archives fall 2007



Museum District, Richmond, Virginia
                                              after Frederick Douglass

Reading on the back steps of the library for the blind,
I’ve decided the building’s abandoned,
rose bushes a tangled mass above the door. 
Old blue-gray paint sticks to my thighs
in sharp-edged flecks; my water bottle beads. 
Just one of Douglass’ days.  College kids speed
by on track bikes, brakeless.  (For how much
must we prepare?)

A mile away, I visit an old estate nearly every day. 
I want to know what stood there before, if the owners
once held slaves.  A park now—I wander, wary
and amazed, the waterfall rushing from Italian gardens
to Japanese, koi blanching the rippling black.  I know
where to find the lizards skittering
over the staircase before it ends, opening
to a vista thick with tulips.  
On the other side of the park’s huge hill,
bison scruff layers of mange,
their profiles hunching brown against green.
Yesterday, one buck under a magnolia tree
shed its antlers, stood braying by the fence,
two bloody nubs on its head.   What
is it, luminous in the pink lobes of the dogwood,
that makes those blooms shine so bright? 
In high school I had a math teacher
with a monotone who taught us the plug and chug—
put the numbers in, execute the drill. 
Just one right answer, x equals something. 
With each bound page I imagine today’s moment
on the pad I used in class, light green, graphed . . .

Just one of Douglass’ days.  “Feet so cracked
with frost that this pen
might be laid in the gashes.” 
Staring at my teacher’s shellacked black hair,
twenty years ago, I considered the lesson of the hour:
Two non-parallel lines, even to the most minute
fraction, will eventually cross.   
How meager their representation on my sheet
of graph, how they might have to travel,
so my teacher said, all the way to California
before they touched.  No one seems to know
if these library shelves still house books,
the building’s small squared windows
obscured with marbled glass. 
I come to absorb the quiet in the sun. 
Patrons must have once rubbed fingers
over bumpy bindings, discovering what—
I can only guess.  Their language,
regardless of darkness or light,
would give me no entry.

Consciousness is a terrible thing. 
It strives, endlessly, to curve around
the slickest of surfaces,
any understanding sliding off like rain. 
It bends again, forms an ellipse
of every degree.  One day.  Corn meal
in a trough.  All of Douglass’ words
fade from the page, all mine dissolve
like bits of bread dropped in water.  

Today, as I read, sheetrockers across the street
flash their white squares of wall past windows
of the old retirement home.  Condos, after the building
sat for two years in marvelous, deserted slumber. 
I find the movement of the men awful, their trucks
ripping up boxwoods and ivy, their silver work trailer
signaling the end to emptiness.

That any thread could run between then and now,
between Douglass’ days, ours.  That one captive hour
joins these steps, these flowers. 
How the mind keeps taut this rope,
the human bracing for either extreme. 
Easy, then, to believe that two parallel lines
can travel forever, then further, and never meet. 



This island is full of doves.  
They purr in olive trees to assuage
the near-dead.  Perhaps,
in their incessant song,
they are like the disembodied
head of Orpheus
floating down the Aegean
toward the town of Molyvos. 
It bobs past the port town
of Skala Kaloni, past the mess
of white masts leaning
and rocking into each other, past
the distant, scrubby finger of Turkey.
What are we to learn
from constant refrains, from such refusal
to end?  The doves simply repeat,
like a mother who answers
the same question time
and again, while the mouth of Orpheus
lives like the body of a chicken.
His drifting head goes on                                              
not just speaking or reciting
but singing, as if happy to be rid
of bulky torso, of floppy arms and legs,
as if freedom is being the mouth
alone, the mouth and water,
the water and song.


Watching Soul Train at Forty

At least no one else has to know.   Twenty years ago the fabled
Saturday night, grilled on Mondays for what you did, might cast
you into this realm or that.  Wasted, some concert with a beer-caked

floor, in and out of The White Hen too many times, buying cokes
in flimsy cups crunchy with ice.  You could run into someone big—Craig
Wilkenson, Tim Cottier even—your whole life changing in an instant,  

recognition from the stars. Today, DVD’s come to our door.
After you’ve yawned your loudest yawn I watch the post-flick extras,
one dog at a time allowed up on the couch.  They sigh and sink

their fat necks into leather, peer back with Malted Milk Ball eyes.   And when
nothing else is on, it begins, the locomotive of cool, Don
Cornelius’ voice, luring me toward the few chosen guardians

of funk.  I can’t help but think the dancers on the screen can see out,
one at a time, smiling—sure—at me.  Blue tickers start to run
through church snow closings at the bottom of the screen

as if Soul Train’s converting entire congregations.  Above,
teen and twenty-something girls with bare bellies
and hips like laundry in a washer window slosh

to some song featuring the nouns junk and hump
Five songs later the girls start to seem sad, how much
they love the camera’s eye, how it seems they would do

anything for it, from any view.  I want to tell these girls:
terrycloth shorts, rainbow tanks and glitter tees:  I was there
But they’ve got those hips, those flat stomachs and plump

skin; they remain immortal even as the snow wears on
past two a.m., even as the First Baptist church on Monument
Avenue cancels all Sunday services, through three sets of Do 

You Want an Exciting New Career in Technology and Tell
Your Insurance Company We Mean Business.  In second grade
my best friend Jackie and I discoed on the bed, tripping

in her mother’s sequined, ruffly skirts and spiky heels.   When the show
was over Saturday afternoon had just begun—boxes of dolls’ clothes
or the tire swing or some brightly-dyed treat
to make us crazy.   We had her mother’s closet and racks
of gargantuan shoes.   My mother’s wigs and rhinestone tops.
An evening of sweaty running up and down the stairs

from her apartment to mine.  Whatever it was,
it was endless.  Now I check the locks on the front door
for the eighteenth time, Windex countertops, turn the heat down
a couple notches and, in bed, lights off,
I’m certain no one is watching. 


Tara Moyle was the recipient of The Academy of American Poets Catherine and Joan Byrne Poetry Prize in 2004 and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2006.   Her poems have appeared in such journals as Agni, Diagram, Margie, Yemassee, and in the anthology Joyful Noise published by Autumn House Press in 2007.  Tara teaches English and Literary Arts at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg, Virginia.  She lives in Richmond, where she is attempting to become a birder.