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Fall 1993, Volume 10.3


Susan Elizabeth Howe

Susan Elizabeth Howe (Ph.D., University of Denver) is Assistant Professor of English at Brigham Young University and poetry editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The New Yorker, Southwest Review, and Shenandoah, among others.


Liberty Enlightening the World: The Statue Has Her Say

Men are always doing it-conceiving
An ideal and foisting it
Onto some poor woman or other
Who gets stuck bearing the burden.
As Bartholdi conceived and executed me.
It takes a certain denial of sexual
Function to call a woman Liberty,
Tied to our bodies as we are, month
After month, cycle after cycle.
So Bartholdi suppressed, under all
These robes, that reality.
No waist;
You'd hardly know I had breasts.
The only skin is my right arm,
Which I like, long firm line
From the wrist sliding
Past my elbow. Inside,
I am hollow, gouged out,
Opened to receive hundreds,
Like ants, who steal their way
Up my skirts, circle my empty core.
The place where my sex should be
Is filled with them, hot and impatient
Or silly and congenial. I suffer
For them daily, especially those
Leaking urine, vomit, or blood
Unprepared, surprised into illness by the vertical, circular climb.
This stink and crowd are what I get
The very best I can conceive
Despite the good intentions of
Bartholdi. And so the years pass.
My back and legs ache
And the book, suggesting more
Than it will ever give, weighs
A ton. I want to put it down,
Tell my visitors I know how
Their lives go. I never will.
I am huge, copper-weighted,
Supporting the status of icon.
My positive, rigid construction means
I hold up the damn torch, year
After year, blood always draining
From my arm, hand and wrist
Always going numb.

The Recreational Parachutist

The Lord upholdeth all that fall.
—Psalms 145:14

for Laird

Humans imagined flight
by watching birds,
but we have seen
ourselves fall,
from trees, mountains,

In one mortal winter
twenty feet of snow
will seal a crevasse
till spring erodes
the underside
of the snowpack;
a climber learns
the treachery the instant
he breaks through.
Thus, in a lifetime
many who don't understand
shall fall.

Like the boy, eighteen,
who jumped where you jump,
with Cedar Valley Freefall.

Both his chutes opened,
the main tangling
the reserve,
so he spiralled too quickly
but not fatally
down, till
he released the main,
and it, in dropping
away, collapsed
the reserve,
leaving him
five seconds,
four hundred feet.
Had he lived,
his instructor
could have said,
"This is what
you did wrong."

I can only imagine
you up there
in that light,
flimsy craft
that is mostly noise,
caught in the whole
human yearning
towards what may kill us.

When they open
the door, you refuse
to be shattered
by wind, already
knowing the errors
you can't make.
I see you climb
through the gap
into full mortal risk,
brace against the wing,
lower yourself to hang
from the wheel struts.
In that moment
before you let go
you want intensely to live
and you trust wholly
boundless, complete release.
Silence and time.
And what you have to do.
And the great bloom
of the earth, rising.


Vast maze of cataclysm
And time, this land escapes limits
Humans would impose, limits
Like the jeep trail that makes
And unmakes itself as we drive,
Never sure of the edge. Left and
Then right, this flat, stable
Plain falls off five hundred feet,
A crack in the surface opening
Like a deep cry.
Such are the attractions
We encounter, dangers we can't transform
To thrills in the looming dusk.
So we camp in the open
In the wind, where all night
We lie in one place and listen
As sides of the tent shudder.
I think of my friends feigning sleep,
Wonder if they, too, saw beings
Above us in the escarpment.
How many eons have these great folk
Been trying to come out?
Only now do they begin
To emerge, a shoulder's curve
Below a round head,
A long column of torso. In canyon walls
I have seen chains of figures,
Hands clasped, sinews in neck and thigh.
I believe they have seen us.
How can they endure
Our little journey? And what
Must it be, for millions of years,
To carry such weight, such desire?

On Losing My Camera Below Dead Horse Point

I would really like to know Who I am and just where, exactly, I might belong. Sometimes I touch My face, look severely at the image, But then in the convenience store I can't pick myself out On the TV surveillance screen From others waiting in line, Gray forms, all vaguely familiar.

And that's where The photographs come in, why I've filled my albums. Once I caught Lightning over a stone archOnly slightly fuzzyWhich surely tells me something. And I stood in a frame With a deer, not frightened, not Running away. I remember the ledge Below Dead Horse Point, the last shot, Wrapping my Pentax with its own strap And placing it square on a rock.

What did I know? In such vast circumstances I could only take in so much. Twenty minutes later in the jeep, I learned you can go back, But what you wanted may be gone. I'll have to find another way To remember what I've lost. Not being able to focus, How will I tell what I can't Hope for, what I already love?


The serial killer
Of my dreams, just before I awaken,
Is trying to get in
The apartment door.
Now I am not sleeping
And he is still here
Vile, unwashed,
Staggered by his need.
I know what to do:

Make him drunk and
Walk him to the staircase,
Send him down into dark
Echoes, where he will be confused
By shapes and repetitions,
Till he is lost in the labyrinth
Of streets and will never,
I tell myself,
Find his way back.
But now I am awake and he
Might murder someone else
Because I have refused him,
Sent him off-my terror,
My nightmare.

But the fog helps,
Finest tapping, sweet breath
Through the cracked window.
I will cover him in fog,
Which muffles all violence
As gauze protects a wound.
Three fog horns,
Each deeper than the last,
Bellow the futility
Of my deception. I know
How he is waiting
Somewhere in the vast city,
Depending on my pity,
My regret. I feel the kiss,
The whisper as he calls me
To his heart, of what I'll
have to offer him To live out my life.