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Category archive for: Sarah Lindsay

The Common Octopus

The octopus has no bones,

the octopus has no voice.

Her mouth is in her armpit,

her body in her head.

She scarcely has a face.

Her eyes are purple squares

in domes with fleshy lids.

She spurts a purple cloud

and safe behind it flies.

She can be a tassel,

she can be a web.

Her hide is wondrous thin,

transparent at the tips.

Her arms are many many,

more fluid than a flame

and lined with sucking cups.

Wet she crawls through fire

or holes as small as dimes.

Color of the ocean floor,

color of the beach

or wherever else she lies.

What I cannot breathe she breathes,

where I cannot go she goes.

Her curling makes me shiver

when I should be moved to praise.

The octopus has no bones,

the octopus has no voice.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

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

Whale Feathers

They sing, they soar, the whales of our time,

whales of the tropical shallows, the streams

and rivers, the courtyard ponds.

Stone records say there were giants in the seas,

but grudgingly supported, and no more.

Much as the mouse outlived the titanothere,

tiny whales and whales the size of chickens

perch on white twigs of coral, pipe shrill melodies,

pluck up tube worms from cracks

with one neat turn of the head,

or flit through cloudy fathoms

snagging luminous particles one by one.

Much as lizards in shabby plumage

filled a kingdom bereft of tyrannosaurs,

these timid, swift creatures have sprouted

a specialized fur like penguin feathers:

most are brown or gray, but some wear

iridescent amethyst, ruby, silver, trailing

scarves and plumes of musical bubbles.

Little Sargassos of sodden down

form in their molting seasons.

You can keep in your basement aquarium an echo

of beasts large enough to be taken for islands,

to snap the ribs of a ship, to swallow

a man and vomit up his implausible story.

You can ply with cracker crumbs a puff

whose ancestor, Leviathan,

divided the surface with its brow

while its open jaw scraped the ocean floor.

You may cup a whale briefly in your palm,

stroke its back with one finger,

feel its heart beating like wings, and marvel:

oh the precious, the comprehensible world.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

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

If God Made Jam

If God made jam the jars wouldn’t necessarily glow

like Christmas lights or the new home of seventy fireflies,

the berries wouldn’t have to be so divine

they dribbled rainbows and healed the sick,

each pip released a Gloria when it

cracked between your teeth,

and God’s jam would never refuse to touch earthly bread—

Aunt Lydia has worked out this much

since Cousin Bobby told her about a comma

he skipped long ago while learning his catechism.

Now, on a rainy morning, spared the news

that lay in her grass and is too wet to read,

she’s flexed her stiff hands and found them able

to slice the bread baked by a friend

and twist the lid from a royal-red jar,

and with the first crusty, raspberry bite

she’s ready to affirm God does make jam.

It still counts if people figure among

the instruments that have been put to use,

and Bobby catechized wasn’t wrong

when he pictured a deity, willing to work in the kitchen,

who made preserves and redeemed us.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

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

Origin

The first cell felt no call to divide.

Fed on abundant salts and sun,

still thin, it simply spread,

rocking on water, clinging to stone,

a film of obliging strength.

Its endoplasmic reticulum

was a thing of incomparable curvaceous length;

its nucleus, Golgi apparatus, RNA

magnificent. With no incidence

of loneliness, inner conflict, or deceit,

no predator or prey,

it had little to do but thrive,

draw back from any sharp heat

or bitterness, and change its pastel

colors in a kind of song.

We are descendants of the second cell.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

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

Magnitude Aunt Lydia Does Stretching Exercises

A soft sweet cheese they make for daily bread,

and in the vat of milk and rennet set an egg,

to tell them when it’s done. While they’re

feeding the chickens or sowing corn, the whey

congeals in streaks and superstring curls.

Rifts develop, curdy lumps,

and gases congregate in spirals;

the smell grows desirably rank as elements

thicken into earths and metals,

and when our unhatched robin-blue planet

sinks, this batch will be ready.

Or maybe enough dark matter exists

for turning out firmer cheese,

a dark dark marbled Swiss with black holes

and delicious veins of stardust forming

from windborne impurities, along one of which

our Earth is a fleck of blue mold.

Maybe they wrap it in burlap, so

the rim of this universe bluntly prints

a coarse fabric weave on the next one.

Think of the milch cow they keep, its size,

the heat of its flanks, the weight of its hooves,

think of the one who comes to milk her,

whistling square roots, perhaps, or wave functions,

think of the breadth of space in the swinging pail.

And think how you’ve nonetheless fit the whole barn,

for a minute at least, in your head.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

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

The Mummy Walks

Only two mushrooms to eat this morning,

sprung from the top of my right foot,

pale slender stalks with drooping lids.

They scarcely had weight when I laid them in my mouth

where my tongue used to be

and gnashed my teeth.

For years I could count on waking to plenty,

my ribs a field of oyster caps,

puffballs tenderly bunched in my armpits.

Long morels covered with twisted mouths

were my crown, my collar, my ears;

I never went hungry.

Then for a season I bore a strange fungus,

a pure burnt mineral black, absorbing

every available grain of light

and falling apart like charcoal at a touch.

I ate it, since it fed on me,

and yet I lost ground.

Where I used to live, rings of gilled umbrellas

materialized in the grass wherever they chose.

So, shrunken in my bandages, hollow-legged,

I pace wet gutters in daylight traffic,

holding my remnants wide to the breeze

for any spores that will have me.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

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

How I Was Born

I think I began like the pig’s heart

beating in its tray, or the anemic rats.

A protein mesh was my mother,

and the zipper teeth of my DNA

came from powdered sugarcane.

When I was just one hundred fifty cells,

they plucked one out and carried it off

for a stranger with defective marrow.

“This won’t hurt,” they said.

I filled the space in anyhow.

I grew, I got the trick of breathing,

fed from an IV.

Learned to drink from a bottle.

Who knows if my origins explain

my fear of needles, my cravings for salty food,

enclosed warm spaces, pale young men with leukemia.

Full grown, I often suck my thumb.

That way I know it’s mine.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

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

Without Warning

Elizabeth Bishop leaned on a table, it cracked,

both fell to the floor. A gesture

gone sadly awry. This was close to fact

and quickly became symbolic, bound to occur

in Florida, where she was surrounded

by rotting abundance and greedy insects.

One moment a laughing smile, a graceful hand

alighting on solid furniture,

a casual shift of weight,

the next, undignified splayed legs.

The shell of the table

proved to be stuffed with termite eggs.

True, it was a fall from no great height—

merely the height of herself,

and although the hollowed-out table failed,

at least the floor held,

though probably infested by termites as well,

and possibly built on a latent sinkhole‚

how can you tell?

And how could she, smiling and easy,

arm moving without forethought and permission,

have forgotten fear, apparently

let go of a hard-learned lesson?

Enter a room as though it is strange.

What you recognize may have changed,

or may change without warning.

Trees fall in hurricanes

and on windless mornings,

breaching houses where people you knew

have vanished or died or stopped loving you.

She regained her feet, already composed,

brushing dust from an elbow. There would be a bruise,

but it would remind her that words are full of holes;

flung hard, like paper they fly sideways.

And a call to joy—a landscape, a face—

may, though scarcely moving, perhaps by not moving, go

in one breath from heartening to ominous,

proving to children who need more proof

that we don’t know what we know.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

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

Beached

Carrying the water I saved today

in the leaky cup of my hands,

I approach Earth,

beached on her belly

but stirring slightly

in a miserable wind.

As high on one side as I can reach

I let my pittance spill

down the cracked blue skin,

careful of her blowhole,

and I think her squint eye’s moon

rolls to see more,

but a hurricane clouds the pupil,

ringed with smoke on fire.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

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

Radium

His gifts to her were theory, patience,

equilibrium, and a pile of dirt—

industrial waste. He loved to watch his wife

aglow with determination, pursuing

discovery of a hidden element, past uranium,

by the light of her hunger. “I should

like it to have a beautiful color,” he said.

He would buy her boots to wipe at the Sorbonne.

Heated, she leaned over a boiling vat,

stirring her dirt reduction, hour on hour.

She looked like any skinny hausfrau

bent to her bubbling sauerkraut.

She looked like the first woman who would be

awarded a Nobel Prize, as well as

the first to fall to her knees before

a hill of brown dust shot through with pine needles

and press her filled hands to her face.

She boiled her tons of pitchblende down

to a scraping of radium nearly the size

of their baby’s smallest fingernail—just the white.

Proof of its existence, and hers.

It permeated their clothes, their papers,

peeled their fingers,

entered their marrow and slowly burned.

He mildly alluded to rheumatism.

He stroked her radioactive hair

with a radioactive hand.

Colorless, shining radium darkened

in contact with air. Chemically

much like calcium, it could stream

like calcium through her brain cells

in her later years alone

and make memories glow in the dark:

illegal schooling, unheated rooms,

subsistence on tea and chocolate. Lying

with her husband for a few hours’ sleep,

cracked hands and weakened legs entwined,

united gaze resting on the vial

of radium salts they kept beside them every night

for the lovely light it shed.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Sarah Lindsay
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.