Poetry Supplement Summer 1999, Volume 17.0
Kathryn Burt Winograd holds a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop and a Ph.D in literature and creative writing from the University of Denver. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals including TriQuarterly, Wilderness, The Denver Quarterly, The Ohio Review, The Journal and The Antioch Review. She is a member of Colorado Author's League and the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. See other poetry by Kathryn Winograd published in Weber Studies: Vol. 12.2.
A Dream of Bear
It is always our mothers,
indifferent, consuming amid the scentless, floating flowers
of our childhoods, or in harder dreams,
suddenly huge and looming behind the locked screen
we beat, lost and weeping at, denied, separate forever
from the pale den of the body
that once bore us into most brilliant light,
our conjured bears, ursus horribilis, dismissed
and that primitive fear,
that once sent the long devoured
into the dance of hide and tooth,
But it happens, we whisper secretly
to ourselves, as it always has,
witnesses to the testimonials of the survived
and maimed, or the rended shoes
we've watched others trail hopelessly
into the sweet caverns of needle and cone
where their children, as if in sleep,
lie quietly incised.
Here, above trees, above the lodgepole's
unscalable green mesh,
where darkness rockets skyward into the thinning
blue of evening,
our bodies breathe in their own breath
beneath our tent's sealed canvas and a sky
dark and shining as the old named and god-ed one.
Already, far distant, far below us,
our families walk softly through the drenched
grass and the stark shadows the locust throw,
night already come,
and this emptied space they peer up at,
shielded by the safe light of their houses,
and mouth words at like prayer,
I know is this place, beneath stars, but above them,
that we are climbing already unknown
We will be sleeping,
just as the others were, against erupted earth,
ancient, lunar, without mercy,
dreamless or dreaming over cities
and the lone farmhouses,
their lights steady in the furrowed dark and the cattled eddies.
What will we be dreaming of
that last moment the extending muscle and claw
rips us into black air
and scrapes us living over this brutal ground,
the glittering kitchen knives
we clench all night,
our useless magic?
If I think of it now, I think of spring's
last frost, how the stealing white binds the dark
unsingled grasses and the pale violet,
and of the newborn that spring,
when mine was still quickening,
thrown warm and steaming over a backfence
to stiffen all night beneath scarce stars.
And of the woman, not the girl-child
bleeding quietly in her room, only herself again,
but of the woman next door, alone, readying herself for sleep
like she always does, the house darkening itself around her,
and herself emptying into dream,
while, familiar as wind, the earth's breath stills, and a child dies
beneath her window.
Loss was so certain, and I would stand there
at my window in the bonecrepe of the moon
or the streetlight's unpiecing dark, my body
that would forgive us nothing flexing you
down and down. Yes, there was your heart,
and the small parts of you, clear and light-filled,
your hand all glass and sea animal,
and you, too soon at the world's edge.
I would stand there at my window, night after night,
counting, now this moment, and yes, this one too gone
and you still safe inside me, until finally,
like some clanging dawn,
our newspaper woman would pass us by once more,
her stolen cart.
But now it is good and I can go into you
and it is night and I lean way down over the rails
of your crib to hear the tiny dew of your breath,
and the shining fish of your eye
glimmers in the wake of air I leave,
and I think how I was the whole world once
and the sky without stars, your father sleeping
quietly beside me whole nights, whole months
not knowing how lightly you stepped down.
Standing at the Base of Monterey's Three Story Aquarium
They have no fear, these children
buoyed rooms above me out of the sea's steady hug.
Celestial, reft even of the body's tinge
that scents the salted world into frenzy,
these children rub their hands in greeting
along the glass to the rainbowed schools,
the scaled kiss, the pale,
invisible bellies sailing their masted fins
and dead eyes around and around a forest of planted kelp.
A windowed sea, this is all our nightmares
made visible, as if the dark swimming waters
we fall night by night, limb by limb, into,
were suddenly lighted and knowable
down even to our worst dreamed ofs:
their fleshed ghosts like squid or the beaked octopi.
At a zoo once, I watched with my husband
parents lining their children into pairs to be lifted
one by one onto the broad sill of the Artic
and pressed, laughing, into the glass where polar bears
pirouetted weightless in the painted sea,
the children tapping themselves into sight
with their toes and fingers, the bears
swimming toward us all clearer and clearer
until they crashed into our window open-jawed.
And in a picture once, it was the pale,
unfurrowed brow of my husband's youngest aunt,
overexposed some seventy years past into shining,
that I first put my finger to in fear,
then recognition of the body's bunched flowering,
her tumor ten years living
and the child I never knew lived
staring out at us as if we moved already
behind the camera's lens, the future
knocking out at her in warning and in pity.
It is the same here.
Eye to eye with what we have never dreamed of,
I watch the bottom dwellers—those huge and barnacled fish
spilling out even now like pods
from some deep, deep unfutured vein—
shudder and fin the bottom of this tiny sea into storm,
our desert's fossils, it would seem,
that we have chipped from the dried ocean beds
and placed on our windowsills.
if we could still speak only of stars, of blue
lights, the earth?s unsteadying. or of the deer
you love, the nights rural, their blind
leaping past the fences into your white light.
how must you see your own body,
physician, you who has stitched even my
white bones, pulled even me
from woman clay, dust, leaf of the garden
into the wide moon's ebb?
I must speak of anything else now:
not bone nor moon nor of your body, its
darkness, my fragile shell, my father, your
heart grasped and the great emptiness
of air moving in and through.
this is how the brain leaves us:
out of the genetic earth, out of the ploughed
field, glacial furrow, rock volcanic,
there is a half-tunnel our mothers, our fathers
have dug for us. dirt clings to them. their spines
this is no dream. the moon sways. you
cannot feel the air, say "air" but the blinds
trill, moonlight chattering down the gut.
my father, you fumble at the gate.
it is your mother I am thinking of,
chin to the knee, thumb to the palm curling, all
the world a speechless dusk.
I understand it like this: the body mute
nets the bright tissue of the brain,
moon in slices.
the brain wants to return to its beginnings:
budding stem, amphibian, cleft of gill.
you whirl. you click softly. this
is what we understand, but do you know
already what I cannot say,
what I cannot speak?
my father, I am standing with you
at the mouth of the earth. I am feeling
the small rains, the dazed stars pitched and dimming, you
who I love, my tongue