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Tag: leprosy

Rewrite

I’m reworking “The Nightsky Often Looks Like a Mound of Feathers” and retitled the poem (I may re-use this title in a future poem). Here’s the result:

A LETTER TO CALICO SKIN

1.

Early on, you appeared
like a curled robe

on the side of a highway, like
a young woman dying in the corner

of a room. For years, you appeared,
followed me to states I could not travel to

in real life. I remember the way
you seemed to make others ill,

as they disappeared
from my dreams

entirely.

2.

After years of silence, I found you
in a poem, in the form of a man,

with a name for the illness
that I could not name as a child: leprosy.

And again you returned—I was lost in the woods
and you gained ground, bending with

the shadows, offering me flowers
with poisonous thorns.

3.

Soon I realized you might follow
others: the way he described a woman

with calico hair, and I tried
to not believe him.

I collected flowers, like you in the woods.
It was when I began to search

for sunlight when I wondered
if I had ever told him about you.

Stared at the roses. In this moment,
you became an impenetrable mass

of searching.

*

The poem referred to in Section 2 is David Dodd Lee’s “The Calico Man,” from Orphan, Indiana (University of Akron Press, 2010).

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Writing Process

This is one of those poems that is not very good, needs a ton of editing but will not get out of my head. I imagine part of it will be useful, but for now, this is it, in its roughest form.

THE NIGHTSKY OFTEN LOOKS LIKE A MOUND OF FEATHERS.

1.

Ever since you were young, you tried
to stay awake through the night, observing

only the odd shapes made through the room
as the moon shifted in your open window.

When I was young, there was a woman
of calico skin, eyes and tongue, curled up

on the side of a highway. I yelled to my mother
to stop the car, and when we backed up,

she had disappeared. She followed me
for years, through airports and gas stations,

always sickly, perfumed with what could only
be death and wind chimes.

2.

Sometimes in the middle of the night
when we cannot sleep, we lie

in the middle of the backyard. We do not fear
this darkness or the strange shapes

of the Arizona shrubs and flowers
that seem to wilt with darkness.

We listen to the wind, in silence—and I wonder
if perhaps this isn’t part of a dream, too,

since sometimes we remember we really live
in Midwestern snow.

3.

During one of these nights, you
make the mistake of telling me

of a woman who followed you
through your dreams

when you were young, one with calico
hair only, and I try not to believe you.

I pluck one of the flowers, wilted black
with nightfall, and smell the rank fumes

of its funeral, trying to decide
whether or not I ever

told you about her.

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