Read an Excerpt
A Poem for Single Flesh
By Sofia M. Starnes
Wings PressCopyright © 2008 Sofia M. Starnes
All rights reserved.
The earth is our great mother and the stones Within earth's
body surely are the bones The oracle intends.
(Metamorphoses: Ovid. Trans. A. D. Melville)
Let us suppose for once,
in our intimate illusion, the metaphor
is true. The ant, nervate, exhausting, vexes
through flesh-fields, into earth's
fragrant udders for its milk; the spigot
pours an ocean into pail, the evening
falls on metal ears, light treading
lifelike in this shell. All flutter, wink
of wings, must snap out of the strong,
peculiar outbreak of a leaf,
a single spit of wind; the odd kiss mating
March to April year to year.
The worm partakes of this;
the gopher frets and burrows under skin
we must call ours: brown, humid, slug–
filled – quelling throbs as crust
of a secluded heart we recognize.
Thus would we soak in one soft tissue
the day's outpouring of pain,
downfall of pears and peaches at the edge
of half-crazed beds. Thus would we
explain the squeezing, tightening
lungs in chase of air, long-taken, gulped
by others with our breath.
There may have been no other foot
prints in our trek
from quietness to quake, from nothingness to whimper, bang
or bubble, whisper swelling into roar.
One naked, mute amoeba prior to clear
voice; yeast plugged into a moist
desire and gestured. ...
Be food, risen as auburn challah to consume –
Be that consuming body tumbling down to seed.
One Pinch, a hungry lean-faced villain, A mere anatomy, a mounte-bank ...
(The Comedy of Errors: William Shakespeare)
The way things fall,
the erring clink of change against
the till, rolled dice for our becoming
wolf in sheep's clothing, shepherd,
hunter, healer of the whooping
cough we spread, the plague
we would name Black, the useless
motion-mania of the sloth –
But dice games will not do.
Not for the smallest innocents
in traps, the fissure in the continent
that plaits, rifts, will not swallow
hunger in its pang, but in a mudslide
chews the tar of streets, torpor
of late fields. Not for the meandering
procession of school children called
to crawl: why them, why our own
progeny, why this?
drops cells each hour, scales
that drift into the openness of earth,
An old man dies alone at eighty-eight,
his settled age for ripeness, and
the body rearranges its own passions,
We comb our hair,
pull the black balls out of brush,
lose them in a bin.
The ocean tosses algae on the beach,
split-ends, washed carded green
for siblings leaping outward,
parapets with weeds.
Embraced, we fall asleep;
our faint, moist exhalation turns
to mist, a low incipient morning
through our ribs.
We breathe what hours
multiply then scatter in white fog,
the day's untiring
ladling out of gasps.
We waste a minute
lingering in crosswinds, our whole
eternal body watching, reckoning.
It has arrived too late to save
the dodo from extinction, the frail
reed that must feed the passing,
pondering migrations of wild geese.
We have delayed too long and
kept our own creation under siege.
They say it cannot be sustained,
this theory of oneness
through the night, one corpuscle
of pilgrim things connected
in the thigh, as our arcane, caressing
Siamese. It is the otherness
that pleads dark, dangling, lost
Two hundred pickers
flooded out of farms, the solitary,
migrant acre rot. A drunkard drives
his pick-up out of bounds, a torn
skirt tightly curls, crimson
against the tree, a final sheet.
And all the time we fall as careless
that mysterious seamless cloak
they could not tear –
one Friday's intimation of a truth.
These were the swift to harry;
These the keen-scented;
These were the souls of blood.
(The Return: Ezra Pound)
We must have breakfast first,
fresh coffee keening nerves to perfect
blades, paring knives to peel
the blue out of the sky.
We squeeze a large, gold grapefruit,
and the pits collect as small sins in a cup.
These errors spring forgives, but
gives away their orchards as lost crop.
We cannot have it all.
The pulp strings acid on our gums,
the same that burns the blossoms
of the tree and lingers biting.
Later we say: there must be
clean, full-bodied wine with the evening
meal, dry Cabernet whose color
is the redness of an old sea split open,
arteries wide and welcoming
as ancient tracks,
and the Israelites went on dry ground,
with walls of water to the right and left....
* * *
Who thinks it happened
yesterday to them? We wake to the same
race, same plugging and unplugging
of our veins against the chariot run,
the whip held back, the winding, sluggish
hesitance to stop –
And so we pour the water last,
bring out the tallest jars,
the coldest night condensing on their necks.
We drink to soothe the old thirst
in our mouths, the need for first drop, first
taste of river on our lips.
As the one dies,
so does the other, both
have the selfsame breath.
This spring, our tulips
will not alter April, flooded
out after an early storm; once more
a deluge in the back yard,
the stranded ark (a pail tipped over),
and the small pairs
(spider with gangly spider)
plodding, plop-plop in the clods.
It was like this, one morning
of another year, when the child
waited with cupped hands,
grey rain streaking jalousies and sills.
The classroom heaved
under the steam, its green fan
whirring, wheeling as clover mill.
Here are seven seeds (the teacher said),
plant them, we shall see....
She took the stiff hearts home;
they did not throb, but gloated sharply
alive. Her mother chose
the cleanest coffee-can, and
watercolors for her father to paint loud,
blood-red hibiscus with great leaves
along the sides
(these parents were both city-bred,
you see, and did not know
too well about the mud).
It would not do. The week
she was to come before the class, display
her sprouts, elf summer bunched
in tin container,
a curdling, clingy flood garbled the soil;
the paint ran, ran in drops,
as secrets in a solemn mother's cry.
There were no pores or
tearducts in the can (she later learned);
the roots had drunk, drunk rain
and never wept their wealth.
They'd filled their sacs with pouring
afternoons, and rotted
before light heartened their veins....
* * *
Is this why
she is never one with them, never
quite at home with all those intricate
arrangements: taproot, tendril,
tuber with sweet appendage, nipples
in hard, hidden hills?
The body swings, uncertain;
on the one hand
everything comes from the dust,
everything returns to dust,
perfect cast of hand in barks,
perfect splints from giving trees,
oh, that natural position of the hip
cradling the chimp. ...
On the other hand,
the air, mindful, mindlessly
exploding, wild, erratic, stubborn
in its bursts:
Do not stake, feed, prune,
contain me, do not fertilize with dung.
In this doubt, the body
chafes, in its wonder what
to drink, how much, where to perforate
the spillway, where to splurge
its twilight gold. Only
half the lung remembers, only half
the heart valve pumps faithfully a soul.
Like nothing that was ever bought or sold
It waited there, the body and the mind ...
(The Sheaves: Edwin Arlington Robinson)
Absolve us for not knowing
what to eat, how thickly to lay
honey on the bread,
how long to soak the slices.
These are customs children learn,
half-wakened in their homes,
their mamáA bowed over the stone,
whole body stirring.
Before long, she wipes her hands
on cotton plied against her hip.
The children set their spoons where
bounces against each bowl,
and skims over bright steel as stippled
Absolve us for not watching
long enough – those rituals:
cup of water, pinch of sugar brittle fine,
the yeast exhaling clean brume
on the pane, wet blossoms on a paten,
the kitchen ladling, ladling quiet grace.
Come, mamáA, knead once more,
once more reflect the customary
pressing with hand's heel, folding,
urging up and outward on the slab.
The dough springs, earnest, to the rim.
NiñTos, do not stray too far –
Now, she pulls the aroma inward, fuzz
of infant mornings, gold grain
into heart at supper's dusk.
Come, niñTos, to the table. It is time.
Sheaf of wheat she neatly braces,
breaking no familiar stalk.
Or si spiega, figluolo, or si distende
la virtúG ch'éG dal cor del generante,
dove natura a tutte membra intende.
(Divina Comedia, Purgatorio: Dante Alighieri)
Drink – until your bloodstream
soaks its share of garden phlox and lily
from the yard. We hear a sound
out of half-hearted dream; large,
gentle apes rouse and uncurl, expectant
at our feet. They prod: come,
eat your fruit and milkweed pods with us. ...
Must we deny
that we were one with them,
mammals in moist caves, our cropped fur
thickly falling? Perhaps
we ate with one devouring snap
of mouth, lured mantis with wet lips,
in appetite, then fell in stupor,
bean and blossom clutched against the rib.
A finger's touch woke us, and we fussed,
puzzled at gnat wings....
* * *
Last night our stomachs
grumbled, oddly full, after we had raided
cupboards, dark shelves,
foil bags clipped with stale leftover chips.
We questioned why, for how long,
in which way
this solemn hungering would stay –
the countertops gleamed
It seems we must become
eremites, minimalists of lodging
and of feast, to understand.
We need a single
room for prayer, a polished spoon
left rocking, saint's silence –
of a large lair for the heart's wish
not to be them, not fully one
with limber climbers in our field.
Our goose-bumps rise in awkward
nakedness, so feeble-skinned,
and we escape
through that precarious gift of mouth,
stumbling over sounds.
We, for our part, on every occasion,
at our festivals, and on the appointed days,
remember you in the sacrifices we offer.
(1 Maccabees 12:11)
We dream you
when the moment dries,
and our throat's persistent prickle
is remembrance of old life;
when water is the backlash of
the dull round bottom of an empty
pail, a snake-pit's quiet
Come to me then, you say;
I am not proud. I do not choose your first
cave of desire. I rise when mushrooms
rise, when wetness sags; flaxen – if need
be – flowing in moist heat, your heart,
my pungent plug.
You do not count the layers
of needle-falls, the plaits of spring, trail-
lengths of hothead summers
You lean your head against the coneless
tree and pocket twigs.
Come when your plea is grizzled cork,
again you insist, when priestly sacrifices
speckle with laments.
Come, when your footsteps leak –
your cortege drenched – and you, dawdling,
doubting, wake up to cold breath.
Excerpted from Corpus Homini by Sofia M. Starnes. Copyright © 2008 Sofia M. Starnes. Excerpted by permission of Wings 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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