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Category archive for: Erin Belieu

In the Graveyard

Conceited boy, even here, in the angels’ waiting

room, where the dead win all the beauty

contests by default, you arrived with the sun

behind you, working your counterfeit halo,

true as a tin star. It’s a fine effect. But today,

for once, you take second to the ugly

jailbreak of azaleas rioting behind us, where

I kiss you again and we linger on the bench

of a long-gone husband’s plot. Though,

if you are what I think you are, with terrible

friends in sublime places, explain to me your

cold kind of heart, unmoved by the inappropriate.

Teach me to survive you. Tell me, what kind

won’t choose these awful flowers? Who

refuses this bleating, urgent pink?

from Black BoxFind it in the library

Copyright © 2006 Erin Belieu
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

In the Red Dress I Wear to Your Funeral (Section 7)

I was never your Intended,

never meant to be the official widow

like that plain, chinless girl I refused to recognize

or comprehend.


But the plain ones are patient, aren’t they?


I’ll admit, she’s earned her orchestra seats

at this burial the old-fashioned way.


She’s up front, next to your mama,

that Chanel commando baked medium-well

in her spray-on tan. A rare example

of a real Southern lady—how many nights

did it cost her, patrolling

the family compound for Jezebels like me?


Your women, dead man. From here

they look like two snap peas squatting

in the same pod.

And they did their job, didn’t they?

They made it easy for you?


But later, once the ladies go,

I’ll climb down to you again.


I’ll come to you in that dirty box

where we’ve already slept for years,

keeping our silent house

under their avalanche of flowers.

from Black BoxFind it in the library

Copyright © 2006 Erin Belieu
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

The Last of the Gentlemen Heartbreakers

Southern romantic that you always

were, what fallacy recalls you better

than the pathetic one?

If lightning fried a single swampy

pine anywhere south of Cincinnati,

you were gassing up the bagpipe and

drinking to your fallen comrade

before it hit the ground.

You had the knack I admire for self-

satisfaction, a gift for the dubious

backward—your cask of port in every

port and a woman in every storm.

Oh, True Love and Subject of My Late

Juvenilia, there wasn’t a ribald

particular I didn’t come to know:

the yoga instructress on Valentine’s Eve,

the xeroxed erotica files

arranged by body part. Did you think

you were the only mastermind with

a stoned cat purring on your lap, a loyal

death squad on retainer? Count it

a child’s Christmas miracle that I let

you live. Sources report you’re still

irresistible, a waltz-step elegy

with a showy limp, the same

theme-park pirate in a soiled black

patch, but why insist on covering

your good eye?

You know I don’t mean this,

as some girls say, in the bad way.

To be fair, you were generous with

a camellia and were born knowing

when to offer a lady your handkerchief.

from Black BoxFind it in the library

Copyright © 2006 Erin Belieu
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Rose Red

She never wanted the troll,

though, when freeing his beard

trapped in the bill of a circling bird,

when sliding her scissors through the soft

hairs at the nub of his chin, she did

think the shadow dropping from the gull’s

wings lent his face a certain ugly interest.

She never wanted the prince’s brother,

second prize to the elder, but just as vain,

with a woman’s soft hips and hands,

surrounding himself with mirrors and liking

her sister better anyway, her indiscriminate

sweetness; an ordinary fruit ripening

in a bowl displayed on a public table.

And she did not want the bear

their mother invited next to the fire,

though his stinking fur could make

her eyes and mouth water. Once, she devised

a way to lie beside him, innocently

at first, then not so, curled behind him,

running her thumbnail down his spine.

What she wanted, of course, was her own place in the forest,

where she would take the flowering trees

that grew outside her mother’s bedroom windowone

white, buxom with albino blossoms,

one red, smaller, with delicate, hooked thorns –

and plant them on opposite sides of her cottage,

watching each bloom fall as summer spoiled them.

from InfantaFind it in the library

Copyright © 1995 Erin Belieu
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

The Small Sound of Quiet Animals

The night returns humid, sweating through

the damp curtains, then settles at the baseboards,

beginning the pool of evening.

The single expensive vase, its tulip face now

dark, tilts odd-angled on the desk, asks

for the smallest provocation (it’s waited

all day to explode). You give it none.

Your cat is sleeping the shape of answers

into the only comfortable chair,

but let him sleep

because he dreams. His haunches shake.

See the smile of his bared teeth?

*

The man you lived with leaves a note

Scotch-taped to the lampshade. Gone to Minnesota.

Please feed myfish. Here’s fifteen dollars …

In bed, you smell his boots, leather and sweat

rising from the dark closet doorway.

You think of Blue Earth, Pemberton, Pipestone

and Mankato, his bike a white spot whistling

up the serpentine highway into Minnesota,

the fat, widowed farmers drinking anisette

in municipal bars. You think of their woman

and daughters, straight-backed, Nordic. How they

lie down like angels, Lutheran as the plains.

*

Something bangs in the radiator, heavier

than heat, reminds you how all things

speak, how small sounds come even

from quiet animals. A dresser drawer closes

rooms away. Your Jehovah landlord with a key

to the place? The sisters who fight

over men a floor below? You don’t fall

into sleep. No splash, no ripple

to disturb the surface. Kneel into the water,

watch the outline of your leg disappear,

then finger, forearm and elbow. Curl yourself

fetal on the empty bed. The shape of a fist.

from InfantaFind it in the library

Copyright © 1995 Erin Belieu
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Another Poem for Mothers

Mother, I’m trying

to write

a poem to you-

which is how most

poems to mothers must

begin -or, What I’ve wanted

to say, Mother… but we

as children of mothers,

even when mothers ourselves,

cannot bear our poems

to them. Poems to

mothers make us feel

little again. How to describe

that world that mothers spin

and consume and trap

and love us in, that spreads

for years and men and miles?

Those particular hands that could

smooth anything: butter on bread,

cool sheets or weather. It’s

the wonder of them, good or bad,

those mother-hands that pet

and shape and slap,

that sew you together

the pieces of a better house

or life in which you’ll try

to live. Mother,

I’ve done no better

than the others, but for now,

here is your clever failure.

from InfantaFind it in the library

Copyright © 1995 Erin Belieu
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

The Spring Burials

Violets growing through the asphalt mean

the usual of spring’s predicament:

how, busy getting born, still wings and green

will falter, twist, misgrow their management

and die. Violets grow on one curled leg,

a slender prop obliviously crushed,

and newborn birds are falling from their eggs,

still feathered wet and hidden in the brush

when you walk by. They die in spite of us;

in shoebox nests and jelly jars supplied

with best intentions. Bring them in the house,

then fuss, arrange things, feed them. Occupy

yourself with worms and eyedroppers, sunlight

and potting earth. You’ll bury them in days,

feel silly in your grief. And still you’ll sit

a moment on the blacktop, study ways

to save an unimportant, pretty weed

or bird. You’re still a fool –a fool to bend

so sentimentally and fool in deed,

assuming you know better. Spring is kind.

from InfantaFind it in the library

Copyright © 1995 Erin Belieu
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

On Being Fired Again

I’ve known the pleasures of being

fired at least eleven times—

most notably by Larry who found my snood

unsuitable, another time by Jack,

whom I was sleeping with. Poor attitude,

tardiness, a contagious lack

of team spirit; I have been unmotivated

squirting perfume onto little cards,

while stocking salad bars, when stripping

covers from romance novels, their heroines

slaving on the chain gang of obsessive love—

and always the same hard candy

of shame dissolving in my throat;

handing in my apron, returning the cash-

register key. And yet, how fine it feels,

the perversity of freedom which never signs

a rent check or explains anything to one’s family.

I’ve arrived again, taking one more last

walk through another door, thinking “I am

what is wrong with America,” while outside

in the emptied, post-rushhour street,

the sun slouches in a tulip tree and the sound

of a neighborhood pool floats up on the heat.

from One Above and One BelowFind it in the library

Copyright © 2000 Erin Belieu
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Bee Sting

With bees, it isn’t the sting itself

but the unprovoked attack

that lingers.

How unfair to walk unwary, barefoot

on hot concrete, simply

pleasuring your feet,

or stepping down on a beach towel

only to be assaulted by the small plot

of something you meant no harm to.

That first pain is learned the hard way:

at five, you call

all-y, all-y, all come free

singing blind into a hive

hidden in the swing-set’s pole, then fall

what seemed the longest

fall; a cloud of bees flowered from your lips.

And later, put to bed with ice

and ointments melting over

the welts that covered you,

there was no explaining the bees’

behavior, no way to comprehend the reason

in their rage. You may never understand

this: the will behind the stinger,

a certain, fatal anger to survive.

from InfantaFind it in the library

Copyright © 1995 Erin Belieu
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

My Field Guide

I’ve never bothered with the names of flowers,

though now I’d like this expertise to call

them out to you as we hike in.

But I would want their true names, not

the guide’s all-classifying explanations:

for yellow simple-shaped or odd-

belled purple cluster, I’d rather plump-girl-

shaking-her-hair-out-in-the-shower,

and violet-prom-dress-circa-1960.

Or better yet, I’d have the words

that droning bee has just now written at

the throat of lakeside goldenrod. They must

be intimate—see how he calms between her?

His body, only evolution’s hunt

for agitation, yet the way he gentles at

her feathered mouth. Let’s call that… what?

Biology is obvious. Or choose

another name. No matter how you speak,

what language we might settle on,

the woodpecker won’t stop her rhythmic knocking

inside the arms of tamarack,

and we’ve arrived at birds and bees again.

But nothing is as simple, is it?

from One Above and One BelowFind it in the library

Copyright © 2000 Erin Belieu
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.