Poetry - Dropping Balm, The Absinthe Literary Review

by Karyna McGlynn

Emmett and the White Boy

from the Sally Mann photo, 1990

In a few more summers he will grow
bark and his lips will birth

wild strawberries, already strutting
up rope and plywood ladders, lord

over everything white—English
captives cum classmates

backed shyly into the tender
slips and thorns of foxglove, eyes

deep-set in the soft-shelled egg
of winter skin blink slowly,

flick off black freckles like gnats
from the fast moving shadow of my son,

the raptor, hair gelled back
in the awful glamour of river water,

loons calling everyone to come out
for this brief christening of curiosity.

The Glitter Bird

Nell, I am in Delaware and I am without
your daughter’s daughter.
She has your olives for eyes and I am only one
in a string of boy-men she threads quickly.

I am reaching crazy motel sainthood
and I think and I think
only you can tell me the art of possession—
lady eagle grinding the silt
flung off by a loud man in loud pants
for more than fifty years.

She forgets things that matter.
I have gathered her up and learned
to call her sweet-pea like it’s hot out
and she wears blue-flowered dresses.

I have lain her willfulness
out like a bean to kiss each coast
and she keeps calling herself
the once bad spider as if you have never
left her side—you are there
mouthing she must wake and crush
her tongue like an insect, grind it good.

I saw her voice drop out like a dead violet.
When she says “man” I don’t understand
what she means. She keeps pulling levers
attached to nothing with knitted-in eyebrows,
kicking tender yellow doubt
into my fistful of absolutes.

And I cried like a lost goat
and she shook like long unused pipes
and told me to stop it and I hated her then.
Nell, I put my foot in the door—
was that the right thing to do?

I felt like Paul Verlaine pouring
philosophy through a strainer of sugar
and into her mind. I held her
and I said everything, everything,
coaxing your voice from her stunned mouth
before she had time to fight me.

Letter to a Fellow Future Perfectionist

Morris, I tell you this is the skin of the teeth time.
And for this time I will snap my bones like presto,
and I will sing too many popular R&B songs
that I don’t really know the words to, and you
will make some remark about the ridiculousness of it—
Mississippi mud and twigs in a crystal decanter,
taking soul and turning it into chocolate WASP mousse.
But then again, you don’t have to listen.

The thing is, we both write into a loud open place.
The thing is, if it were the turn of the century
we would both hide under the wrong gender’s
wide-brimmed hat, and someone would inevitably
pass it off as one of those things that people
who spend needless amounts of time at cafes do.

Speaking of ridiculous things, Morris,
you don’t understand how much I would pay
(if I had the money) to somehow capture
conversations I wish we’d had, but didn’t,
on wax cylinder and sell them for hair—
like the conversation about WASP mousse.

The thing is, I think you might respect me.
We are both planning our days as if they are past tense,
and there are no prescriptions for people
with this kind of backwards telescope vision.
Everything is what we will have said or done.
At this point you nod: yes, we live in the future perfect.
That must make us future perfectionists. How odd.

And I know you think I write about everything,
something you said about abundance
leading to mediocrity—or, did I just make that up?
And I know that writing about conversations
we would have had only proves your point.

But I’m talking about those times when I am
really touching the slick mausoleum of moment,
and it is cold and sunny all at the same time,
and suddenly I have no skin, and neither do you,
standing right there next to me, fingering
the carved marble of ancient words in memory
though they have only just passed through us.


© 2004 Karyna McGlynn

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