Again, I Dream the Myth
Against the dark, I close my eyes to deeper darkness, darkness clotting
darkness / dead lichens drip / dead cinders upon moss of ash. From the deep recess,
light glows distant, spectral / / flame upon flame / and black among the red sparks,
streaks of black. Behind me: the name you alone use. Paleness swaddled
by darkness, eyes fringe upon fringe of blue crocuses, walled against the blue
of themselves. Your breath on my hand. I wake kicking off the sheets.
Up & down the streets I search, shop windows eerie in the moonlight.
Only my own reflection tearing past, faint ghost in nightclothes, wind–flower,
swift in its veins as lightning / and as white, echo fracturing.
When we were boys, we roamed the neighborhood inventing games.
I’d uproot trees for rafts to float the river, or we’d lie flat against the earth
and name the stars.
My brother knew the world by touch, his hand a magnet and a salve.
He made the small majestic, the majestic tame.
Akimbo wing, torn foot; he’d spot birds lying in the grass
while I was rushing past. He’d kneel and make low
clucking sounds and they would calm.
Big as a house, I’d stop and watch my brother
work. And I’d calm, too.
I don’t know anyone whose brother is a god.
He broke a metal spoon between his teeth; he cracked a walnut shell
with his bare hand. He built a barn to keep my horse dry when it rained,
he shouldered bales of hay like they were air. If I told him raze the world
and build it up again, he’d try.
The hardest working muscle of the body is the heart.
All was bright. Daisies in the meadow, aspens flickering
their leaves against a sky that unfurled forever.
Long-haired, lissome, robed in green and yellow and white,
we warmed our shoulders in the sun and flitted with the butterflies
in the wheat. The world purred in our laps.
You’ve heard all this, or can surmise. How suddenly the ground beneath me
quaked. I fell to an unfamiliar world with no light, no mother, no dew.
Are you thinking, You’re no longer a child?
We knew each other’s thoughts, could spot each other’s shadows in the dark.
All night, I comb the air for stars. I hear her voice, my name.
Around me, aspens curl like charred paper. Butterflies desiccate
and drop. Even the sun slows his lids and curtains his light.
Each day for fourteen years, I gathered berries for the moment when she woke.
I plaited blankets out of milkweed silk, and filled her pillows with the down
I brushed from geese. At night, wrapped in one another, steeped in the liquid
silver of the moon, I stroked her hair and sang her songs until she went to sleep.
Now, she spends her nights with a man who doesn’t know her
favorite flower is the yellow iris.
She’s listening for my voice.
She wanted to sit on the pauper’s grave where the bitter fern grows; but for her was neither peace nor rest. And as she danced past the open church door she saw an angel there in long white robes; his face was stern and grave, and in his hand he held a broad shining sword.
—Hans Christian Andersen, The Red Shoes
X. in red sneakers with her machine-gun laugh, billboard-sized sadness.
X.’s voice telling stories at a bar, late enough that it’s early: My friend
said ‘It’s a bold woman who can wear red shoes.’ She wants another beer.
I want to get away from her blue cigarette smoke, curls.
Her moon-shaped face brightens each time she says O.’s name.
When the jukebox plays a good song, she grabs his hand to dance
though it’s not that kind of bar. She leads, twirling and swinging,
making him laugh, while I sit on my barstool, icicle on its stick.
For years, I could never bring myself to buy red shoes. Whatever size
I tried, I knew they would not fit.
Bitter fern, I want to cull you from my grave.
And you, stern-faced angel: drop your sword
and let me dance.
Party on the Staten Island Ferry
At night, the ferry flies across the river, renegade of the million fireflies
glittering through Manhattan. On the top deck, eyes reflect the widening v
behind the ship. The moon pours its frozen milk across the passengers’
shoulders, shadows. Even the cold exerts a blanching force on their wrists
and noses, their white, white teeth. Someone hands me a drum. I pound it
until blood vessels burst on my hands, hot red bites.
Christine Marshall’s poems, essays and reviews have appeared in publications such as Best American Poetry, Agni, Beloit Poetry Journal, Boxcar Review, Crab Orchard Review, the Indiana Review, Memorious and Western Humanities Review. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
More from Vol. 33, Issue 2
David Dodd Lee
Laozi, trans. Wong Yoo-Chong
Osip Mandel’shtam, trans. Don Mager