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Winter 1993, Volume 10.1


Janet Sylvester

Janet Sylvester (Ph.D., U of Utah) teaches at Old Dominion University in Virginia. Her first book of poetry, That Mulberry Wine, was published by Wesleyan University Press. Poems from her second book, Regardless, have appeared in The New Virginia Review and The Michigan Quarterly Review, and others.


In the Descartes Mountains

Dry wind sweeps the blazing star,
invading the streambed past pinnacles, hoodoos,
gulches, to the canyon mouth and then out,
the valley's houses, one by one, unpeeling
their shadows from dun and terra-cotta hills.
A woman held by the weight of down all night
pushes the quilt aside, meaning sleep
frees thinking substance, fastens it up.
For hours her house pronounced internal weakness:
windows, badly caulked, rattled no
rhythm, the bedroom door swung back and forth,
a circling jet stream scoured the kitchen table,
tipping a vase of goatsbeard, disassembling.
As such, morning exists tricked by light,
a nightgown's hem intimating violence,
the insteps of a body moving across its floor.
That has no power to see, she really hopes.
The ground so shakes present certainty,
day's clinical definition, pupil of the I,
its predictable blue-green mirror absolutely
out of time. She makes her measure.
No other eye perceives the composing doubt.
You put on clothes, you go out, she says,
watching her mouth, its gravitating field.
The farther she moves from the blazing star's
burst, the airier her thought tries to be,
could not help being. Stretched then torn
by distance, she walks, briefly free
to the corner, its visible secret drainage.
The future breaks down, wearied. Sorry.
Pronominal God abhors this naked time,
material gestures, hello's emotive move.
Love's grammar collapses, singular, before
the neighbor's roses, glowing too vividly,
too strict. A woman in the middle of her life
falls through its black horizon, an event
protecting observers who remain outside.
No point of being inheres at the landscape's dimple,
cervical, its unpredictable sublime wetly miming
another beautiful day's rainy promise.
The day does nothing at all for this story
run to speed. Maybe the woman will pray,
an unexpected passage to regions mute
as this one: waves, current action in old lakes,
limey excess where rainwater burns,
hot interior flow. A kind of I make-up,
applied precisely, roughed a little in its line
to be natural, as if she had cried.
She inhales the last, stringent pollen of the flowers,
entirely in the future perfect of past's science
where no one's life will ever be this safe,
where someone has mercifully delayed a father and mother
before she is conceived. I see, she says.
Once in here, you difficultly leave.
The one-way membrane sustains a tree
at the boundary of space blackened by its limbs.
She is I, echoes the near desert,
its path three-dimensioned light, nothing
can travel faster than, private Beatrice
to a self's infinite secession,
its sites ablaze, unlikely, infloresced.
How soon we slip through beginnings to this
refrain, some people happy in their houses
near a mind, the moon's most rugged terrain.

By Now We Were Freezing

We have been sleeping for thirty-six hours,
you and me. That takes devotion to geology
to the entrada, the sunset leaving it, its light
contriving the red butte's grey, left to right,
as if your body's shadow, massive
and indigenous, passed above me. The spirit's
temperature falls. Beside tamarisks
choking the stream, even ranks of cottonwoods
space neatly to await water's season,
running once. Whose voice calls softly, single-
minded in reversal, to the one
who remains behind? Inside a woman,
who sways, dizzy at being so contained,
dragged here to chastize the fluent woman's
body? I sit abstractly. A wish
learning to wait. Unlike the rabbit,
I move backward in my mind to its burrow
quickly as it sped into the thicket's close.
The subject is object disqualified.
Little anomaly, rabbit, can we exist
apart from one another? So close,
is there anyone to know? Eros slips
insistent into vision: the steer
dead in the wash, its head stretched back, skin
taut across the skull, renders weather
to its final cry, flesh, first and last to go.
She is crying that voice, all virtual
in force or effect, though not actually
or expressly soreduced to virtual
poverty, for example, like the saints,
those genius lovers. I could almost forget
the quick flood that carried what was above it
into it, tearing the solid to
its own warm course. Or the membraneous yellow
of the prickly pear, retracting. Its secret,
hidden needles. When memory flashes,
this wall of solid rock will pass out.
Night, as it does, will pass out into me,
its voice breaking open its own pleasure,
its formal phenomenon needless, a god,
a small, dry poison. Sleep is a species
of order poised around earth's no other-when
than thissolicitous, it wants to keep us
always. And the wind covers everything,
meaning we disrobe completely, a mouth,
unnameable, closing around us.
Its tongue explores our teeth, muffles
our guilty laughter, hard in its own science,
ardent. Storm's funnel draws monolithic
toward the ridge, force and object unlimited.
This fine sand would be blinding if it were
not night. As it is, the voice dresses in fire.
Elijah, in his burning car, travels
an arc,
consumed so swiftly anyone might think
that coming, as we have done, had roused us
and the sky's nervous wire we use as light.
In light limpid as standing snow-melt
and as palely green, the season's first
globular goatsbeard arranges the roadside cut.
Its weightless seeds commute to distances
on the wind's thick taproot, everywhere.
How can you look at me as you do,
as if I were that common herb?
My body breaks within your gaze, milky,
into what you want to disappear.
The mind, a delicate fiber at the top
of each occasion, allows me
to escape. This parachute, how can I tell,
means that you seed all over the place,
yellow salsify, related species.
Yours, mine, the goatsbeard appears
suspended, singular in late, late sun.
Inside it are a thousand mirrors
and inside us, your need for one.
In fact, it has no form at all.
I look at it and say its name,
tragopogon dubius, to you in this way
as you say Janet, the trade-name.
Our purposes are elsewhere certified.
Yes, this potent early evening takes us
to itself as if the code could be undone.
We're trained so, to be happy standing
in the tree's shadow, thinking,
what's happening now? A half-bird catches
in the eye, a fluid slash of black,
a plea: Come back, come back,
we need to promote each other
as the sibilance hissing into speed,
deepening blue's oldest promotion
over shapes, defines shaped sides.
What grows wild is doubly beautiful.
What grows wild is a disguise.
Not badly formed. Take my hand,
being impervious to meaning in its bones
carefully snapping the goatsbeard from near
as the goatsbeard comes apart here
and there, its life dissembling.
Somewhere a set of premises keeps us
apart. Whomever I was talking to
through this day's economy of green
holds in space between the eye and mind
a thousand shining girders.