
the rabbits & then it is night
& they are gone & I am alone
in my humming & burning,
the stars throwing
light from before the age
of vertebrates across space at me.
I saw the rabbits. I said
amen & I am still
saying it. I go home with dust
on my ankles. The rabbits
flashed east & west
in front of my face splitting
the air into two fists of turbulence,
roads often & less taken
& this burned me, eternally
the way music can burn
& home, at the river
my bicycle fluttering
against the house
from the ride & I stand
at the kitchen door hearing
what the current & the trees
have to tell me & I am rabbit,
I am furry-souled now, I have now a heart
with the hocks & long hind
legs of a rabbit, my deepest self
long-eared & listening
I have now a way to kick & sprint,
& a way of knowing the wind
& its fickle cousin the river,
I have two new hands.
I dream you into being—mongering wolf
who stands outside the self, makes
its way through the transparent world
& its motions, its laughter & quarrels,
its rows of teeth, its tears, its chiming of clocks.
The pages turn. Words often fall between
the rising walls where your shadow
draws to an end.
In some region of vellum & toccatas,
it will be as it is in this life, the same room,
simple rural day, & the cinema of sleep.
Stories one has never read.
More & more I see the human form,
a nothingness which longs to be the sea.
Lives infinitely repeated down to atomic thinness
like footfalls in a strange house. If need
be from nothingness, let today
froth from your mouth.
Sources: Jules Supervielle, Maxine Kumin, Yves Bonnefoy, Robert Fitzgerald, Tomas Transtromer, Pierre Reverdy, Sandor Csoori, Alain Delahaye, O.V. de L. Milosz, Tristan Tzara, Paul Eluard, Eugene Guillevic, Miklos Radnoti, Boris Pasternak
Cripple of light opening against my back.
The summer like blood clots.
Silences crowd here, inhuman & abandoned—
wide-mouthed red flowers whose sweat reminds us
of approaching war. Unsure between two borders,
on this deep trajectory, my body in a sea-gull
line behind me like smoke, frail
flicker in the wolf-howling to the west,
& secrecy, the human dress.
We still live in another world
& what is empty turns its face to us.
Night in all things: in corners, in men’s eyes–
bees in a dried-out hive. Thus we forget
that only words still stand like tar fires in the woods
with a strange animal smell, phosphorus
peeled from old bones. Country
of anonymous pains, to die means leaving
all these things unsolved—arrow, flower, fire.
Sources: Anne Marie Rooney, Sandor Csoori, Lucian Blaga, Tomas Transtromer, Angel Gonzalez, Paul Engle, Sara de Ibanez, William Blake, Philippe Jaccottet, Joseph Brodsky, Nikolai Gumilev, Rolf Jacobsen, Gottfried Benn, Oswald de Andrade
With a cigarette between my fingers
and flowers bound up in her hair
dry morning bathes us
in the claw-foot tub. Asphyxiation
by drowning. This dawn welcomes us
to another side. Every bird lies
belly up while critters walk the wire
between worlds. The cracked abalone
gives its water. So floats the lone skiff,
her satin dress. Ashore, bodies bait the sun.
And if this afterworld could turn us
back, resurrection might seem less
magnificent. Like impossible succulents,
meaty vines, we soak in every drop.
And intricate systems pump life
through arterial hoses, strain veins
to their splitting point. And our hearts
bloated with intuition and lava
burst from the surface. All that ash
and pitiful flame. All our parched bits
smothered by smoke. Bury us
in this world after. Lock us into lucid rock
and porous memory, capturing
heat, old worlds, and mineral.
Let your lover fish pesos from his pocket
to buy you one bright pitaya—dragonfruit—
pink as your bra strap, with yellow, inedible
nipples. You’ll want to devour it then,
thirsty as you are, dizzied from the heat
and his hand on your thigh, the other steering
cracked highways, radio hissing faraway norteño
with every right turn.
Forget the fruit in each hotel he brings you to.
It’s buried beneath wet clothes, a baggie
with toothbrush and soap. Let him peel you
with his mouth, scoop you with his hands
to each hard bed, every rough maroon comforter
that dissolves you like sugar. Let him call you
sweet in an accent that hurries your kisses
across his skin like water.
It’s best eaten cold, he’ll tell you in the morning.
Dream of its taste like his flesh,
if he disappeared tomorrow. Dream of its color
like heirloom suns flaring above Coba, Tulum,
baking your shadows in ruins. Leave it firming
in the fridge, but have him steady your hand
when you’re ready, the shaking blade splaying
its center: two ice-white glaciers.
He will offer its seeded belly with a spoon—
he’ll feed you all of it, tickling
your throat like goodbye, all instantaneous melt.
How could you ever depict its flavor?
Call it a doorway—you will never again return
to the pale, misspent girl; the you before dragonfruit.
Now you carry the tart pucker of those exotic husks,
now you’ve crossed over.
Stone flung to crater: we gather what we can of the dead, but they remember us in our entirety, filling our pockets with bones and pink rhododendron.
We pass the pavilion, toward the wooden skiff, its nets suspended in loam. You winnow through the ruin of porous shore, your hands murky with sea urchins, palms stung with their dying stars. The basalt gods gaze on, graved full of moon. They eclipse dark at dusk. They are not our gods.
You move among them, a constellation of absence threaded through the fractured lights
 Jeju Do is the name of an island located off the southeast coast of South Korea. Hallasan is the name of the volcanic mountain on the island.
STILL LIFE WITH FALLEN GAME
For (and after) J
At the edge of want, everything is cast
into ebbed relief; not only each
waxed and gorgeous object,
but the distance between:
boar-shadow and bloodied quail, which is to say,
the negative space that desire is:
between what we want and what we are capable of,
overripe peach as slow eclipse ::: lover
turning afield – praise be
hunger and fear, the brutal devotions
that will lean us out
praise be to what this dark bounty
would hallow us into
EPITHALIUM WITH SPIDER AND SPARROW
See what our bodies make
of each other, my seraph sung
from reed and seeding stalks;
my blue-mouthed beauty –
see what ellipses we
spin and snare, radiant
of limb and muddied wing.
NO BODY, NO TOWN
Whiskey, my father said, can live
in an oak barrel for seventy years. As for me,
I shed skin, and every year I am a new
girl. I need no time to marinate.
It is said that I ruined my body with butter,
Midwestern comfort, and boys
who say, “Missour-ah” loud and benevolently
as they knock back a beer with a twang.
They gather me and drink; their hangovers kill.
The cashiers stare when I need soap
and a crate of apples; they forget
to give me change. They fumble,
mistaking a five for a twenty.
Green eyes, my mother said, are a sign
of an incurable meanness. She always knew
this is no country for women.
When making a fruit salad, does he leave you
the mango pit to suck on?
Do the sweet strings get stuck in your teeth
until you swear off palpable love forever
as though it were a bad habit, a perpetual
Do you love a man’s body or do you prefer
the softness of a woman’s, an apricot
that is dull enough to adore, but quickly
tart and sharp in the back of your mouth?
When I say the word “resentment”
who do you think of first?
When I ask you how many times you had
to cut your own hair with a butcher knife
don’t tell me this was done in your sleep.
He hands me the mango pit, but only
as a replacement for his finger tips, which
are unavailable, forlorn and usually out
of reach physically and spiritually.
The only sweet strings are the ones I pull,
a craft learned in college and in bed.
I love how hard a man’s body can be;
it can cut through tomato skins and muffle
screams like chloroform can. A woman’s
body is lethal in different ways,
like how children can pluck legs off unsuspecting
spiders and leave them dying on the playground.
When you say the word “resentment”
I think of my mother, for she only taught
me to love men who didn’t need women.
And I would never deny sheering off
the one thing that made me beautiful;
but the thing about hair, is that the second
time it grows back, it devours.
Not being stupid
I took what was offered: the job
was waiting and I did it
with sand and mirrors, in glitter
while I paced. I waited, I fell
in love with waiting
covered in jewels washed
in from the sea. Summer
kept me in sugared fruits,
shiny shells, mother-of-pearl.
My job was undressing
the sea, what it wanted, shovel
and droplet turned sun to roving dots.
Waiting threw its necklace back,
was work, was softened glass.
I dug a shallow wide hole in the yard
for a tree that might grow or an animal’s grave.
Dog in the hole, white fur and fill dirt.
Better to bury it. It was my birthday.
A dogwood in winter has berries the birds like.
A winter rose in the window. A sugar
rose. We will take it in the snow. We’ll fill
a hollow log with heated rocks.
It is my birthday. It keeps on, it occurs.
For my birthday I am given a window.
By you I am given. A view, a gift, a tree, a dog,
a stone. Everything I have I give to winter.
Flood deeps the shallows.
The rivers get covered.
We difficult our dinners.
In times of hunger, if only
a rock on which to perch.
In sleep we choose a dream:
lure a gull and water lock it,
meet a boy and get feet.
“Like syntactical pinwheels, Ginsburg’s word choice disorients then reorients the reader in a new, slightly off-kilter universe. Like a perennial Alice through the looking glass, for the speaker, seeing the world, let alone being in the world is not a habit. The speaker sees the world in its particularity: birds animate cables; light, dust and shadow are caught in the dearth of a moment. Ginsburg’s vision—embracing everything and refusing nothing—gives the collection its spine.” ~ Review by Amy Pence, online at The Rumpus