WOMAN IN HIBERNATION
Snow has bent the trees in robes to kiss the streets
like disciples who mark the marvel of its passing.
Broken to piney angles, the genuflecting boughs
blanket and obscure the storm path,
grasp eyeless at its hems.
Three days in, I am still not here
among the jumbling radios,
the television, mincing, unprovoking,
but I am sleeping it all off, cocooned
in rumpled pajamas and mismatched socks
in my bed dented with the horror of my shape,
some hungry, sleepy monster-woman,
hungover with need and fear.
The object of my appetite has etched curls
and milk marble eyes,
a lilting tenor that punctuates
conversation with affirmations,
and like most new lovers,
it seems all who came before
were poor castings of him.
Loving him, I feel exposed.
Like the cold crystals to the late afternoons,
when the moon and sun both are pushing
back the clouds with need.
All these days, I have embraced the secret
of his strangeness. With the thaw,
he will be at my door,
his smile to me like sun on snow,
his affection beading on me,
though the chills of nights, each dropped degree,
have left ice beneath;
his arms will skid about me, clumsy as tires;
their heat will break us, one or the other.
Here, before the thaw,
I see nothing blighted and nothing rising again
from the deep, white wonder of it all.
Heavenly Father, stretch these frosted days to thousands,
this sleep to an endless dream!
These voices, all a copy of his own,
keep them without the stillness,
a loud, blinding, and bright igloo.
When there’s no time to do laundry,
from the back of the drawer comes
a green nightgown, folded and forgotten
these two fast-flown years
while she’s fallen in love,
received her degree, fallen out
again and become quieter,
and yet still the gold embroidery
on the hem is fine-stitched
and still it clings smoothly
on the shadowy peach figure
of a spare, angular woman
who catches herself staring into a mirror
and looking vaguely familiar, like myself--
and still, there’s that powder and Chanel
scent of Grandmother, the same essence
that clambered out of her bureau
that early spring morning
of that long, unsleeping weekend,
her things spread all around us
on the bed, floor, chest...
and me: “Nothing, Mama,
nothing. I couldn’t wear it,”
and she, pressing dress after dress
into my arms,
a manic, desperate dance
MOTORING HOME DOWN THE CANAL, I HEARD THE NPR ASTRONOMER CLAIM
we know now the universe, after all, is beige.
Not black or crimson or even colorless,
but beige, beige as my thigh, pressed
for the first time this season
against the sun-dazzled bench of my skiff,
coming in from the river this familiar half-mile.
Beige, the man said, most definitely,
his voice scratching the air; he moved on,
this revelation of color a footnote only.
Pine pollen has dusted the cypress gold,
even the wrinkled knobs I’m navigating:
it hangs in the air, settling in patterns
on the wet backs of turtles along my route
as my little motor snakes a rope of brown water
behind me, showing my path briefly.
Pollen keeps dropping. Midas days.
I taste the sour sex of pine on my lips,
breathe the still yolk of afternoon,
imagine my pollinated lungs
greening with strange, sticky life.
Even my winged lure, left pulling beside the boat,
gathers gilded pine needles, on which mayflies stop
Beige, I offer the motor as it sings, tunelessly,
setting the ducks to wing, their thin brown bodies
lifting like broken kites upward, still going.
I shift, settle six inches rightward,
accept the list of the narrow boat to rest my legs
where the sun warmed the aluminum daylong
to feel just now like summer, or human hands.
Under the wide brow of my hat, I squint homeward,
through the shield of heavy air, toward our lonely dock,
bright leathery brown jutting chinlike out to greet me,
coming out of the swamp finally, with ocher lips
and blonded hair.
Hand over hand, I haul the tired string of catfish
ascending from below, the drag of life and fins weak now,
done with flexing will against the sharp,
yellow twine running between their throats;
just before they break surface, their mouths
open on the weight of my pull, teeth the scummed water
like babies, their shining gills and whiskers loom
all brown-yellow just under the cypress-kissed river.
Just before they reach air,
they are opening on the loud, long sound of beige.
DAFFODILS HAD JUST BEGUN NODDING
Daffodils had just begun nodding
and juncos just come to the feeder
still hanging by the old red fence her
grandsons had promised to paint this spring,
when Grandmother’s heart
in one swift contraction
left another woman
If death must come,
let it not come whistling through the winter
while ice is in mirrors on the juniper,
but in the first hum
of honeybees sipping the cool March clover;
let me go down in my sleep
and the wind all the while keep
jitterbugging as I am crossing over.
Philodendron has clambered out of every vase and jar I own, stepping over the counters, around the books, between the sheets; wax green vines run over the carpet, leave patterns in the shag, are breaking up the bricks in the fireplace;
no one would take my cuttings and now I couldn’t part with them without losing my home, as the roots keep on their lovely snarling, hunkering down in the chairs, running along the baseboards; the wallpaper is afraid.
There’s no fearing all this growing, though--in fact, I’ve been having good dreams, all dark, wet jungle dreams, sleeping mostly on the couch, watching the waxy hands clasp over the television and windows, consummate what they began sleeping in my bed and bathing in my tub, burning my candles and swilling my wine.
Sometimes, I reach through the jungle and twist on the shower, drench the room in steam until the ceiling rains, until we feel clean.
There are philodendron on my ankles, shackling me in--they were there when I woke up this morning, their gentle tugging turning me aside from my quest to get the morning paper; hugging my arms, they had the door closed and bolted; already they are rooting thick, insistent veins, eating up the wood like palmprints; the door was never there.
I like the way they follow me around the house, toss me arbitrarily down the stairs, bend me backwards over the kitchen table, wrap my eyes and rope living through my teeth until I can stop screaming and listen to my own small heart wrapping the unlit still--
I am sucking steam for breakfast, now; the mirrors are afraid.
Tara Powell is the Hugh McColl Fellow in Southern Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is a Ph.D. candidate in English. Some of the publications in which her poetry has appeared include Asheville Poetry Review, Blue Unicorn, Cold Mountain Review, Crucible, Hidden Oak, Pembroke Magazine, South Carolina Review, and Southern Poetry Review. She wrote a monthly column for the Raleigh News and Observer from February 2001 to August 2002, edited The Carolina Quarterly from May 2002 to August 2003, and has read her creative work by invitation at a variety of conferences.
Tara Powell was nominated for Poets Under 30 by Michael McFee.
Poetry copyright 2004 by Tara Powell.