Like oak trees swerving out of the hills
And setting their faces to the wind
Day after day being practically lifted away
They are lashed to the earth
And never let go
Gripping on darkness
—ALICE OSWALD, Memorial
When I picture Robert, he is in the Public Garden,
watching setting suns, like the ill-fated king, turn all to gold.
Robert with the swans. Robert under the statue of Washington.
Robert amid the tulips. Without a childhood
home, I made for myself a house of orchids, of sewer grates
with fishes on them, of forsythia and maple trees.
Of this I am sure: when Robert crossed the bridge
between Boston and Cambridge, he saw Poseidon.
In late summer, he could tell that underneath
the sailboats is a god, mighty and to be feared.
In midwinter, he alone knew the ice
could not long contain that god.
In the pipes in his home, he heard the gurgle of illness.
I smell illness in the riotous orchid blooms.
What are midnight trees?
I think that once I knew one such tree,
if it is the kind owls gather on nightly
to fight, barking,
eyes dim with bloodlust and the hiss of feathers.
I built for myself a house of orchids, with a cave underneath,
a cave shaped into an armory
brimming with tarantula hawks, giant sparrow bees,
and admiral butterflies.
In place of stalactites hang treeless,
O sacred receptacle of my joys.
The day I first learned the word argonaut,
I wrote it in a poem. I searched the seas for one.
I searched the skies. I searched a painting.
In the painting, I found the word spears, which I drove slowly
into my father’s ribs. He I eulogized and he I resurrected,
reaching again for the spears. I have seen
countless full moons fail. Each of them hollowed,
flooding heartfirst the craw-faced light, the bracken
underneath. Then, the sound of a wounded owl,
a soft, sudden darkness in my throat. O, how this villainy.
In mourning, the owls are replaced by hawks.
From one angle, broad-winged hawks
seem to have two pairs of hollow eyes.
We are looking for you, say the kettles of satellites
to the humans lost, to the plane
disappeared, to what lives thirty miles below
the surface of Enceladus. On this morning in April,
Haixun 01, Ocean Shield, and HMS Echo hear a thump
that sounds like the colors inside an oyster shell.
The frequency of the noise can make a heart
stop. Anxious as seaweed, over the sides of the ships
creep hordes of trembling locators.
The satellites stare with breath hitching in their throats.
Between the wine-colored hull of Ocean Shield and Enceladus
lies eight times the distance between Earth and the sun.
Thirty miles below the surface of that geyser-ridden, tiger-striped
Saturnian moon lies life, report the satellites.
The hawks steel their two pairs of eyes up
toward alien oceans on other planets.
What I am is all that I can carry, wrote Deborah.
What can I carry? All that I caught I left behind,
all that I missed, I carried.
The hawks are not looking
toward alien oceans. I am.
I am looking, too, to alien men and women.
I picture hurtling into them, by turn, to serve my lust.
I picture us bent sideways, impaled,
contorted and screaming. I picture
the different shades of a moan.
The word bed fills the four eyes in my mind
with the color gold, gold of the ill-fated king
and the Garden sunset, gold glinting in a decaying tooth,
goldenrod, a haze of pollen, the dragon’s treasure,
a long necklace of many fine gold chains
reaching down to a woman’s hips.
Young woman walks down to the river,
down to the river of gold.
Young woman walks down to the river,
down to the river and drowns.
In the word bed also joyously wail
bed the color of ashen near death, bed the fleshly color
of bodies broken for good, bed color blue
of heart-stopped lips. O, here I lift this one hand
up to heaven. The ghosts of the poisoned dogs
live in the piano. The ghost of my mother, still living,
lives in her excised tumor and staghorn kidney stone.
The ghost of my ability to love without grief, still living,
lives in this poem. All my pockets filled with stones
in the river I’ll be found. Why, then, I am the devil’s dam—
dangle me from a cliff, twelve thousand feet above sea.
O, speak with possibilities. Build me a skin
of glass to cover the Grand Canyon,
throw me on it. Summon a thousand wilding mares,
restrain them with massive chains, foot-long links
of hardened steel. When the chains buck
from fracture, let the mares stampede the glass,
bid them trample my body.
Watch, from a great distance, as the glass cracks.
Watch us beasts entangle. Watch me take a hoof
to the mouth. To the skull. To the groin.
Hear us squeal, and bark, and howl,
calling out, as wretches do, to failing life.
When at last we one thousand and one blood-filled creatures
reach the bottom of the Canyon, throw yourself in.
My voice in your ear will tell you that you were meant to die
like this, a beautiful and inelegant dive onto a field of reds,
some bright and sun-kissed, some dark and pulp-dashed,
your and our blood across the burnt-orange schist.
See, O, see what I have done.
I fear neither the sight of nor the word for blood.
HMAS Albatross has joined the search for the plane.
It is May now, and there is no sign of it.
The detritus lied. The home I made is of orchids,
forsythia, barbed wire, and burnt metal.
In the bedroom I planted what I imagine
a midnight tree to be. Its roots join the treeless roots
in the armory beneath. Ravished, my hands cut off,
my tongue cut out, I put my home under the wisteria,
craving owls at war under thick purple overhang.
No territory there is that is not mine.
The Albatross, it is mine.
Enceladus is mine. Your innermost thigh,
beneath the wisteria, mine.
Poseidon is mine, and the river between Boston and Cambridge,
and the one that wends through Georgia, floods
into the Gulf. I am dreaming of a monument
to moments colonized by theaters of the imagination.
O monstrous. The O of a mouth without a tongue.
The O of two pairs of lips clasped,
starving on one another. Horns and cry of hounds.
The ballet in my deadly standing eye
is the arrow’s flight into the neck, the horses’ tumble into the canyon.
A nation’s search for a single tiger
with quills in its neck. A spilt cloud of felled bees.
The elephant’s horror in the flock of red-billed birds,
feathered locusts who from their first breath
form trembling caverns with their mouths, their aggregate force
snapping branches off trees. The orchestra plays low drumbeats,
a single singer carving the melody.
Do not, I pray, promise me
an untroubled lake. Take me instead
to the rivers with vengeful gods
under steaming and frozen waters.
Take me instead for the stag, the rifle, and the hunter.
Promise me unending days in which I can picture,
then picture again, a fire whirl,
the slowness of the sea drinking
a ferry or a plane, the gasps of air bubbles
around carapaces, the moons of Saturn.
I myself am hells, and I prize them
as if they were the rarest blooms.
Promise me I will always reach again for spears,
await the horses on the glass
above the gaping, hollow O of the earth.
ALL IS LOST. FLEE THIS HOUSE.
So chants James’s Ouija.
or perhaps in the palace of time
our lives are a circular stair and i am turning,
writes Lucille’s ghost-guided hand. Always in my mouth
I hold the head of an axe with its bit at the back
of my throat. O heavens, can you hear a man groan?
Here nothing breeds but we fazed and hungry. O wondrous thing.
Worlds such as this were not thought possible to exist,
writes the astronomer. It is June.
Deep beneath those golden waves
of the river I’ll be found.
My sister has joined the list of those I mourn.
Her ghost lives in each powder-winged moth.
In the ballet, the stage fills with a troupe of dancers in dusty gold skirts,
shoes asphyxiation blue, hair the tones of flesh.
Center stage are six dancers who wear only red,
moving in unison
so they throb as one bloodied yolk.
The troupe around them shudders
as though in blissful death throes.
The single singer quiets. The orchestra
breaks down its instruments.
For my brethren slain
I ask a sacrifice,
O barbarous, beastly villains
Die. Die saying please,
die longing, die helpless,
die with your eyes fixed
to the most treacherous side
of a mountain, to newborn stars,
to planes not found.
Die with your throat stuffed,
so that each moment hereafter
is a dream of a gasp.
Die, so that my midnight tree might grow
new branches, die, like a sapling struck by lightning
in an ash-ridden and still smoldering field,
die amid the tulips, die smelling the orchids I grow,
die in the mass of horses in a pied flock of shrieking birds.
From the oceans creatures great and small
take to the land. From the land
each parachuted seed
takes to the sky.
From within my armory
comes a scent melodious and unearthly.
A strain of moths, black, flies as though sewn
each to each at the wing. Their flight path
blooms dark into the gray air
like a print from a silvered glass plate.
Soon we will learn our bodies are formed
of dead stars, so that if we made incisions
from breastbone to rectum, the caves within
would reveal themselves to house celestial ash.
As the stag, I fear the mouth of the rifle.
As the rifle, I point my mouth, deadly, toward you.
As the hunter, I execute myself so I may feast.
Worlds such as this were not thought possible to exist.
My lord, I aim a mile beyond the honeyed moon.
Copyright © 2020 Sumita Chakraborty
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.