To sing of wars, of captains, and of kings Of cities founded, commonwealth begun for my mean pen are too superior things: And how they all, or each their dates have run — Anne Bradstreet (1650)
no books but the bible unless my brother smuggles them under his coat —Arabian Nights— we hear that vinegar makes porcelain skin chambered we practice the art of fainting a deadly pallor fervent tremble you lace up my neat little waist— Scheherazade woos the Indian Sultan and I too could win his mercy a husband’s favors her bodice mined out from undergarments— winnan of Germanic origin: to strive contend subdue acquire days are pockets turncoat gifts she lost a mile along the way her property stipulated manly or unmanly in marriage laws favoring favoring— he strapped his belt unfazed to win her over make her precious delicately unstable merely a girl forgone— a flickering hysteria forgoing ongoing lost and fallen for the market spins them marriageable pure-faced angels— vices are acquired elsewhere down in boarded streets like key rings threaded to keep order vitrified and pretty still I rest in yellow light my spheres obliquely cast within refracting— a little walk and now the winless spells come easily a hard forgetting heaved into the air young and precocious she steals into her father’s well-worth study reads the forbidden novels— to canter under lights her ample dress draped sideways one leg only pressed against the pony’s flank with half-wrought messages and yet her levelheaded poise— a plain child prone to pale-faced fits and nightmares— father decrees go stop the madness— her dreams are wholly winning and exquisite glittering the sea today has turned a windless flap a rope-slack afterglow— below the wind a river grinds and carries sand for seabeds winnan: to subdue and take possession of the woman question— its granularity below the heights tumbling revolving as afternoon allays carries on
Spaces come to her by invitation. Three vases for the left-handed sister, smooth-stars, a cadre of abrasions: tales by the woman who works in awe— and if the last flower is deflowered and lasts no longer, more feral in orange and blue— look at how planes can swivel, precious as glasswork, spoons, milkweed. Light sets flames to the building where they butchered horses. The great nations are warring their factions, fair, blue-eyed, or other. Wheels of desire turn. In the swamp, black-dogs charge after you. Line, scrape, and stroke— even love-days begin in mourning. Founded on margins, she works in the base and bottom, melt and mold. Dressed-up, her colors pour out while America quotes itself as men revenge the day. Her country is abstraction: to draw away, and be drawn from like water, bleeding— pink fades from the lips, the gums. A cross-stitch trails off. She paints a layered skin, looks with a lighter heart, clasped or spotted with purple.
The living inherit the world’s blindness— so much of it, they get blissfully drunk. They go into the forest to hunt for wild boar, laughing every bit of the way. Others appear at the kitchen door hoping to win the cook’s favors. Who will believe their stories of robbery, intrigue, and hard times! It’s true, hospitality lives in the ancient laws, but this hunger can hardly be stilled. Inside the hall, they sing and cajole: the falcon’s dance, the fox’s. A leg goes lame quickly, though; a hand is easily lost. The mind follows suit, mistaking the trails. A search party finds evidence of mastication, but not much worth reporting.
You keep asking, but I abandoned my secrets— they drift on the air like spent blossoms, parts of insects. A yellow pollen settles on my skin. I wear a mask to tackle failures and things obsolete. Rat-faced animals crowd against the nearest fence. A ghost garden! Shapes descend, mocking weakness. I want to touch— what, the deep-blue past? You who shake like leaves in a gust? My personas step in, uncanny, but polite. They speak in my voice, offering advice I’d rather not follow. Their saddest wish for you and for me—to the death— is trapped alive, then banished along with other interruptions.
Leonore Hildebrandt’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Drunken Boat, Poetry Salzburg Review, and Quercus Review among other places. Translations of Rilke’s Elegies have been published in Cerise Press. A letterpress chapbook of her poetry, The Work at Hand, is available from Flat Bay Press, and a first book of poems is forthcoming with Pecan Grove Press.
Living “off-the-grid” on the coast of Maine, Hildebrandt teaches writing at the University of Maine. She also serves as an editor for the Beloit Poetry Journal. Her work has received support from the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Maine Community Foundation, and the Maine Arts Commission.