Two Poemsby Janet McAdams
Ghazal of Body
for Wendy Singer
Teach me the story of the sleepless body.
Even the past is ugly, living as it does in the thick cells of my body.
I was lonely, all the long winter. Skin
the poorest fence between the cold world and my body.
The fisherman with his sharp hook, his taut line, a rod he is proud of.
Come to shore, I call, I have a handful of bread that might be your body.
Lace, you breathed against the window, and the ice let go,
ran down the glass into the house’s quiet body.
She said: When I gave him up, when I gave back the baby,
there was an empty space in front of my body.
No writ, no photograph, no stone with rules. Only memory,
running like a current of blood, through the creek of my body.
Audubon in a Waiting Room
But the birds in the prints are dead, she said.
A dozen birds for the one bird you see.
the body toward it.
The end of flight:
owl or heron
down, flesh sagging
along the wires that hold it
in the picture.
At the doctor’s office she pointed out
glassy eyes in the flat print facing us,
where we thumbed magazines
for shades of lipstick, sex tips, creams
to give our skin a certain youthful glow.
Skin loose on the bones, her hair
a half-gone wisp beneath
the scarf wrapped round
and round like a turban.
At least, I told myself,
my body hasn’t turned on itself,
won’t snuff me out before I’m willing
to lie down and stop kicking.
Dream written down in Wolf Hour
Never a wing’s scales in miniature,
clinging like dust to fingers:
the monarch’s brilliant orange,
a swallowtail’s lapiz blue or butter yellow.
Shells litter the path of uneven walking:
past stuffed owls, trees so rootless,
you could knock them over with a breath of wind.
One snail, grown enormous, stays beside you,
moving along with his muscular foot.
Open it, the bursting door:
the Lightning Whelk,
the Hawk Wing Conch,
stuffed fox listing the way
an old man might lean when they’ve carved out his organs.
Elephants, they say,
encircle the wounded.
The one injured
by spear or misfired gun.
In the foot’s dead hollow, umbrellas rise
like ugly misspent flowers.
Ugly flowers for the cold
English rain and parasols
to keep your fair skin from turning
the color of a woman who scrubs
yellow stains from the armpits of blouses.
Blouses you wear for tea, for visiting
a god tacked up and wounded.
Telegram to Sleeper
Oh you who sleep
in the room of finite treasure—
Instructions for Snail Collectors
On every other Key collectors took a dozen snails
then torched the hammock after them.
The snails more beautiful than jewels
grew rare as emeralds, as secret places.
Remember never to take
more than your fair share. Use
alcohol instead of formalin, which fades
the tree snail’s dark red bands.
Look in hardwood hammocks:
the Pigeon Plum or the Wild Tamarind.
It’s not so hard to find, if you know where
the Liguus nests. Check the blue-flowered
Lignumvitae, the tree so strong that settlers named it
Ironwood and saw their axes turn.
Let your mouth fill with dry wings,
your bed with sharp ends of bone,
a tooth hollowed out
ratlling in the canvas glove you pull on for gardening. Let
your feet find the path of broken shells,
bits of ivory, the fingerbones of Sioux children,
the broken skull of Osceola, stolen for a talisman,
teeth without their gold fillings, bits of skin
flaking from lampshades, the cracked binding of a book
fat with the story of a boy and his dog Jack or Blue.
Oh sweet adventure with pirates and map, a trunk
so stuffed with gold it will blind the one
who cracks it open.
They say the prey of an owl never hears death coming.
in the air behind you
a change less than weather,
a voice not asking: Who?
It’s late today, only
a slant of sun disappearing
into green gone to black in the darkness
Who that voice will never ask.
Late she says, Late, she says, and checks her watch
thinking of a stew she might make for dinner,
whether the milk is too sour for the morning’s porridge.