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Corpus Homini

Corpus Homini

by Sofia M. Starnes

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"For those who, as Sofía Starnes puts it, “hazard holiness,” the world, which must be loved, also requires a strange and luminous patience that her poems celebrate and embody, sometimes impatiently, as they seek the numinous: “It is as though a household knocker rapped: Keep close to home; / Keep home. As if a distant continent crept


"For those who, as Sofía Starnes puts it, “hazard holiness,” the world, which must be loved, also requires a strange and luminous patience that her poems celebrate and embody, sometimes impatiently, as they seek the numinous: “It is as though a household knocker rapped: Keep close to home; / Keep home. As if a distant continent crept into my room.” Her challenging lyrical explorations echo Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins, but her voice is all her own—jazzy, lyrical, acerbic, and mystical:  “A child is what she is; // not the day, / not the doubt my word careens against— // There I go now, forgetting.”  You will not read a better, stranger book this year".  -- Andrew Hudgins

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Corpus Homini

A Poem for Single Flesh

By Sofia M. Starnes

Wings Press

Copyright © 2008 Sofia M. Starnes
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60940-079-8


    One Body


    The earth is our great mother and the stones Within earth's
    body surely are the bones The oracle intends.

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?

    The skin
    drops cells each hour, scales
    that drift into the openness of earth,

    rapidly returned.
    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,
    crowning fresh-packed

    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

    snips, forgotten
    that mysterious seamless cloak
    they could not tear –

    one Friday's intimation of a truth.


    One Thirst

    Haie! Haie!
    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.


    One Past

    As the one dies,
    so does the other, both
    have the selfsame breath.

    (Ecclesiastes 3:19)

    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.


    One Food


    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
    light erupts,

    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 –

    the absence
    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,
    wordward: startled,

    stumbling over sounds.


    One Call

    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
    a storm,

    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

    bagging weeds.
    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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Sofia M. Starnes was born in Manila and educated in Madrid. She arrived in the United States in 1986 and became a U.S. citizen in 1989. Her publications include The Soul’s Landscape (Aldrich, 2002), co-winner of the Aldrich Chapbook Poetry Award, judged by Billy Collins, and A Commerce of Moments (Pavement Saw Press, 2003), Editor’s Choice in the Transcontinental Poetry Book Prize and a Poetry Honor Book in the Library of Virginia Literary Awards Competition. Corpus Homini won the 2008 Wings Press Whitebird Chapbook Series competition. Her poems and essays have also appeared in numerous literary journals, including Hayden’s Ferry, Laurel Review, Notre Dame Review, Gulf Coast, Southern Poetry Review, Marlboro Review, and Pleiades.

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