“It’s sad to fall asleep. It separates people.” –Jean Seberg, Breathless
Each body is a bouquet of mishaps jagged with breath. When we sleep, we tip over the jar of our dreams and end up backstroking through the muck of ourselves: European airports and dark bodies falling from the sky: the subconscious an aging perfume giving off its musky odors and sweating fedoras. Darling, it’s sad to be a soul phyllo-doughed in skin: we breathe through the apparatus of ourselves when we wake and when we sleep. Enmeshed in scars, Aston Martins, and back lots weedy with regret, how can we ever be with anyone but ourselves? A kiss is a false conference of voices, a swerve in the day two faces briefly make; a shivering bridge attempting to support the breath’s weight. Don’t get me wrong, I relish the martini swill of sleep in my mouth: its smoky lavenders and dusks of daggers, its sisters and fathers cursing from behind the brocade curtains. The mind is always on trial. Every decision we make a pas de deux we dance alone across a ballroom. Sleep, darling, is a gash: a giddy depth we didn’t know we had.
A Poem with a Train in it Traveling to Constantinople
1. A poem is saddled with breath, with its mints and paprika. A poem is the Europe I slip on in sleep like a dress: its well-thumbed tapestries, its paint- chipped back alleys, the ever-present smell of plumbing and espresso. It is the meandering dialog that swims backstroke beneath my skin. It is my Picasso striptease, my Josephine Baker harem of sequins.
A poem is a fussy, catch-me-if-you-can geography. A Mediterranean sneering with ions—the local flora fluttering like some celebrity waving her neatly-buttoned ivory gloves out of a car tinted with second guesses. Only astute poems make regret look attractive.
2. And this poem? Is it made of fragrant summers stitched with citrus mirrors? Rain kicking a soft can-can against the window’s pale applause? Perhaps it’s a B-movie replete with an indecisive heroine and a casino’s art-deco gambling scene. A poem can be riddled with make-up remover and leather satchels, cerulean French boyfriends and pink plastic handcuffs. It sashays with a line-up of bathing suits, swaying against whatever you thought you might do before the age of forty. It is a city in ruins, the green sweating vines clawing your ankles as you climb to the top of the collapsed French fortress—the one with salmon- striped lizards slipping across its stones and an iron ship rusting like some lost cause in the nearby ocean. I’ve decided this poem has a plot and a cadre of rented Peugeots. Also, a large black bird that blots out the occasional cloud, its body a glossy cough dividing the sky. Just now, someone hums to herself a Viennese waltz. Her heart is a pale, hiccupy pocket watch. She’s on a train to Constantinople accompanied only by her valise and a rushed litany of unevenly-lit magenta windows.
They Say the Uterus is the Shape of a Pear
I wanted to play with blue she said to me; and explained how she happened upon the boats bottom-up on a beach in Thailand and approached them, hoping to paint their faded patterns, their braided vines of blue and gray, their tired, chipped faces. Can the face capsize like a boat? I think not. The face can barely float—perplexed, sweating bloom on the neck’s awkward stem—so unlike the egret I saw a few nights ago. Let me move like that, dear God, up there in your palace of quivering clouds, let me step through the shivering, unsure fields of an evening’s water—my neck a snowy decanter of light, my body poised on the edge of an appetite-- and be content with that.
The body is a landscape of its own making, a damn Monet with its various lilies winking and waking, surfacing from some algae depths I’ll never know how to dig to the bottom of. Revise that: it’s a landscape with its colors and irrefutable facts dipping in and out of me, like the blue-bird I saw one Virginia afternoon migrating between bushes—its wings a lavender door opening and closing, a sustained blue breathing. There could be lightning storms inside us, and we wouldn’t know. The body a random spiller of secrets, a grumpy gambler. There could be tanks rumbling through bruised orchards, French Riviera terraces, Tiger lilies and dead birds—lying one eye up-- still as a stone on the pavement. I wanted to play with blue. I played with wanting blue. I grew a blue I could play with.
Today, mandolins are in the rain, an orchestra poised and ready to play. I know there is a stack of nights waiting to be unstacked, a darkness looking to be deposed. I know I could be speaking out of turn. Each morning I wake up to an egg-shell glow floating down from the wooden ceiling, to the birds dangling their voices like bright necklaces in the air—a performance they seem sure of. I dreamt last night I had a job I hated, that it drained my day of swimming pools and daylight, of skinny dipping and the cilantro-lime vinaigrette of the sunset. Could the body survive an emotional biopsy and live to tell about it? They say the uterus is the shape of a pear. They say the skin is the saddest body part of all. If you extracted a sample of my fear, Mr. Surgeon, and placed it on a slide, would it be cloud-covered or lucid as a Bermuda sky? I played with blue wanting me. A blue wanted to play with I. Or would it slither about, elusive as a minor spy? The trees now all have alibis-- proving they were at a particular place at a particular time. I wish I had a story like that. Instead, I watch the clouds brighten outside. I watch the birds drop their voices, their dampened violas, as if in hushed surprise.
Could a mustache really be an ink spill fastidiously pruned on a man’s face? Who knew Belgium could produce a parcel of gray-paisley ties, spats and patent leather shoes shining so sprightly a cabaret girl could coif her hair in their twin black mirrors? His chest a Cornell box of silk vests, bow ties and turn- of-the-century buttons—a dandy’s scarf winking from a jacket’s pocket. If murder knew its adversary would be a perennial bachelor with OCD, would it ever relax its jagged tools and relentless blood, now pooling like a rose-colored dahlia across a woman’s breast? How matter-of-factly he now stands, poised over the beauty who drank the wrong gin.
-- Alexandra van de Kamp lives in Stony Brook, NY, with her husband and is a Lecturer in the Program of Writing & Rhetoric at Stony Brook University. She has been previously published in numerous journals nationwide, such as: The Cincinnati Review, River Styx, Meridian, Lake Effect, The Denver Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, and The Connecticut Review. New work is forthcoming in 32 Poems. Her full-length collection of poems, The Park of Upside-Down Chairs, was published by CW Books in 2010 (WordTech Press) and her chapbook, Dear Jean Seberg (2011), won the 2010 Burnside Review Chapbook Contest. A new chapbook, A Liquid Bird inside the Night, is forthcoming in 2014 from Red Glass Books, a Brooklyn-based poetry press. For six years she lived in Madrid, Spain, where she co-founded and edited the bilingual journal, Terra Incognita. You may see more of her poetry and prose at her website