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Category archive for: Ryan Teitman

The City That Swallowed the Sea

I want to forget the city that swallowed the sea,

    where the churches unbreak bread and send old men

onto their hymnaled knees, where the streets sing

    like handbells and the night cracks like a broken bottle

crushed under the heel of a priest taking confessions,

    where the newsmen huddle on a street corner

under evening editions while the rain skins

    their stubbled chins and the creeping asphalt

licks at the face of the shoreline still,

    sipping at the sea, sipping at the salt

that steams up from the waves each sweaty night

    and blankets the shoreline in a tight knit

of creamy silt, and I remember the prayers I said,

    with my knees cupped in sand,

how I prayed to the saints for an intercession,

    how it came like a punch to the blood,

wrapped its fingers around the throat of my blood,

    squeezed the ribs of my blood until I could feel

the nicked edges of broken-blood ribs tickling

    my blood’s tiny lungs, those neat, unfurled sails tacking up

and down my veins, and I remember the saint

    of the city, our patron and the patron of bookkeepers,

the patron against lead poisoning, the patron of shims

    and tambourines, the patron of hiccups and tin whistles,

patron of pandemics and against pandemics,

    of ironworkers and against ironworkers, and I want to forget

when I was five, and our teacher told us to draw

    a picture of ourselves, and I drew the skyline above the sea,

said I was changing my name to “The City,”

    and she leaned in close and said that I would never be

the city that swallowed the sea, and my face

    turned warm, and her breath was the dry hush

of the sea as it slides each day from the city,

    and we rope it and haul it back like a brindle calf

with three legs tied, and we drink it a little

    each day, and the censusman knocks every morning

to measure how much we drank,

    and I want to forget our duty to be the city

that swallowed the sea, to be the saints of the city

    that swallowed the sea, and I want to forget those streets

that ribboned and choked and split my bones,

    that sea that skipped down the avenues of my nerves

and planted a kiss on the tiny bronze bell

    that hangs—unpolished—from the stem of my brain.

from Litany for the CityFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2012
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Cathedrals

We tent our fingers

to make a cathedral.

This is how it’s always been

done—how a whisper

between two palms

becomes an architecture

we can’t fit into

our mouths. We hear

words like nave

and remember shoveling

piles of tulips into

a burnt-out flatbed.

An old man says

cupola, and I think

of knotty loaves

of rye stacked

like cordwood

in the baker’s pantry.

I dream of a church’s

unfinished dome

squinting upward

like the battered eye-socket

of a bare-knuckle boxer.

Every dream is its own

kind of shaky cathedral—

joists and vaults bracing

it against the weight

of another morning

invoked against us.

There’s a cathedral

built from the leg bones

of draft horses and saints.

A cathedral of birds

scaffolding the sky.

A cathedral of bodies

opening to each other

on beds smooth as altars.

A cathedral of hands

unbuttoning the skin

of every prayer

within reach.

from Litany for the CityFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2012
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Ephesians

Beloved,

Remember what we used to know: the owl perched in the barn rafters with a kitten dangling from its beak, the summers so dry that the wheat withered underfoot as we walked through the field with ice-cream-coated hands. I remember the day you went crazy with fever and took a hatchet to the hives in the apiary. You stood in the swarm and shouted, “I am the Lord God of all creation!” before your father ran in and cradled you to the house. That night, the doctor dipped bandages in honey and wrapped your welted limbs, while your father read to you from Aesop’s Fables. You opened your mouth and let the doctor reach in with pliers, let him pull one bee after another from under your swollen tongue, and let him hold each corpse—glistened with spit—up to the windowpane, before dropping it in a jar at your bedside. You carried that jar with you always, half-filled with their dried bodies, like kernels of corn. On the last night of summer, we fell asleep in the hayloft. In your dream, you whispered, wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead. In the morning, the jar was empty, and our eyes were the color of nectar.

from Litany for the CityFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2012
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

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