UNTIL IT DANCES
Sing until throat and lung rebel,
hum the skreaky wheeze of rusty hinge,
of grandma’s unlatched, six-over-six,
ill-fit window sash yowling in night winds.
Keep the clashing melody, groove
against the steel bars, the reverb
of the clanging door of fear, razz until
it dances, jigs to your chosen overtone,
shoos dissonance over sill, hearth and jamb;
up the chimney, down the crapper,
out the cat-door’s flapping hatch.
THE SIXTH APPOINTMENT
On the sixth appointment (your third) I rat-
tled off the plot of Washington Square,
gleaned from all five of seven cd’s decked
in our car in the grim subterranean lot
down there, your hand on my knee (your
reach strained—I don’t know why
we didn’t simply scoot you close), down-
town sun lightening lab-yellow blinds
and when I couldn’t look at you I spoke
to the baby squatting naked in a white
porcelain bowl on the wall, all squidge
and a stupid smile and hair sparse
as an old man’s (when we were shown
in, we laughed at the sight of him)
and when I couldn’t look at the baby
I spoke to the replica of certain a-
natomy (purple plastic for the womb,
barn-door-red for the cervix, pink
for It, etc.), the piece you joked
lonely bachelors might like to display
in their lonely living rooms and when I spoke
to you again the sun had your eyes,
hoarding their godly-green
and the room spun
and I sat back and you rose
as the doctor entered
in high platform sandals,
pleasant skirt beneath
the pale coat and the two
of you shared a small laugh before
she whipped open her magic
chart, divined the unseen,
lifted my new blouse,
squirted on the goop,
pressed the thing home
and you heard (for the first time)
the tiny, persistent galloping.
And nobody laughed
then except for me, because I’d for-
gotten (even after all these fucking visits):
DRINKING SOUTHERN COMFORT ON
A RAILROAD BRIDGE
of a moment untethered—
in scorched yellow grasses
between tracks, amongst weeds.
No one could see us there,
passing the bottle—
the kid whose mother was a preacher,
another guy I didn’t know from school.
It was July, and my forearms
stuck to my knees.
Steps away from the church
where I sat between my parents
under whirring fans each Sunday,
above the old train station,
where my grandmother, boarding the train,
met my grandfather, who studied
at the police academy next door.
My lips touched the same wet spot
as the boys’ lips, I tasted the tastes of them.
Smells of all of us on the bottle: sweat, skin,
cigarettes stale, and the sweet taste
of the one just lit.
The smooth mouth of the bottle warm.
There was the sound of amber liquid
splashing softly, slowly, as we passed the bottle,
and the trees that smell like semen
were in full flower,
as they are that time in summer,
and down the embankment, a pair of shorts
had tumbled from a paper sack.
A rusty knife blade stuck in the soil.
And every so often, a warm breeze came
as a car drove under the bridge.
We sat like that, the three of us,
until we finished the bottle,
and I looked up at the trees,
at their still leaves,
what might happen
if I came here
KAREN AMONG THE KACHINAS
Some physicists say death frees our bodily atoms
to fathom new space—uncharted places—to
rearrange themselves into new forms of matter
that scatter and dance into the cosmos, the body
not God’s design—His creations eternal.
The physical does not exist, they say. Only
the mind is real. When the body, ego, illusions
take leave, we live forever.
The great horned owl that flew into my plane
three weeks before my death knew my name—
I was just thirty-four: mother of two;
respiratory therapist; animal lover.
From the Navajo Bitter Water Clan
(half Navajo, half San Carlos Apache),
I knew how to converse with sheep and horses,
roosters and people in pain. I went back
to my childhood haunts.
They say women from my clan are headstrong.
I was bent on flying—Mama said I was wrong
to go against my father’s wishes. But now he says
I couldn’t have died in a better spot: the plane
went down among four feet of snow,
ponderosa pines, and those intermediaries
of the deities who live on Flagstaff’s peaks.
Still in their winter sleep, they had not yet left
for the Bear Dance ceremonies marking
February’s false spring.
He prays every day now for such a perfect death
as he imagines me communing with Crow Mother,
singing with Red Beard, dancing with Humming Bird
and Road Runner. Father, you dance too,
I urge him. Dance to the music of the living
and the dead, and you will find your way home,
my Lakota friend once said.
"NEW YORK I LOVE YOU BUT YOU'RE BRINGING ME DOWN"
This morning I mourned you as I have not done
these few days weeks months this dawn
this morning with raindrops bending the light
the birds burnt black against the sky
that roost on the cold wires
swinging silent from bare pole
to bare pole
glitter-eyed dreams feathered dreams
perched on the sharp edge of daylight
ready to betray
or to be betrayed;
I kicked the night off its hinges
the sound of my footsteps in the morning
a Morse code self-portrait: iambic "I am"s:
--a man a man his mouth a gash his head
full of ash he wants he wants he wants he wants
to hold the dead past in his hands to see
to hear to touch to smell to taste he wants
the universe in which at precisely
the right moment with precisely the right
intonation he asked her to stay and she did;
but between dark building and dark building now
real time unfolds with the sunrise now
and all around New York now
covers are folded back and a mouth now
opens and another mouth now closes another
with itself now oh now now eight million yawns
five hundred thousand kisses two million curses
and the daily flood of words begins anew
and on the corner of 22nd and 7th a manhole cover trembles
releasing steam and in the Village a woman trembles
awake and reaches for her lover now a needle trembles
home in a vein in an arm in a room on Prince Street now
and in Brooklyn the hipsters are stumbling home bleary now
and fish stalls open on Canal Street now
and slow lightning trembles in cold
shadowless rooms deep under Wall Street
weaving now the world through circuit boards weaving
on on off,
on again again again;
and all of this I want to hold inside me
in my lungs in my blood
I want to breathe it
I want to hold our city in that breath
and live inside it.
—But the city that you left is always leaving.
Well, I have had practice, throwing breath away;
I have measured my time with cigarettes
and I burn twenty five hours a day;
but it seems to me that no matter how long
I stay awake it’s never enough, it’s not quite
not nearly enough to make friends with the night
though I have walked these streets from dawn to dusk
to dawn through turn and turn and turn;
I have begun to dream of crumbling walls;
of a word to carry through cracks in stone
of a sound to stir brick dust in red clouds.
a great shout punctuated by death
at both beginning and end,
and it seems to me that it is a gift
that you have given me
by taking the gift of you away;
—it seems to me that it is what I’ve always wanted.
AFTER THE STROKE
Often she speaks of a mysterious They.
“When are They coming?” Where are They?” Do They all
do that, wear that, eat that?” “Must we pay Them?”
Then she forgets everything in a matter of minutes: rooms,
news, rules of a favorite card game. And she forgets
she forgets. Objects, once familiar, disappear. They surface again
in surprising places: scotch tape in the medicine cabinet, jewelry
under the sink, cash in the refrigerator drawer. Still, she wants
to help me in the kitchen. Sets the table, folded wax paper
and sheets of aluminum foil for napkins. She pours red wine
into mugs. But when we sit down and sip, she complains
“the coffee is cold.” Apple juice with ice is scotch on the rocks.
She scoops garlic salt for instant ice-tea, sneaks chocolate
pudding for breakfast, tries to glue the broken statue
with cold cream. On TV she watches cartoons
or the Spanish soaps. Her hair, which she always
wore in a neat French knot, is now loose, sparse,
over her shoulders. Her eyes grow small and dim
in a thinning face, although, some vanity is there, intact.
She applies mascara to her eyebrows, powders wrinkles flat,
blushes her nose, then adds accessories, oddly loops a scarf
in a buttonhole, clutches an evening bag to her bathrobe.
Old friends no longer call. Her daughters have her sisters’ names.
Each night she strings different words into a chain
and repeats them 150 times. Sometimes there’s a question
she means to ask but she can’t find a sentence. Sparks
and sputters instead. She wants to go home when
she is home. And when she’s angry with me,
my mother hisses I hope you live this long.
Elizabeth Zimmer 2007 Poetry Prize Judge
Elizabeth Zimmer writes for Metro, Dance Magazine, The Australian, and other publications. She was a senior editor at the Village Voice from 1992 through August 2006. She has written for the Voice, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and many other publications. She edited Body Against Body: The Dance and Other Collaborations of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane (Station Hill Press), and was text editor of Envisioning Dance on Film and Video (Routledge). She studied verse writing with Howard Nemerov at Bennington College, and taught creative writing at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design. Her poems have been published in Silo and several Canadian anthologies, and she was a co-editor of Fresh Grease: New Writings from the Maritimes (Straw Books). She has studied many forms of dance, and performed in the work of Joshua Fried, Jamie Cunningham & Tina Croll, Christopher Williams, Kriota Willberg, and other New York City artists, as well as writing and performing her own show, North Wing. Her “Kamikaze Writing Workshop” has been a feature at Dance Critics Association conferences and other gatherings since 1993. She holds a master’s degree in English from Stony Brook University. She also has taught at Stony Brook, and at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the University of California at Riverside, and Capilano College in North Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as lecturing in various cities in Taiwan; in Taormina, Sicily; and in Laramie, Providence, Miami, Milwaukee, Berkeley, Columbus, and other cities across the United States.
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