For a long time I had struggled toward such clarity,
the mouth of ash & not the film,
in which I was free to flicker and enter as I chose. To give in too easily to “wanting
the impossible,” now seemed
a repudiation of the skin as it breathes, the facticity of another’s
breath, tasting of onions or cigarettes, thin wine or yeasted bread, a decay to be
embraced & to hesitate a betrayal of the truer forms:
the scudding clouds or the sunlight which strips
bare, much as winter does.
In those days, I often walked
without direction, not infrequently seized by a longing to fling myself
down to the earth, to dig a hole & pour my voice in.
Afraid, at times, I might start hugging the trees--
blood sister of cherry, moon-bark of aspen,
Often, I wondered at my purpose--
this dogged sorrow, which had taught me so little,
until I understood I was struggling to construct myself around an absence:
When autumn came, the pain attenuated to almost-pleasure:
the world now limpid, my mirror--
pale grass, high wind, bruise clouds drifting over,
even the somehow tortured-looing shapes of the junipers.
Ice filled the space behind my eyes. I believed I had never
seen each object in the world so clearly
or understood what desert and plain and forest might mean,
those spaces where people still enter
as alien, outside the range of hearth or village, town or strip-mall,
far from creature comfort.
Rain pelted and turned to hail.
Icicles coalesced along the edges of the buildings.
One morning the car refused to start.
I walked until my fingers were blue, and I was afraid to look at my toes, like ice-fish, deep under a lake, the fact that they freeze
in place, sometimes years.
You left on a journey and came back
tanned and speaking loudly. I pretended not to notice the precise manner of your not noticing me,
winter inside, a hunger for eternity,
until I believed I could understood even the trees gloved in ice, the meekness of lawns, the grasses’ inexorable stiffening,
believed I would choose to stay awake through any operation,
which was why I watched you, just watched you, regardless of the pain it caused me,
or my refusal of all consolation,
so long had I sought to enter the realm of pure feeling.
-- Sheila Black is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Iron, Ardent (Educe Press, 2017). She is a co-editor of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Spectacle, The Nation (forthcoming), The New York Times and other places. She currently divides her time between San Antonio, TX, and Washington, D.C., where she works at AWP.