The Notch; Bright Juice; Nuns Fret Not; Dirt

The Notch

after Leon Stokesbury


When my newborn lay gray, silent, and still
I saw a notch in the skin at his collarbone—a petal
puckered by rain or, over an open mouth, a veil
of chiffon sucked in—breath’s first pirouette.
When my mother lay dying, what pierced me
was not her mouth’s black puckered O. It was not
her hands going slack at the rails, or even her eye
sunk into iris-less stone. It was that last breath
shirring the flesh at her throat, the sign that she,
drawn utterly inwardly taut, was braced against death.
That she wanted the world even with all its pain,
only the world. One day, my turn to make a wreath
of my arms, rise up en pointe

then, whip-pivot-spot—be gone.

Let my throat ache then, be notched. Each flawed dawn.



Bright Juice
Full fathom five my mother lies
near the old Altoona Silk Mill,
where each fifth-grade girl
was given a bobbin wound with floss
shiny and fine as a spider’s thrown line.
I have mine still, and the memory
of mulberries staining my hands,
the refrain of juice bright in my mouth.
At Mom’s wake, other gray faces
who’d worked the looms in rooms
so thick with thread that noon
was dark. Of her lungs is shantung spun.
A spider spills herself, shining, in air,
and beauty’s matrix is mucous and fear.



Nuns Fret Not
She’s inside the frame here and guesses
she likes it that way. If nuns fret not
in their narrow cells, why then should she?
Her cot has, after all, got this very nice mattress
and custom duvet. But under the green hum
of the all-night lights she—almost—makes
out some other sound. A break in the rhythm,
a knock in the engine of warm rocking dark
(for the lights in their way do emit darkness)
—the men on their knees in the dirt
of the park she jogs in, a Food-Not-Bombs T-shirt,
a friend’s son’s legs lost in Iraq—Iraq?
What is Iraq doing in here? She’s screwed.
Something is knocking. The size of a world.



Then will I headlong run into the earth . . .
—Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus


“I was the dirt of the dirt,” the AA speaker said,
testifying about How It Was,
and it hurt her to say it. So much, that she
said it again. What Happened? At first,
she could not make out any words
when others were sharing; it took a year
for her to recall any name said after
her own. “I was the dirt of the dirt”
she said again, and it hurt me to hear it
What it’s like now wearing that hair shirt—
then it hit me; having an itch to scratch
means we’re alive. As for dirt, let us pray
we’ll learn to like it. It’s all we get: today.