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Because I’ll Never Swim in Every Ocean

Want is ten thousand blue feathers falling
all around me, and me unable to stomach
that I might catch five but never ten thousand.
So I drop my hands to my sides and wait
to be buried. I open a book and the words
spring and taunt. Flashes—motel, lapidary,
piranha—of every story, every poem I’ll never
know well enough to conjure in sleep.
What’s the point of words if I can’t
own them all? I toss book after book
into my imaginary trashcan fire.
Or I think I’ll learn piano. At the first lesson,
we’re clapping whole and half notes
and this is childish, I’m better than this.
I’d like to leave playing Ravel. I’d like
to give a concerto on Saturday. So I quit.
I have standards. Then on Saturday,
I have a beer, watch a telethon. Or
we watch a documentary on Antarctica.
The interviewees are from Belarus, Lima, Berlin.
Everyone speaks English. Everyone names
a philosopher, an ethos. One man carries a raft
on his back at all times. I went to Nebraska once
and swore it was a great adventure. It was.
I think of how I’ll never go to Antarctica,
mainly because I don’t much want to. But
I should want to. I should be the girl
with a raft on her back. When I think
of all the mountains and monuments
and skyscapes I haven’t seen, all the trains
I should take, all the camels and mopeds
and ferries I should ride, all the scorching
hikes I should nearly die on, I press
my body down, down into the vast green
couch. If I step out the door, the infinity
of what I’ve missed will zorro me across
the face with a big L for Lazy. Sometimes
I watch finches at the feeder, their wings small
suns, and have to grab the sill to steady myself.
Metaphorically, of course. I’m no loon.
Look—even my awestruck is half-assed.
But I’m so tired of the small steps—
the pentatonic scale, the frequent flyer
hoarding, the one exquisite sentence
in a forest of exquisite sentences.
There is a globe welling up inside of me.
Mountain ranges ridging my skin,
oceans filling my mouth. If I stay still
long enough, I could become my own world.


For This You Have No Reason

In Sacramento, a Virgin Mary has begun spilling
blood from its stone eyes. Articles offer theories:

a prank, a rusting mineral. There is no explanation,
I say over and over, my heart tensed like a fist. Once,

at Chez la Mer, I watched a magician turn silver coins
into yellow fin tuna while diners oohed. When the room

shuddered with calls for the big reveal, I ducked
outside, humming to cover the sound of the secret.

Here are facts: the dog gone for a decade makes
its way to Arizona and finds its family still pining,

now joy-struck. The wooden Christ in St. Stephen’s
Cathedral grows hair, and is groomed every year

before Easter. A friend’s father saw three UFOs
zoom into a lit triangle, then shoot to far

corners of the lake-dark sky. He was not a man
who lied. For years I found playing cards facedown

on sidewalks, and each was the jack of hearts—
absurd, but I swear this is true. Here, each face said,

for this you have no reason. Each new finding shores up
something always close to collapse inside my ribs.

Let these strangenesses be like the impossible lizard’s
tail: gone forever, because how could it be otherwise,

and then reappearing, iridescent and blood-warmed,
because how could it be otherwise?



At the base of a mountain,
you are small, and the world
clicks smoothly over you.

At the base of a mountain,
you glow inside almost,
and few lights are so generous.

At the base of a mountain,
death is inevitable. Look
how the rock has swallowed
centuries. You could melt
into its sun-ovened roughness.

At the base of a mountain,
you see, in the hazeless light,
the revised version of yourself.
You think, I will do what it takes
to breathe this prickling air.
You think, I will turn alarm bells
into pine needles, and then
I’ll walk over them. You think,
I’ll let my hair grow again.
I’ll eat apples, avocados. 

You think, there is nothing
ahead and nothing behind.
You think of a thousand songs
and choose silence. It whistles
softly to you. No. It’s whistling
to the mountain. It doesn’t
even know you’re there.


The Seventies Aren’t Coming Back

Never again will George bellow at Louise
on a school night. Never again will the audience
adore Florence. The soft plumes of Miss Maryland’s
hair were sincere and fantastic, but ventriloquists
never won; Miss Texas would take it, if you knew
anything about beauty and you did. The couch
was velour and the color of bricks. Your mind
was a minefield—every wicked thought a tripwire
you sprung again and again until you evaporated
inside guilt’s white blasts. The six o’clock news
hummed in the background like the cicadas outside
your window. What war? The couch was so soft.
Miss Maryland was a cockatiel. Your head
was a haunted factory, but there was cinnamon
in the spaghetti sauce. The O’Jays were on the radio.
You knew Rhoda Morganstern and Spiro T. Agnew
and how to find the groove for “Brand New Key.”
Sometimes you got trapped in dreams—waking
was a window you could see through but not open.
The studio audience wore red and beige; the host
had large, cheerful teeth. Door Number Three
revealed a horse, and the band played wah-wah,
but you wanted Door Number Three. No one
understood. You were locked in yourself all day,
all night, like the song that buzzed in your brain
when you were translucent with fever. Every movie
your parents watched ended with a sax solo. It floated
through the vents to where you almost slept.
You rode its waves straight into longing,
where you live now, where you’ll live forever.  


Catherine Pierce is the author of Famous Last Words (Saturnalia, 2008) and The Girls of Peculiar, forthcoming from Saturnalia Books in 2012. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Slate, Ploughshares, Boston Review, Best American Poetry 2011, and elsewhere. She lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where she teaches and co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.