Monday, November 18, 2013

Three Poems (Jessamyn Smyth)


Cartographer and chemist,
spy and homeland security,
the dog practices precise 
mathematics of scent.

Pausing to identify rodent, 
coyote, cat, guano, death
in microscopic traces, he buries
his nose in grass-crackled hoarfrost.

Last night, a single howl in the forest
hurled him from sleep: together, we flew
to the window, leaned out in sharp cold.
Listen, I said. Someone's going to be eaten.

We envy them, the coyotes—generously—
the mice, too, spread across miles
suspended in ice, crystalline
and disassembled.

Seven Deer in a Field 

Dark. Moon-sculpted bodies in the snow. 
Years, scraping ice for thin, pale grass, 
summer remnants (frozen clover, 
dandelion greens gone gray and fibrous):

on the way home, a fox melts—yes, melts—
into brush. Some silence, grace, privacy
is equivalent to nonexistence. No one 
will believe you. You can’t prove any of it. 

There was love, you will want to say. You will want 
to believe you saw what you saw in that dim 
and silver cold: visible breath in seven hot clouds, 
a small, quick flame disappearing at the periphery.

My mind skitters away from all of this, after a time

“Poetry is a kind of lying…
Degas said he didn’t paint
what he saw, but what
would enable them to see…”

—Jack Gilbert

Shooting out sideways, ducking and weaving. Another flurry of attention. This is what we do: ignore, gain by claim, too late. The lake lobs winter, right at our heads. Indoors, when not pumping endless tribute flattening out complexity to celebrity, the flood slobbers over David Petraeus and wordplay involving fellatio, wiping fish-smelling spunk from chins before posting another clip of Jack Gilbert reading, because there was a great article about him in the L.A. Times—did you see that?—and then he was dead. (There might be something to be gained, here.) The wind does banshee things. My grandfather called pneumonia ‘the old man’s friend.’ (Some are actually grieving.) Sure, they were all lovers, that generation, those powerful men who thought themselves bewildered and soft: maybe even good ones, when they weren’t fatal. Such poems they wrote! Really. And they always said thank you for what they took. Well, some of them did. “The heart never fits the journey. Always one ends first.” I want to be left alone, to walk the edge wave-whipped, to only think about the fact that damn it, I ripped the skin from my ankle, shaving, in just the spot where socks sit and it’s bugging me; or the broken shower curtain rod and how I need to go to the hardware store to replace it; or how the dog needs a bath because he rolled in turkey poo now clumped behind his right ear like a magnolia and there are turkeys visiting the lake but it’s getting dark so early I really need to get moving. The double-vision gives me a headache. It’s a generational thing, and a gendered one, I think: anyway, I lack the mercenary quality necessary to live as they did. They carved it out of me. And don’t, just don’t tell me again to write about that—Christ, how stupid do you think I am? I was there. I know who gets off on it. Cummington, Christopher Street, the Aegean: anyway, my own Greek exile was different. There was no woman financing it, for one thing. I lived in the north, between the Balkans and Turkey. Ate a lot of pasta. The sun set behind Olympus. Every night. Like myth. A feral cat became my friend. I called her Athanatos Empsyche, and asked her for nothing. We sat together in amber light and chamomile. When I went back to Aegina, I never did find my father’s house, that flat rooftop where the landlady sun-roasted pistachios on sheets of corrugated tin, but a satyr in a wool suit gave me an armload of peacock feathers because he found me beautiful. Right at the temple to Aphaia, where I almost died once. He disappeared into the olive orchard after that, and I rode my German moped with the Daffy Duck decal back down to the village, plumage streaming in the wind.

Jessamy Smyth's forthcoming, Kitsune, is from New Women's Voices Series: Finishing Line Press 2013. She is the editor-in-chief of the new Tupelo Quarterly, and is currently teaching at the paradigm-shifting Quest University in Canada (an interdisciplinary class in ethics, philosophy, and literature through ancient Greek texts).

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