Praise for author Katie Ford:
"Katie Ford has emerged as one of the most recognizably thoughtful poets of her talented generation. Manifesting a rigorous aesthetic combining allusiveness with inwardness, her poems mark the multivalent ways by which the moral conscience registers dailiness with history (also myth) and how consciousness itself perceives the relationship of the small to the overwhelming, the weak to the deadly, the remote to the pressing moment, the insignificant to the topical." David Rigsbee, The Cortland Review
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About the Author
Katie Ford is the author of two previous poetry collections, Colosseum and Deposition. She has received a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Larry Levis Reading Award. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and teaches at Franklin & Marshall College.
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By Katie Ford
GRAYWOLF PRESSCopyright © 2014 Katie Ford
All rights reserved.
Take my lights, take my most and only opal,
take the thin call of bells I hear,
just. Take that thin lead,
wring out my water and drink
the wrung remains, take all that is nimble
and sun-up of day,
break my window to steal my eyes,
take their cotton, reap their fields;
as for my industry, it is yours.
I know in wishing not to bluff
so lay me on a threshing floor
and bleed me in the old, slow ways,
but do not take my child.
Of a Child Early Born
For the child is born an unbreathing scripture
and her broken authors wait
on one gurney together.
And what is prayer from a gurney
but lantern-glow for God or demon
to fly toward the lonely in this deathly hour,
and since I cannot bear to wish on one
but receive the other,
I lie still, play dead, am delivered decree:
our daughter weighs seven hundred dimes,
paperclips, teaspoons of sugar,
this child of grams
for which the good nurse
laid out her studies
as a coin purse
into which our tiny wealth clinked,
our daughter spilling almost
to the floor.
You cannot serve God and wealth
but I'll serve my wealth and live,
yes, and be struck dead
if lightning staggers down the hall of mothers—
and it does,
so walk low, mothers,
fresh from your labors.
Trivial the land, trivial the blue.
And the sea, too:
trivial the fight with the trivial.
The garden plot wasted at the gate
worked by scratch and spade, trivial—
seed of spiked grass and leek,
the finch roiled inside
so trivial to me.
Era, caves, cliff-side, creed,
planked corners of the broken mind,
trivial now where I am beside
my only fact:
the one I love is sick.
There is no break
but the one break.
Our sorrow had neither place nor carrier-away,
and dared not hover over the child
whose breath opened as transom
of a frail house.
Nor could we put sorrow in the dictionary,
for ghastliness already shot out its own defining
in rags of fired light.
Pigeons would not sleek it
over their dirty feathers, nor fly
sorrow against the coop's sharp fence.
Each day bridgeless, each night birdless,
all the nocturnals huddled against
the hidden weight of snow.
But wake at the moon,
we could, mumbling, are we
in a horror show?—inside of sleep
our shock-white minds caught on reels
where a child's body breaks the heart
and the mother can't know
if she counts as a mother. I don't know
if the child heard
what wept at the bedside,
orderlies snapping smelling salts
from chalky bullets against
all the mothers falling,
all the fathers under
what each branch let down.
The earth, so shaken,
[O where has our meadow gone?
that which swept us here?
the orange cosmos and aster?
the hollycock and pollen-fire?
So I sing of hell
and the brutal body.]
Sleep and Her Ache
Both flew brightly
to my bed
far from her
her empty tomb
all the while
the earth laid down
its brutal head
it would not lament
it might be prudent
if it could not detect me
with the sound of sighs
I slept lightly then
Lead versus feathers, feathers
versus months of thunderous metal,
wherefore she hums,
no measure of her ready
but this measure, a humming, a tone
as winter drags its torpored era here,
steady as iron is unbending and bronzed,
hindered badly she unhindered hums,
so unworried her sounds
through dangers hundreds and believable
with feathers neither swift enough
nor bird enough nor feather through
and through. While winter
rakes and stones,
softly unbelievable she hums.
There should have been delight, delight
and windchimes, delight.
But she was clawing the beach
after so much battering,
a torch lit past the slim pine pitch
and draw of resin she was dipped in
at the beginning of the earth.
They said life might flee—
then tended the creature as if a torch,
bundling reeds tightly as day torched
soaking rags in lime and sulfur
around barely lit bone.
Such are the wonders I saw.
Song of the Thimble
Here is the whiskey taken down from my cupboard.
It tastes of caramel and heat and miners and sea.
Maybe a mother with love long on the brink
will knock at my door to talk of tubes, taps, fusions,
to say yes-mine-lived-yours-might-too.
But there's no such knock tonight.
I pour just a thimble
(clean milk is due the nurse by dawn)
and drink what will not grow thin.
Again in my mind
I pour it, I pour it, I drink.
When I woke up sighing, perceiving myself in the freeze,
perceiving my body in the terrifying orchard, sighing
and contending, contending and appearing, disappearing
into sighing, sighing of ornament and cargo, pulling
down what was broken from twilight and broken
from dawn, perceiving what in sleep only strengthened
its contention, though I mistook night as healer, sleep as
erasure, vespers as lumbering dissolution toward matins,
matins a leaf made violet since it hangs askance
grapes in sun, since I mistook the leaf for myself, correlating
and equating, the determined danger given water
and meat, when the mistake pulled down and I woke
not arisen but sighing, sighing so the ornaments knew I
was nothing to hang upon, no shuttle to loom by, when
I could not make a word and the given words of each
book failed me into sighing, it was then, to live, I had
to say yes.
as chimney smoke
burning through carcasses
of swallows stilled,
and that it portrayed no will
was why I followed that smoke
with this pair of eyes.
It was that it didn't need
that I leant upon it
as a tired worker
Snow at Night
I prefer it even to love,
alone and without ghost
it falls a hard weather,
a withdrawing room
that revives me to stolen daylight
in which I feel no wish
to brush a gleaming finish
over the sheen-broken glass
I've arranged and rearranged,
an apprentice of mosaics
who will not be taught but asks
to be left alone with the brittle year
so carnivorous of all I'd made.
But the snow I love covers
my beasts and seas,
my ferns and spines
worn through and through.
I will change your life, it says,
to which I say please.
When a human is asked about a particular fire,
she comes close:
then it is too hot,
so she turns her face—
and that's when the forest of her bearable life appears,
always on the other side of the fire. The fire
she's been asked to tell the story of,
she has to turn from it, so the story you hear
is that of pines and twitching leaves
and how her body is like neither—
all the while there is a fire
at her back
which she feels in fine detail,
as if the flame were a dremel
and her back its etching glass.
You will not know all about the fire
simply because you asked.
When she speaks of the forest
this is what she is teaching you,
you who thought you were her master.
[Tell me it's April,
tell me you live into a little girl,
when I tip you back to lay you down
your breath remains and keeps remaining,
tell me the morning trucks delivered bread
to the market while we were sleeping,
that the newspaper is flung against our door,
tell me it woke us, it is Sunday, all we have to do is
reach outside, in it comes! and open it—]
That It Is Even Possible to Stay Alive
The massive inner life of ice
descends over the violet newborn
of this city. The open-mouthed statues
of the winter fountain, the tourist horses
stomping their hollow bones,
the apple-skins and feathers.
O see it try to break our world.
But if a hundred years ago influenza
almost took this city,
if tags were tied to toes when patients
were carried into the wards—
if they said but I'm still living
as the horrified doctors covered themselves away—
then, my love, we should wake
to each other and ransack
this flushed skin of everything
In that tight-sheltered ghost
of quiet I keep,
I count her more dearly
than any genesis night
when the first dark fell
and the father reckoned up
the world. How I count
is day in and out
and without end.
I need no sabbath
from the count
seated in my closed, open,
Strange we must be
to the maker who made us
less weary in love than he.
Song after Sadness
Despair is still servant
to the violet and wild ongoings
of bone. You, remember, are
that which must be made
servant only to salt, only
to the watery acre that is the body
of the beloved, only to the child
now leaning forward into
the exhibit of birches
the forest has made of bronze light
and snow. Even as the day kneels
forward, the oceans and strung garnets, too,
kneel, they all kneel,
the city, the goat, the lime tree
and mother, the fearful doctor,
kneel. Don't say it's the beautiful
I praise. I praise the human,
gutted and rising.
I come to you without wound
and in the strength of my life.
Heaven cannot touch me; neither can the earth.
In this clear field, the stripped birch does not represent me,
thus I give back the respect I once stole.
I give back its own life trying to break through
the low canopy draped like an abandoned wedding tent.
I am without wound, but this is a small slat
I speak through and briefly.
By the end of these words, strength
might be gone, new pain come, old pains returned
as elderly selves grown quiet
with the knowledge of what did
and did not happen.
Long live such confidence as I have these five minutes now.
Long live the primate's human eyes inside of the cage.
Long live the surgeon steady enough
to examine the bloody heart beating in his hands
before the minutes are up
and it must be put back
Excerpted from Blood Lyrics by Katie Ford. Copyright © 2014 Katie Ford. Excerpted by permission of GRAYWOLF PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsI run to the gates ..., 3,
A Spell, 7,
Of a Child Early Born, 8,
Children's Hospital, 10,
[O where has our meadow gone?], 11,
Sleep and Her Ache, 12,
Little Torch, 14,
Song of the Thimble, 15,
Upon Waking, 16,
The Soul, 17,
Snow at Night, 18,
The Fire, 19,
[Tell me it's April], 20,
That It Is Even Possible to Stay Alive, 21,
Song after Sadness, 23,
Blood Lyric, 24,
II. Our Long War,
To Read of Slaughter, 27,
The Throats of Guantánamo, 28,
[We're here because we're here], 29,
Song of the Damned, 30,
Our Long War, 31,
Still Life, 33,
Immigrant Hospital, 34,
Makeshift Hospital, 35,
Theory of War, 36,
The Lord Is a Man of War, 37,
[Here is the board, here the water], 38,
Far Desert Region, 39,
Remedies for Sorrow, 40,
November Philosophers, 41,
[Does the war want], 43,
Beasts of the Field, 44,
[Savage, Sinner, Scapegoat, Peacekeeper], 45,
Little Belief, 47,
Shooting Gallery, 48,
Little Goat, 50,
The Day-Shift Sleeps,, 51,
Foreign Song, 52,
[Tuesday wind brings a letter], 53,
[How can God bear it], 55,
The Four Burns of the Soul, 56,
Choose an Instrument, 57,
From the Nursery, 61,