Veil and Burn

Veil and Burn

by Laurie Clements Lambeth

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Overview


Concerned with physical experience, pain, and disability, Veil and Burn illuminates an intense desire to feel through the Other, embrace it, become it, and in the transformation, to understand the suffering body. In poems about animals, artifacts, and monsters, Lambeth displays a fascination for all bodies while exploring their pain, common fate, alienation, and abilities. Hovering between poem and prose fragment, between the self and fellow creatures, Laurie Clements Lambeth celebrates physical sensation, imbuing it with lyric shape, however broken, however imprisoned the shape may be.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252075032
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 03/04/2008
Series: National Poetry Series Series
Pages: 104
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author


Laurie Clements Lambeth lives in Houston with her husband and dog. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere.

Read an Excerpt

Veil and Burn

Poems
By Laurie Clements Lambeth

University of Illinois Press

Copyright © 2008 Laurie Clements Lambeth
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-07503-2


Chapter One

    Coming Down


    Starting from the top, my husband undoes
      nineteen nub buttons lining my spine.

    Three open. Where exactly is the flaw that brought down
      the price?
He's searching for tears in stitching.

    Plucking the side of the skirt, I show him:
      faint streaks of yellow flowing from the bodice,

    seeping dark into the skirt's organza folds,
    each widening down to wash. Six. A kiss.

    An hour of worry at I Do, I Do, for naught.
    All white yellows over time, I say.

    Nine: I can feel half my back undone.
      This dress just aged a little faster, oxidized

    and burned in the shop window ... happens to silk.

      Nineteen. He opens me, guides the straps

    down my arms. All that fabric purling
      at my legs, foam and waves taller than my knee—

    for a moment I feel the birth of Venus. Then
      I see my body: bulges smoothed by corset, spine

    stippled with lesions, glowing red injection
      lumps studding my thighs. I hide them well,

    most of the time. His hands stroke them, hold their heat,
      subcutaneous Interferon half-globes.

    In the mirror I wear a luminous necklace.
      I see him looking down my body to the gown.

    He offers his hand to help. —For now I can
      manage
. Still in my pumps, I hoist the right leg

    out of its silk encasement, stretch heel to floor.
      A moment for balance. Raise the left high

    over folds, boundless yards of yellowed cream.
      Like climbing off a horse, I say. One boot in stirrup,

    the other hanging at its side—from such height
      you let go and eventually reach ground.


    Symptoms

    It seems to have a predilection for
    females.


    —on MS, from Multiple Sclerosis:
    A Guide for Patients and Their
    Families



    I'll try to tell you how it feels: girdle
    my grandmother wore, tight-laced corset
    worn by her mother in Wales, but it seldom slips
    from my ribcage. No hooks or laces, only

    spaces of remission, then relapse,
    a trip to the ancient clothes again:
    crinolines, skirts grazing ankles, long
    satin embroidered sleeves that rub and pull

    naked skin, saying, now and then you must
    try to feel through this, and this
. All that fabric
    wound around torso, legs, the dresses
    and sheets binding to keep me in

    bed. The cure is rest, they tell me. Dizzy,
    drunk when I haven't drunk, I'm drawn
    to the wall to prop me. I've been known to sport
    a cane, per the fashion, to smooth the gait.

    Fix my mouth in a loose pout when speech
    eludes its muscles, tired, stiff as the garments
    that hold me. On occasion, they'll fall
    to reveal this body, a window of cellophane

    wrapping my limbs, a ring for each finger.


    The Spaces Between

    In memory of R. L. Crosby,
    Horse-trainer 1927–1999


    In the photo I've never seen, she stands (or leans),
    bowlegged as Richard beside her, his legs
    long, slim, still roundly gripped
    to the sides of some young thoroughbred

    visible only in the space between
    his knees. Her legs, hind and front, curl
    outward at the knee and hock, inward
    down to fetlock and ergot joints,
    the long cannon and shank bones bent
    to accommodate the arc of age,

    a language we can see, not speak,
    an alphabet of limbs.

    * * *

    This mare's movement forms a sentence,
    unintelligible. Unable to speak last requests. What
    is it that you want?
I daub
    her bedsores with scarlet oil; the sting
    evident in flinches,
    failed attempts to kick me.

    She's gone down again, scraped her sides
    all night on the stall floor. I mark
    each wound on the eye, legs, pelvis with red
    circles of balmy correction: don't try lying down again, or else.

    * * *

    When she casts herself down in the stall one can hear her
    become the barn, shifting loudly.
    Her head beats the wall. Legs, letters flying through air.
    The sentence cast
    down to where it wants to be, throwing
    now and now into the night.

    * * *

    The next day, Richard walks me to the barn. I know
    he's been in for chemo but I say nothing: a moment
    when there is too much space
    for articulation of my fear, his pain.

    I point out measured red spots in the dirt. How ...?
    His vocal chords spotted with lesions,
    he whispers, sometimes these guys have to drag
    the horses to get them into the truck, or could be
    a hole between the trailer's slats
.

    I look at him and desire what I cannot have:
    all I love compressed, no spaces, no end,
    those legs to hold a horse between them always. His gaze
    answers: At some point an animal must

    give in to the sentence given
.

    What I didn't see until then:
    the loaded truck that came to hoist the mare's body, the barn
    cats rolling in the dark pool the needle left,
    the even spots of blood trailing

    across the ground, ellipses.

Murky sheen of horse eyes. How they roll. First appaloosa I ever saw frightened me with the whites of its eyes, reversals of its spots. The position of the orbits allows the horse to see to the side, but forces the mind to fill in the space directly in front. Blinders: all a race or carriage horse sees fits a narrow field of haze. It moves forward, as always.

My grey gelding lacked pigment in his inner eyelid, needed protection. To block UV rays, we looped a plush-lined, mesh fly mask over his ears, velcroed it under the cheek. The plastic grid before his eyes dissolved to shade in proximity.

The optometrist handed me a black plastic disk on a handle, hundreds of holes punched through. This to cut glare. To train. I pulled it close to my eye, imagined myself carrying around this reverse monocle. Pince-nez? I'd rather wear the fly mask, go to pasture.

    In a Field
    Distractions Rise

    Too much marveling at the electricity of blue
    dragonflies and screens of gnats in their hover
    to notice the dark ducks rising from the lake;

    too filled with voice calling the dog back
    from her bounds after wingflaps in flight
    to comprehend the machine of those paws parting,

    hear the skein of geese on their opposing air path
    or the feather-water and dog-pant whir
    as the ducks descend and the dog returns,

    affectionate but of a thrill beyond you—;
    when the egret unfolds its white-flame
    wings and leaps its frame to reedy solitude

    on the lake's opposite shore, it replaces all speech
    with thick tuck and space, wings collapsing to the breast.
    The dog steps up to her belly in water. You know

    what she's after—that white and shining figure—
    because it's your wish, too: who wouldn't want to
    embrace that bird like air, feel its bones shift to leave you?

First pain of optic neuritis digs behind the eye, grates against movement: a constellation of tiny cobalt lights on the right eyelid's interior. In bed I consciously positioned my eye to brace against pressure when it rolled to the side, or against the pillow. The eye in place, I watched the blue stars dance for me. I missed them when they stopped appearing. Their absence marked the cusp of the next unknown phase, and I wondered if this was my last dazzling thing.

    Riches

    O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
    —W. B. Yeats


    Stamped, we enter Rich's. The club
    thick with buzz, hum—
    sonic palms on each
    close shoulder. A string of blue
    beads at my feet, swept
    to the edge—I lift it
    up to my hair, veil
    my eyes with blue under black light.
    More beads
    and feathers, leather,
    suits (three-pieced and one)—
    sequins and haloes:
    I LOVE YOU rings
    a man's head, L.E.D. red's
    travel, flash, dazzle
    in the midst of motion.

    Upon the pulses, breath
    shared in clouds above,
    all these men hold light
    sticks in their mouths, neon
    beacons on wrists;
    they float and sway
    and shiver together
    and she and I
    here because there is safety
    for women.
    No offers of drinks, no
    fingers roamed,
    not for us, at least.
    We hold
    hands, reach
    the floor, wiggle to a music
    we do not call our own,
    two women
    flinging bodies
    in this air, this glow,
    this space of no space.

    No time, only movement
    and returning eternal
    echoes of drum and bass.
    We feel our bodies
    but lose distinction
    between other dancers and ourselves:
    Stray elbows and hips
    become extensions of our own,
    aftershave and sweat, ours.
    And he, from behind, lays a steady
    palm on her shoulder, then
    mine. You are such a cute
    couple—both
    so beautiful
, he says
    above music. Where are you
    from? How did you meet?
We thank
    the man, talk some.

    We do not say
    we are no couple; —tonight
    the cloud above us
    crystallizes a shower of jewels.
    He makes us one
    in the air
    of all our breathing.
    Praise to all flinging bodies—
    This music, our buoy, contains us.

Is blindness darkness, blur, whirl of ether? Do you remember pretending to be blind? Closing your eyes, counting steps from bedroom to bathroom, feeling your way along a wall? I've been practicing. If I say I can do my hair with my eyes closed, that might testify to its messiness, but what would it matter if I couldn't see it? What good's a mirror? Let it contain clouds.

    Seizure,
    or Seduction
    of Persephone

    I convulsed so hard I broke
    open, broke the earth,
    erupted and pushed out
    a narcissus by the roots.

    It doesn't matter where
    the flower broke on my body,
    through the skin, a pimple,
    my head, or the belly.

    I could not tell you.
    What I can say is this:
    my limbs flailed and seized
    in the bed. I watched, both

    inside and outside, skin
    the sheet of a Richter scale,
    delicate needles charting
    the shifting of earth's plates,

    limbs all speaking
    unknown tongues, plotting
    maps and pathways deep
    into the body. As he held

    me still in that bed,
    how was I to discern
    if he then learned
    his way through the flesh

    into my need, or if
    he chose this blue moment
    to come out, rupture
    the field from within

    my own unruly body?
    Seduction: nothing but
    a man's hand depressing
    and a flower jolting out.

    Some void here between my hips.

Swirl the medication with saline, draw it up into the syringe through the blue micro pin. Flick the syringe with finger or pen to release any bubbles back into the vial. Unscrew the micro pin from the syringe and twist on the 23-gauge needle. It's long, as far as needles go: darts through approximately 1 ¼ inches of flesh. Known to cleave muscle fibers. At these times the muscle jumps involuntarily. Measure a space to inject: one hand at the tip of patella, the other where the leg and hip join. In this square, between these moles. With thumbnail, mark the point to be injected. Dig. Sweep alcohol swab over the target.

One holds the syringe like a pen: thumb and forefinger. However, if one breaks through the page with a pen, it's a mistake. Throughness is the goal of the needle.

The hand may stop the needle short of skin up to seven times before contact. It gleams cleanly above the thigh.

I wonder what the needle sees on its descent.

    Large Loop
    Excision of the
    Temporal Zone

    for Georgia O'Keeffe

    Pale red and smooth, a little mouth inside.
    A flower. Red Amaryllis, each fold
    deep crimson at center. Brush strokes push out,
    drag pigment up each minute crease of inner
    corolla. Georgia, the clinic shows me

    my insides on a video monitor,
    aided by microscopic vision,
    studio lighting. How could you know
    so long ago, without your own speculum
    or microscope, what lay deepest inside

    a woman: tissue, mouth, amaryllis?
    You saw something unexplored about women
    that only a woman can explore
,
    painted it a lush metaphor. Today
    I witness the tenor to your vehicle,

    directed by the surgeon, interns, nurses,
    my closest friend's fingers wrapping mine.
    Now she's seen more of me than any man
    I've loved. We watch them anaesthetize
    the cervix, four shots, extreme close-up to fill

    the screen above the action, larger
    than life but alive. A thin string of fluid
    probes out the center; there is no etiquette
    here. You might call it natural, vulgar
    but magnificent
, this spit. Like a stamen

    in your Red Amaryllis, filaments
    drooping and surging upward, tipped with gold
    anthers, liquid motion from a center,
    pistil or tight mouth exposed on canvas,
    on screen. It is swabbed with a vinegar wash

    to illuminate abnormality—
    what must be removed before it can grow
    into cancer. The cervix transforms, turns blue
    as sky through bones in the desert. A pocket
    within a pelvis, but mine encased by flesh.

    A wash of iodine strokes corrections
    on this sky, makes flesh more akin to flora—
    corolla and pistil, a heavy pigment.
    And they go in, hum of electric charge
    powering the wire loop chosen to excise

    the lesion. We view it on screen, slicing
    off the abnormal, feel minutely shocked,
    relieved. The instrument pulls up a wake
    of pigment, a flood of red, swirling.
    This once I try to turn my head away

    from the image. My friend squeezes my hand
    for strength to face the action on screen. Feeling
    no pain, I pretend this blood is your paint,
    watch the final act. A smaller loop, yellow-
    handled, undoes the center, that neat, tight

    mouth. One round sweep and it's gone, newly
    misshapen, wide hole inside a hole. The last
    coat comes to stop the bleeding: Monsel's
    Solution applied with swabs. Burnt sienna
    brushed up a wake of crimson: ochre,

    a flower once more. Relief and wonder.
    The center, oddly black, suggests both
    utter possibility and the grotesque.
    Georgia, you'd understand—presence in loss,
    what is taken: what was saved. What remains:

    your giant Poppy on screen and within me,
    a bloom of color overcome by something
    deeper, the wide, black center, a cavern
    offering from its depths a jewel: a jade
    half-globe stamen lit from its underbelly.

Frantic human shape, pressed through a door. Then, tree, water, sky. I wept to see it again, with my new framed vision. "La Perspective Amoureuse": Magritte. I claim this bursting through the solid world: haloed brightness at the center of field. Almost pretend the bright, diffused middle is the strength to defy physics, arrange landscape.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Veil and Burn by Laurie Clements Lambeth Copyright © 2008 by Laurie Clements Lambeth. Excerpted by permission of University of Illinois 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.

Table of Contents

Contents

Coming Down....................1
Symptoms....................3
The Spaces Between....................4
[Mesh Fragment]....................6
In a Field Distractions Rise....................7
[Fragment Behind the Eyelid]....................8
Riches....................9
[Practice Fragment]....................12
Seizure, or Seduction of Persephone....................13
[Needle Fragment]....................15
Large Loop Excision of the Temporal Zone....................16
[Halo Fragment]....................19
Onion....................20
Cutting Distance....................21
[Frame Fragment]....................23
After Eight Years....................24
In Japan, Woman Can Doze with Man Pillow....................26
Work....................27
[Gingham Fragment]....................28
Into Wind....................29
Ode to the Upper Lip....................31
Case History: Frankenstein's Lesions....................33
Alfred Hitchcock Meets The Blob....................37
[Gauze Fragment]....................39
After Cancer: Dog on Her Side, Post-Amputation....................40
Inheritance....................42
Hypoesthesia....................44
On My Husband's Birthday I Read Obituaries....................46
1. Saddle....................47
2. Membrane....................49
3. At the Wild Horse Sanctuary....................50
4. In Praise of Proud Flesh....................51
5. Reluctant Pegasus....................52
6. [Preserved Fragment]....................54
7. Pegasus, a Ghost....................55
8. To the Gray I Can No Longer Ride....................57
9. What Holds....................58
10. Dressage, or the Attempt at Training the Course of Illness....................60
[Mosaic Fragment]....................62
Wrong Turn Near Pecos....................63
[Chipped Fragment]....................65
Retrobulbar....................66
[Fragment Dissected and Sewn]....................67
The Merle....................68
Undressing the Tree....................69
The Shaking....................70
Heron....................71
Eating the Night....................72
Nicholas Ray Directs a Poem....................73
[Brain Fragment (as Seen on a Monitor)]....................75
Back Lot Field Notes....................76
Washing Up....................78
Notes....................81

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