artwork: ralph murre
by Susan Elbe
, no one
can sleep. Utah
Millions of crickets five inches deep
trill like frenzied schoolgirls
speaking in tongues. In
, New York
tripped alarms slam the air.
Someone wrenches open a hydrant
and blistering streets sizzle with steam.
Here, the heat leaches you of story
and radiance. Hard work, this
mucking through silence and sleep
so seamless no dream can unzip it,
not even an old ghost to tear at its threads
with long fingernails of memory.
This is how you want it—summer
forever, the sky, blue and lucent
as the moonstone of a baby’s eyes
and clean, white sheets
you lie down on at night,
someone outside on his way home,
whistling an old tune—
See the pyramids along the
Nile. . .
while you slowly cross
the wobbly bridge to sleep
and somewhere behind clouds,
the dog star drops
off the edge of this cockeyed earth.
This is how it is—at 2 a.m. still 80°,
the air murky with dank breath
and fishy lake smell. The carp moon
belly-flopped in the sky. A lignin
of sweat cements you to the sheets.
Angled with shadow, the street
shifts like dream, turns a different face.
Stalling neon thips and fizzles, faded
to the hollow-heart pink of strawberries.
Toward morning, blue crackle, thunder,
rain pattering through the leaves
like a small dog’s toenails on linoleum.
That dumb darling, your huge need,
lazy and bloated with heat, lies
beside you, panting in its thick pelt of fur.
The cicadas and light this morning
rattle in the leaves like brass keys.
Last night’s rain trickles
from the eaves in long, silver strings.
Shucking sweet corn,
your fingers are slippery with silk.
Daddy longlegs traipse in all the corners.
Already so much starts to fall away
from the deep green, too-lush days
that prickle like stiff crinoline.
Imagine 20 years from now. Then,
with luck, 20 more. Loss is a dry well,
empty pocket. It needs filling.
Not yet dusk, not yet
the underwater-blue time,
but the brief half-hour after sunset
when you glow inside out,
your slow-finned heart leaping
clear of fear, worry, what holds it
to this fraught world.
You give the devil his due
each time you care too much
about what doesn’t matter.
Something dark unwinds, snakes
up into the windrowed light.
Nothing keeps in this weather. Tomatoes
wrinkle and split. Cucumbers soften
and snap beans rust. Salt won’t pour.
The first dream in weeks begins.
God asks me what I want.
I say I’m lonely. Give me poems.
I’m hungry. Can I have the moon?
I say nothing is enough. Let me live
forever this life that exhausts
and scares me witless, yet brings me
daily to my knees in thanks.
But God turns up the underside of a leaf
and there’s death, riding
like a soft cocoon along the vein.
~ first published in CALYX