Fall 2016, Volume 21

Poetry by Susan Grimm

Soldiers of Delight or Drinking with a Straw (Breathless)

First
Then we were birds or fish. We threw ourselves in
with our shadowy limbs and our perfect trust
in the waves. Always looking past Mouse Island
where the house burnt. Out to the prickle of trees
we could barely see. Cockscomb on the horizon or maybe
just comb. A scouring of air on water. The restless thrust
of the body in low flight. We lay on the rocks
on striped towels, the sun beating us brown and red.
Articulated on the beach of fragments, everything breaking
then smoothed, as we breathed in  the world.

Later
Each object with its own darkness, wavering. We sat
in a blind, studied tracks and signs around. It was not
hunger. Speckling of sun and sough of pines. Do we
smell ash, rain, a gamy satchel of skin moving
through the brush. Was it silence filling our heads
with featherings of white. A bird call like a minor key
comma. Swept clean for an hour. The clouds condense.
Things pared away with our hunting knife. Taut neck
of the bow. Compass needle of the gun. We can fish
in the woods for a long time. Bring nothing home.

Later 2
Composition with pink-flowered bush to my right.
Old outdoor chairs with criss-cross straps. The birds
have nothing to do with me. On the water, stripes
of waves, striped rocks underneath. You random
fishing pole. You random motor boat. What I want
is to let go of meaning. What I want is to measure
no thing. Dark kernel of brain melting. Antic wing
action of a single duck. Broken, opposite. Made
dreamy by indifference to line. The lake underlies
all things. The slurry of clouds turning to steam.

Tessera/Smalto or Underfoot

Cave canem should be the message of all mosaics—
canines, fur, the pursuing hot breath—even as the pebbles

assemble an unblemished, mortared path. It’s curiosity’s
result as affirmed by the bear in the woods. What’s looming
 
to finish us as if we lived in a Stephen King novel (and
maybe we do)—varnish, vanquish spelled out in small

bits. I strike a pose, adjust my red scraps of cloth.
Imitate the bikini girls emerging from their seven

hundred year mud bath. Stone bone glass. Trying
to cast my net wide, I find I have no net. I’d like to

write a poem someone could break a tooth on. I’d like
to write a poem that would last as long as a floor. Cold

rug. Painstaking. A version. Segments of a letter, halo
pieces, fingernail of a saint. I start out thinking

this is not about the drop of water lost in the sea. Ivory
shell bead. Discernible. But the shoulders of the world

squeeze us to regular shape. I emulate the bikini girls,
their pose of unconcern. The eyes glinting, the heart.

Abbreviation

It was not that we didn’t see Aunt Millie,
her large, large hands, her hair like a river
of red. I’m sure she would have grown it long

as she was tall (but she wasn’t and we saw
that) if she could. Standing in her pink smock,
looking out the shop window, always

on her feet (so taller) with her arms
lifted, adding gold and flame to the dim,
a walking philosopher’s stone. To wake up

behind the egg shell of her face, feel
our heart beat beneath our brief carapace.
What were her pleasures in a life too short

for mirrors hung naturally? Condensed beneath
her Chinese watered silk coat, a sometimes
affectation to match her narrow eyes,

she had no need to consult the rich tapestry
of dread sewn in by proverbs. Even if she saw
a dark stranger—standing in the shop window

looking out over the roaring dryer heads—
he’d never untangle the intricate knots
of her frog ties, although she embodied

all diminutives. Any shadow in the street
has eaten the sun, might wheedle the breath
from our lungs under water or topple the market

(she had her little packet of stocks). Shortcut
on the road to fortune, bearing it in the hunch
of her back, ladies reborn in her chemical steam—

her beauty was in repetition. To wake up
behind the egg shell of her face, feel our heart
beat beneath our brief carapace. In her shoes?

(She had a china collection.) Her sweet-loving
biscuit-blood mouth, its twist, grotesquerie
smoothed under a blouse is transmutable
                                                                                                             
only by her. Not a symbol of some brusque
union  of Vulcan and Venus—forged
or dreamed. In this story  only their two letters

join like birds’ wings and fly her away.

 

 

 

BIO: My poems have been published in Poetry East, The Cincinnati Review, The Journal, and Blackbird. My chapbook Almost Home was published in 1997. In 2004, BkMk Press published Lake Erie Blue, a full-length collection of my poems. In 2010, I won the inaugural Copper Nickel Poetry Prize. In 2011, I won the Hayden Carruth Poetry Prize and my chapbook Roughed Up by the Sunís Mothering Tongue was published. I started blogging at The White Space Inside the Poem in 2012. In 2014, I received my second Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Grant.