On the Horizon, A Small Rustle of Wings
and great conquering black eyes,
river water, a nest of kisses,
little puppets, mad with love.
Sighing, the evening curves her back
over the dark lilacs, rushes
on their pale vertebrae. Vaguely lit
by the summer moon, gods who bit
flowers of ink jostle together
between the oleander. The wind,
for more than a thousand years,
rudder and anchor, cared for
nothing at all. Backwards into sleep,
no longer myself, my white gown
covered with the bark of the boughs,
thin arms away in endless flight,
through this horror of space, clamouring
to know the skies, how the earth is.
In the head like a kick, the hidden window.
[cento using only phrases from various Rimbaud poems]
Bright as the gold they say runs in our veins,
my optic myopic, light coming in
too steep, like the angle of rain
bearing down on the Lake, blurring
whatever I hoped not to see,
lost in my own abstractions,
all the wrong answers to all the right questions,
prone to daydream and sloth,
wanting nothing but late summer nights
down on Rush Street, to loiter
with slacker guitar boys and hip jingly girls,
where middle-aged black men on gum-pocked
front stoops sit counting fistfuls of $2 bills,
flashes of heat lightning, street in my pulse,
my need to be different, my need to be normal,
a long-legged mirror boys saw themselves in,
but a mirror that I didn’t know,
a black-iris girl, all pupils
behind cat-eyed frames, thick lenses
reflecting the world, sand and salt,
20-20 for distance.
In mud up to their knees, fat hogs and Holsteins–
nothing wild here except green tornado skies.
And that’s the way we like it. More time
to chew the fat and scale a string of bluegills.
Though the air is cellar-damp, the sun unzips
pinched faces the way speedboats part the lakes
and St. Croix women break the law,
dare to wear illegal red shoes out in public.
Up North, scratchy-bearded old guys walk out
snow-grey from barroom shadows
where they’ve wintered with the memory
of old accordion waltzes wheezing in their chests.
We start to dance again, socks slipping down, down
flying from our hair, the autumn chaff
we’ve carried months falling from our pant cuffs.
At farmer’s market, cheese curds squeak
like happy mice and jars of honey glow like chunks
of amber. Not even bees can charm the rising rivers.
Back roads open, maybe getting us to Luck or Freedom,
but surely south of Winter to Berry and Black Earth.
St. Joseph’s Roller Rink
I never got the hang of pushing off smooth steel
on slippery wood, the sexy gliding side-to-side
and swinging around corners. The girls in gray felt
poodle skirts and Orlon sweaters, swiveling their hips,
leg over leg. The boys, faster, skating backwards,
hands tucked tightly in the pockets of black Chinos.
I never got the hang of that ball-bearing tango
on church-basement Friday nights, braking wheels
and broken hearts, accidental touching and insolent
scuffed toes. Even then I was for slick ice, the danger
of sharp blades, a sweaty-mittened waltz’s more subtle
lean and sway, the clean cold that took my breath away.
“Being 18” and “St. Joseph’s Roller Rink” will appear in The Map of What Happened, forthcoming from Backwaters Press.
Susan Elbe won the 2012 Backwaters Press Prize, and her collection, The Map of What Happened, is due out in September 2013. She is the author of Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Press), which won Honorable Mention for the Council for Wisconsin Writers Posner Poetry Book Award, and two chapbooks, Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press) and Where Good Swimmers Drown, winner of the 2011 Concrete Wolf Press Chapbook Prize. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in many journals and anthologies, including Blackbird, Diode, Nimrod, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and Salt Hill. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin where she and three other poets collaborate with the Chazen Museum of Art on the Bridge Poetry Series, a bi-annual series dedicated to bringing together Wisconsin poets of many different sensibilities and background to respond to the amazing art the Chazen offers.