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Sheila Black

January 2009

Broken English

Broken English

The sheaves of daffodils in the fruit stalls,
their green in the mist
like something cut open, and the crazy woman
in the market who claims
she is the sun, swaddles herself in bits of tablecloth,
thick brocade from sofas.

Listen, he says, lie on the floor it will be fine.
He says: You would be pretty if only you didn’t move so much.

They have to kneel in the gym to see if their
skirts are too short.  The teacher checks them with a tape measure

Her friend in the stall with the cut wrists pleads,
don’t tell anyone, don’t get any help
but she can’t stop it herself—furrowing and .
pooling in the cuffs.  Raw liver.  A washed pink.

 What do you want to do a silly thing like that for?

 Listen, she tells him, I think I’m going to be sick.

Three months gone, she goes alone.  The room smells of bleach.
The woman behind the desk shouts, youngest first.
They take the chain from her neck, the bracelet from her wrist.

The bracelet is silver like the moon and she never
gets it back.  You must be dreaming, girlie.  Who would steal
it in a place like this?

Sun woman claws at her face and shrieks.  They
will take her away soon because she is a danger to herself
and others.
She has dyed all her tablecloths black

 but how  the light shines through.

Once she spies him on the street in his long tweed coat.
She knows his face will freeze if he sees
her, so she walks backwards, crouches in
a doorway. 

Later, she finds a card with two faces of the moon.
Hecate/Artemis.  One tells the Earth
your daughter is in hell.  The other is the huntress.
She roams the woods with her dogs and
no one escapes.

Washed pink, raw liver, silver around the wrist.
And the daffodils, their sun-heads dulling.

Once he reached out for her; he was still asleep.
He said you are there, oh, I’m glad it is you.

And the moon was in the room, and there were things
she did not notice: a shadow like a sword, a night bird pecking
in the icy soil under the juniper.  The dog star.  A cloud
of frozen dust making  luminous tracks in the sky.





Love Letter

Sweetness: the raspberry weighted under wet leaf,
such green you call it flooding-taste or bandage.

Here, morning: a field of sunflower, a cobbled
road, I conjure you.

What falls from me, what is recovered—small
talisman, synecdoche of

what might make up a bright country.

I pick raspberries from behind the hotel and think
of you—

on another continent by which I mean apart
from me.

Important:  the berries are not sweet.

They taste of salt, a bloodied lip, crook of
an elbow,

and here, under my shirt, I grow

chill with dew.

Wilderness of Desire

She cries that even in heaven she would
want to come back to this grass,
the stones that scrape her belly.

She cries that she is worm, cocoon, pupae.

That she cannot live except in his

She would beat on the pearly door until it

Black gash of more and more pouring.

That the space of her is a skin, each pore,
each gilded grain.

The gleam of  sun on the field before
a storm, the sky exploding

and her with it.  She wants to know, most
not god, not that speckled fastness,

but cream, cinnamon.  The hour of his birth.
The taste of his breath and how and

in what place he first

felt the weight of his own existence,
the moment of the sealing,

what she loves in this ragged tuft,
hard pillow,

that she can only brush against it,
that she can only will herself


The Mad Voice of the Middle-Aged Lyric

Suicide rates soar and I
understand it is this feeling of useless
the snap my daughter takes
of me with the cell phone, face
running off the edges.  And she is
fifteen and perfect in her low-
slung jeans.  Nothing is original in
this story.  The husband ignores
me.  I burn the bacon I manage
to bring home, wrapped in greased
paper,  heavy load of stripped
flesh.  Today the juniper is my only
friend, its arms hunched over itself
like a woman guarding against
rain.  And when the disaster comes,
the one we have been expecting,
all our lives, will it not feel treacherously
like a party?  The woman with
my birthday carbon monoxides herself
in the note she leaves she asserts
that she is tired of trying to be well.
The juniper does not offer false
comfort. This is why I trust her—
the needles green-blue and sharp,
berries tightly fisted and bitter;
yet still they gleam, a silver gloss,
like the diamond fruit of another world.

Sheila Black received her B.A. in French Literature from Barnard College in 1983. She also received an M.A. in English Literature and an MFA in Poetry in 1998 from the University of Montana. Her poems have appeared in numerous print and on-line journals, including Diode, Copper Nickel, LitPot Review, DMQ Review, Willow Springs, Poet Lore, Ellipsis, Blackbird, the Pedestal and Puerto Del Sol. In 2000 she was the U.S. co-winner of the Frost-Pellicer Frontera Prize, given to one U.S. and one Mexican poet living along the U.S. Mexico Border. Her first book House of Bone was published by CustomWords Press in March 2007. A chapbook How to be a Maquiladora appeared from Main Street Rag Publishing, Inc., in January 2007. A second book Love/Iraq is forthcoming from CustomWords Press in 2009. She is currently the Visiting Poet at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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