Poetry Supplement Summer 1999, Volume 17.0
Mori Ponsowy (M.F.A., Emerson College) has published short stories and essays in the most important journals of Venezuela, where she lived most of her life. She has won a Fulbright scholarship and is the author of a collection of poems, Enemies Outside, and two novels. She is at work on a novel, Oh, Miss Susan, and a new poetry collection.
Handle With Care
A soul's unproperly packaged within my self
and I don't know where to complain.
I've seen other people's wrapped in 3-ply paper pads,
cushioned by polyethylene foam and packing peanuts,
braced in nuclear-proof steel containers—
but mine feels outside, shrinking under the rain.
Of course not everything's the same, I know,
and some things break easier than others—
dreams, butterflies, empires.
What about this soul indoors?
Does being ethereal mean it can't break?
I've read that when seized by an enemy
lizards let go their tails
and grow new ones, from scratch.
Or maybe as flatworms do,
souls can build themselves again,
from the remains of their world.
Not this stubborn soul I have inside—
feeling broken like china, drowned like a stone,
refusing to drop wounded memories,
walking naked to battlegrounds
as if immortality were armor enough.
What can I hope? Maybe in ten years
replacing faulty genes will be a routine procedure.
Maybe by then, a few minutes in ambulatory care
will be all my soul needs to begin feeling better.
Memorandum of Understanding
Though I've chosen to write,
words are never enough.
Two hundred and fifty thousand years ago
a man pointed to a tree and said tree,
to a stream of cool water and said water,
then to himself and said I.
One night he saw stars,
and looking at them in awe
he remained silent.
After the dry season, it rained.
He was grateful,
and thus he said God.
But silence remained
the most important language.
The silence of snails,
of green leaves in spring
opening up to the sun.
And I want to write,
to understand—God—to conjure
the beliefs of our clan,
the migration of elk,
laws shaping honeycombs.
There are no sounds
to explain a soul.
All I can do is feel
the sun's warmth on my arms,
rejoice with the song of a loon,
stare at the roundness of stones.
And nothing to protect him,
not even a stone.
Soft is his skin,
but softer his soul.
How can he flee
the claws of a tiger
if the grass in the prairie
scratches his knees?
How can he survive killing deer
if the warmth of the earth
burns his feet when he walks?
He prays and cries.
No claws, no fur, no flight.
No horns, no speed, no shell.
Only a brain.
One thousand four hundred grams
and a whole universe will be born.
Stonehenge and Athens.
Jerusalem, Armenia and Sarajevo.
But it's still too soon, time's only begun.
In a cave he has made warm
a bison's drawn on the wall.
A soft tune comes from the shadows,
words yet to be born.
By the fire
a dog has decided to sleep.