She rose out of the grassy sea
on roots so thick I could walk up them.
Into her great arms I’d climb to float away, surrounded
by watery branches, lost to sight
and far from the house tipping
with shrieks and mutters.
The hard bark would suture my skin. My nails splintered.
I had to earn my way into the drift,
pull the map from each gnarl, knot, eddy –
to reach the split, and lower myself onto her neck.
Curls of wind would wander my edges.
There were insects to inspect, soft shuffles in the leaves.
I’d stay until the yard turned blue, and cool loosened my grip
then shiver all the way down, my thin legs tender in the growing dark.
When I let go, and fell the last bit,
when the earth churned up toward me, stunned
I’d become a stranger again –
called back to the land I came from.
You hold me like I hold my own heart.
Night curtains toward you
Bedclothes gather themselves
Around the prayer we make together.
Writers give night the taste of the sea
As if the sea could run up and out
Of itself, as if you could handle all that
Complete and great need. As if you wanted
The depth it threatened. Pablo Neruda
Is dead, my friend, and Cuba a memory.
What I remember are the hungry
Little dogs in the streets. That’s not true –
It was the frankness of sex. Of course,
We aggrandize all the wrong things;
That’s the effortless journey of the past.
What can I do to delight you? Would you
Like this wrapped or will you take it with you?
The hundred starlings of desire lift and bank
Above our bed. Is it the bed or you I swim
To? I’ll learn to measure your color
And texture, your good legs. Even as the bed
Closes its face, as our house stills and gathers.
Still Life with Light Drift
after Spencer Reece
When the river has turned into a flickering constellation
When the streets’ historical bricks darken under our feet
When the restaurant’s window awakens with miniature stars
When our uncomplicated chairs are pulled from the table that is now our table
When the candle pulses its notification
When the waiter’s blue apron, workers in their kitchen, the refracting lines
Of silver knives in the glassware tremble and tune themselves
We begin to say thank you in different ways to each other
We place the brined and oiled olives in our mouths, their memory of
sea and volcanic ash now inside us
Outside the moon waits like a lover’s back in the night and we lay the menu
of wines to the side
The old Italian walks over to us, places his large hands on the shoulders of our chairs
He begins to announce the things he has saved in his head for us
Our throats open a little, for all the specials
Those we know, and those which are new
Some of the News
after Arthur Sze
I think we’re all supposed to protect and serve.
Today I dressed again for what you call yogurt
But did not go. I took a phone call instead,
Ate dinner in the morning, then watched you rumble
Through the house and leave. Before you,
I loved a man who only spoke truth from miles away
And before that I loved a man who reused me. Once
we walked on Lake Shore Drive frozen free of cars
And once we journeyed through a jungle while monkeys
Roared from the tops of trees, spider webs too thick
To break. A blue butterfly the size of my hand opened
In front of us. There were so many birds. At the end
Of the day we tell each other stories about people
Being tender in surprising ways. Often you’ve seen
Them online. I ask you to hold me after I read some
Of the news and you always do.
Valerie Wallace lives in Chicago. She earned her MFA in creative writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is on the editorial board of RHINO and advisory board of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Valerie was selected for the Atty Award by Margaret Atwood and has received an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award and the San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference Poetry Award. Her chapbook The Dictators’ Guide to Good Housekeeping is available from dancing girl press.