Cooling Off in the Pavilion of Being Stripped Naked
from Ghost Painting
Yao Luan, Qing dynasty
Beside the stream, three leafless
trees hold out their branches
like witches’ fingers. It’s always
November in this other world,
even the trees stripped to the bark,
the bark smoothed, light failing,
winter eternally ahead of us.
Three angular ghosts climb out
of the water, straining toward the bank
where others wait their turn to cool off.
There is so little left to be removed
from these beings, none of them
clothed, their features and sex
left blank, their gestures
half-hearted. Perhaps only the desire
to return must still be rinsed off
so they can accept the end as an end,
a stillness, a look into empty glass
or a canyon so deep the floor
cannot be seen. The gallery is closing;
I go out into the snow that falls
through bare branches, erasing
distances, but still cold on my face
and the skin between sleeve and glove.
The sculptor had to cast her own hand
in plaster, her hand with its just-acquired
ring, to know what it felt like to be married.
The vows were not enough: she had to feel
her plaster hand in her hand of flesh,
feel it made new by this small round,
all five fingers curled to hold the things
she now reaches for, osage oranges
with their bumpy skins, unpalatable flesh;
arches on the underside of mushrooms
she’d gathered from the damp wooded paths.
These spheres and domes are not what
she used to mold. She has the photos: sharp
pointed things, broken things she made before.
Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting
She turns away, brush just touching the canvas—
her first stroke. She paints herself absorbed
in the craft she knows herself to have mastered.
For this enactment of her great passion, her breasts
are covered, brown apron over the green of a dress
that shimmers as she moves, showing off her skill
with a palette. The good light of a well-placed window
gleams on her cheek and brow, her forearm,
the sleeve pushed up to the elbow like any worker.
Last night I dreamed that I went up a gravel road
toward a room where she waited, somewhere in the mountains,
among fields of sunflowers the color of Mary Magdalene’s
penitent gown. In the dream we spoke, neither English
nor Italian. When I look in the mirror, she is there.
Jim Ann Howard
She led me down a path to where water
surged over layers of sedimentary rock,
stories told in the grammar of earth
and water, ochers and graphites:
floods, upheavals, the long miracle
of creation. And she told her own stories,
the time she found a gray bat, recently dead,
brought it into the kitchen so she could draw
the outstretched wings, ribbed like umbrellas,
its knee crooked, claws extended, soft fur
at the nape. It’s been years since we stood
together by the falls, the bat long dead. But here
it is again, in colored pencil and ink wash, as if
these wings could dance once more above the water.
Striding Horned Figure (Mesopotamia, ca. 3000 B.C.)
silent, you lead the way
between this world and another.
and water. You come and
go again, boots curled back over
unspeaking. Teach us to
count and to lose track, to climb and
and wide-eyed, show us how
you cross the fiery bridge, how you
and how you
stay behind when we have
all gone down, gone all the way down.
End of the Road
The taste of salt is in my memory
It’s between the street and the house
Lead to heaven.
We dug the marrow out of the bones,
spread it on rye bread as my father had done
when he was the child of the house.
The taste of salt is in my memory
and the fat that thickened my tongue.
Salt, fat, the yellow light of Sunday evening,
that hour between one week and the next,
between the street and the house;
light that overflowed our rooms
and turned the dark into something not light or dark.
We lived on a dirt road where a cow could wander, lost.
lead to the same crooked stones,
the same family names, half erased.
lead to heaven.
Susanna Lang’s most recent collection of poems, Tracing the Lines, was published in 2013 by the Brick Road Poetry Press. Her first collection, Even Now, was published in 2008 by The Backwaters Press, followed by a chapbook, Two by Two (Finishing Line Press, 2011). A two-time Hambidge fellow and a recipient of the Emerging Writers Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer’s Center, she has published original poems and essays, and translations from the French, in such journals as Little Star, New Letters, december, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Blue Lyra Review, Prime Number Magazine and Poetry East. Book publications include translations of Words in Stone and The Origin of Language, both by Yves Bonnefoy. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.