In Her Chamber
Use the lead, long as you can,
thin mechanical (like steps)
going round. Through watery
panes the wavering pine wind
beginning to rock the toss
of shawl a shadow across
the bed. Think sword, spear, loaded
in its corner, shaft
illumined watershed oh
welcome my muse anyhow
any angst-given moment.
Outside, ladder propped against
its apple tree father breeze
mother breeze winding the leaves.
Check list: candlestick snuffer,
inkwell (glass, incised) books stacked
across the mantel with wild
Araby Gib innocent
in their frames. Maggie emptied
the commode placed water-filled
pans on the Franklin stove: steamed
to help her breathe. My larder
harder and harder to fill.
Come back come back oh maudlin
mind: here’s a floor worn thin from
her tread yet original
and firm under rush matting.
Somewhere footfalls are: were: no
broken planks in reason. Yet.
Emily wine-haired woman
wintry sleigh bed night glider
did you sleep on your right or
your left? Did you hear lowing
from the road cowbells passing
in procession at sunset?
Check. Check again. Pleats neatly
spaced just above the white hem
a band of lace just below
the knee a dozen buttons
climb to the throat wee and chaste
as Bombs you carried in your
Bosom wry sly with freedom
nigh likely to explode: here
at each click turn of your key.
Spaceship Landing, with Yoruba Dancers
— Sampling “Song of Myself, Section 19"
Oh Walt, spreading the cloth of your feast, inviting
us to partake of a meal equally set, this morning
your daylight does/does not astonish me. I clean
the floor, I plug in the lamp, I miss my dog. I am
telegraphic, jump-jittering Ahmad Jamal-ing
across keys sounding on the radio while at the same time
a spaceship ‘belly flops’ onto the comet it circum-
navigated, even in its last landing gathering information
from the crash, surface to surface, belly to belly—
the cloth—I mean the text—I mean the surface
of your words—what can I make of that, picking
myself up off our common ground, crashing into—
unavoidably—the heavy-lipped slave you
coffled alongside the sponger, the thief, the sexually
diseased in your generic—your magnanimous—your
intricate, no-difference difference—your ever unfolding catalog
trucking with caricature, labels, buffoonery—and what chain-
link—what through-line can I find then,
trying to seize the—
to this day,’ my friend wrote in her pilot’s log,
and I, too,
have traveled much, unraveled much, like Thelonious
making it new on the keys—this morning’s tonic—arpeggios
whisk, whisper on the high hat while the perennial
sizzle in my ear ramps upward. I want to tell my friend
her laugh and line breaks break me the way Monk’s
chromatics ramble up and down, tingling my ears, like liquid
descending to find at last the heavy chords—sync-
opated bodies bumping in the bass line. What else
does this murmur of yearning seek but to be em-bodied other-
wise? And how to make thoughtful merge with these dancers,
Yoruba muscles moving in unbroken memory now
on YouTube back from Mother Africa and forward
through the cake walk, the Charleston, the hip hop, the bop—
even at this hour…in confidence, without confusion or design.
Imagine a saddle, placed on the back of a horse with the felt pad underneath it, the stirrup hanging down. Imagine tightening the cinch a couple of extra notches after the horse stops holding in its breath and no longer expects it to be tightened, then placing your left foot in the stirrup and grabbing the pommel and pulling yourself up onto the top of the horse, throwing the right leg over and settling into the smooth leather and squeezing your thighs around it. Imagine, later, leaning forward and pushing your body loose from the saddle and flinging one leg over so you can slide comfortably to earth, the burnished, warm leather of the saddle against your chest. Imagine the reins and the horse with its mane falling to the right or left, and the warm withers and flanks of the animal you yearned to master and occasionally did, with long afternoon rides through the back pastures and fields, though more often it was a matter of falling, the saddle sliding loose, or the horse taking off with the bit in its teeth and a mind of its own. Why saddle? Where did it come from, floating up through the years, connecting one autumn to another, stored now in a barn on a rack or over the top of the stall, rubbed with saddle soap and shining through the fragrance of oats and the soft sounds of horses munching and snuffling and exhaling deep contented breaths. The ones who really know saddles and horses and stalls and gaits, who are they, who take the animal in hand, who give over all of their mind’s attention to being with the beast? Who know the animals as individual beings, with quirks and habits and personalities? All the pretty little horses, your mother sang, coaxing you into animal worship and the pages that would open year after year with horses you would read about and later horses you would draw, sitting beside a tree outside the paddock where the yearlings were, so you could put them in your sketchbook. They were unsaddled at the time, and as young as you were, without saddles, unsaddled with all the years to come after.
There were times when the saddle imagined it was an octopus, and in its imagining became an octopus, constraining its eight limbs into two stirrups and surreptitiously creeping out of the stable along the base of the stalls and into the evening air. Other days the saddle became a manta ray and lifted itself up and out through the windows in the largest stall and traveled through currents of air until it reached other saddle-rays to soar in a group over the wheat fields and along the edges of the forests, their stirrup appendages clacking against one another slightly because they preferred flying in close proximity and made of themselves a cloud. Humans living in the vicinity of these fields and forests could look up and see the cloud of saddle-rays swarming together and think, my the blackbirds are larger than usual this season and hear in the clacking of the stirrups the harsh clicks and caws of birds. When the saddle wanted to be alone, though, it snuck away as an octopus, moving against the edges of the stall and out the barn door, its leathery surface more fluid and malleable now, so it could meld in an embrace with a post or tree trunk and arrange its molecules accordingly, picking up the imprint of the bark or wooden surface so that if or when it resumed its saddle shape, there would be a texture to it, with markings like grooves on its surface that no saddle soap could wipe away. On these forays, the octo-saddle would try to dance. It picked up music from the thinnest vibrations in leaf cover, the low hum of mosses growing on abandoned stumps, the whispers of mushrooms pushing up through mulch and loam, and this music became a tune it hummed to itself as it made its way through the undergrowth or out into the fields past the barn. It moved like a ghost, a wraith, an ever-changing fog. When the moon rose in the evening, the octo-saddle would find a stationary spot and arrange itself there, with all the notes it held in its repertoire and compose them in greeting to the moon, softly at first and then in a crescendo as the moon rose higher into the sky.
Terry Blackhawk is the author of Escape Artist, winner of the 2003 John Ciardi Prize, The Light Between (Wayne State U. Press, 2012), three chapbooks and two other full-length poetry collections. She received the Springfed Arts Poetry Prize, the Foley Poetry Prize, and awards from Poetry Atlanta, The Marlboro Review and Nimrod International, which awarded her the 2010 Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize. In 2015 Blackhawk retired from Detroit’s InsideOut Literary Arts Project, which she founded in 1995. She is a Kresge Arts in Detroit Literary Fellow.