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Nicole Olweean

Tempore Antri

For Grete, as proof that no place is singular.

When I walk, I hear your voice throwsound
waves against the walls of a cave, the drips
of yellow paint from the tips of a— from
the stems of a stalactite's nose. Did the
four-legged idol keep watch, was it emblem
of our loneliness? Or did it believe that we
would watch over it? It was breath we drew,
no sword or torch, when we came back and
saw the termites had eaten its eyes. Hear the
woodworms chant our names, hear the cavern
cry as we carve a masterpiece, one that remembers
our echo, into its heart. We sketched— us—
the architects—laid the plans for a lake, gardens,
and the walls, angry at being made to give beauty,
groaned, came down like a rising tide, stone—
the mason—peeled back your dress, asked       for
a map, and in the ridges of your sternum, which
your skin rode like waves, black charts were
riddled with red dots, one for each place we
have loved. You said, for which am I to
weep? Where can we make a mountain live?

Our Spectrum On Which Beauty Mingles With Savagery

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For Grete, as proof that beauty is a word we never learn to spell

Two photos beneath an ash tree, stray leaves tumbling
in the wind like cockle shells in a rocking tide. We killed bees,

and traded their wings for sunlight and high-heeled shoes.
In a dark room, you laid the images over one another

and we learned what it looked like to be in one time twice,
to have two times in us at once. We glued the print to the concrete,

pulled teeth from pink gums and traced them over the arcs of our noses,
the ribbons of lips, so that our bones might remember

what beauty feels like. We read the beautiful writers, words leaking
from their lips like sap from a maple's skin, ran our tongues

along the acorn's helmet. Now, we take our gin with saline, our love with sage,
our walks alone. I stand on the murmuring heart of Michigan

while you watch a Chicago building burn, telling me through gray
that a dragon is ten percent fear and ninety percent light.

Your teeth are chattering, and mine are saying:
Find me a place to bite, and I will show you beauty.

What We Wrote Where the Road Forked

For Grete, as proof that snail mail is not obsolete.

I forget I'm human every time I see a strip mall, a gravel road, wild roses.

The train is moving fast, you know, so fast I can't feel it. The plains,
flat and pale and jagged like God just made his whole Paradise an omelet
and needed a place to throw the shells. There's a man sitting across from me
who tells me he can read my fortune in my fingers, steal me a Rolex,
braid my hair. I bought him a Heineken from the puppet in the food car
who told me never to trust blue eyes or LSD.

They took my canvasses. Thirty-six of them.
I painted red footprints coming in the door and going out.

A challenge is a trampoline; you will dip before you rise.

Last night we split a tree in two; I left one piece in Oslo
and the other is tied onto my back with a string of oak leaves.
Where do I leave it? Where?

Last night a stream of screaming sirens trooped past my window.
A mother and her baby were held hostage until daybreak, and then
they were killed, the mother slowly, with wasps, the baby with a wolf.
When you say a dragon is ten percent fear, do you mean its fear,
or ours?

I feel the ground beneath your words. How do I feel the sky?

Icarus Dreams the Night Before the Flight

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I swivel from white sheets, hold fire in my palm
until it seeps through the kind of cracks that only radiance

can find. Take the stone from the sill, take the bars from the pane.
I dive straight from the window after writing a story about a boy

who tries to ride a chariot to the sun, but when my fingers reach
the feathery tips of grass, the ground is an ocean, and I sink

to the bottom the way a heart sinks under the weight of betrayal.
I settle into the sand, send bubbles to the surface of the sea each time a bat falls,

each time a bird's small frame is crushed by the weight of something more wicked.
My father tells me he once killed a nuthatch by lying to it.

I tell the sky that I can love a white stone better than a burning one,
and I wake with my hands open to catch a flame.

Bus Stop Girl And A Voice Like Snow

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Hush, girl on the corner,
Skinny brown fingers clamped
like chopsticks on a cigarette,
pirouettes like a once-lovely
music-box dancer, grinds a head up
to the bus-list with the look of one
with grime settled into their spine,
spots one coming,
street-thunder under ten black
wheels, ten tired bodies inside
clutching grab-rails, garb
the poor man's uniform.

Hush! Girl on the corner,
Wears a shabby red scarf
over shriveled red lips,
hums a something beautiful,
no hymn no radio song just
a voice like snow taking wind
in and blowing blizzards out,
like an oak taught her to sing,
roots tapping half-time beat
into her feet so she could stand
and crunch the same half-time into
an inch of heaven's dust. She tries singing
so only God and the ground can hear.

Hush! Or you'll miss her,
dark against the white but
you'll miss her, you can think
you won't but you'll miss her—
squawk of bus brakes and she watches
snow-trails crooked from the
man with the wheelchair,
coming nearer with his
murky lungs filling up with
oxygen, nicotine, breathe
one two breathe out two three,
always watching her like she's
turning her own body into wine
and back again
and I know he hears it too,
thrusts the wheels, races the bus,
until he's right up beside her, says,
Girl, I'm still alive, ain't died
and I've been sleepin' under
silver-iced oaks, I might just
be God himself
, and she sees
the doors swing open, sucks the last
of her cigarette like it's the last
good thing on earth and says,
or maybe God loves the oak
too much to lay a dead man beside it.

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