archives winter 2008




I build this fence because I choose
to.  This is my garden—a green so thick
it taints even the fruit.  The figs will not sugar
here. They remain, nut-hard, a violent red
inside that is none-the-less bitter.  You speak and I
choose not to listen—the bed cool and
untouched.  O violet sheets.  In my garden,
the hose flits, unguided.  So much water spilling,
spreading across the turned earth.  It would be
easy to call me stubborn—I will not pull the
weeds, the mustard flower, the Queen Anne’s lace
with its fragrance of sweetened water.  I know how
they grow—spreading roots under the ground,
a necklace, linked chain by chain, unmaking our
lawn, already ankle high and heavy with bees.


Getting Over the Fear of Form

I wanted to go back to undivided light,
the bruised stem of the pear,
wasp-body, heat, the slick of green across
the skin, but I wanted these to
endure; I saw already the fly-flit of
years across my territory.  Here, my eyes
dimming, skin raddling.
It was the crossing I could not manage.
The notion of what would be left.

The strictures were what would bind me.
I would carve them, leave
what small traces of myself—  In the ghazal
the last line must contain the poet’s
name.  It was not my name I wanted.
It was the outside, the undivided light.
Here, the fig, the pomegranate, the
flecked stone.  Here, but with my
eyes watching, mouth opening.


Ghost Time
(for Evan)

We drove down Rock Creek in the
Buick that swerved sideways,
crashed into all the parked vehicles,
crushed steel, a glitter like
shook foil, your eyes
unreadable behind your
sunglasses, gangster jacket,
red headband crushing your hair.
How to explain the rage of the
dispossessed, why among so much we
felt so hungry—your parents
both lawyers, risen up and out
to what? In the big house
on Northhampton you said I could
junk everything, days cutting school,
sex, chocolate, opium distilled
from hearts of lettuces.  Of course,
I loved you—worse than any
teenage novel—the way my
heart kept pumping uselessly,
my breath a flutter, a luna moth.
It was everything we wanted,
but when you kissed my cheek I
traced already the shape of
our decline, brief arabesque,
then the descent to indifference,
easier to just walk away
but the window, your corner
still draws me.  The elm trees would die
in a few years, but then they fanned out
with their amphora shape,
crackle of worm and seed, the toxic
greens along the highway softening
with spring.  Your hand,
the burn of its shape, its cup
against me.  I was sure you would grow
weary of us as of every other thing,
but I should have held you anyway—
the two of us so locked in ghost time,
the blur after Southern Comfort or Maker’s
Mark, our joy in not knowing for the
instant where we ended, the world began.
The taste of you strange
on my tongue.  I could have palmed
you like a bright coin; instead I flung you
away as if you were the wish I would
make on eternity.  Now you are dead,
and I see what terrible things the living do.
I walk past your house and do not miss a
beat.  This forgetting, the complete renunciation
I was already practicing—



Today driving to work across Solano,
a wide and ugly street of Sonics,
and used car lots, pay-by-the-month appliance
stores and all the motley messy details
of daily life in the fifth poorest statistical
metropolitan cluster in our nation, I glanced
down at the slim white scar on my wrist,
and for a moment I could not remember how
it had gotten there.  The usual story: the razor
the bathtub, the failure to cut in the right
place or the right direction, the discovery,
the shame, the emergency room, the friend,
the psychiatrist, the little two-tone pills—pink and
blue, yellow and red with names like
Ambien or Zoloft, all better now, their
stated mission; and though I could bring back
all this so clearly, I could not remember
what had led me there, not the actual steps
but the inner logic, the burning wire, the me-
that-wanted-to die.  It was in Vermont, snow
blocked the roads, blanketing the churchyard,
which I loved, with its uneven graves of hands
finger crooked like St. John the Divine in the painting
in the Louvre attributed to Leonardo, the hands
almost concealed under thick white crusts,
like so many half sandwiches given up to the slate of
sky.  Mark Lyon took me there. The days I wasted,
believing myself so in love with him that nothing
was better than pacing through that longing.  I cannot
remember that either.  I now inhabit the world
of the mother, changed, reduced as sauce is reduced
to the hunk of meat, the tender bone.  I care only
for what will keep the fire stoked, engines rolling.
And that white scar, it shimmers like some kind of
Hollywood heaven.  What a fool I was, how little
I knew, etcetera, etcetera.


Spectators Across the Interstate

The Camry was crumpled between a
Taurus and an Explorer—the Ford monopoly.
Somewhere in the middle, my sister had
tried to get out, purse flung wild—
reel of coins scattered across the interstate,
the blood gleam of pennies, bright thinness
of dimes, thick quarters; she was fine, and you
are waiting to hear this, curious like those who
followed us to the side of the road where we
waited for the ambulance.  No blood,
no obvious bruising, just a crush in every bone,
a knowledge of the solitudes.  The peanut
crowd, the gawkers so unsettling because
we were like them.  We knew how close
someone must be for us to mourn, linking fingers,
the eight lanes of highway suddenly obscene—
such a rush, a roaring—what for?   Queen Anne’s
lace sprouted near a broken pipe that led
who knows where, pure smell of grass and
mint, among the tossed cans, the disposable.
Midges and dragonflies buzzed between us.
We swore we would remember, but I forgot,
until this poem, which is about the death of
someone never mentioned.  


Sheila Black is author of House of Bone (CustomWords Press, 2007) and the chapbook How to be a Maquiladora (Main Street Rag, 2006). Her second full-length collection, Love/Iraq, is forthcoming in 2008. Her poems have been published in numerous journals, including Blackbird, Poet Lore, Willow Springs, Ellipsis (where she was awarded the Ellipsis Prize in 2001), The Pedestal, The Redneck Review, and Heliotrope, which awarded her its Editor’s Choice Award. She teaches in the English Department at New Mexico State University.