This Mirror Mine
How did I come to feel nothing
satisfies more than introspection?
Early I learned to cast nature
as simply costume, prop, prompt.
As a child, I thought the moon
followed me like a spotlight—
everywhere I was: illuminated;
everywhere I wasn’t: inconsequential.
Nothing’s challenged this perception;
the world’s a vivid distillate of self.
Look: this drop, this puddle, this sea
a mirror. This mirror mine.
The arc of my intention curves upon itself
like a nautilus shell; its direction—
ever inward-turning—is my gesture,
that of my generation, that of my time.
At four, shivering with fever, I bit through the thermometer slipped under my tongue. Mercury!
My mother’s anguish
washed over me
as I was rolled
onto my side,
a wet cloth
round her finger, she dug
through my mouth.
First memory of taste:
not the milky nipple, not
the spoonful of fruit,
but the icicle cool
of splintered glass
and the poison capillary
that runs through
every act of care.
The Obstetrician’s Wife
I often wonder on Sunday mornings
if the vacuum’s whine grates on you, my late sleeper,
my better half, physician, healer
who works the hose of a similar machine
in your green-walled office where the stiff paper’s
pulled over the exam chair after each luckless one
leaves a cleft heart of sweat for her ten minutes there.
I wonder if, at the end of the day, once
your assistant places the remainders in the canister
marked medical waste, you ever look inside and see
among the clots and sponges a blunted valentine
that could almost be a fist. Darling, if your chest
clenches at the memory of the day we crossed
through the February fields of two states
for my illegal scrape, remember this:
we did what we felt was right; we’ve borne its cost
with childlessness, and every year
we measure our loss.
the mirrored forest
crawls the mind
in concrete kneepads
in search of the soul
Toward a Doxology of Anguish
We knew the holy. It lived in the temple,
in the hymnal, in the minaret;
it dawned rosy-fingered on calendars,
sat fatly, thumbs to fingertips—a bronze lozenge.
And oh the chorus of hallelujah grotesques,
the ecstatics and the bleeding agonists!
Always with the holy goes the saint and the sinner
both righteous thought and horrible deed
in the name of . . . In the name of . . .
We knew the holy, the way to summon God,
its modest flame flickering in the stone bowl
in the gold and the gilt and the gilded,
in humble food and drink
arranged on vaguely pelvic dishes
for sacrifices, for offerings . . . the bells
buttering every rough surface. Bells appealing,
urging, easing God’s path to our village.
We knew holy madness and holy goodness
and the berm between them.
Now the choirs sing only to each other,
and murderers steal martyrs’ garments,
favoring bombs to bells.
Bombs swanned across continents,
bombs swathed like jewelry, swaddled like babies.
Pat for bombs, wand for bombs, palm bombs.
We knew the holy as we’ve come to know grief—
abiding companion. Grief labyrinthine.
Yet God endures. And God’s remove endures.
Leslie McGrath is a poet and essayist. Her poems have appeared in Agni online, Alimentum, Beloit Poetry Journal, DIAGRAM, Poetry Ireland, and elsewhere. McGrath also conducts literary interviews, which have appeared in the Writer’s Chronicle and on public radio. Winner of the 2004 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, her first collection of poetry, Opulent Hunger, Opulent Rage, was published in 2009. She is also the editor, along with Ravi Shankar, of Radha Says, the posthumous poetry collection of Reetika Vazirani, published by Drunken Boat Press. She is the former managing editor of Drunken Boat online journal of the arts. You can purchase her book here.