5 Over 50 Reads 2017

by Staff
From the November/December 2017 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Ground, Wind, This Body
By Tina Carlson

The Burial

My father buries the bird
in a bland field: a crow still glossy
with its memory of flight
and release. How he finds himself there in that brief
digging, fingering the dirt
of his children’s field, the small nest he
quarries there,
how gently he lays that
blackbird down as if it is the heart
he once carried in his own boy’s chest
before the war
and shock of his life
shot him down and placed him here,
burying what used to fly
in the fall weeds
and grave of ground.


Instead of Light

The night is fat with cold and cloud,
the den a holy cave, gleaming
teeth and eyes, a hungry place,
a mouth. I arrive with my father
in my yellow pajamas. It is one a.m.
though my father’s eyes shine
blue like a dome of morning
sky. I was dreaming of birds
falling from a sky of milk—

The pornographer prays to the gods of stupor
and submission. Loves to open what has never
been opened, turned on by the camera’s endless click,
the sacred theft. Our child bodies lie on little
green tables with the metal taste
of a gun in our mouths. The small meat of our bodies
shared by the pack of parents and assistants—

I watch through a grimy window
the mirrored light of the moon, believe
a lamp. It shines back at me, across
the broad diameter of night where I am
the pain of not-enough-air.
TV commercials blare in the next room, the heater clicks.
The moistened mouth of a woman tells me I am nothing,
silence is my only currency. She is a bear
standing over my small perch where I learn
to unstitch myself from the harrow of bone and skin.
This becomes a definition of home: the infinite mouth of night,
air made of feathers.

Outside, snow falls quiet as a moth.
Settles over the town its cold white gift
of cover-up. My father pockets the money
he gains, spent by morning on milk and bread.

Tiny rivers of blood in my ears
a pulsing tide, icy feet, mind made
of song and the sugary taste of words.
Like pale, crisp, luminous. Blood is a rose
on the morning snow. I shine an orange light
over the syllables, then play
with their shadows on the walls.
Glint, curve, ashen.
Hunger becomes soup, cold a warm bath.
The grime of my father’s hands, a milky solace.
I stand behind the innocent child he wanted to be.
Limbic, shorn, silent.

Each night I die there again
on the little green table, fear the beds whose skins
I peel back to rest, the predatory breath
of night. Trees shudder their dry leaves
in a breeze. I dream the moon is a wide lit face,
floats to the ground and waits outside
our home. A man who loves plants opens the door
of her mouth and gathers up the child you were,
years ago, places you in my arms
like a bouquet.

You too knew the teeth of that place.
You become a running star, the fastest legs
in town. You will race from your home to mine
and we will hide in a cave of tree branches,
sugar our mouths with licorice and the
green stalks of weeds. Speed is your balm,
you are mine, my first love, my mirror.
We never speak of the captive nights but fill
ourselves with sweets in the day’s free heat.
When you are grown, ready for your final
escape, you will remember the gun, harbor it
in your college dorm room for weeks. They will find you fetal,
wrapped around its unexploded body like a cocoon.
An empty bottle of pills under your last pillow.
No note, but I understand your message,
Only I can write that gun out of my own mad mouth.

I love to lie on the ground
for her ballast of living green and holiness of dirt.
A valence of quiet, the undertow of magma
pulsing through. Her body is the dense memory of our histories.
Every moon of thought, every motion of kindness
and cruelty, transmuted.
I am buoyant lying there, on her whirling
heft, her lap a curve and horizon. Sum of loam
and fracture, we breathe in unison on cracked ground,
sea bottoms. I am a canyon cut deep, a list of fault lines.
She tames me with her touch.


I Wish You Were Here

The river is a woman singing of heartbreak
surrounded by birds and smooth
pockets of stone. I wish you were here
instead of blowing across the dry field
as dust. In the sleek fur of my dreams
you rustle up stories about
children who live in the sun.
I love everything
I remember and don’t remember
about you. In the wood of your chairs
live savannahs we might
have seen, full of animal scents
and the lovely emptiness of years
between my life now
and your hands, pointing the way.


Excerpted from Ground, Wind, This Body: Poems by Tina Carlson. Copyright © 2017 by Tina Carlson. Used with permission of University of New Mexico Press.