It was one of those years when things were turning all the same.
One week the great fish bearing isotopes to shore, even the milk for infants
aflame, their mouths black barnacles.
Another week soldiers dancing to a beacon of silence, everybody hurry up
We were sneaking extra time at our screens. We wanted to budge but could
not for so much chickenwire, so many ancient slabs of tin. The sexual
writhings we watched as we pleased, cranking the vibrations so the
ceiling fans above us rained.
Sometimes we did charity work. There might be a wig in it for somebody, a pink
dutchboy. Somebody set up registration, all we had to do was
form a line.
And if it was someone we had bowed to long ago now persecuted, we read the
reports with sorrow. Any ideas? we said. We need ideas, do you have one?
The cautious among us forbade it, and the rest of us read the reports, signed or
not. Something bashed holes in the barn doors and now anything could
It was the cruel dictatorship of the rich or the cruel dictatorship of the foreigns.
An old woman we had known when we were children, capable of sticking
bones in her blind face, was being driven away. She was two times too
much, like a cat lady. In the photographs she might’ve been even more.
How had she gotten by? We had helped her. If not for our hands and our
backs—and often she swore at us to work harder, we had not forgotten
—she would’ve fallen long ago so we would not be bothered now when
we are close to stumbling ourselves.
She has been wrong all along, the reports say. She has claimed things that
are not hers and she has said she is better than she could possibly be. Her
face takes the planes of an animal’s. Her face takes the animals’ food,
arranged in paper sacks, unopened.
We swallowed the peace of a glass of milk. We held our arms straight up like the
wings of flies. We wanted to see her as she had been—was she a
dissolving statue?—or we wanted to wait for the night to rise in shared
We left her long ago because we knew, we said. In the dusk of the hollow mountains,
the sadness of the mountains that low through their horns like the
shepherds that could not survive on those stones, she has toiled too long,
she should not have gone there alone and she never called us. We had to read
the reports, and we are women.
How would we unfurl the net and draw it across our hidden waters, and what
thin snails would be snared?
We are good at staring backwards down the road to the peak and declaring too
many hairpin turns.
At death someone pays a fistful at a gate, but if the gate is broken, no one passes.
Didn’t she break the gate with her own hands?
Her right hand seized the lock and squeezed. Let her go on. Ask us to read the
with one eye, the pupil like a pool for drowning, and the words that float back
up are the ones that say she is gone.
It’s all cochineal lipstick and sunglasses
in the notebook now, as if nothing happened
but a slow dance everyone watched from the pits
of envy by the gym doors. That’s what you say
when you show up late to your last chance,
a slender pencil in the way of hope dangling
from your throat on a chain, keeping up
appearances or holding close every slow second
before you’re not surprised the all-expenses-paid trip
sails without you. Sometimes you find your name
carved in soapstone, floating in oil. You measure
reincarnations in iris petals or quills on a cat’s tongue.
You spruce vases of error and dare Loves Me Not.
You accept a job in a pharmacy, but the mortar
and pestle carry tales and the ampules snap
their purses shut, convinced of thieving
intentions, though when they wish to sleep
side by side, you bed them in cotton and close
the box tight for the darkness they deserve.
You sign up for harp lessons. You coif your hair
to match. When your fingers renounce the lesser notes
they rise to meet your breath, but you refuse the song
and the ghost of song for the sake of strange treason,
the past, or merely pity. Come again, you’re whispering
like a woman seeing off the minister and thinking, please,
not soon. As if you could ballast this body
so long it pitched into an open door, and the key
warming your hand to lock it in case
pursuit closed in and you needed to run hard.
When it rained all spring, we stayed away
From the usual parties, even the weddings
And midnight showings of our favorite mysteries.
Maybe we already knew the solutions,
But we had held hands in the shadows anyway,
Chaste as fatherless young. By now I understood
Everything about the view from the window:
A bench rotting to lichen, the drops that swelled
Like blisters from the gutters, and the gush
That might mean sailing into another world,
As if I took up oars and shoved through
The swirling waters where the weight of song
Embellished a kind of throne. Languid, I said
And meant it. I wondered if my sisters
Missed my practice and collections, the clarity
I handed around like a candy dish, caramel
Tugging the molars and the teary spike
We blamed on sweetness and reluctant saving.
The measly yellow flowers of sedum and ground-
Blooming roses burst like apricots where I
Could not step. Belief tasted my mouth
And found it bitter. Where are they dancing tonight?
I asked my little dog and the silence he could not
Break seemed to me to prove my broken point.
When the others spoke of him their breath
Smelled of salt, or spite. Every day, still
Lightning split the limbs from the trunks,
And the bees slept off their poisons, but I
Understood more than the mere clay.
I stroked my dog’s head until my hands
Smelled of his tangible sins. I had lavished
An ache on the female world, my contentious
Moment pitted against superior beauties,
And its failure washed through the moving clouds
Like runners who come in last and are simply
Relieved to slow down. This way weeks
Of weather stand for everything we can’t control,
And no triumph shakes the gray from the sky
Without the price of passion, or paralysis,
That we must not win. The last night I released
The dog to race the yard, dry then, forceful
With orderly thorns, and my closest, oldest
Friend remarked—a pronouncement for all—
He’s like a show dog. When our chorus of womanly
Murmurs rose to agree, I should’ve known:
I should’ve known. They waited a long time to leave
That night, as if they honestly couldn’t move.
And who can bear that? Who can face it again,
Knowing what’s lost, and that the rains will flush
The old joys away, or we can claim as much,
If in the ulterior we are made to meet again?
Lisa Lewis’s books include The Unbeliever (Brittingham Prize, 1994), Silent Treatment (National Poetry Series, 1998), Vivisect, (New Issues Press, 2010), Burned House with Swimming Pool (American Poetry Journal Prize, Dream Horse Press, 2011), and The Body Double (Georgetown Review Press, 2016). Recent work appears in New England Review, Carolina Quarterly, Guernica, Four Way Review, American Literary Review, Florida Review, and elsewhere. She directs the creative writing program at Oklahoma State University and serves as poetry editor for the Cimarron Review.