Read an Excerpt
By David Havird
Texas Review PressCopyright © 2013 David Havird
All rights reserved.
FEELING HER WAY
from a photograph by Eudora Welty
Time has woven a map on her face—
a spider's odyssey, that web of lines.
She leans to her loom
set up on a table there on the porch
and propped against the flaking clapboard wall.
She leans, and the wooden arms
of the rush-bottom rocker hug;
the rinsed-thin dress, its washed-out
pattern of flowers, strains to contain her.
The weaver is feeling her way.
Is it the texture that tells,
or does the intimate heat
of each strip of fabric hint of its hue?
Grandmotherly stout, Penelope weaves
a garment of going, a shroud
to be unlaced when no one is looking. No,
she's improvising with rags
a web of welcome to feet
that will someday or not enter at sundown,
the clodhoppers chucked on the porch, or step
at sunup from under the covers,
the bricks at the foot of the bed
hearth-hot at bedtime, stone cold
when winter has bit through the floorboards.
From random scraps she weaves
her narrative by touch:
counts and you plod, who follow the south end
of a northbound mule, and the hard
clay of the furrows reddens your brogans; or hums
and you, within the clatter of boxcars, weave
a tune through the iron drone of the line.
Feeling her way, this blind bard maps you home.
WASPS IN WINTER
On dry October's crust
leaves blown like spume
from waterfalls of oaks—
now only one thing bloomed
and it was rust.
A field day for the wasps that swarmed
outside the blinds
while crosswinds shook
the season's skeletal red brick.
two dozen of their army stormed
a broken fascia. That platoon
held rank until
the House & Garden spray
touched nerves—the unit lay
defiled upon a windowsill.
As autumn droned,
only a straggle of survivors
fluttered among the host
of slaughtered lovers.
Now winter grinds
the wasps, old lovers, past
a morning-after's battlefield of love.
Stained bedsheets, pubic strands askew,
sloughed from the tangled web
of their geometry,
love's victims stricken in lust's after-dew—
all vanish to neutrality,
this season's attitude.
The crosswinds ebb.
Then like a paralyzing fungus, frost.
No insects in the rafters. Pilots steer
through other twilights, east
along this latitude.
Entranced, a virgin peers
from her rich bed of straw.
A year recycles the old law—
like thorns of rust,
wasps wreathe her infant's head.
The theme was a hand-me-down, but Orpheus
embroidered it, and the lines became immortal.
(His odes are long since lost.) Eurydice,
tricked out in their unbreathing gold
and mauve, became the talk of the season. Birdsong
feathered the air, so muffled even her murmurs,
what could a woman do but show reserve
and look divine? A bride that blushed unseen
amid the iridescent, pearled brocade.
The dead underfoot were aroused. The stalks of their sighs
petaled the aisle with ash. Or else had dusk dispatched from the many mouths in noon's red clay
a cohort of lengthening shadows? These were snakes
stiffening their spines, aiming to stand
erect beside the bride.... O not divine!
A mortal of no means, a daughter boasting
no trousseau, in Death's sheer weave she leans,
absorbed if not entranced: No man could love
a woman more than I love you—the theme,
though lusterless itself, whips through a maze
of variations, antistrophes of pearl.
She pictures, as with wary fingertips,
the suffocating gown's baroque brocade.
So trailing in her shift of floating ash
and scarf of soot, she limps.... Upon a ledge
of anthracite, her right leg crossing her left,
she fingers the lips of her wound. Its halting speech
told of another's claim on her few words,
and Orpheus—could he have got it right?—
tilted his head—a sunbeam mussed his hair—
and spun around, and Eurydice shrank from his glare.
FEEDING THE MANGER
The wealth of gold and marble
ambushed us: the coffered ceiling of gold,
the rows of Athenian columns flanking the nave,
mosaics depicting to uplifted eyes
what story our eyes failed to discern,
for with vespers commencing, priests were processing,
and now it was music of organ and choir,
of even the red-skulled bishop intoning that rapt us
until the words, like seaborne Peter's doubt,
turned ether back into air and, breathing, we drowned
into our old sightseeing selves
whose object had been from the start
the Colosseum, of course.
By now the champion cyclist,
the Giro d'Italia run, had posed with his trophy
and gone. Where there had been a mob
there were Sunday amblers. With them we drifted
up the Palatine Hill, down alongside the Forum,
then back past other ditches
where maybe a column stood and sometimes a pair
with maybe a lintel. High up a couple was posing,
out on a balcony off to the side of a loggia:
framed by the casa's one window,
under the pointed arch,
he in a uniform, blue, with silver fringing his shoulders,
and she, bare-shouldered, in billowing sea-foam
as if, the flesh of empire grass
(its gutted skeleton marble),
Mars and Venus had taken immaculate form
as the couple whose wedding it was.
Our feet, when they carried us back in the morning—
Santa Maria, they were the feet of pilgrims.
We stood in the chapel beneath the basilica's altar
in wedlock transfixed as if by an arrow,
in fact by wooden boards:
within a tureen of sorts of gold and glass,
the wood of a manger.
As pilgrims had, if never those three kings,
for 1500 footsore years, so we
feasted our eyes? We fed the manger our gaze
as if to engender our souls. On top of the shrine
a child of gold lolled on a blanket of gold,
under it straw, a bed of gold that looked scratchy:
the infant Christ, his weight on an elbow,
the free arm gesturing Godward
or maybe, with two fingers raised, conferring a blessing.
I picture him not as Cupid exactly
but like him twiddling an arrow
as if he has caught the shaft of a gaze
that like a spear had aimed to wound.
Santa Maria Maggiore
SMOKING IN BED
"Whenever I pass a field of artichokes,
I picture Venus beneath it." For me it's fields
of tobacco and Marilyn Monroe,
her nude body discovered ... Nude?
Naked, my parents explained. In bed
naked? I was bewildered. My dad at the wheel
of our two-tone green '58 Impala,
my parents and I on our way to Ocean Drive
where Grandmother Rainwater kept a house ... Nearby,
a beach-front novelty store. I bought a toy cigar,
teased out wads of confetti, and stuffed it with leaves
filched from a warehouse en route. (Tobacco auctions
were something to see.) The tip alight with red glitter,
I'd smoke that enormous cigar and savor the secret.
Summers running together, I married a woman
whose family farmed tobacco ... who breathed the fields
distilled, the sweated heat of oven-tight barns,
with Mr. Phil inspecting the wooden barns
where leaves, tied up in hands and hanging from sticks,
turned yellow. In Martha Ingram's account
a peasant unearths with his plow a Venus with arms
and legs and a head "mindless" and "lovely." Posed
on a shelf at the novelty store, inflatable dolls
with corn-silk hair. The bathing suit was red.
Squeeze the tummy and naked breasts pop out.
Plastic telescopes, cherry and lemon and grape,
Popsicle colors—with these I spied on women
captured without any clothes. The idol intact.
I picture my raven-haired mother in deeper
than ever, her latex bathing cap a skull.
She brought it up with her feet, a rose-lipped shell
that came to rest—the conch so stank up the car—
in spikes of weed along the highway home.
Martha's Italian farmer replanted his Venus.
If word got out, they'd designate his fields
a "site." Barely awake, rousted from bed
at 5 for the drive to the beach, I follow
a dark-haired girl—in 1962
we both turn 9—down rows of tobacco—
the top leaves only remain on the plants—
traipsing beside her grandpa. They halt at the pack house.
The leaves are loose now and lying in heaps on burlap.
The ravishing smell of cured tobacco,
the ghost of green fields, gilds the August heat.
for Elizabeth Spencer
HABIT OF THE HEART
I think, How do I feel knowing she's dead?
My habit, which my thirty years have fed
(As heartbeats have the body's—to survive
Still more), is still to feel that she's alive.
Things known by heart touch their way into bone.
My mother felt the same about her own,
Who died last year in winter, none so raw
On record. Seasons passed. A weekend saw
My parents in the mountains, as one did
Unfailingly in autumn, when leaves hid
In colors of desire (which I would read
As passion to hold fast) the heartless need
Of letting go. There they heard orchards drone
With wasps, daring tourists to pick their own
Apples. Alive, she'd still have gotten none,
Grandmother toothless in her eighties. Done
With picking, though, and with enough to dole
Out winter long to every living soul,
Her eldest daughter sighed, "Won't it surprise
Mother we picked all these!" Yet her demise—
Why, apples had been ripe since that first fall
With knowledge of it, as between heartbeats
There is a silence that repeats,
Silence is all, is all.
A WIND OF GOATS
At Connemara a trail
led from the house to the barn
(Carl Sandburg's wife had bred
goats that won blue ribbons),
tripped alongside hedges
and where it outpaced them: wind.
A champion herd, ice-horned.
The front had begun as a blustery horde
of country cousins at Biltmore House. The tour
at an end, "I like this part"—
servants' quarters, kitchen and laundry,
one elderly woman drawled to another. "You would,"
I thought. Though truth be told,
me too. The people, yes,
the people. A Greyhound full.
Reagan / President / Reagan,
their campaign buttons read, and give 'em Helms—
Jesse, that is, the state's race-baiting senator
up for reelection. Jostled,
I saw myself, a boy, beside the carport,
three neighborhood kids accosting me
there on the flagstone walkway beside the white
camellias. "Nigger-lover," one of them sneered,
the flat of his hand slamming the wind from my chest.
It got out how that we were for LBJ?
Night finds us knotted together, the thermostat not
to be found, my wife and me and my father.
When autumn reddened the Blue Ridge,
this drive was an annual thing
for him and my mother. We've missed the color, he grouses.
The friends of my parents whose holiday cabin this is—
they lent me when I was a kid
LPs of Sandburg reading. Picture
the boy on his back, lights off in the foyer,
in front of the Magnavox. Here
on the cover of Honey and Salt,
the white-maned poet has bundled himself in a scarf.
The dry leaves trampled, the herd,
butting the tree trunks, crashes with one held bleat
through the branches—where
among the goats are the sheep? And if, through the fog
of our exhalations, a flurry of cold
reaches my face, I hold my breath—
a dream-disheveled child
afraid that if he lets it out,
his mother's fingers, fussing now with his hair,
will whisk it away.
Flat Rock / Asheville / Arden, North Carolina
The master bedroom is a paneled loft.
Leap out of bed and bang your head;
raise yet another knot on its blond ceiling.
Respectful of my crown, I bow my head.
The room misreads my gesture as a show
of reverence for it, makes up the bed
into an altar where two lovers died
to live again come Judgment Day. Or spring.
Our bodies rose ... but left our souls behind?
It looks as if we've climbed in our thick skin
out of our souls as ghosts in movies step
with legs of mist from bodies, salt-sown wounds,
that sweated out their death, like love, in bed.
Like two ice-sculpted effigies that wear
the shimmering, transparent skin of thaw,
they lie in bed as if upon our tomb.
Beneath the low sky's neolithic gray
that sprains the rooftree of this rented house,
they lie in wait to catch us in the act
of life, these intimations of our death
in Jutland, thickening
with color, fleshing-out until the dawn
of Doomsday or another glacial spring
casts its cold eye upon us and we find
we've then acquired such clarity of sight
that I can see through her and she through me,
while they appear as if they've yet to spend
the pulse that made us flush and kept us warm.
Excerpted from Map Home by David Havird. Copyright © 2013 David Havird. Excerpted by permission of Texas Review Press.
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