Poems

(from I, Nadja, and Other Poems)

I write

because poetry is to the body as energy is to mass; it lives
in me as in you, and perhaps
because we have little else to give one another, you and I
because history repeats with the cocooning of secrets

because I have loved and hidden it
in cycles sure as Mississippi floods:
stupendous litany of ampersands
it swells and washes and carries the house
away

and to find it again I must describe it
to you

Have you seen the shark’s eye glint on my bone-handled knife,
the lime that bleeds May?

I, Nadja

do solemnly swear, being of sound mind
and body, do swear, swear I
never loved you, you thief
of tongues, self-important arriviste
bastard. You entered me
like a café, proud of your mien, très artiste.
Already in that first moment I could see
the machines spinning in you,
the developer’s eye that blurs
and distorts. So I lied to you.
I gave you something to work with,
your truth a cat’s eye
narrowed to a slit. Too much light you said
scorches the casserole, was that it?
My scribbles dazzled, apparently.
But what you never cared to see, filaments
jutting out of me at the Perray-Vaucluse, those
would score your flesh.
I warn you, here, now, with my burning eyes
and my stained hands square on this table:
écoute André, je commence à faire entendre ma vérité.

Chez Graff

André, I want my notebook, beef stew
that it is to you—to me it holds a certain
blue sky—my past life, fire and truth.
André, I want my notebook,

to shield my daughter, to pull the curtain
on my tangled life as an ingénue,
my dreams swept into the dustbin

the masks I shed for you
displayed on your study wall with pushpins.
Screw your game and your retinue,
André, I want my notebook!

My notebook,
the spine, the words, the drawings on onionskin—
I’m more than the specimen you
dissect in your book,

your limp-noodle vision of the feminine.
(You won’t take off your shoes
at the beach!)  I walk barefoot in the margins

of my notebook, naked and blue-
cold with the discipline.
You pursued me, and now I pursue you:
My notebook, André.  My notebook.

First Apology to My Daughter

I birthed you like an animal,
soft flanks rising with calm
deepening breaths, brown eyes indifferent
to the hands of well-meaning helpers.
After hours of baffled pushing
and an enfilade of sutures, I surrendered
you to the nursery, just
a couple of hours,
while my body sunk into the mattress
like a slug sinks back into the earth
after its encounter with a shovel.
I didn’t know the harried nurse
would think it best not to wake me
to feed you. You yearning
for your first milk
while I dozed
on some far off platform.
That you would tighten
the coil of your body trying to burst
the seam of your swaddling blanket, and cry
that tremulous muscular cry
and me out of earshot. Cry
long enough to give up on crying.
What darkness then, in the fluorescent hours
of the maternity ward while
I taught you the ferocity of hunger.

self-portrait, chalk pastel
around eighteen years old
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