FICTION

Creative Non-Fiction Excerpts from CALYX Journal

Summer 2009 - VOLUME 26:1

Fiction Excerpts from CALYX Journal

Summer 2005 - VOLUME 22:3

 

Sharks                                                                       by Carol Robison

Even before we got to the scene, I knew that I would be the one who would be sent out to do the dirty work. I knew it as soon as we got the call from Dispatch: You got a high-speed MVA rollover. Possible people trapped. Possible amputation.

I waited for my captain to belt out from the front of the engine: Gillespie, get out there and find the leg. All the guys sitting on the engine were thinking it too: Yeah, send the new girl out for the limb. I knew it in the way they turned their bodies slightly away from me, their hearts thumping in their jaws. It bet if their thoughts had a sound, it was a cross between a smack and a laugh. I had been the new girl for nine months running, and didn’t know when that was going to end.

It was a night of big storms, and the freeway was like the set for a shipwreck movie. As soon as I stepped off the engine, wet gusts of wind slapped me sideways as if they were being blown out of a machine.

A semi had collided with a VW and sent it rolling down the fast lane. The truck looked barely tapped. It seemed almost harmless, sprawled on the shoulder. The woman’s car had collapsed into itself, and where flesh ended and metal began, we couldn’t tell yet. Strands of dark hair stuck to what was left of the windshield, and we could hear her voice, like a howl underwater. A witness had apparently seen her leg fly from the car sometime after impact.

From the other side of the highway, oncoming cars hit deep pockets of rain sending water crashing over us. My captain mumbled something to me, but all I heard was, “GO!” I grabbed a Haz Mat Bag and ran down the freeway like a maniac into a wind that hit me in spasms. I was trying to stay on the center divide and follow the skid marks next to the fast lane, just like I had tried to stay on the track in tenth-grade gym class, when Coach Riley tried to keep me off the team because I would lean off course. Even though I gave it everything I had, it was something in the way my heart pulsed that veered me over to the left. I never seemed to be able to stay in the lines. But now it was dark and the captain and the guys couldn’t watch my ass jiggle. Six days a week of workouts and it still moved. And never mind the tits. Bound under two athletic bras, they still wouldn’t keep still. I’m taller than the average man and I didn’t like those short guys staring straight into my headlights when they talked to me. My mom always said, if you got it, flaunt it. But my philosophy is, it’s best not to give them any cause.

I stayed to the right of the flares that closed off the fast lane to traffic. They sizzled and sputtered in the water filled potholes. Rain dripped from my nose and chin, and I thought if I were still at my old job, I’d be sitting warm and snug in some theatre. I’d been a part-time movie critic for The Guardian, not really making a living. I wanted to do something important, something helpful. Then I saw the ad for the San Francisco Fire Department: Now Hiring. Full benefits. Women encouraged to apply. Encouraged. That was the last word of encouragement I ever got. When you’re not only new, but the new girl, you’re seriously worried about messing up. Firemen had become martyrs, but firewomen were still the stealers of men’s jobs.

A police car blared past me towards the scene. The world smelled of wet asphalt and gasoline. I was sweating inside my turnout coat and my boots thumped under me. Still no sign of the leg. It had been a long day. That morning I had to pronounce someone dead for the first time. A woman was slumped over at a bus stop and I thought she was drunk or sleeping at first. It was alarmingly uneventful, no sign of bullets or low-flying planes. Not many people seemed to be dying of natural causes these days. I had followed my list exactly, but later back at the firehouse, I had second thoughts. What if her skin was cold because it was freezing-ass cold outside? And the rigor mortis in her jaw, what if she had had her jaw wired shut and I hadn’t noticed? Oh God, I was thinking, the medical examiner’s probably on the phone to my captain right now, and they’ll be talking, yeah, that woman is a liability; she can’t even tell who’s dead and who’s not. Fear settled into my chest like a fluttering, then sharp thuds of doubt.

So I locked myself in the bathroom stall at the firehouse and called my friend Joanne on my cell phone. She’s been a paramedic firefighter for fifteen years. I told her everything, and she had me go down the list. Was she pulseless? Yep. Apneic? Yep. Asystolic in all three leads on the monitor? Yep. Pupils fixed and dilated? Yep. What you had there, Marie, was a dead person.

My muscles were aching from running underneath a heavy uniform. I spotted the leg about ten feet up ahead, nearly a hundred yards out from her car. It shone there on the soaked gravel, slippery and gray and pale. I hoped for a clean cut so maybe they could reattach it to her body. You can’t do anything with tattered edges. I had this urge to call Joanne and tell her about the woman trapped in the car, but of course I couldn’t call from the freeway, and, anyway, I didn’t know how to make a list of her wavering voice and the sprouts of her bloody hair on the glass. 

The leg had rolled to a stop neatly out of harm’s way flush up against the guardrail near the off ramp. It was an above-the-knee amputation and her scraped tennis shoe was still on the foot. If I had been critiquing the movie of this, I would have said that the placement of the leg was too deliberate, too campy. A little too 1970s JAWS, conveniently washed up on the beach. American audiences thought they were more sophisticated these days. There were man-made disasters now that people had only imagined then. And the color was all wrong: ashen. If the leg hadn’t been wet, it would have been dull as a stone. Better if it had been tinged with a little blue. Blue is good for themes—it could be the color of fate derailed. But the lighting was dramatic enough; the leg strobed light and dark every time a car whooshed by.

I crouched down next to it and got my Haz Mat Bag ready. The bag was flapping up and down in the wind and didn’t want to cooperate. The leg wasn’t really bloody. Maybe the rain had washed it off. But there were strings of something coming out of it, tendons, veins, or skin, I didn’t know. Not the cleanest cut. I wanted to look away, but I made myself stare at it. 1. Speed is of the essence. 2. Hold the leg upright to minimize blood flow. 3. I couldn’t think of anything for number three, except “Do your job,” which repeated over and over. I got ready to slide the leg into the bag. The plastic slapped the air like a sail, and I had to get my gloves on. Then this cold came over me, the kind that could get your teeth chattering

The same thing had happened to me the night before. I was under a heap of blankets lying next to Ed and I got a chill. He was whispering, Hon, why don’t you quit? I want my old girl back. Real soft, he said it: The one who showed some teeth when she smiled. The one that didn’t laugh too loud at things that really aren’t funny. He seemed to be talking more to the air between us than to me.

I started shaking with cold, just like I was with the leg. I wanted to cry, I can’t come back. Whether I quit or not, there’s no coming back. But instead I burrowed into the salty bulk of his arm and said, it’ll get better, in a voice that sounded squeaky and too shiny, a mimic of my own. I checked off a list of things I couldn’t talk to Ed about again: AIDS babies and jumpers being at the top. Ed didn’t even watch the news anymore, which he called “Apocalypse Productions.” He loved my reviews of romantic comedies about strangers who found one another. I decided from then on, I’d only mention fires that could be put out. Things that could still be saved.

I struggled to get my gloves on, which isn’t that easy in the middle of a storm--your digits stick to the latex. I went to scoop up the leg, but it slipped out of my hands and hit the ground with a thump. I gripped it as hard as I could, held down one edge of the bag’s opening with my boot, and shoved it in, along with some oily water. The leg was bulky and awkward to lift, and weighed about as much as a greyhound. My knees buckled slightly as I hoisted it and tried to hold it out in front of me; then the wind just about knocked it out of my arms. I’d never picked up a leg before. And it’s not like you can roll it down the road like a log; you have to carry it. I hugged it to my chest and leaned the top against my shoulder. I could feel it bend at the knee like its cells were trying to remember how to walk. Then it really hit me: I was walking down the highway with some woman’s leg. I cradled it up against me, hoping to transfer some of my body heat into it, wishing it could be saved. I got this impulse to hide it from the motorists’ view, to protect them from seeing it, but there’s no way to tuck a leg under an arm or behind your back. It probably just looked like a plastic bag to everyone else, anyway.

I made myself focus on lugging her leg back towards the blinking red eye of the Rescue Squad. They had their big tools out, no doubt, Jaws of Life and Hurst cutting tools. My back felt like it had metal coils boring through it and my arms shivered with fatigue. I stopped for a moment to catch my breath on the median. The rain beat down on the plastic bag like nails on glass. The constant onslaught of cars sounded like waves crashing on the beach. On the news the night before, between segments on the war, was a thirty-second spot on sharks. They looked like shimmers of white, circling just beyond the surf less than a mile from here. They were closer to shore than they had ever come, but since everything else had become so dangerous, they didn’t seem to be worth much of our time.

The chill came on me again. I adjusted the leg, pressed it close, and tried to run forward while water pelted me in the face. I could see the uniforms standing in a row at the edge of the storm. I felt like I was dogpaddling to get back there, breathing hard out of my mouth that opened and closed like a fish.

I wanted to yell, listen, I don’t want to do this. I’m not good at lists. And then there are the sharks, hunting in the dark, and no one is paying attention.

But as my captain came into focus, I stood erect and stared straight ahead like I was about to give a salute. Not looking at the mangled car on the right side of me, or the cars hurling themselves towards us on the left, I said, “Here, Sir. Here’s the leg.”

by Carol Robison

 

 Copyright 2005 by CALYX, Inc., a non-profit corporation. No part of this publication may be copied or reproduced without written permission from CALYX.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry excerpts from Femme's Dictionary by Carol Guess

CALYX Books, Fall 2004

 

 SBN 0-934971-86-2 paper $13.95

ISBN 0-934971-87-0 cloth $25.95 X

Poetry/Lesbian Literature/Women’s Literature


Water Color: Leda

 

The swan nestles his beak between the woman’s

smallish breasts. His wings curve like orchards,

or the broad flaps of planes that seared

acres of sky in the early months

of the last noticeable war. Returning

from the front, a man lays his head

between his lover’s breasts, listening

for the heart nestled among orchards of skin and bone.

He lets scars drift from him like petals.

He pretends he can forget acres of names.

 

The most noticeable thing in the picture

is the quiet of the wman’s lips

as the bird comes to her, and she pretends

she will forget warm breath to breast,

beast-touch. But everything returns to haunt,

like obscene pictures, like the heart

of the swan, beating a rhythm out

beneath winged ribs. The murmur of push or drop

through the bird’s heart flaps, the murmur

of beautiful, dead men in their last flights returns

 

and it is like the return

of the planes at night, when someone’s war

has just begun to drop. The soldier lets his thoughts

nestle among the rhythms of the early front. The woman

rests her forehead between wingspread hands,

and the old hopes drift like petals

shaken from boughs in pre-war orchards,

before the great planes seared their trunks

with scars, obscenely small, like names.

 

The Driven

Small houses bracket the great cities. In those outskirts

we’re born, riding out on the pain of a woman’s open body.

We die crumpling among seed packets and garden gloves

in dusk, at seventy. The suburbs create us. If we escape, it’s to ride

trains we can’t trust underground, looking for money. Losing sleep

over women. I told my father I was leaving; I was seventeen.

His face crumpled. I told him I was losing sleep

over a woman and his dusky eyes closed:

 

we bracket our parents’ lives. We want them

secure in small houses, reading and gardening, drinking

warm things from scalloped glasses. How difficult it is

to imagine them gone, or in pain. How difficult

to imagine anything at all, when I am sleeping

 

in a house in the suburbs where ambition dries like water

on concrete terraces. I told my father a story;

he was half-asleep on the scalloped sofa. Dusk

covered half his face, and for a moment I felt afraid. 

I touched his arm, just to be sure. He asked me to read

to him, to bring him something warm to drink and to be sure

never to leave the suburbs. I promised something,

 

but rain drove me out of terraced gardens and I woke

on a warm train which filled great cities

with the young ambitious. I drank in their stories:

face after face untouchable, but open. The eyes of one man

were bracketed by shadow. He stretched the train’s length,

shaded his face, slept. The ride curved on, as if

it trusted him. From underneath his palms came weeping.

The sound reminded me of rain.


Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

 

When you sleep with a gun for the first time,

you interrogate its history like any lover’s,

imagining the deaths it holds in store. When you wed,

the world welcomes your union. Your children’s cries

drag the country in the wake of their echoes.

 

When the gun goes off, you hold water in your hands.

It moves gracefully through your fingers

as the body you’ve signed becomes a photograph.

Tell no one, another soldier murmurs

as he too takes aim. You breathe and march in unison,

 

feet stirring the same dry clay into the same dusty spirals.

The songs you exhale make of women the enemy,

their breasts landing sites, their legs

stone columns you must weave your way between.

Nights, you sleep below him on a metal cot

 

that rocks backwards like a train.

Promise, he says,

but he is talking in his sleep, his boyish voice contorted

by the remnants of compassion. The force of his solitude

reaches you through plaited wire. If you reached for him . . .

But your relation is merely political.

 

Don’t ask, croons your superior, and reason wavers,

hazy as a target in stark desert sun. But you have a question.

You want to ask what love is, if this is love:

what you feel when anonymous blood runs swiftly,

drizzled in fitful patterns like festive stars.


Bad Sex

Everything tousled, and then the end zone:

that lie you started things off with

haunts us yet. You shrink from my hands

as I become your father;

the TV flies towards the wall

and I’m wholly new, a violent,

desiring man. Meanwhile, in my reality,

your breasts are in my hands,

we’re women overcoming history,

I’m in bliss not wholly new,

violently unaware

that you’re not there.

 

Now you’re not here:

two hundred miles by interstate.

I write and call to say I miss

what you don’t think we had at all.

But if that’s all, whose hands

did I inhabit when I touched

the deer-brown curve of clavicle

that clothed your pulse? Which ghost

pinned both my hands above my head

and bit down hard, trying to reach

its history through my flesh?

I couldn’t separate your love

from my discomfort; you couldn’t separate

my fierce desire from walking,

evenings, through flooded woods

beside your father. His old brown coat.

Pressing your knee against my throat:

what life in your eyes as you re-live

the trip to the river. I just shiver,

liking the perfume of angry breath.

Femme’s Dictionary

She says she wore a dress that first Saturday,

but I say skirt, skirt,

insistence darkening my lips

as if the difference

between cloth or a zipper at her waist

might’ve held us together longer.

 

I like to call things by their names.

I like to make my words match,

as much as possible,

the thoughts I’m holding onto.

Not love, but a stranger’s hand

in my jacket pocket. Not aquamarine,

but the color of blood

between a woman’s thighs.

 

She was different from me.

She enjoyed lying,

the way a hand touching the surface of the water

enjoys the water: its frail and fleeting clasp.

What is it makes impermanence so sensuous?

 

She liked to watch

me leave, needing the sound of a door

to remind her of where my lips had lingered.

Not bedroom but vestibule,

nine letters to describe the space

she cleared for me. Not quite a room.


Which One of You Is the Man?

 

The flecked eye of a fish is a window;

the gaze of a cow edging the ramp to slaughter

is a gun. Is sap the same as blood? What I long for

is to see inside the hearts of things and not

incorporate them. I’ve seen a tie undo itself

because it felt the pulse of her throat

and admired the precarious math of human life.

I want to hear in the jutting of car alarms

the music of urban proximity. When I say Take me,

I mean for my body to tell stories about night,

how it feels when the moon strokes its belly.

What I long for are wrists that know enough

to stay away from razors. Which one of us lies

on top of the other, steering until pleasure

feels simple, because detached from choice?

In the grocery, those rows of hearts might be

human, altering forever the meaning of desire.

 

Poetry excerpts from A Fierce Brightness: Twenty-five Years of Women's Poetry

 Edited by Margarita Donnelly, Beverly McFarland, Micki Reaman

CALYX Books, 2002

 

Poetry/Women Studies 240 pages

$14.95  paper, ISBN 0-934971-82-X   $29.95 cloth, ISBN O-934971-83-8

 

 

 


 

A Fierce Brightness - Table of Contents

 

Ursula K. Le Guin  ............................................ For Calyx

Margarita Donnelly  ........................................... Foreword

Hilda Raz and Carole Simmons Oles  .................. Introduction

Janet Aalfs  ...................................................... Sewing the Torn Sleeve

Frances Payne Adler  ........................................ Riding the Eye

                                                                          The Voices Are Coming Up

Marjorie Agosín  ............................................... Mi Estomago/My Belly

                                                                          Questions

Anna Akhmatova  ............................................. In the Evening

Anna Akhmatova  ............................................. As if with a straw…

Jody Aliesan  .................................................... there is no real edge to anything

Paula Gunn Allen  ............................................. Weed

                                                                          Dear World

Julia Alvarez  .................................................... Against Cinderella

Judith Arcana  ................................................... Great with Child

Diane Lillian Averill  .......................................... Shoplifter Hands

Deborah Bacharach  ......................................... The New Joke

Rebecca Baggett  .............................................. from Art of the Amish: A Quilt Exhibition

Jane Bailey  ...................................................... Ceasefire

Barbara Garden Baldwin  .................................. A Field of Poppies

                                                                          Relics

Judith Barrington  .............................................. Blood

                                                                          You There

Ellen Bass  ........................................................ To Praise

Sujata Bhatt  ..................................................... What Does One Write When the World Starts                                                                                   to Disappear?

                                                                          Written After Hearing About the Soviet                                                                                                Invasion of Afghanistan

Gloria Bird  ....................................................... The Women Fell like Beautiful Horses

Olga Broumas  .................................................. Old Wives’ Tale

                                                                          Amazon Twins

Rosario Castellanos  .......................................... Love

                                                                          Return

Diana Chang  .................................................... On Being in the Midwest

Marilyn Chin  .................................................... We Are Americans Now, We Live in the Tundra

Jo Whitehorse Cochran  ..................................... To Keep the Spirits

Kathleen Crown  ............................................... Necklace: Rich Pink Corona
                                                                               Round a Flashing Yellow Heart

                                                                          The Holy Ghost Flies into Second Baptist on                                                                                 Airline Highway in Baton Rouge

Cortney Davis  .................................................. The Smoke We Make Pictures Of

                                                                          It Is August 24th

Madeline DeFrees  ............................................ from Figures for a Carrousel: 3. The Music

Sheila Demetre  ................................................ A Woman Is Running for Her Life

Alice Derry  ...................................................... Anne

Chitra Divakaruni  ............................................. The Quilt

                                                                          Alley of Flowers

Susan Elbe  ....................................................... Practicing Eternity

Maria Ercilla  .................................................... Oysters and Zarzuelas

Stephanie Farrow  ............................................. The Civil War

Pesha Gertler  ................................................... The Right Thing

                                                                          Standing with Chiyo-Ni

Diane Glancy  ................................................... Great Indian Father in the Subway

                                                                          Lunar Eclipse, July 6, 1982

Jane Glazer  ...................................................... Final Disposition

                                                                          Point of No Return

Natalie Goldberg  .............................................. Two Iowa Farmers

Carol Gordon  ................................................... Calling out the Names

Rebecca Gordon  .............................................. Adolescence

Nights in Siuna

Janice Gould  .................................................... Going Home

                                                                          Tanana Valley

Renee Gregorio  ................................................ The Long Hill of Garrapata

Marilyn Hacker  ................................................ Aubade I

                                                                          Aubade II

Jessica Hagedorn  ............................................. The Song of Bullets

Hazel Hall  ........................................................ Maker of Songs

                                                                          Made of Crépe de Chine

                                                                          A Baby’s Dress

Leigh Hancock  ................................................. Rain on Snow

Jana Harris  ...................................................... Sending the Mare to Auction

                                                                          Fever

Jean Hegland  .................................................. The Crone I Will Become

Judith Hemschemyer  ........................................ Commandments

                                                                          O Mother My Giant Redwood

Donna Henderson  ............................................ Transparent Woman

Jane Hilberry  ................................................... Crazy Jane Goes to Painting Class

Jane Hirshfield  ................................................. The Stream of It

                                                                          Picnic

Sibyl James  ...................................................... How I’ll Live Then

                                                                          The Sisters of Saida Manoubia

Terri L. Jewell  ................................................. Felled Shadows

                                                                          Sistah Flo

LuAnn Keener  ................................................. Dehorning the Yearlings

Kalehua Parrilla Kim  ........................................ Ka Hale/The Nurturing Place

Barbara Kingsolver  .......................................... The Middle Daughter

                                                                          Remember the Moon Survives

Sandra Kohler  .................................................. Why a Woman Can’t Be Pope

                                                                          from Ars Poetica Feminae: Vessel

Joan Larkin  ...................................................... Risks

                                                                          Self-Love

Ursula K. Le Guin  ............................................ At the Party

                                                                          His Daughter

Shirley Geok-lin Lim  ......................................... Pantoun for Chinese Women

Anuradha Mahapatra  ........................................ Tambura

Lin Max  ........................................................... Stone Fruit

                                                                          When the Tules Are Peppered with Red-winged    Blackbirds

 Judith McCombs  .............................................. Epithet

                                                                          Love Poem, Later

Colleen J. McElroy  ........................................... Learning to Swim at Forty-five

                                                                          To Welcome a Changling

Virginia McGuire  .............................................. Leaning into the Tilt

Elizabeth McLagan  ........................................... At Twelve

                                                                          Reading the Names

Deborah A. Miranda  ........................................ Stories I Tell My Daughter

Susan Moon  ..................................................... Unintended

Pat Mora  ......................................................... Bruja: Witch

                                                                          Loss of Control

Cherríe Moraga  ................................................ La Dulce Culpa

Robin Morgan  .................................................. Geography Lesson

Sharon Olds  ..................................................... The Language of the Brag

Alicia Ostriker  .................................................. From: To Love Is

                                                                           The Idea of Making Love

Debbra Palmer  ................................................. Wade’s Hoggers

Molly Peacock  ................................................. Sweet Time

                                                                          The Veil of If

Paulann Petersen  ............................................. Groom of the Animal-Bride

                                                                          I Listen to Alice Walker on a Pocket Radio

Marge Piercy  ................................................... The air like stained glass cuts me

Andrea Potos  ................................................... The One Red-Haired Summer

                                                                          Twenty Years Later, to a Friend

Margaret Randall  ............................................. I Want the Words Back

Vicki Reitenauer  .............................................. Wife Of

Jennifer Richter  ................................................ Everywhere the Earth Is Opening

                                                                          Madonna del Parto: Our Lady of Birth-Giving

Wendy Rose  .................................................... Ta Tiopa Maza Win / Iron Door Woman

May Sarton  ...................................................... The Silence Now

Mira Chieko Shimabukuro  ................................. After the Separation, Dad Takes Me to the Dance for the Dead

Maurya Simon  .................................................. Snow

Lyubov Sirota  ...................................................Your Glance Will Trip on My Shadow

Judith Sornberger  ............................................. Wallpapering to Patsy Cline

                                                                          When She Can’t Sleep

Susan Spady  .................................................... Tending Flowers

                                                                          The Push-Pull of This Love

Alfonsina Storni  ................................................ You Want Me White

Wislawa Szymborska  ........................................ Drinking Wine

                                                                          The Woman’s Portrait

Mary Tallmountain  ........................................... Brother Wolverine

                                                                          Indian Blood

Alison Townsend  .............................................. Persephone in America

Haunani-Kay Trask  .......................................... Chant of Lamentation

Gail Tremblay  .................................................. Urban Indians, Pioneer Square, Seattle

                                                                          Surviving

Connie Voisine  ................................................. Blue Hat

Emily Warn  ...................................................... Une Nuit Blanche

Carole Boston Weatherford  .............................. Charleston Baskets

                                                                          The Ladies of Dimbaza

Ingrid Wendt  .................................................... Singing the Mozart Requiem

Judith Werner  .................................................. Ethel Rosenberg and Me

Eleanor Wilner  ................................................. Operations: Desert Shield, Desert Storm

                                                                          Miriam’s Song

Merle Woo  ...................................................... Under a Full Moon

Elizabeth Woody  .............................................. Speaking Hands

Mitsuye Yamada…………………………………The Club

Contributors’ Notes and Index



The heart’s memory of the sun grows faint,

The grass is sere.

A few early snowflakes blow in the wind,

Barely, barely.

The water chills in the narrow canals,

No longer flowing.

Nothing will ever happen again—

Ah, never!

The willow spreads it lacy fan

Against an empty sky.

Perhaps it’s better I didn’t become

Your wife.

The heart’s memory of the sun grows faint.

What’s this? Darkness?

It could be. And during the night

Winter will have time to come.

Anna Akhmatova, 1911, Kiev

translated by Judith Hemschemeyer and Anna Wilkinson

 

To Praise

I want to praise bodies

nerves and synapses

the shudder that travels the spine

              like fish darting

I want to praise the mouth

that warm wet lair where the tongue reclines

and the tongue, roused

              slithering a cool path

I want to praise hands

those architects that create us anew

fingers, cartographers, revealing

              who we can become

and palms, cupped priestesses

              worshipping the long slow curve

I want to praise muscle

and the heart, that flamboyant champion

              with its insistent pelting like

              tropical rain, fierce and fast

I want to praise hair

the sweep of it, a breeze, over skin

utter softness under the soles

and feet, arch taut

              stretching like cats

I want to praise the face, engraved

like a river bed, open

a surprise, like laughter

breasts, cornucopia

nipples that jump up, gleeful

              like a child greeting the day

and clitoris, shimmering

a huge tender pearl

              in that succulent oyster

I want to praise the love cries

sharp, brilliant as ice

and the roar that swells in the lungs

              like an avalanche

I want to praise the gush, the hot

spring thaw of it, the rivers

              wild with it

Bodies, our extravagant bodies

And I want to praise you, how you have

lavished yours

upon mine

              until I want to praise

Ellen Bass


Amazon Twins

1.

You wanted to compare, and there

we were, eyes on each eye, the lower

lids

squinting

suddenly awake

though the light was dim. Looking away

some time ago, you’d said

              the eyes are live

              animals, domiciled in our head

but more than the head

is crustacean-like. Marine

eyes, marine

odors. Everything live

(tongue, clitoris, lip and lip)

swells in its moist shell. I remember the light

warped round our bodies finally

crustal, striated with sweat.

II.

In the gazebo-like cafe, you gave

me food from your plate, alert

to my blood sweet hungers

double-edged

in the glare of the sun’s

and our own

twin heat. Yes, there

we were, breasts on each side, Amazons

adolescent at twentynine

privileged

to keep the bulbs and to feel the blade

swell, breath-sharp

on either side. In that public place

in that public place.

Olga Broumas


The Quilt

The parrot flies to the custard-apple tree.

The bees are among the pomegranates.

I call and call you, little bride.

Why do you not speak?

Bengali Folk Song

Blue and sudden as beginning,

a quilt at the bottom

of the small mahogany chest

which holds her things.

She died in childbirth,

this grandmother whose name

no one can tell me.

He married again,

a strong woman this time,

straight-backed, wide-hipped

for boy-children.

In the portrait downstairs

she wears the family diamonds

and holds her fourth son.

There are no pictures

of the wife who failed.

Her quilt leaves on my fingers

satin dust

as from a butterfly wing.

I spread it against

the floor’s darkness, see her fingers

working it into the world-design,

the gul-mohur tree

bright yellow against the blue,

the river winding through the rice fields

into a horizon where men with swords

march to a war

or a wedding.

As the baby grew she stitched in

a drifting afternoon boat

with a peacock sail.

In the foreground, young grass.

A woman with a deer.

She is left unfinished,

no eyes, no mouth,

her face a smooth blankness

tilted up at birds

that fall like flames from the sky.

Chitra Divakaruni

The Middle Daughter

If you threw her in the water

she would float upstream.

What if baby Moses had floated upstream

bobbing up toward Lake Victoria

in his little bulrush boat,

passing the transfixed laundry women,

leaving them behind in a wake of amazement?

What then would have become

of the Children of Israel?

This middle daughter forgets, there is always history.

If you show her white, she says

she only sees black.

There has always been this problem

with her vision.

From infancy, she has thrown off

every color we wrapped her in:

first the pink, contemptuous,

and later even the blue, for reasons

we hadn’t the nerve to be thankful for.

She says she wants to wear red, or nothing.

And you should see her with her red shirt

flapping on her little spindle body

like some solo flag,

marching up the river,

leading the salmon to slaughter.

She says they aren’t really dying.

She says that something is born of swimming

upstream

that finds its way back to the sea

and spreads like a grassfire through the seaweed

across the floor of underwater continents

and finally comes back to the very same river,

not one, but a thousand fish,

a generation of fish.

This middle daughter believes

she will make history.

Barbara Kingsolver

 


For Calyx

—29 September 1989

Calyx sweet X, crossroads, meetingplace

in the heart of the valley,

Calyx chalice, cup, holygrail

of fierce brightness and fragrance,

Calyx of lazy lilies

full of bees with furry thighs,

vagrants, honey-drunks,

Calyx of fertile words,

holder of the sacred pollen:

on you today this blessing:

              go south in beauty,

              go east in beauty,

              go north in beauty,

              go west in beauty.

              Be in the center in beauty.

              Be a long time in beauty.

Ursula K. LeGuin


The Language of the Brag

I have wanted excellence in the knife-throw,

I have wanted to use my exceptionally strong and accurate arms

and my straight posture and quick electric muscles

to achieve something at the center of a crowd,

the blade piercing the bark deep,

the haft slowly and heavily vibrating like the cock.

I have wanted some epic use for my excellent body,

some heroism, some American achievement

beyond the ordinary for my extraordinary self,

magnetic and tensile, I have stood by the sandlot

and watched the boys play.

I have wanted courage, I have thought about fire

and the crossing of waterfalls, I have dragged around

my belly big with cowardice and safety,

my stool black with iron pills,

my huge breasts oozing mucous,

my legs swelling, my hands swelling,

my face swelling and darkening, my hair

falling out, my inner sex

stabbed again and again with terrible pain like a knife.

I have lain down.

I have lain down and sweated and shaken

and passed blood and feces and water and

slowly alone in the center of a circle I have

passed the new person out

and they have lifted the new person free of the act

and wiped the new person free o f that

language of blood like praise all over the body.

I have done what you wanted to do, Walt Whitman,

Allen Ginsberg, I have done this thing,

I and the other women this exceptional

act with the exceptional heroic body,

this giving birth, this glistening verb,

and I am putting my proud American boast

right here with the others.

Sharon Olds


The Air Like Stained Glass Cuts Me

Lavender light through fretwork

of small panes, boughs,

burnt orange horizon

impaled on Protestant steeples.

Bach suite for unaccompanied

cello: passion and wisdom

wrestling, supple pythons.

I am unaccompanied.

The scaffolding of the maple

is stripped bare. The last

leaves perch in the plane

tree huddling like robins

that should have fled south.

Pinot chardonnay in the glass

we bought together, wine

whose roots grow from the soil

that bore you like a

sunflower. Pamela,

Pamela, there are no

good reasons for loss.

The miles between us are doors

you have slammed, thousands

of no’s cried

from deep in your spine.

I wanted my love to rest

on you light

as falling mapleleaves, I

wanted my love to warm

you softly as goosedown

as your body could breathe,

I wanted my love

to show you your face

in a mirror of gold

shining from inside

like the sun.

But you could not give

credence to love that did

not seize you by your nape shaking

you like the assault of a tomcat.

You were suspicious of love

that did not come dangling labels

like a janitor’s keys. You doubted

a love open to the sky

as any planted field.

The burning horizon

slowly tamps out and the snake’s

head of the needle strikes

blindly at record’s end.

But where you walk it is afternoon

still and time to remember,

to turn and speak to the woman

no longer at your side.

Marge Piercy


The Woman’s Portrait

Must be open to choices.

Changing, only let nothing be changed.

It’s easy, impossible, difficult, worth trying.

She has eyes, if necessary, now cerulean blue, now grey,

black, merry, for no reason full of tears.

She sleeps with him like the first in line, the only one

                                                        in the world.

She will bear him four children, no children, one.

Naïve, but she’ll give the best advice.

Weak, but she’ll manage.

Does not have a good head on her shoulders, so she will have one.

She reads Jaspers and women’s magazines.

Does not know what this bolt is for, but will build a bridge.

Young, ever young, still young.

She holds in her hands a little sparrow with a broken wing,

her own money for a long journey,

a meat chopper, a compress and a glass of vodka.

Where is she running like that, isn’t she tired.

Oh no, only a little bit, very, it doesn’t matter.

She either loves him, or has just set her mind.

For good, for bad and for goodness’ sake.

Wislawa Szymborska

translated by Grazyna Drabik and Sharon Olds