Read these meter maids as a Sapphic chorus paired to sister poems. For every hive, a vassal hums a cryptic aside to trace the map of the orchard.
Sure, he could make me see it with pressure to my palm, the burning house that he took with him, a screen door attacking its frame. The times I held him close, I held the house inside him. His father igniting wood. Not good with fire, I couldn’t offer clouds or mist to hide him, to put him out. When he left, I scanned the paper for new Towers of Babel— a family lives above a funeral home, catches the chicken pox; a corpse below died with shingles. Or two brothers buy a jasper mine to get rich quick, as good as fables. All the brothers got, the sky’s luster in rock; no one claimed he touched the corpse at the dinner table. Now flashback— our hands hinge above tea lights, our heads levitate on the spun calyx of ephemeral shade from finger-domed candle-blush. You drop your lashes, murmur “I don’t know why my family haunts me tonight.” Prometheus passes his flare to the wheel-thrown father, or to mathmen counting bombs to consume the German air. We catch the virus from what we touch and make, or toss what sheds from who makes us— that Great Beautician with Voracious Flame— walking the wind down the street, wearing no shirt on hot days, burning to a void, a black vein that wends through the jasper cache. § Read the headlines: “Arson increases times ten.” Pyres were piled from rubbish haphazardly, all wreckage saved susceptible. Cities, forests— flammable suspects.
You and I have spoken of everything possible from grass blades to gods, the orchard trees blown up like backward umbrellas. The people who laugh like wind chimes or born with misery’s trust-fund. The Tulip King bowing to rows of flowers, his gardener also his executioner. The jobs we’ve had, counting coins on fish or shining the firmament with handkerchiefs. Spring swinging its censer. The gray zooming cars leaving their camphor. A deer carcass steeped in melon musk. The ghosts of skeleton leaves on pond bottoms. Where we are on this map of refuse— plastic bags and sweatpants in the belly of a whale, a TV tossed in the woods with no face for reflecting. Listen, a shawl adjusts, another war begins. A black bear wanders through condominiums. I read about violence from the signs that say no trespassing, but never think to mention it— and yet berserkers in sagas said their feelings always startled them, glad-faced as wolves. You tell me how to make a treacle for this room full of ribbons someone died in, a packet of guitar strings, this morning that’s exactly the equal of the last we passed— Deco lampposts along the marina, the gem light refracted through a crystal flute, the anthem of wind-blown white blossoms crescendoing to curtain call a cochlea of seagulls, or the walkers who take our fate along the trail, glancing at us then back into Queen Anne’s lace their features without affect like ours. Your lips and mine touch all of it— § Now you have a lump in your throat you claim from speaking, ruminating—descending miles to fix antique machinery, fluting warnings from a canary.
Athena’s tide-curdled temple of human potential— made white noise in a shell. I do not know the hymn to retrofit a girl with her youth before her rape, simple vanities, her obsidian hair, or how to look at her reflection an octave above the final pitch of snakes’ wrath wreathing her severed head, her eyes blown wide. Instead her hymn continues to hiss without its bard— While cities grid, another bank is built in a tulip, a Burmese python engulfs an alligator, Atlantis refurbished from cargo stitched in factory lines revolves around ocean gyres, while we stack skeleton leaves in the manicured necrosis of sea and land— there’s no garden city planners can sketch to assuage the metamorphosed girl’s dissonant shadow. But the gray-eyed goddess of cities, the intellect, and war is still protected by the gorgon on her armor— her defrocked priestess still loyal to what Athena rules— our painted eyes that wear from wind and rain, the belief we can stopper the storm we forced in murky hair making a rat’s nest. And like Athena, will Medusa’s face— patterning the moldings and temples, the evanescent shorelines, the phage invaded fields— protect you too as you look away from earth and find your image in the blade of thought instead of hers. What will you hum as you petrify behind the mirror-sword— “I feel part of everything— a fragment, a fragile echo,” or more primordial— an instinct, a cave glyph, the mounted magician with snakes tranced and blood-filled eyes, fire lit? § Her reflection vanishes, leaves the cave wall’s diaphanous stain to dissolve in polished steel. Your eyes are bright with abbreviated happenstance, fleeting—
I wish I could go back to the wedding, the flushed apples piled high on the altar, deer milling open-mouthed under laden trees, the groom and girl trailing a bagpiper backward through the rose-hipped arbor. For a while, I was happy alone with my brimful cup of wine, but then, the ruddy-cheeked, golden-haired fire and fisher men stole my dance card. Both hummed bum-pum-pum to all the numbers, but I still couldn’t keep my feet in line. When the band jacketed the banjo and drum, we roamed the island— Fish flipped in the moon’s skillet. Stars twirled a waltz above our heads. The cold took us by our hands and feet, and hauled us to the bunkhouse late. The drive home seemed long, wind-ruffed dahlia boutonnieres in the wipers and cut lavender spread across the backseat, back to our gray shield of a city. The bride and groom— serene photos of sarcophagi. The hum of orchard bees surfaces in my ears again like some distant whining of caravans bowing their axles as they embark packed with pilgrims trading seed-pearls for bread. § Up the oak stairs, there was a room of ribbons, silks, and azure rosettes. The bride arrived so suddenly and blessed all the trappings that we knew we’d abandon.
Emily Beyer lives and works in Seattle. She has a BA in English from the University of Washington and an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa. Presently, she is seeking a publisher for her first book, Cavalcade; is at work on her second book, Meadmen; and is writing verse for a silent experimental film. To find out more about Emily and her poetry, visit her website at www.beyergyre.com.