Poetry: Margaret Graber
Hanging from the ceiling above your head
is the stained-glass swan your aunt Sam made
for your parents on their wedding. It has hung like this
from the chain-link for years, and you still can’t describe
how it feels when the hummingbird in the backyard
hovers five feet in front of your gaze. For ten minutes, voices
from a radio in the garage where my dad listens
to White Sox games have been coming in
through the floor vents, but I want to write a poem
about a unique species of bird, even though I don’t know how
to write the poem.
I have asked the lily pads for insight
and I have watched my grandfather lie still in his casket
and depending on where you were standing, his smile would appear
and disappear, then before your eyes, reappear, which might be
the opposite of magic. This morning, the sky is blue
but dressed in cloud, so you close your eyes to look
to the blackness beyond, the star-shine within.
Here is a dream
of driving a motorcycle through the woods during Indiana summer
and you’re not steering, but the wind’s in your hair
while you ride the entire length of the pier and fly through the air
and into the lake, and you swim in the clearest water like a fish
with rainbow-colored scales, and each intake through the gills
declares this is the way that it is: in and out, back
and forth and through the doors you slammed your fist upon
like a silver-back gorilla in the jungle who pounds his chest
to claim it all as his. Something like relatives, phylums
and families, resemblance and reflection
and memories arriving and vanishing
and filling the sky like helicopters.
Meanwhile, your mother relays the news that somebody
has stolen her financial information, which is to say:
someone has taken her identity. And I think
what has made us this way? Are there too many brains?
Have the telescopes not seen far enough, the microscopes
deep enough? It is six P.M. in early September and the light
coming through the window shines through this stained-glass swan
onto the North wall of my bedroom. Her wings
folded gently to her side; two lotus flowers; her beak.
It is all there in the space between the glass
and painted wall. The dust, floating. One day
when the heart grows tired, when the brain begins
to disappear, what will the story sound like? A boy
dribbling a basketball; tires screeching; a sneezing dog.
Maybe a tulip rising through the soil, a leaf landing
on the water. Or perhaps, a dry Christmas tree,
discarded seven months, tossed like a log into a bonfire
at a summer block party, and how the flames shot forty-five feet into the air
and you were nine then, and your mouth opened
and they tossed in another and again the column of heat
rose through the evening’s periwinkle sky
and it stayed with you like a scar.
But time asked for silence: taught
how to lock a truth in the back room
and put duct-tape on its mouth.
All of the hostage
states of mind—let them go. Let the mountains stand
and the sky change. Let your eyes flood like lost African lakes
you bathed in once. You, with your one skin
and two eyes, close them and remember all the places
you come from: sisters traveling dirty roads;
brothers wandering through desert; panther eyes;
Antarctic skies and ice fields; father sequoia; magma
of our mothers; head which turns to the sound of laughter;
planet which turns to the groove of gravity—come and ask me:
will the swan sing forever? Can the tale ever be told?
Will the ancient and forthcoming song ever cease
It is there in the flame. A star burning.
The pieces of a stained-glass swan once blown
by a glassmaker in the fire-pit. This
is the smallest evidence: how light travels
unseen through a cold, dark space to reach window
and pass through the membrane of itself to shine.
the wars keep up with their noise, and the girls struggle
to attend a school, and the dream goes on. Fireflies illuminate
the pier and you hover for a few seconds in the air
before splashing into the water, and the world is filled with bubbles
and everything sparkles with greens and golds
and the water is clear, and seals and seahorses swim
their brand of dance, and you breathe in the oxygen
because you were home all this time: in the place that made you,
that shaped you, that nurtured you back and spoke kindly
and ferociously to the heart of you:
it is not done, it is not done; child
and friend, it is barely begun.
First we heard humming
coming from the walls. Then, honey
dripped from the ceiling
in long, sugary strands
the dog lapped up with his tongue
and the kids collected in jars
to sell on the sidewalk.
When the news spread, beekeepers
and exterminators swarmed the yard
with hammers and netted helmets.
In the kitchen, where the buzzing
swelled into song, they hammered
the walls into honeycomb until
they pulled the real hexagonal work
from the heap like waxy sheets of drywall.
Two years worth of amber gold
they say coated the wood frame.
Two years of pollination and wildflower.
Even though we were forced to leave
now when I hear the humming
of the refrigerator at night
when the kids are asleep and the dog
is stuck in his dreams, I can’t help
but press my hands and ear
to the wall
to hear what’s alive
on the other side.
There are ghosts in the garden. There are ghosts
on the beach. There are ghosts in the backseat
that fog the windows when they breathe.
There are ghosts on their knees. There are ghosts
telling jokes, drinking tea. There is a ghost strumming
a guitar by a tree. There are ghosts on a dune.
They somersault with sand. There are ghosts waiting
for a blue line train. There are ghosts holding hands.
There are ghosts taking photographs of a garage, of a gym.
There are ghosts in dark alleyways searching for keys.
There are ghosts in a garden. They are climbing trees
off a picnic table. They are thinking about love
and they will not come down.
When you plant your nose
to the cotton, smell
the smoke, the cornfields
after ten P.M., the night
before I left. Put your nostrils
to the neckline and dig deeper
than detergent, until you hit
how my skin smelled that summer:
like cold sand and a sunrise.
Don’t be afraid to bring your arms
through the sleeves, to lift your head
through the hole, to fill the space
where my ribs and lungs once knew
the name for warmth. Do this.
Cross your arms and look up—
past the moon and blackness
of outer space, into another blackness,
and smell there: oxygen thinning,
void without redwood or farm—
inhale the sweetness of flowers
and do not think of the distance
between a body and its heaven.
Look at your arms, the stained white,
the green lettering spelling Lady Vikes
across your heaving chest—smell this
other body. When your eyeglasses
break and it hurts too much
to touch the kettle on the stove,
when your tongue won’t deliver the words
needing to be said, put your face
to the dirt and breathe. Smell.
When our bodies come back
I’ll want them to remember