Her arms and legs are buoyant, but her body
always sinks. It's her stone heart, you assume,
or the memories she encases in cement and
buries in her lungs. She exhales gray dust
and corners echo in her cough. It's unfortunate
she lives near the Atlantic, buffeted by waves
when she wades waist-deep into green water,
the only element that can hold her. Unfortunate.
She won't come to us in Sonora, become a boulder
of granite, sun-warmed, and crying every time it rains.
She Stops to Sew
She brushes sand from wet skin
finds an edge along her forearm
peels clockwise from the thumb side
to the back and folds it into a neat square
sets her coffee cup upon it
leaves a circle stain around a black tattooed bird.
It smells like cinnamon and chocolate
reminds her of café afternoons in Paris
seated streetside by the flower sellers by the Seine.
From her sole the second is cloud transparent
grey and a little green with feathers falling
small and downy to the floor.
She sketches a room on the top of her foot
small sweeps of ink
a piano and a window
that will need a good scrubbing later.
A layer from her cheek is like parchment
makes music and feels Appalachian
full of timbre and twang
salty notes of tears that dry in drops on smile lines.
She smudges coal dust on her thigh
hums a melody flat as a mountain top.
She stops to sip water and make a list
of bodices: sweetheart, empire, corset, boat.
She threads a note-shaped needle before beginning
at her throat and peeling down to her belly
finding her grandmother's flocked pink wallpaper
seahorses chasing swirls of algae.
This is where she stops
at the edge of a beach
to sew lace to her breasts and ruching to her ribs.
There is always ever a pattern.
You call me to say
that your pencil drawing
was well received,
but the watercolor
didn't come out right.
You start to cry,
and I know this is not the reason
you called me—
You say you can't remember
whole passages of your childhood.
They seem blacked out,
like charcoal was smeared
over the thick pages of your past.
I tell you about the time
we made small piles of leaves
under the cottonwood trees
to be beds for our dolls.
We built a whole nursery,
brought out blankets
and a pot to heat bottles.
We nurtured our babies
for an autumn afternoon
as the sun's light filtered
through the branches.
Stars Made of Salt
for Reginald Shepherd
Bordeaux, I know, was your favorite.
You loved the spice and heady warmth
coursing through your chest and belly
even as your cells cooled and decayed
and your heart cracked. I have filled
my glass twice tonight, and it shines
like a garnet, a harp singing when I run
my finger over its rim.
I look out over the crowns of treetops
and see why you once said the stars are made of salt—
God's tears for all that would be lost
dried on a cast velvet plain, shimmering
out of sorrow. The wine stains my tongue
muddles my thoughts. You gave me meanings
for work and carefulness, but I have mislaid them.
I was your student, Pandora
opening her gift before it was time, letting every image
and metaphor out, too clumsy to gather them back in.
I have a sip of wine left, but
salt and wine don't mix so well.
I wonder if you are above the salt now
if you are still offended by your death, indignant.
I'll throw salt over my shoulder—
catch some on your tongue for comfort.
The bookwright was zafty
as a woman with squirrel—
it was enough to make him
beef-witted and paunchy.
He blamed his cross-starred mother,
a dodecahedron of a woman—
Plato would have fallen for her
like a plate from a cup board.
The bookwright would never wed.
The tyromancer told him so
as she watched what would become
sharp cheddar curdle and firm
and separate from its whey.
She accepted his cheque, kissed
his neck, and told him to walk
sideways out of the dairy.
The bookwright was not a novel
person, nor a good story tall.
He hit his head on lintels that tipped
but never tripped on bell chords.
The solicitor never found a tax
appropriate for his pages. Half
a crown was all he would take
for the blank white skins, inkless.
Pocket Full of Heirlooms
The mouse could conjure
with the merest trinkets
a teacup and some twine
spirit a girl to her tea
sigh over the water and cast
a spell. Once shrunk, the girl
would be dizzy, woozy,
tip and bend, fall headfirst
into the cup, her cap floating.
No need to carry a drowning
child, just tuck some moss
around her waist, let her feet
flail then still. Another child saved
from the setting of traps,
the curl of a man's smile.
would sing, wave her wand,
Pools of murky water, the grey-green
of an English heath, muddy roads
are lovely as cheese when riding
in a nest atop the feathered back
of a friend, gold chain around her neck.
Wet beads on the bird's back, her scaled
feet curled in claws for flight. My fur
cloud white, dampens and pelts.
The gold chain warms us with its light.
When we land, rooftop high, I tuck the nest
and bird into the cote. I shake and run to my wife.
The bird perches, waits, watches for cats.
Under a spell that stills her like sugar
with a basket at her feet and scarlet
scarf around her neck
the gypsy mouse under a glass dome
had once caressed a litter of little ones
expecting not much save a bit of night
behind the wall she sheltered in.
Struck once with the beauty
of fillet lace and the boundless sky
in a mistress' chamber, she
saved the memory for later, tucked
into a nest of memory just as the woman
cursed her, lifted her stiff body to the dresser,
stood her under glass alongside atomizers, tassels.