Brenda Shaughnessy reads from her latest poetry collection, So Much Synth, published in May by Copper Canyon Press.
How It Is
It isn't every day I can wrap my mind around it.
It being just what you'd think it is.
Not a thing or a condition of being but an extended
its movements are like dance but really more like fire
or cross-signals cut before anyone got there.
A flow-through mind,
a frank season so in love with some poor sister,
the long star rattling its universe like a snake.
If only I could gather eyefuls and throw them
curvingly with some accuracy at what I couldn't bear
to see before. Not just inside the body but inside
the insides, all the way in
till loved precious cells are cold neutral space again.
Can I get a witness? Can I get a witness
that way, if it were not so unreliable?
It again. It is always so unreliable.
It doesn't know what it is and is all right with that.
Isn't that strange?
It surely isn't me. I wouldn't be all right with not knowing.
Not it. That narrows it down I suppose. Not it.
Just keep saying that, eliminating. What's left
will will its way into it. Will scare me to pieces
which it will then not pick up
but leave for someone else to deal with. As I am
doing now with this mess here.
I Have a TIme Machine
But unfortunately it can only travel into the future
at a rate of one second per second,
which seems slow to the physicists and to the grant
committees and even to me.
But I manage to get there, time after time, to the next
moment and to the next.
Thing is, I can't turn it off. I keep zipping ahead—
well not zipping— And if I try
to get out of this time machine, open the latch,
I'll fall into space, unconcious,
then dessicated! And I'm pretty sure I'm afraid of that.
So I stay inside.
There's a window, though. It shows the past.
It's like a television or fish tank.
But it's never live; it's always over. The fish swim
in backward circles.
Sometimes it's like a rearview mirror, another chance
to see what I'm leaving behind,
and sometimes like blackout, all that time
Myself age eight, whole head burned with embarrassment
at having lost a library book.
Myself lurking in a candled corner expecting
to be found charming.
Me holding a rose though I want to put it down
so I can smoke.
Me exploding at my mother who explodes at me
because the explosion
of some dark star all the way back struck hard
at mother's mother's mother.
I turn away from the window, anticipating a blow.
I thought I'd find myself
an old woman by now, traveling so light in time.
But I haven't gotten far at all.
Strange not to be able to pick up the pace as I'd like;
the past is so horribly fast.
Myself I'm like a dress my mother made
me, a fabric self split open with a sigh
as I grew and--bewildered or proud
or full of rage—patched with nicer
material than we'd had before. I got
a sense it was all wasted on me.
But a needle's sharp to pierce, is itself
pierced—so as to sew like I was taught.
Like I learned: no dress could ever be
beautiful or best if it had me in it.
I was the stain in a place we couldn't fix.
Having fallen on a slicer of some kind.
Double-seamed, scabbed over, a new body
pocket in the pattern. How to stitch up
that wound right into the clean vertical rip
in some on-sale flannelette?
I'd never again be cold. Skin's holey not holy.
In mad winter alone with drink, I think:
tattoo needles don't use thread but ink
to mark a place in this ever-moving skin
and that wound is ornament. But who
needs a mark to know what's marked?
I would pray to the dark in the dark.
But what did I ask for, what did I know
to ask for? Nonfatal wounds: they're there
when we die, deliquescent, vibrating like a drum
skin after each beat moves off.
A part of music. A way a body keeps time,
is time's keper, vigilant till time up and goes
to find another body. Another's warmth
and shelter. Or related injuries. Anyone
who hurts another was hurt that same way,
so how far back behind our backs do we go
to finally find the first hurt; whose finger
points to say, "You! You're the one who god
knows why started a cycle of unending pain,"
to someone's child in short pants?
A baby just torn a hole in her amnion swirl?
And what of me? I can't tell where my flesh
meets the rest of me, ragbag full of rags,
shot full of holes but that's just the way cotton
and silk and everything I said up till now looks
when it hits the air and is cried on. I'm so inside
out I evaporated entirely already as August does,
my actual dress shredded at the seams—
unsalvagealbe. Who would ever love me like this?
And just like that, I stopped thinking about it.
I agree to meet you at the ferry heading to a place
neither of us wants to go but both just said
sure, I'll go... if you want! We should turn back,
nobody said. Oh we should before it's too late,
nobody said again, insistent this time.
Excerpted from So Much Synth by Brenda Shaughnessy. Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Shaughnessy. Excerpted by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.