by Kelley Beeson

June 2001


Objet D’art

Not the beautiful but the stuff that chases.The stuff that
makes you want to spend the night, or a week
in Melbourne, near the Yarra River:footbridges.
Cafe signs that say:
        An afternoon Tea Cup ReadingHot/Cold Luncheons
The stuff that makes you pack up your frayed orange toothbrush,
that travel-size handcream and your favorite blue pillowcase
and leave the country, when you are too poor even
to buy yourself good walking shoes.

It is what makes facing the tidy hotel room twice a month, easier.
The stuff that wills you, exhausted of the search, to still go out looking
for redemption every unmanageable morning.
Or the wheatfield near Sundvallen in Oslo radiant.Even without the sun.
It keeps you forever packing and unpacking
your faith in others.The way you never really give up.Not really.

Some of it this stuff catches fire.Some of it brings up your wreckage.
Much of it explains little: a pipe with text saying This Is Not a Pipe.
Some of it is almost entirely about ugliness:
ribbons connecting pain to pain and nothing else.
Frida Kahlo connects Womb to Accident.

I might connect Light to Ache. Or Two to Nothing.
One word balanced on each side of the and
and I get ...well... Find the most arbitrary combination of images.
Feet in a tub.The Empire State Building.A volcano.A skeleton--
---I am prepared for anything.

Now I have something:
      a glimpse of god maybe-- wicked with design
      on that first hungry day:humming to himself
      like a child pretending he isn’t paying such close attention
to how the world is shaking down all on its own.
Knowing, though everything has its own idea,
they will arrive at the bottom,
on that definite landing, together.
Later, comes the naming.The decisions--
from ocean sediment to limestone.
Perfectly insufficient utterances.
Yesterday, making dinner for myself,
I could hardly imagine, how anyone could create a recipe
let alone a world?Virgin Olive Oil.Brown Sugar.
      How much here?Astonished by any kind of creation,
I think Why minced garlic and not the coursely chopped?
When do I stir, whisk, beat, grind, fold?
When to fold.
Yes, that’s it.
When will the Seventh Day finally arrive?
I have wanted to give up writing all summer.
I had packed my faith.I was going out.
I was not coming back.

On her huge canvases, my friend Anne paints ribbons.
Ovals. Uses homemade stamps.She decorates;
these are her paintings.The paint is what it is.
Dripping down the canvas if it chooses.

But after this.After all of this, the heart
will go around to its many births.Return with something.
Again I find myself in a godly moment,
when I couldn’t before remember
how merciful this stuff could be.
How it could leap into a life so unready and unwilling,
and transform it into this sugary divine thing.
How could something, like a poem
about not being able to write a poem
something so blessed, be born
from such long moments of despair?

I think of the poet Ana Castillo.Her red Guatamalan woven top.
Her black leather pants and boots.
Her mexican silver and turquoise.
That Virgen de Guadalupe ring--
      the mother of all endings, or is it beginnings?
how like a poet to wear faith on her ring finger.
How like a poet to be the bride of blessedness,
willing to marry uncertainty any day of the week.


A chorus of stars
         molds to my back
                  as I bend in prayer.

Head southward.I am leaning into the ground.
         Pinkened face against a green and brown heaven
                  and I think: I have never been this close.

Who decided the sky was God’s home?
         This absoulte cold on my palms--
                  This is God, I whisper.

Every year
         my body drifts further away from this.
                  What lit it and sent it off so many years ago?

Every year I remember less
         the triangle:
                  Earth      God      Self.

Last year, I even thought: You must winnow the leaved self
         from the smallest poetic voice!
                  But look! The dirt under my nails.

A pause. Attempt to smooth an edge.
         The dirt hums--deep into my hand--
                  a dark wet glittering rage.

I am breathing down into a collapsed core.
         The smell of the night, of a winter,
                  more alive than any spring.

Here, kneeling in the dirt,
         I can’t imagine myself quiet,
                  or that damn hestitancy.

It simply cannot be anymore.
         After your hands have been dirty
                  with God, everything is loud.

Sex and Go(l)d

On weekends, it is the sleek and true I lust for
against my skin so on Friday I buy a small faux-ivory
Virgin Mary and a purple-stoned Rosary.
I figure I can hold them in my hand quietly.
Little talismans.Little interceders
between me and the fear of being left.
These are more portable than Father Rocca and more romantic.
And I can take them to bed with me.
Slugging down the street—
         the Blessed Mother
         tucked inside my right fist, the Rosary stones
         pushing into my other palm-- the world,
         the harbor sky at least, is religious-blue.
         I am Adam of the Sistine Chapel ceiling,
         just an inch away from the finger of God
         whose arm is around the yet-to-be-created Virgin Mary.
         All of us, dramatically off-center—
the ocean is slightly densed.
I am primordial.Heavy as earth but warm.
Though this warmth is sharper than
an orgasm which spreads more casually,
my chilled breasts confuse God with making love
because I think: you were like the Virgin Mother that first night,
tenuously offering me your ghostly body.
Coming undone.Willing to mother a legion of misunderstandings;
to stay pressed on that steep edge of asking.

My body lapped up against confusion.
I could have used the staying power of Mary that night.
I could have placed her on the green trunk at the foot of the bed.
Told her: Stay.And then I would have the strength to stay.
In that moment.With you despite the disruption of myself.
But I didn’t have her.And didn’t have the strength then
to trust she was there anyway.I was nothing but breath.
Ice.  Traveling eyes.I clutched for grace
and waited, partially, for your fingers to replace me with tulips.
But mostly for your feet to cross the hard wood floor to the closet.
For your white hands to pick up your spring jacket.

When I Roomed with Virginia

our strong strung hearts
flew about in the middle of the room each night.
Like hummingbirds—
luminescent flickers between the beds.
They melted with our tales and fables
into a mobile and moved in a circle near the ceiling.
The room scented with Creed’s Royal Water and
curry and mint and wind,
we slept in long silver gowns.
She talked in her sleep: I am likely to drown someday.

One year on her birthday, we pulled the shades. Rain.
There was a certain light slivering in.A certain light.
We celebrated with ginger incense and rice pudding.
This must be like church for you, I whispered.
No response.Only she hummed and moved to pull down
a pocket-size prayer book from the bookshelf—
she never gave everything away.
On our knees we prayed— facing each other—
words of the blessing, intersessions.

Prayed to each other.Our heartsore hearts, palm to palm
and the room singing with wood
and water.Outside, on the city blocks,
under the moon, the elements raged
and I thought:
         Here are our bodies with their edges and switches.
         Outspread or clenched, we were born along the stem,
         full-bodied, deep pink blossoms, clean and scented.
         Gritty haulms. Elbows bent in communion,
         commandments.Not held or cast, but quaking.

How To Be Engaged

Midnight in Pittsburgh has brought me to missing
the unflinching expanse of the Indiana skyline.
You have been gone only 7 hours
and already I need a glass of red wine
to get back to South Bend for a moment of big sky,
a moment of the calm that comes with generous space.
Does the self ever see what and where it is?
I knew nothing those years of the sneaky way
answers flew home.I knew nothing
of putting back together the members of memory.

Yesterday in the afternoon you read to me,
Larry Levis: My Story in the Late Style of Fire.
When you finished, I read to you.An answer.Denise Duhamel:
How to Find Feminine Protection While Traveling in a Foreign Country.
Then you read more Levis: Elegy for Whatever Had a Pattern In It.
And I, Kelly Cherry: The Radical.  And back to you and Levis: The Smell of the Sea.
And I read Susan Firer: The Lives of Saints.Then Levis again:
Elegy with a Thimbleful of Water in the Cage.
You were faithful moving through Larry’s winding poems,
sipping your Penn Gold.I had never seen a man operate
so gracefully or so transluscent.These complicated aesthetics
disguised as poems, outlast any discussion.Out-explain
any argument we’ve had about poetry, about public displays
of affection, about politics, cooking.They out-answer
all our questions.Meaning we have finally met.

You brought with you shoe polish.
Your own toothpaste.Your large black bag was impeccably packed.

I am watching you fold your clothes now.
The outline of your boy’s body
lifts the arm of a dark green shirt.Folds it diagonally
across the back.Now I am feeling your fingertips
graze my belly.A touch discomforting the girl in me.
But that Indiana sky.My belly.Roundnesses everywhere.
Big is good perhaps.You are pressing yourself
to my back just between my dimples.
My body is made of sound now.
Contracting.Expanding as yours does.
As long and as sharp.

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