I don’t remember when I stopped
not believing in God. I was afraid
to tell anyone for fear I would be seen
as weak and foolish, believing again
in something my own father had said
was malarkey. So the exact day or hour
eludes me. No falling-down-in-the-road
revelation like Saint Paul’s. One day
I was in trouble, and before I could think
to stop it, prayer poured from my lips.
I promised God I would do anything
if only He would help me, and, slowly,
He helped me. You might accuse me
of having confused God with time,
something else invented out of need
to make the world seem meaningful.
All I know is that I stopped not believing.
I read books to help me regain the old
disbelief, so comforting in its reason.
But then I would look up at the light
in the coast live oaks, or a hummingbird
at the feeder above the roses,
or the wall of books I knew as well
as most friends, and gratitude exceeding
measure came. It was the same as God
within my heart. And where my father
would have scorned, I smiled
because all the vacancy was gone.
To My Rapist
You’re old by now, moving heavily,
too weak to hold anyone by the throat
or flee. Desire still comes in a rush
yet quiets fast. You imagine
hunting the dark streets for
lone women or unlocked doors,
but you’re old. Tired. Something
like pity might arise if I saw you.
I might think, Forgive him. But then
I would remember all of it again,
your hands at my throat, the pillow
case over my head, my breath hard
to get. Then my screams, your
Shut up or I’ll kill you.
So no pity: none, at all. Nothing
but the hope that suffering
has come to you, left you shaking
with cold, comfortless.
That you remember me, so still
underneath you I might be dead
from trying to force you away.
Things She Would Never Do
She would never cut the kids into pieces
and make them into stew to serve him,
smiling when he exclaimed how delicious.
She would never publish his diary
as an artifact of the betrayer.
She would never extract portions
of said diary to embed in letters to the kids.
She would never say more than hello
or goodbye to the new wife,
not even when the new wife became
the old wife and sought her sympathy.
She would never forgive him.
She would never cut his face
out of photographs though she did
lay them face down in the bottom
of a drawer. She would never
speak his language, the language
she’d learned their first year together,
without feeling her lip curl over the word
love. She would never re-open
the books they had read together.
She would never forgive him.
She would never forgive him.
She would never stand stunned
like someone in mud and desolation
thinking the storm could have struck
anywhere, anywhere, why here.
She would know the answer: nature.
His nature: bent to its own advance.
She would never stop recovering.
The Great Verb
Then the great verb made its way through
the heart: undo. It coursed, it traveled
the many miles of the circuit many times
a day, a kind of taunt, a kind of postscript:
There’s nothing you’ve done you can undo.
Since life wasn’t a braid or hooked rug.
A puzzle or zipper, a snap. And what I’d done
began to write itself in the lines of my face,
the lines between the lines of letters
I wrote and never sent. Apologies, pleas
for the forgiveness some things lie beyond.
And every night I lay still while the dark
stitched itself around me, stitched,
stitched its invisible thread
I could never grasp to undo.
A bad year, astral bodies moving perilously close
while the two of us held course
like separate planets.
I’d be standing on the back steps
looking up for a bit of sky
and I’d dizzy, as if I were on the last
of a cliff, feeling my sole slip, my ankle
give. Then I’d stoop for the morning news.
Or I’d watch while his eyes said nothing,
grey sky going back and back to where
I never asked. The thing about rifts
is how quietly they come,
sometimes without words so that afterward
it’s hard to name the moment they go
I think I hoped for physical signs, scar tissue,
esophageal burns, something terrible
to tell when it was over.
But all that happened was rift.
It amazed me, how much more space there could be
though everything looked the same,
the furniture, the rooms,
my clothes that went on fitting.
Arcturus glittering above a harvest moon
in the in-between hour when dawn
pulls its pink and gold from the black
of night, magic trick we take for granted—
for granite, my students said, as if things
we all assume get written in stone.
As I climb up the mountain, the veins
of granite washed open by the hurricane
gleam like scattered bones. Everything
resembles something else: that’s how
we know it’s still the world. I imagine
climbing into the boat, crossing the river
soundlessly—silent oars, silent helmsman,
silent travelers. If the dead could return,
we might not comprehend their language.
But maybe it’s written all around us:
leaf rot, log rot, broken stone, dust.
I don’t know what else to tell you.
Not wanting someone to die is a longing
that travels the world like wind. On nights
warm enough to keep windows open,
it blows through the dark houses.
Cold nights, it slides down the chimney
or in through the cracks. Air. Air.
Lynne Knight is the author of four poetry chapbooks and four full-length poetry collections, the most recent of which, Again, appeared from Sixteen Rivers Press. Her work has appeared in a number of journals, including Kenyon Review, Poetry and Southern Review. Her awards and honors include publication in Best American Poetry, the Prix de l’Alliance Française 2006, a PSA Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, the 2009 RATTLE Prize, and a 2009 NEA grant. I Know (Je sais), her translation with author Ito Naga of his Je sais, appeared in 2013. She lives in Berkeley, California.
Lynne Knight at Sixteen Rivers Press
Wonderful feature. The poems left me breathless, as did the art.