Marianne Boruch reads three poems from her new collection, Cadaver, Speak, published in February by Copper Canyon Press.
On winter's long red-eye out of Anchorage, small lamps
near the floor made
a grainy blurry everything, which meant
awake, then almost, then heads slipping back
or to the side, mouths jarred open.
There are words
bodies vanish to—curved, slumped, relaxed, released.
And a sound, not the underwater lament of the whale, not its
distant me to you, don't even imagine.
I heard no sad rattle
from the human throat, only the loose tic and tic of it, seats 3A
to 10C, at last the whole cabin caught
in night's breathing, a dark sandpaper at work, stopped,
to start again.
The fact is I walked through an underworld, that aisle—
I was up, had to—and saw in the dim
not-yet-dawn the arms
and legs of Shiloh and Gettysburg flung
every which way.
Then past that easy horrific—
those strangers merely out, gone out,
curled to each other: love
in the abstract, love
how it never comes on purpose,
no one arranging a face to please or to frighten
into love, just a simple forgetting who
is who and if ever. Like children don't know the most
troubling thing about themselves, won't
for years. Or like the dead who could, but can't tell you.
For once I stared everyone right
in the face like it was
my shroud, and my leaving. I keep thinking like.
But my same nothing at all had so little
to do with it, that
one time my grandmother didn't say
where we walked, took,
I was taken, thrust forward to meet the old
blind woman, her hands to find
me in that child, the great length and breadth of her bent
as if to some odd-angled stone on a beach
so foreign, so much a place I'd never go, her barest
touch on my cheek coming
such a long way,
to my chin and lips, the ridge of my nose, my
closed eyes. I opened them
to her face. Most private part of the body now, hugely
calm, the kind that suspends
and lets go, her eyes
blue in their milky drift regardless, looking
not anywhere or straight into, this—
no end to it, flying over a continent of
ice and sleep and ruin and light.
The Souls of the Dead
My grandmother, her oddly accurate
euphemism, turning up to the doctor. She meant
caught in stirrups on the examining table,
a doctor warming
and wincing his speculum to eye
the most interior goods.
It's just that in lab, they're tying open the legs now,
the cadavers supine. They're pulling them
to the end of each table, knees roped sideways. I am so not
doing OB/gyne—the most brooding
first year med student is shaking his head.
Like I can't believe I'm writing this
word by word until I can't believe I'm writing about this
stares back at me from the page, mildly
unthinkable. Narfia, the anatomy TA: We try to be
It jumps gender. It's equal opportunity.
The male students put off
dissecting the penis. Just another thing left to women,
one of the women blurts, like we want to?
My grandmother, her other roundabouts: a tablespoon
of bourbon in the pantry each afternoon late,
her pick-me-up. As for my sponge bath, I was
to wash down as far
as possible. Don't forget possible,
she'd stage-whisper outside the bathroom door.
At the museum, a small "threadcross" behind glass,
whenever-it-was to capture bad spirits against the slow
rise of a mantra
said just the right way. A trap woven at the roof
or the entry of anything, to keep safe,
We bent to my favorite, the 99-year-old. I told her
this won't last. Sure I did, sure.
In the great pyramids, the harpy tombs had sirens, female-headed
birds, really jars in secret, holding
the souls of the dead who peered from all four corners.
Mind and Body
Whether blood alone does the knitting
over the wound, I don’t know. Whether the chit-chat
of the surgical nurses—a daughter’s quote boyfriend
unquote, or mother-in-law as genus and species, or which
the better napkin at Thanksgiving, cloth or paper—all
presses into the brain
of the anesthetized woman to do something,
I don’t know. Doesn’t any blather assume
a next day and a day after that? She-of-the-shiny-table
hooked up to a zillion clear tubes
under the force-fed light would have feigned a most
cheerful interest, even a point of view—cloth, absolutely.
Whether this turns that in the worst
circumstance, I don't know. It's hard to stand still
in rain, in fog. There are pieces of war
only the dead can bear, horses in old photographs
bloated and leveled, trees
cut to the nub. That’s the first shock
before what might be
human bodies in the foreground. And whether
woods get autumnal for a reason,
leaf on leaf flaring red-gold just to fall down, dream
in spite of the real afternoon, I have no idea.
Whether childhood matters, I don’t know that.
Whether broken bones there,
the split knees and lip, confessions
unconfessed, trips alone to the basement’s dank underworld
quiet in its way as the ticking clock made
the room upstairs, if that
matters at all to strengthen bones now, to attack the baddest
bad blood cells in the universe,
I’ll never know. Whether the brain has
hobbies other than notions
of a possible afterlife, angel or
no angel, loved ones lined up radiant after the train wreck
of getting there, for the long wait to see us again—
who the hell knows. Whether one can
get better, better than what dark
goes on in vessel, in chamber, the blind ride
down the nerve—I’d have to take
night, flood it with day
and more day. Whether
whether even counts as an option
in genuine truth-telling--shouldn’t that be
a thunderbolt? Minus
the should. For that matter, minus
thunder too. It's
the bolt: to be beside
oneself. To know what happened,
what has to.
Oh yeah, says the body ever after,
quite out of body.
Excerpted from Cadaver, Speak with permission of Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2014 by Marianne Boruch.