Authors: Brenda Shaughnessy
There is no such thing as sacrifice,
though the bleeding doesn't end.
The self is the self yet bigger than itself.
Indebted. And subordinate
to the unity of its fragments,
loopholes in the loop of wholeness.
Cat sharks lay their eggsacs,
which eat themselves in gestation,
for if fewer mature sharks,
bigger portions at the feast
of the loggerhead turtle, which
will never again be a single entity.
Out of one, many.
then meaningless, dissolved
by a cloud of sardines, flashing
silver as if paying for breakfast
in a silent movie starring no stars.
To think that, in my sorrow,
I thought it was permissible to flick
myself away like a fly from the full-length
mirror on opening night. Curled the hot
hair around my crowded face,
warming up the audience for a flop.
I thought I'd be bought something,
by one who admired me. Some lost meal,
hours of fat drink check, a copselike rope
of rubies for my waist. But no. I'm selfsame:
a wordsmith wearing too much paint,
my inking irons heavy in the rain.
The night is an imperfect story
for us all. It leaves things out.
The witch's song can't prove itself
beautiful enough to sing at dawn
for the enchanted child
in an ordinary story about the night.
No small favor, no laughing matter.
Pass the meat through a slot
in the chamber. This whole self
can be as silent as a chain saw rusted
on the broken fever of my song's rain,
my night's story, my ink iron's brains.
In spite of the spot-checking,
the self-seeking, the meticulous soul-smithing,
I am still me, lacking.
Like murders in books, but with reverse
precision, how anyone becomes herself
is a mystery. A miracle. A myth.
one learns to say “My body uses me
as a grape uses wine”â
to talk about inevitability,
the essence of plot.
But what happens when a person
understands she is being sent
back, glass by glass,
to the invisible pouring stations
of the larger narrative?
That she is merely like or likely
a person in a book?
Like a saltwater balloon
sinking in the ocean.
Like a person in a book, like
I said already. Someone's
not listening. Someone's
eating breakfast or falling
asleep or texting a married lover
as shrinks are wont to do.
If I am boring then at least
I am getting somewhere:
through the wood I knock on.
My story is telling.
But it's not telling
I need help getting to the next part.
When I open my mouth,
liquid rushes in, endrunkening.
When I close it,
dark, secret-looking drops spill
crimson on the page.
Be strange to yourself,
in your love, your grief.
Your wet eyelashes a black
fringe on brown pain
and your feet unbelievably
sure, somehow, surfing
your own shadow,
that too-large one cresting
just now, too soon for you
to get inside the curl:
the one place in the ocean
where it's safe. And safe
only for a half-breath
(a fish's sip with
only for that one blink
of an eye already shut (tiptoe
to the foreshadow) against
the headlong wall of salt water.
The woman you think
Is the love of your life
Is only a way to get
To New York City.
I probably shouldn't
Say that until she leaves
You. Because you will
Hate me if I say it now.
You “love” “her” so
Much. You are lavishing
A lifetime of unexpressed love
On this poor expressionless
Child. She can barely feel.
And you, you narcissist,
You can only feel yourself.
If you really loved her,
You would try to help her.
But in the end, I'm glad
You spent your energies
Writing love poems and
Trying to transform your love
Into art. It worked out
For you. FSG will buy it
Even though it's juvenile.
You'd believe that before
You'd believe she'll leave you.
In six weeks. Without a trace.
You don't know who
You are. And besides you're not
Butch enough for me.
As if you wouldn't make yourself
Had she only said she wanted it.
Luckily for you, she didn't.
You wouldn't know me,
If I came to you in a dream.
You'd be sleeping
It off, you'd be naked
And cute, but you think
You're a kind of monster
And maybe you are,
Just not an ugly one.
That whole business
Will come later.
You'd pass me on the street
As well, a “normal,”
Someone who traded
In her essentials for
A look of haunted
Someone who was maybe
Once a girl you'd know.
I would want to tell
You that romance
Was a kind of civilization
That fell. I cannot
Explain the complex
Strategies in that bitter
Defeat, not that I
Fathom it, except to say
That we are all haunted.
You too, in your wild love
And fear. You are a monster.
I am not a dream.
Billy Collins, have you any
Idea how important
You were to my twenty-five-year-
Old self? You weren't
Poet laureate yet, you
Were just a teacher I had
In Ireland. You were
Expansive and you
Believed in me.
I felt like a real poet
With you for the first
Time even though we
Argued about feminism
And things that mattered.
I was just at that cusp
Of being someone who wanted
So desperately to write,
Tipping over into becoming a writer.
I was fighting it. I didn't know
How to be except angry.
I was frightened. What if I
Could be good? What if
I would never be good?
Would your attention
Be all I'd ever really have
Of poetry? How could I know?
And so I was angry at you.
And between the lesbian
Love I'd left in New York
Who, I'm grateful, convinced
Me to buy contact lenses
So I could see the green
Hills, and the British physicist
I'd end up in bed with
Before I'd left Ireland,
There was something pure
And aboveboard, not teacherly
But generous, and lovely
And incomplete and no
One thing. I won't forget it:
The way you laughed
At some mean joke, at some
Ugly truth, into the wind
So it blew back into our happy,
Stupid faces on a ferry made me understand,
This is love the way poets know it.
Calvin will be fine,
I want to say
To this woman who
Is one year older than me.
To tell her: You may still
Not be able to tell,
But he will catch up,
And fit into the category
Of “normal” and we'll
Both laugh at ourselves,
Who never imagined
Normal as a good thing
For anybody, much less
A beautiful, innocent
Baby. Who has a real
Chance at being magnificent.
She'll say what
Did we knowâ¦we were
So worried. Still though,
If anyone ever makes
Fun of him, calls him
Stupid or a spaz
Or anything, I'm sure
Even our eighty-five-year-old
Self, we at our big
Will vivisect that anyone
With a grapefruit spoon.
We'll laugh, but then
She'll turn to me and say:
But you're from the past.
You're just me last year.
You don't know
Any more than I do.
In fact, she'll say,
You know even less.
You're fucking with me.
Then she won't let me
Touch her or say another
Word. So what was
The point of my coming here?
I had no desire to get to know the screamers,
our loud-in-ten-ways, annoying, drunk and boorish
neighbors, but I didn't put up
a fence or anything. Didn't fight it
when they brought us plates of their fatty meals
and overlong chitchat. We were new,
just renting, and I didn't want to be rude,
either, when Joanna and Vince
brought us their statue of the Virgin Mary
when our newborn son was in the hospital.
Joanna had tears in her eyes and though I am not
Catholic, or even Christianâor not
anymore anyway, I think, if it's like what I suppose
in that you have to keep up with the dues
to stay in the clubâ
I accepted the statue. I took in the alien
mother and wrapped her in a blanket.
I lay her on a low shelf and broke
the news to my Jewish husband, who cringed
and said, “She gave you
But I didn't care
what it was, from what god or goddess
or neighbor or creature or kiln.
I was becoming someone I didn't know
each day without my little boyânear insanity
about his tiny, pure, hurt self. All those wires.
Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
Holy Statue in my baby's silent room, I promise
I will believe in you, and in Jesus too. Pleaseâ¦
Why was I cradling a “mother” statue,
a ceramic doll, this creepy relic,
instead of my living, beautiful son?
could make it all the way here,
across so many territories of indifference,
into my most secret empty roomâ
surely my child, who belonged, would come home soon?
What can I possibly understand
holding on to the idea that he is mine?
Denying the fact that he's really being passed
from hand of the living to hand of the dead
above my head
in a game of keep-away
in which I am not the mother who makes
the rules and has her say
but the target, who makes them all laugh
at my attempts to stay light-
hearted, game, so the teasing
doesn't turn more vicious.
If some clumsy god drops him
or forgets to wind up his breath
enough to last the whole night
or if some irritated hand swats him away
like a fly, I will replace my life
with blood sport, wild to find that arm,
the tendoned shoulder, the loose fist of that god,
aim for his face, his expression. I will see it.
See whether he equals in horror
my child's beauty.
Whether there is light in his eyes,
or envy. If there are such hands,
such a brutal face
to my son's luck or unluck.
The words flog and flay and no mercy
come to mind, like some maniac order
divinity believes only it can give,
or dissolve like a membrane
between world and love.
A jellyfish can find, in water,
the air it needs
to keep the poison ready. Even if
this god is not some creature,
and animal heft, but only an idea
the breath forms from death,
from a random plot of book or land,
not man or kind of man,
if I so much as see the shadow
of that hand.
after Kaja Silverman's
Flesh of My Flesh
On having slashed myself from throat to instep
in one unbroken line,
I suppose it was a reenactment, Freud's
the second act. The past presses so hard
on the present, the present is badly bruised,
blood brims under the skin.
That was the situation I was in. Wearing a jacket of blood
from an earlier crime,
which was also mine. A curving zipper with misaligned
teeth, open to show red lipstick,
meat. And a stage smile, have a seat! Normally I'm much
more careful, naturally something
like this would only ever happen in a dream,
but even dreams have their dreams
of finding their dreamer awake, silent within earshot,
carving knife in hand.
Did you know that anguish thins the blood and thickens
the vessel? It was like cutting
a rare steak. A minotaur, glittering with rubies
and pink candles. My hands hung
like electrical wires off a building on the edge of collapse,
every one of my gestures symbolic,
ruined of magic. For there is no miraculous beast,
and there never was, standing
on the golden field of frozen honey clover,
each leaf strong enough to bend
under everything's weight. Strong because it bends.
Because it has already been crushed,
but its cells know that blight, one massive cut,
will slit each tiny skin surgically
in order to save the field from itself. I cannot suffer
the same fate twice, force my own hand
or stay it. Can't repeat or unrepeat. This finitude
is infinite and infinitely expanding.