(Edgar Allan Poe’s mother, Eliza, and his wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, both died of tuberculosis and at the same young age of 24. At Virginia’s death and upon the realization he had no image of her, Edgar commissioned an artist to paint her corpse.)
“How grace does guide your hand, Mr. Frye—
To limn her back to life, the chestnut hair,
the sacred lily whiteness.”
His voice flaps in the lamp-dark,
a moth roused from a fold of brocade.
Has he no heart for the dead, for me,
Sissy, whose chin he has horribly let sink,
when in time he always tilted it
to set my eyes on even plane with his,
stooping at bedside to read my poem
as if to loosen me from iron breath:
“Love will heal these weakened lungs…”
But the verses failed in mid-air,
too faint for the brazen dark.
He wiped my scarlet mouth,
pleading as if he were the child
who once buried curls
in his mother’s sodden breast.
Tonight I fear he is not Eddy,
pacing like a beast, his rough hands
draping my shoulders in a marble pose,
bloodstains in the sheets like strangled roses.
God, do not let him stroke me to half-life,
the flat crepuscular light a mask on my face,
gravid eyeballs aching under lids,
fingers that once brushed his noble cheek
now wrested into my lap.
He means to keep me safe in the gilt frame,
to encrypt the undersound of heaving lungs:
his mother wrack’d in a maze
of blackened blood he cannot flee,
the smothering candle-smoke wavering
like his own vaporous small shadow.
“Make haste, Mr. Frye, before dawn breaks—
Seal the lowered gaze, the ivory neck—
Embalm with paint her beauty,
let her frozen mouth ring for joy!”
(Published in Edgar Allan Poe Review, Autumn 2013)
Leaf aloft and spirit of leaf:
bird notes thread the trees with the gold-tinted
breeze taking off to set the woods aflame
while the swamp lies sleeping in cypress dark,
the knobs like gnomes assembled to keep the spell
so none can wake the frogs and set them glugging.
Down to the mudflats crawling with mud crabs
and fiddlers waving their same languid claws for eons
as it was in Grendel’s day, coming up out of the fen.
Borne by the tide to range the sea plains, pelicans skim
the breaking swells; the sky bends low in a silver streaming
reach to the edge where the last leaf floats and falters.
(from Hungry Foxes)
I haven’t talked to you about
a dark space I dug up.
Clods and rocks I can pick out of soil,
blue-veined clay I can nourish;
weeds, yank up; shade, cut back.
hollow where no seed is meant to grow
astounds. I go back to basics,
trusting my hands to find the dirt
as it always was, humid and maternal,
easily worked to hatch seeds,
breach of earth voids every breathing
speck so that the spade of my hand
weighs more than death, and the leaves
I touch are stillborn. Tell me,
must I keep tending, must I
blank into myself and vanish,
or is the hole an entrance
into some new ground that is yet
familiar, tilled and fertile, vast
as my loss, tenderly sown with
See Luke Hankins’ review of this poem in the Christian journal In Touch.
“When others are sleeping, mine eyes are weeping.”
In the beginning she was called often
to relate scenes of blood and flame
from the Tenth of February,
with the goodwives crying to hear her tell
of her dead child turned under barren dirt
and left alone on a hill as she was led away—
and how she marked with scripture each remove:
the camp of snow and fever, the swamp of sinking,
the ground where Praying Tom dangled white fingers,
the begging from fire to fire for any niche against
the frozen black void she read as inscrutable love,
for her mind, forged on Calvin, would not bend
though sometimes, in the starved light before day
she would hear the child pleading for water,
pleading from just over the ridge,
and she would cry out, her wits unlashed
as stars withdrew their nets,
but her legs failed her, snared by sleep.
(What mercy, she would later say,
to quell her madcap flight and fiery fate.)
This telling of her inmost trial she came to fix in print,
could hardly believe it was she herself there in the tent
slabbering over a horse’s foot snatched from a child
or swearing in the face of pagan taunts–how is it
she secretly craves that state even now as others sleep,
a manic flame to burn the ordered words,
the syntax that gives shape to every scream..
I’ll be reading from Hungry Foxes as well as a selection of new poems and would love to see you there. The reading is at VWC in Norfolk from 11:00-11:50 a.m. in the Pierce Hospitality House in the Batten Center.