Halcyon

 

Like nothing, you wield these leaves
& branches from miles around

into your fortress, your own floating box.
Wings spread & your partner’s—& the calls

over the water. What power. What control.
The unruly terrain falls. How I wish I were you,

too beautiful & blue to be viewed
from a distance, the blending in. How calm

I would have to be to calm these waters,
how sure. Mystical bird, I envy you.

I look down into her beautiful face & know
I am unworthy. My sadness speaks

for me & with one look she may drink it in.
Small spiral heart, blood in the snow: this

is what I will have done to her. I wish for calm.
Kingfisher & swan, you reign—the sharp

voices & feathers, stark & shine
against flattened seas.

Calm sun, calm moon.

 

*

 

HALCYON has many definitions over the course of its lineage. This is in reference to its representation of a mythological bird, said by ancient writers to breed in a nest floating at sea at the winter solstice, charming the wind and waves into calm.

 

 

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Caterpillar Towns

 

consider their bodies—each separate bead

a head—the string of brains arch

like drumming fingers, or rather,

the knuckles. survival

in a smaller form. like a child pouring out

onto a table, the wide mouth

of an incision, a closed door.

you left me open there, leaves

& breath. Puddles Pity Party like a dream

of black & white film

& song. he opens his mouth, wider

than most, & out comes the sounds

of a clarinet, a tuba, a bird launched

into the higher branches

of a tree until all you make out

is the red smudge against

barren branch, no more sense

of feather or blood, the mother lost

in the presence of crying child, father dwelling

on the sidelines. his voice

in my ears, feathers in my mouth,

the bark like an arrival

in my hand. life will make no more sense

than this. more powder. more song.

 


Solar Panels

 

You said we were a senseless

pairing—the earth and moon—what if

someday the earth falls out of love?

 

Then the moon will fall into, into—

 

We were waiting for a train, heads under

the tunnel eve, rain pouring down, we were

reaching out—

 

what if the earth falls out of love with the sun—

 

you boarded the train,

all shadow,

big freeze.

 

My heart was a bag of sleeves, the hands

developing out, blood under

the fingernails.

 

 


Under Stoplights & Sun

 

                                 What have I learned of compassion? Unharmed,

it releases itself as a seatbelt & a bottle of Coke

in the morning. Baby strapped down

in the backseat, head lolling inside

an oversized winter hat. My daughter was a scene

of silver bird-quest under my skin, the starving ribs, until

until—finally—the release & she came like a small

uproar, the deep incision & multiplied limbs. All that salt

& brie. Now I see her dreaming, suckling like wine,

the thin limbs filling & the always-wet lips, the let’s-learn-

about-tears-let’s-learn-about-anything-about-pain green

eyes. Like mother, like daughter, the trim of blue. Like the ocean

we are love, we are sleep, we are these two

repeating souls, heartbeat on the monitor screen,

printed scales. She stole my body for nine months

the way someone did years ago—but gently & persistently,

the sweetest survival sounds, birdsong & a stray hat

under summer trees as I bloomed outward like an inflating

mattress, a portable whale under a sky of seagulls.

 

 


Reading David Dodd Lee

 

THE WHITE SEA

 

Spin the big wheel of weather. So it’s seven
degrees. I could have sworn it was balmy and getting ready

        to storm
eight minutes ago. One definition of a slob is someone

who runs out to the street through a foot of snow in slippers
and a t-shirt to get the mail. And falls down. I close my eyes to

        the weather
and see black lemons floating on white water.

 

ESTRANGEMENT

 

The deer’s face points downriver, marble-still, cold
eye into the wind, staring into the flashlight. Engine’s shut off,

        snow on
the high banks. I slice her open on-site, organs spilling

into the water. Do the falling parts know that she’s gone yet?
And the animal with its great black floor takes passage. She doesn’t

        need to
worry anymore. The creek’s stars quiver and absorb her. I light

my last cigarette. Barter trumps money in these woods.
Now her neck muscles are flowing out into the falling snow,

        hooves streaming
up into the gray machine… The eyes are deep set, polished already.

I’m still in awe. Later, I remove the head. She smells of wet rocks
and trees. I light a joint, rub the burn scars on my arm, remove

        the wire
frame for the gray fox, place the doe’s head on the fleshing table.

I boil water. The body drains in the carport. I don’t fear being away
from them anymore. It’s quiet and the phone never rings.

 

THE LESSON

 

The joy cannot continue,
cannot extinguish the fire in

        the bathtub,
the sirens roving from room to room

in the small house just down the hill
from the seven large houses, candles in

        every open
doorway. This is how you see in the dark, he says,

and he takes her hand in his hand, her hand
holding a yellow pencil, and he crosses words out.

 

FROM HAND TO MOUTH

 

I can’t see you.
Semblance. I mean
The rain. The black

Rain. It’s night you
Know, fingernails. Dragged.
And bitten off.

 

SAD FLOWERS

 

They’re back-shot, black blood; we get the noon re-
port. It’s divided into pieces—they aren’t out there. They

        curve over
the wires. Hello, death in Africa, to me in my underwear.

Here’s a blueprint of my pocket. When my face was wrapped
in muslin I could feel the dying animals, the places where they

        left salt
in my brain. Child, camel, things burned: what memories of

these will I bring with me out of the grave? Everyone has to
deal with lint. I pick the stuff off my aloe plant, it flows up

        out of
the baby’s mouth and she’s laughing like a dead jazz singer.

 

*

 

all from David Dodd Lee’s Animalities (Four Way Books, 2014)

 

 


At Dusk

 

Out on a walk, I saw two girls
screaming through

a two-seater swing, two fans
of blonde hair. There was a hill

in the way, shoulder-high, and they
were nameless, without bodies,

the way birds might appear
when lying in their nest. I left them

against a blood-orange sun and bent
around a curve, still with their calls,

fading.

 

 


In Utero

 

You are becoming too much for me. I find it
difficult to read poetry, to read

anything. I roll onto my side, the book turning
with me, and I feel your body drop

onto the bed, weighing me there, small
anchor. My lungs have learned a new method

of breathing. Everything, all the organs
and bones, have taken new shape. This

is their method of survival: they are like trees—
leaning—when there is water or earth

to consume. Too much destruction. Growing plant,
I take you everywhere. How important it is

to protect your leaves, to keep your branches
from breaking. You do not understand

the burden you have become, all the lost
water, nor how lovely—

the ocean
and the fish who fill it.

 

 


The Reveal

 

You of average size but I was

so small, so small

they opened my middle like a mouth

the incision is clean, straight, but it was

in that moment, jagged—

layers of skin cut, the muscles intact and spread

open like wire

you were inside, waiting; you had been there

all the time

 

 


Grief as Meditation, Grief as Art: Reading Meg Day’s Last Psalm at Sea Level

 

Meg Day_Last Psalm at Sea LevelWriting reviews can be extremely difficult. What’s ironic, though, is that I tend to find greater difficulty in writing a review about a book that I loved, rather than one I was unimpressed with. Perhaps this is because I tend to find some angle of merit in each work that I read—a particular writing technique, the story line, a character, the research process, etc.—but it’s often much more problematic finding only one or two favorite things to talk about from a work that I love. With a collection as stunning and powerful as Meg Day’s Last Psalm at Sea Level, I found myself entranced in its aesthetic and emotional range, as well as the sheer breadth of topics addressed. It kept me guessing, reeling at every turn, images staying with me and realizations haunting me as one poem connected to another, their layering. “Powerful” fails to cover this collection.

If I had to choose one or two favorite aspects of this collection, it would be the collection’s range, both in the sense of topic and writing technique. Many collections fall into the trap of focusing on one poetic form (let’s say, couplets) and/or one topic, or theme. While there is nothing wrong with concentrating on one form, or couplets, or doing a themed project, some of these collections begin to feel contrived or forced in their attempt at, almost, hyper-focusing. Day, however, is unafraid to push beyond these potential restrictions and moves through a variety of forms and topics that, in the end, reflect a sort of personal exploration and discovery in relationship to family, sexuality and identity, which unifies, both, the aesthetic and emotional ranges that might otherwise become disjunctive.

Day demonstrates a lovely mastery of lineation, white space, sound and rhythm in these poems, ranging from the short-line, one stanza poem (i.e. “Hymn to a Landlocked God”) to long, enjambed lines split into couplets, indented across the page (“Ghazal for Finally Leaving What Has Already Left”). Her writing is economical and creates a currency that I am aware of, envy, and strive for in my own writing: sharp, almost declarative (certainly confident, certainly demanding) sentences, beautiful line breaks that often create double-meanings in the line or otherwise surprise, as well as memorable and surprising imagery and depictions of God, of the Church, of faith, of family; the list goes on. The ability to do so much with the physical poem on the page, being able to work and twist and bend its limbs and how they feel and taste when rolling off the tongue, or how they appear when they are seen, there is so much here to appreciate—too much to cover in a single review.

And as if the collection did not offer enough by way of writing technique, there is the lack of emotional boundary. As stated previously, these poems largely focus on family and faith, sexuality and identity, and these themes are hardly achieved through the traditional or cliché; rather, they are discovered and refined through surprising imagery and sentiment. A sexualized relationship with God (and the images related), strange nature imagery when retelling family, and recasting oneself as several opposite sex relatives are only a few of the more surprising—and, in the end, absolutely beautiful—leaps that this collection makes. These moments are shocking, cut to the bone, and are highly, highly memorable. Characters on the front porch in oversized clothes, and the direct appeals to God in the title poem, among many other moments, continue to stay with me.

What becomes the most beautiful, the most startling, in the end, however, is this collection’s trials and representations of grief—both as a construct and as an entity. Perhaps what Day has mastered more than anything else is her skill of relating to the reader, presenting concepts and images that feel right to our hearts, whether or not they appear correct on the surface. This ability to relate is what leads these images to be so powerful, so memorable, and what makes these concepts of family and sexuality, etc., such a mainstay, rather than just another representation of the same constructs. If I may for a moment separate Grief and Sorrow as two different concepts, I see the collection largely as a representation of the grieving process, and as an address to Sorrow as an entity. Though not put in so many words, I think this is often how we move through grief, which makes this division all the more appealing, and relatable. While there are undeniably stages of grief, there is also this entity that we may find ourselves addressing along the way—asking why, wondering whether or not we can survive this, projecting memories of the grieved onto this sort of corkboard of process… All of those thoughts have to be pointed somewhere, to someone. For some, that would be a Higher Power; but for others, it may simply be the emotion itself: Sorrow of the body. Whether or not this collection is make an argument for or against turning to a Higher Power, or to Sorrow, is hardly my point; it’s more so this process of dealing and relating to that process, giving it a name and (almost) a face, something (or someone) to lean into when there often appears to be no one else. Like everything else in this collection—the elements of family, the humor, the wit—we’re made to understand pain, to stare it in the face, and what stares back stays with us long after the book is closed.

Really, that becomes the whole purpose of a collection: creating something memorable. That goal is tremendously achieved in this collection, read after reading. It’s stunning, it’s powerful, it’s intensely-composed… While this review is hardly exhaustive of this poet’s and her poems’ merits, her ability in range, and her representation of Sorrow as an entity, became favorite focal-points for me as a reader. It’s a collection that I will continue to return to, and a poet I admire and take influence from.

My advice? Read it, digest it, and then read it again.

I’ll be taking my own advice again soon.

 

MEG DAY, selected for Best New Poets of 2013, is a 2013 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and the author of Last Psalm at Sea Level, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize (forthcoming 2014), When All You Have Is a Hammer (winner of the 2012 Gertrude Press Chapbook Contest) and We Can’t Read This (winner of the 2013 Gazing Grain Chapbook Contest). A 2012 AWP Intro Journals Award Winner, Meg has also received awards and fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Hedgebrook, Squaw Valley Writers, the Taft-Nicholson Center for Environmental Humanities, and the International Queer Arts Festival. Meg is currently a PhD candidate, Steffensen-Cannon Fellow, and Point Foundation Scholar in Poetry & Disability Poetics at the University of Utah.

 

 


Reading Meg Day

 

THERE’S SNOW IN THE WEST

 

& there’s snow in the east
& there’s snow in our beds
icing the cabbage. Since you left
me alone, the wasp nest
swallowing the bulb
in the porch light has gone
leaden & each night the asphalt
is honeycombed in its half-
lidded light
                          while the laundry—frozen
stiff on the line—sways from its hinges
like the moon flag that waves
without wind.
                              I am not praying.
I’m longing: Please. Let summer
be a good shot, an untraceable track;
let the beautiful animal of this working
class winter loose its vise grip
on your throat before the kill.
The kettle is steaming the windows,
lined with bubble-wrap, & the peaches
are ripening in their cans.
                                                  Come home. Come home.

 

HYMN TO A LANDLOCKED GOD

 

Perhaps as a child
you, too, saw
these stallion clouds
& knew a sky
with no blue
was a sky too
reverent to be
overlooked
or understood.
Perhaps heaven
is the moon flag,
not the moon,
& you came
to know praise
as vertical only
because the earth
refused your reach.
Look up.
There’s a tear
in the sky tonight
like the shriek
of a frightened mare
or the long wail
a saxophone makes
on a corner at dawn
& this is how I know
you are a woman:
we are both broken
in two by our own
creations. I have
looked to the west
in search of water
& the sheer faces
of so many boulders
stare back, their bodies
bent in genuflection
at the altar of the sky.
Why have you made me
know the sea?
Make me a bird, Lord;
make me a man.
Make me a barn
with a spine so swayed
it pulls back my neck
to crane toward the sky.

 

GHAZAL FOR FINALLY LEAVING WHAT HAS ALREADY LEFT

 

I imagine there were angels once, or at least the sound of them,
trumpeting some broken hallelujah against the ceiling above that bed.

There must have been electricity—a current—to power
the elaborate maneuvering that kept me fastened to that bed.

I don’t remember much: the arrivals & departures blurred as healing scars
& the kitchen always quiet. There was little concern for bedlam or bedtime

& the mornings it snowed kept me close to the windows, screens thawing—
like my want—wired & damp. At night, a phantom weight beside me in the
          bed.

I imagine spring could have begun kindly & coaxed the steady stride
of summer into its measured snare—an entire season of sickness, bed-

bound alone with The Book of Hours—then swung hard into September,
pocket watches leaned open in palms like old men in gold rockers; beds

like deep yawns, yawns like gaping coffins. Lord, what was I
but made in your image: invisible. I come to you a cavern of bedrock,

rendered acquiescent. I arrive secondhand. You, Lord, are the woman I
          longed to be
or be with, the walking ache of so many confessions, the merciful repository
          embedded

in surrender. Come: weep in my arms. If you are the beginning & end, then
          let us be
what we are best: the slow departure, the unlikely subsistence, bedmates
          without a bed.

 

*

 

all from Meg Day’s Last Psalm at Sea Level (Barrow Street Press, 2014)