width=61 height=87> Voracious Verses


Janet Sylvester
featured poet


After the October sky’s unbleached-fabric color
above the Federal Building and God’s snapshot
of me and the bankruptcy lawyer shaking hands,
after a palmful of flawed diamonds sold 
to a slick-haired salesman, certificates of deposit
canceled and debts discharged, there was still the cat 
confined, for the first time, to the house, and he 
wanted out. Nose-to-the-crack-in-the-door out.  
the-carpet-from-beneath-the-lintel out. 
meowing-turned-into-a-grating-howl out.  
So we would go.

Had I not let him stop to sniff the dead end 
of every branch beside the path that climbs 
around the knotted veins of the maples, the hill
littered with plastic, amber glass, and a quick worm 
levering its length onto a leaf,  he wouldn’t, in
increments of days, have led me to the meadow,
a dead seminary’s yard, over-grown, free
in lowering dark.  I had the city, its panoramic
scroll I didn’t know I’d find, and the cat,
  jog-trotting as if the walk were something
he had to do for urban me—close-reading
a tree’s hollow and the blackberry canes’ 

unaesthetic tangle he’d belly-crawl beneath 
and turn around, composed, to look at me.  

I started to clean, picking up a can or two 
each day, something to do while businessmen 
advanced toward polished cars in guarded lots.   
Like commerce, I expanded, collecting oxidizing 
springs, socks, a tie, in rain that needled dust to lace.  
We were nearly happy:  the cat gnawing 
on grass that he might not throw up, the leaking 
braille of poison ivy blind in its advance 
across my arch.  In birdsong and its counterpoint, 
the hourly bus’ diesel grind, the two of us were 
private,  hermeneuts behind a broken building.  

Someone, driving west into the Berkshires late 
those afternoons, could never have seen or even 
dreamed us: on an orange leash, a woman 
deep in rubbishy thoughts, walked by a gray tabby 
through waste land the Mass Pike passes:  how, 
as the rain came harder, and she bent to lift him,  
the warm world twisted in her arms.

© 2007 Janet Sylvester

Previously Appeared in:
Poetry Daily, May 9, 2006, 
Georgia Review, Vol. LIX, No. 4


Baby, for a long time, has been reading
A Short History of Modern Philosophy,
It doesn't console her. Marxism's lasting
value doesn't console her. The death 
of timelessness into history 
can't console her self, self, self,
aware, alienated, realizing. She accumulates, 
like surplus value, years recorded 
on a driver’s license.  Too much 
wonderful self to go around, 
she goes around, a fit of pique 
and torque.  She hopes for a modish personality 
disorder, and poof, her wish is granted.
Her shrink, forgiveably, yawns. The sound 
of Baby’s love's a ticking escalator
in an empty airport somewhere in Bahrain.
Now Baby yawns. The sound of her love's
the infinitesimal wrinkling of a teabag 
drying in a saucer in the 12th Arrondisement.  
The sound of her love's the whirling death 
of a moth in a web strung between branches 
of sagebrush in Utah. Baby doesn’t want to:
a) Change.  b) Not change.

A blue, not cerulean--ultramarine--
deepens her.  The sound of her love
is the glide of notes in the throat of a thrush
beside an abandoned barn in New Hampshire.

Listen up, boys:  Baby 
is not a Mommy; Baby’s a baby.
She puts the entire world into her mouth:
she tastes a leaf, the satin glide 
of taupe in a nightgown, the moss 
and rust of light,  thirst, which is closed, 
hunger’s blood-tinged tongue 
and beating heart.  Why is Baby’s word.
She yelled it out the window of the car 
when she was eight. Naked in morning sun 
in an arroyo, she slid it into a rattlesnake. 
She stroked it into the small of the back
of every man she loved, breathed it 
on the eyelid of her stillborn daughter, caught it, 
catches it still, between her teeth 
at academic meetings.  She's filled with the surplus 
value of this feeling. Hours of unpaid labor 
accumulate with textile slowness, lengthening 
like Bruges lace, a halo of candle flame 
illuminating her as she yawns.

The sound of her love is one dark look.
It could go on and on.  
Baby considers object-relationships.
Baby considers the wing and the blade.
Rain-soaked, she’s marked, the curve of an ache.

The sound of her love is astral dust.
The sound of her love is molecular water
caught in salt in a meteor billions of years ago.

This, by the way, is not a love poem.
Love's expensive, she says, 
Love is just way too expensive.
When she’s in it, she’s a pig in dirt.
When she’s in it, she's a wagonload of devils.
 Poor baby.  
A mirror teardrops onto Baby’s brow,
across her cheekbones, into the indent
above her upper lip, along her hands.

Once upon a time’s hidden geometry,
which Baby intuited rather than knew
in the endless deferral system called her mind,
Baby met a stranger.  She shook the stranger
up and down; she tapped its sternum
she listened at its head (which rattled slightly);
dog-like, devoted, she dragged it like a doll 
by one arm, back and forth, 
back and forth.  She dragged it
into a village built around a garden.
Svelte with tears, she laid it down.  
Weak with power, she opened and closed 
its eyes, smoothed its fingers, kissed 
its little hands.  "Ein Mann 
und eine Frau," the tune wafted 
out of a summerhouse near Prague.
She crossed the song, a metaphor, a footbridge 
giving up its distance. She kept 
walking. It was a sing-along. She sang:
Spit and sinew, gauze on water, 
the law of beauty rude in a world of kitsch.

The doll, which she had almost forgotten,
took on weight.  It sweated at her effort,
pulled her to her knees.  She aimed
one well-placed slap
at its painted face. It aimed one 
well-placed slap at hers.
Counter-weights, they used each other. 
They rose.  Oh dear, it was much, 
much taller than she, now 
a man where they played at statues.  
Baby spun and froze, hands on her hips.
The man continued to spin. A spinning 
penny, he defined one edge.
Baby, not a dissimulator, hoped:
a) He’d save himself. b) 
In the parking lot of the Mall of the Emotions, 
he’d sink forever into spewy asphalt.
He stopped.  The thought he thought she thought
was not the thought she thought she thought. 
Why, said Baby.  He watched her:
not with the gaze of an infinite number 
of eyes (which Baby was growing used to),
not with the gaze of the eyes of many friends
(those she would recognize),
not with the gaze of one in love 
(that's presence), but with the gaze of one 
who’s absent (who lives in imagination).	

Baby, used to being top banana
in the shock department, waited.  
She was at his mercy; he, at hers.
In me thirsts, he said.  
Starved out, Baby bathed
in the fog of the phrase.  Talk English,
she complained. At this, he smiled 
like a Czechoslovakian novel. Why?
said Baby. At this he smiled like a Roman 
pastry powdered with gold.  Baby
was no longer yawning. At this 
he smiled like an Aztec priest jacklit 
by luxury. 

                       And so, dear listener,
our tale concludes at its decisive moment
on a dirt lane in a foreign country 
under trees studded with leaves large 
and star-shaped,  beside a fountain 
weeping gardenias into the fizzy 
early evening air. Baby 
is a fresh horse on a lead line.
Baby 's a wagonload of language.
Baby is your surplus in a world 
of labor hard and unremarkable.
Baby is what’s left over, 
when you go home. The sound 
of her love is your sleep.

© 2007 Janet Sylvester

Previously Appeared in:
The Pushcart Prize Anthology XXVIII, Bill Henderson, ed.  New York:  The 
Pushcart Press, 2004 and Seneca Review, Vol. XXXII, No. 2, Fall 2002.

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