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Category archive for: Lisa Olstein

The Famed Clipper Is in Flames

Kissing is an experiment

we’ve already tried but

there remains more to learn.

We’re amnesiacs.

We know and forget steadily

like a clock returning its hands

to move in circles across its face.

Once, the river ran red

with dye the factory let go.

Once, an assassin breached

the saffron gates. You appeared

without warning. I was a lamb

in a field, two and a half days.

Soon, a ship would carry us away.

A ship carried me here.

from Little StrangerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Lisa Olstein
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Themselves Performing Small Brave Acts

Books tell us how to pierce the neck,

how to open the airway of a fellow passenger

with a hollow pen, how to wrestle an alligator,

but not how to out-swim a bear.

There’s no out-swimming a bear.

Books tell us about men on mountaintops

who freeze without ever putting on

the extra sweaters in their packs,

who starve with food in their pockets,

poor bastards, they tell us how not to be like them.

We bring ourselves to very cold places

so we may feel warmer when we huddle inside.

We admire the raptors that live in our city,

a city we’d thought unfit for the wild,

the way they soar above traffic and make nests

of pylons and still manage to find trees.

We admire the way they wait for mates

no one believes will ever come

and the way they mate, and the way they wait

for a new mate when the old one suddenly is gone.

from Little StrangerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Lisa Olstein
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Smaller Devices

Because my heart could not

contain you, it refused sympathy,

succor, news from anywhere.

Now it’s as if a machine

records the feelings

I might have had.

Flashes like alarms

alert me, they’re on file

should I wish to review them.

I don’t. One was many

and became one again.

It was you I meant to belong to.

These bowing rituals never end.

All through me, seasons passing.

The late season grasses.

Lately, the grasses.

from Little StrangerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Lisa Olstein
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Notes from the Wilderness

Shh is the one sound

allowed into the vacuum-

sealed laboratory because

this is what a door says

when it is opened or closed.

We pinch the mist

where it branches.

We seed cloud forests

on the banks of cloud seas.

Beneath a blanket of moon,

waist-high, elbow-deep—

this is our only method.

We measure by eye,

eyes shut, until we hear a cry.

We are unkissed for years

by the sun. Colors pool

and pass through us.

When we are nearly translucent.

When we can no longer see

our milk-white hands.

Then the real work begins.

from Little StrangerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Lisa Olstein
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

To Where

I am a girl. Every morning

I choose carefully how to dress,

but I like it best when

my clothes don’t matter.

Where I live, it is still cold.

Are you pockmarked by winter?

Is pockmarked a word

you’ve ever heard before?

What is your favorite time of day?

What is your favorite thing

about morning? If you have slept

for many days, when you wake,

does it feel like morning no matter

what time it is? When you are

very hungry, do you eat too fast?

If you found me picking berries,

would you brush me aside

or would you carry me off somewhere?

Do you think about problems

while you sleep? Sleeping is

when bones grow. Sleeping is

to love the dark. I love it so much

I want to be it, for a while,

then I wake up. Did you know

that dolphins sleep with half their brains?

Because of breathing.

Because of sharks.

Because they are mammals

but water is their home.

Have you been pulled asleep

from your home and put back

near to where you were but not exactly?

Did it seem like a dream?

from Little StrangerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Lisa Olstein
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Elegy

It wasn’t you,

the hummingbird

unexpectedly in the yard,

and it wasn’t finding

what it was looking for either

skirting the empty tree.

A body by the river is a cliché,

but they found one

and cordoned off the road.

Newspapers remind us

we know more about decay

than we like to let on—

there are experts among us

who know death to the hour,

death by the degree. Then

there’s what our own bodies tell us

day by day or sometimes

all of a sudden. The crime-scene

tape comes down. The parade-route

flags, the missing-person flyers,

the mourning cloths come down.

The sun sets differently by degrees

and again the river is a garden,

a mirrored highway for ruby-throats

with exacting coordinates

etched into their flight brains,

a gushing vein that feeds

and feeds the sea.

from Little StrangerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Lisa Olstein
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Control Group

Blind babies smile on the same

schedule as those with sight.

Consumers will pay more

for leather made from the skin

of an animal never bitten by mosquitoes.

Either the mute child spoke

in full sentences alone in the dark

or the monitors picked up ghosts

of pelicans streaming over the bridge.

A solitary locust may seem far

removed from a depressed person.

Mice are the second most successful

mammal. A monkey on board

a Jupiter AM-18 rocket is a hero.

Miss Baker. A monkey in a cage

is a number. In the wild,

the only way to separate a monkey

from her infant is to kill her.

In this next experiment, your child

is kidnapped and broadcast

back to you on a wide, flat screen,

an orphan crying himself to sleep in the dirt.

#433 hangs from her mother’s tit

while one cage over her twin #434

throws his body against the bright

steel walls of his enclosure.

from Little StrangerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Lisa Olstein
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

The Brain Is an Operations Center

The raccoon in the good-enough woods

knows when to expect you.

The geese don’t look down

from diagramming the sky.

Suddenly the boy is scared of coyotes,

worried for his cartoon animal friends.

Your body is wired through the air to his body.

Like a sharpshooter who knows to pull the trigger

between heartbeats, you can test-run

the system in your mind. There is

a blankness shame will fill but for now

there is only one way to feel: afraid.

from Little StrangerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Lisa Olstein
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

This is a Test of the Internal Emergency Broadcast System

On her way home from school

your little girl wants spotted mice

from the pet store.

She wants to give them a bath

without losing them in the suds

but they escape their paper bag

and disappear underfoot in the car.

Now your little girl wants

a bright green snake

that won’t get lost in the snow.

The red-tipped posts lining

the drive look wounded.

This is not an emergency.

This is winter saying, I decapitated

your small glass bird.

Hungry deer step from the woods

on velvet-gloved legs.

This is a test.

Place your elevated heart

rate in this prepaid, self-addressed,

steel envelope.

We should all be prepared

to proceed calmly

through the crackling air.

from Little StrangerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Lisa Olstein
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.