Monday, October 24, 2011

Three Poems by Lisa Sewell

ON THE NATURAL HISTORY OF DESTRUCTION (2011)

A pair of shoes my father wants to walk in:
smooth soles, smooth insoles, adjustable

for feet swollen and distorted, each toe
a pink scaly balloon of hurts me.

Forty warm minutes in the warming sun,
salt air masking the scent of shame and hiding—

the need to know at odds with a desire
to close down the senses.

Two secret drops of morphine in his tea
for the everywhere pain he says he’ll weather

and the bleak depression that refuses to lift.

Night is an ocean that always arrives to rattle
and drown. In the under rustling and climbing moans

in the dangerous confusion, he sleeps
at the very mattress edge of disaster

facing the catastrophe that was taking place
with silent fascination

pillow abandoned to the bed and to the creature
whose webbed wings weight the sheets and blankets.

Back of the nightstand, the iron sedative
purchased in Chicago in 1948:

its handle inlaid with mother of pearl
its Russian-roulette rotating chamber agape.

The neoprene pouch is open too—
one bullet rolls free, resounding in the drawer.


LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET (1987)

Out of our arguments with ourselves, what is lost
in translation is news that stays news, a small (or large)
machine made of words that makes nothing
happen, comes nearer to vital truth than history,
and must go in fear, be as new as foam, as old
as the rock, have something in it that is barbaric,
vast and wild, a way of taking life by the throat.
And as if the top of my head were taken off
for lack of what is found there or in the journal
of a sea animal living on land wanting to fly in the sky,
in the best words, in the best order, put things before
his eyes: imaginary gardens with real toads that spring
from genuine feeling that the mind is dangerous
and my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me—
out of this turning within, out of this immersion in your own world.


Bufo periglenes (Golden Toad)

Because his screech is melody and we are all in jeopardy
and all have golden toadsongs semaphoring in our throats.

Because the golden toad teaches us to flirt with day-glo
explosive breeding excess and to only emerge

between the dry and the wet—

though in the end all his flaxen chorusing could bring
no darker gravid female for him to climb, to clutch and hang upon

and his protective skin was also lung and kidney
a failed-canary early-warning for these coal mine days.

Because the true toad occurs on every continent except Australia
and Antarctica, and is toothless and sleek, deaf and mute

and all the scientists admit there was nothing like it anyone
had ever seen and nothing anyone will ever see again

we must memorize the numbers of decline: from three
hundred or more in each small pond, to twelve the next year,

then one lone male in 1989

and must not conjugate them into present tense
or in the understory and gnarled roots of the elfin forests.

Bring us back to the border of that April-May window
and temporary pool, to the small and bright gold enameled orange hue

that occasionally called out, perfectly patient, perfectly still,

before the end of that wild dangerous ride
like the second plague from Revelations in reverse

or the frog-in-the-moon eclipsing back into
the oblivion of a black, human magic,

before the extremely dry El Nino year, the desiccation
and larvae ungrown, before, as in a spell from Tubal and Jabal

all that nearly invisible fungus and blight

could be ushered across oceans, on airplanes
in the dirt beneath our fingernails and the microscopic dust

lining the Vibram-soled hiking boots
of the new conquistadors.

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