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  • Poem of the Day: The Bones of August

    Not to go backward,
               not to watch the women
    peddling in reverse past the church,

                         the priest in his black habit
           receding from the chapel door.

    Not to go backward,
               the bones of August
    becoming the bones of March,

                         branch of dogwood
          picked clean by frost.

    Not to say Yes
               when asked the question
    all women wait to hear,

                            Are you anything
          like your mother?

    Not to be photographed in her dress
               like a saint
    carrying the instrument of her martyrdom,

                         Agnes, and her try
          of breasts—

    or to throw the bouquet into the grave
                where Bartholomew hides
    with his bloody knife.

                           Not to burn
           half the house down—

    and build half the house up.
               Not to forgive
    the bad child

                          when even the bad house
           is forgiven. Not to care,

    not to carry the bones of August
                into September, foiled with redness
    and nothing to squander

                         but the buds of spring
            dormant in their boughs.

    Not to ask, Did you
               love her? and leave
    the answer in the ground,

                         where everything difficult
           is buried.


    Attend the dead,
               then welcome the bride—
    backward, as Jews do,

                          reading Hebrew,
          right to left.

    First the mourning,
              then the celebration.
    Backward, taking off

                          the beautiful face
          of forgetting,

    two names with the same face—
              all this time
    a woman waiting inside me

                         to marry.
            Invisible, impermanent,

    windmill girl in her cage
               of breath,
    insect girl in her element:

                         impenetrable shell,
         putting on

    the beautiful face of forgetting—
                 Fury        Sybil      Isis
    one of us

                            wakes in her
           graveyard of guilt,

    filamentary as fiber optics,
               one of us sleeps on
    in the temple, lulled

                            by the metronomic
          pulse of longing—

    Did you love her? Are you anything?
                 That other girls is dead.
    That other girl is dead.

                             What else can be said
            about that other girl?


    Same as mine,
              skin of her hands
    laid over the ivory bones,

                           dark map
           of the body—          Yes—

    it was dark,
              but I was darker
    on the inside.

                          When she was young
          she was “a great beauty,”

    in the same sense
              that “a roomful of adults”
    is rarely ever.

                          I was never
          like her, flattered

    like a map
               under glass,
    slender as an axle

                         in a turbine—
          enigma relic:

    feet of steel, legs of wood,
               cabinet of curiosity.
    Even her reflection

                           in a spoon
           was beautiful.


    Labor into longing:
               wild enthusiasm
    of the dynamo engine

                        working in reverse—
         more power

    in the leaf of a flower
              than the paw of a bear.
    Is it necessary

                          to remember
          absolutely everything?

    Golden hour on the birch-
              brailled bark,
    weathered barn stacked

                          with malignant logs,
          sweet mulch

    of aether /ore
               in the morning air.
    We hung drapes

                           over the mirrors,
         they were flowered, too—

    her bouquet a cabbage,
               assembled by a florist
    from 120 roses

                         Incandescent light
           flattened their petals,

    made lace of their thorns.
              Uncanny—nothing in nature
    so rigid,

                       nothing more harmful
         than her rare affection.


    August: honeymoon at Niagara,
               water shut off—
    bad luck.

                          Two bodies,
          a man’s and a woman’s

    found face-
               down in the mud
    at the bottom of the gorge.

         on the cliffs above,

    Tesla’s alternating current station,
    in its pure machinery,

                         honeyed, lunar magnets
         waiting in their sockets

    for the current to resume.
               Enough about friction:
    this is about two bodies

                         at the end of America,
          repelling each other

    under the polar rush of water,
              generating their own distance
    over time. Is it history

                          or home
           that hurts us more?

    Did she look into the gorge
                as into his face
    when she said Yes

                          to see the downpour,
             even when it was damned?


    Nothing in me wasted,
               a use for grief, even.
    I wore it on my left hand.

                           I was married to it.
           I planted myself

    in the dirt:
              alphabets grew up
    from the bones of my feet.

                        I drowned my heart
          in the lake.

    Black hole, such vanity—
               navigating the ear canals
    like so many gondoliers

                          trolling the watery streets
            looking for someone

    to sing to. Beautiful
               fisherman who fished
    my heart out of its lake—

                          I did not die. I revived.
          I wore her face on my fingers

    when I dug up my joy
               up from the ground, singing:
    Oh wooden coffin, woman’s body,

                             boulder at home
          in its stone skin.


    Yes, then, to all of it: to the drowned
                sea urchins, porcupines spined,
    and the black-brain

                          coral that sleeps
             on the ocean’s floor,

    ruinously blue. Yes
               to the vultures that roost
    above the waterfall,

                           that don’t
           surrender their nests

    at our dissolution,
              and to the bones that do.
    To remember is to open

                          one door
          after another

    all along
              the white corridor
    to say Yes when asked,

                            Are you anything?
          Did she love you?

    To go forward
                is to surrender
    the necklace of tears she gave me—

                         this failed body
         with my name on it.

    Robin Ekiss, “The Bones of August” from The Mansion of Happiness. Copyright © 2009 by Robin Ekiss. Reprinted by permission of The University of Georgia Press.

    Source: The Mansion of Happiness(University of Georgia Press, 2009)

    Robin Ekiss

    More poems by this author


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