Presented by Jen Michalski, for PANK. For a description of this guest series, click here
Arthur, on the History of Anxiety
which starts with the river and you who were lured
and we who languished, who took no
chances, said I’m not going to try
to float across on that and so survived.
Where the Patapsco is bridged with steel,
you launch that raft and someone else
paddles back through storm’s
pooled light. One who wades
through daylight, reciting:
Hard rock of the piedmont begat tidewater
plains, widgeon grass and wild rice. Begat
mill and merchant prince, sailing vessel and
steamer, begat things like sock garters and
high silk hats. Begat what runs alongside:
the snort of the steel horse and the huff
of the mother, ever-steeled, who begat
galloping heart and EKG machine.
O, the authority of rivers and
the awful wall of us—mast and sail,
mortar and rust—pushing back.
And who is left to clean it all up? we
who took no chances, and so survived
to pick through your slough —cast-iron
skillet, rocking horse head, ’67 Thunderbird
manifold, blue-glass chaff, electric typewriter
keys, garnet rosary beads, and the mill
workers’ stone homes, brick by tumbled brick.
Guinevere, to All of Her Unborns
The river’s tent is not broken, but bent
enough to leave you exposed,
my sweets, clustered on the shore of my pulse,
the wet clutch of my muscle.
Why I can’t bring you indoors:
I carry the gene that makes
one susceptible to rain. There isn’t enough
oxytocin to go round.
The dolorous stroke is wrenching out
a rib to make another.
And the wound that won’t heal: women.
The story they keep telling:
that I am waiting to be sought.
That my men wander
but I am lost in the cemetery where I went
one violet hour to sneak a cigarette
and startled a deer. A doe who darted
into traffic. Her fawn
followed suit. River and current: one drags
the other along. Just as this land was never
my land: not my dust clouds rolling.
I hardly know my own mother
tongue. They say the moon borrows its brilliance,
offers no light of its own. They say my river
runs soft, runs softly. Keep clinging to its bank,
my sweets. When I make my own map
of the world, I’ll sketch this shore, your pebbled
forms, in ochre and animal blood.
The Last Meeting, along the Path to Arthur’s Grave
Here— grass matted means
a deer path, white tufts in underbrush
mean a doe dozed last night, her ears like satellites,
swiveling. Like any prey. Like us,
soon off to a hermitage, a convent.
Cowardly or clear-sighted, we’ll hedge our bets
in hairshirts, woolen robes, woolen
underpants. We’ll sail silent corridors, praying
for early November snow—
remnants of stars wrung soft,
dawn’s white lint. A prioress
will show us how God lives in
the lens: a neuron is webbed same as a nebula,
same as a snowflake. How the cuckold
forgets the same as the cunt.
How we are never more alone
than in love. We’ll illuminate manuscripts
with sketches of spiral galaxies—discs
of light, bulging, luminescent breasts.
Darling, darling, who will forgive
that once we expected to suckle?
Here—his headstone. Under stars beating
dawn back. Among these vegetative beds, no,
beds of vegetation. Next to a doe’s skull,
her eye socket cracked.
SHELLEY PUHAK is the author of Guinevere in Baltimore, selected by Charles Simic for the 2012 Anthony Hecht Prize. Her first collection, Stalin in Aruba, was awarded the Towson Prize for Literature. She is also the author of the chapbook The Consolation of Fairy Tales, winner of Split Oak Press’s Stephen Dunn Prize. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Carolina Quarterly, Kenyon Review Online, Missouri Review, and Ninth Letter; and in anthologies such as A Face to Meet the Faces: Contemporary Persona Poetry. Her essays have appeared in Fourth Genre and The Baltimore Sun. Shelley teaches at Notre Dame of Maryland University, where she is the Eichner Professor of Creative Writing. She lives on the outskirts of Baltimore with her husband and son.