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Authors: Brenda Shaughnessy

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BOOK: Our Andromeda
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Mermaid's Purse

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.
If blameless,

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.

At the Book Shrink

one learns to say “My body uses me

as a grape uses wine”—

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

hooked lip),

only for that one blink

of an eye already shut (tiptoe

to the foreshadow) against

the headlong wall of salt water.

To My Twenty-Three-Year-Old Self

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

for her.

Had she only said she wanted it.

Luckily for you, she didn't.

To My Twenty-Four-Year-Old Self

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.

To My Twenty-Five-Year-Old Self

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.

To My Thirty-Eight-Year-Old Self

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 know…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

Wisdom-apex age,

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,

Backing away,

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?

The New People

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 Christian—or 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 club—

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 boy—near 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. Please…

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 room—

surely my child, who belonged, would come home soon?

If You So Much As Lay a Hand

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,

with creature-logic

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.

BOOK: Our Andromeda
9.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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