Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Poem with Three Addresses by Elizabeth Spackman
Having made themselves drunk they no longer said ‘Let us do penance.’
— From “The Life of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl,” The Codex Chimalpopoca
Stare up at the dappled asbestos ceiling
the one part in this room unadorned.
You, Trish, tend my exposed parts,
drape and re-drape the sheet that keeps
us decent. The Zen rock fountain trickles
on and on. Would let you yank my strain
straight from my bones, but your touch skims
light all but my face and what my bartender
termed her tired titty-pussy-triangle. No matter,
for now I can redeem such touch myself
or for no coined fee. Flip over—
ours still a professional relationship.
There are many kinds. Your kindness
of touch not one I could give another:
my hands might crumple, fistfuls of flesh
turn tinker toy tales. A fear perhaps
not rational. Exchange we say we understand:
given a pound of flesh, small pittance
for a rub-a-dub-dub, line up
our ducky economies all in a row. Love
that assured manicure in pink, softly striated
hair, small peels of color on your sleepy lids.
We are not friends, I know,
but trust I am trying
to be a body suspended, give up
to your hands. Overlook
my clothes crumpled in the corner, tell me
practice will make me better
at this particular relaxing. I will not blink
as you pat rose oil onto my limbs,
know the scent will make me rash. Let it cling
to my skin, sweat us sweet for a week. The inside
fuzz of my sweatshirt licks its slick kiss
and I wear that lint like some new blue down.
water off our backs and under
nothing they could bring us here, we
two girls in touching distance creaky dock sky splinters of lights with no need
for names. you could do the math to find our astral coordinates and I wonder
if that leaves my thoughts sullied, even our ablution down and dirty
but you remembered the cookies, and I haven’t won at scrabble yet
so later we’ll light the gaslights for a game, tomorrow do our unlady-like
scramble granite let the rope coil
snap into the canoe, swim to the rock and again all bare but for sandals, the twice
pass her by boaters won’t seem to mind.
Now we and wood and water, no harness to hold us up nor loss to slow our fall.
you say, power is a liquid, who would want to hold its weep? I say,
Say albedo. See if we can name these streaks like numbers. Say it again.
Over a week ago now I paid a woman to touch my back.
Down in the Cities you were paid to clean floors;
I think you would be bewildered one of our own would give so much for the knead of another’s hands. I’ve come back to this place, wonder Could this be your hair still left in a forgotten top shelf brush,
un-blonded? I wouldn’t know your helix. I’ve craved this shimmy of birch leaves, that whiff of pine, but would you have even remarked, you who rarely left these trees?
I am told it is uncouth to address someone in a poem with what they already know, but as you’re dead, I can’t tell what you might want. At this place
I can name what is: the autumn water fowl— two loons left behind, the puckered shore where the ice took the dock, lake water to drink and lisäå loyloää—more steam—
to erase. I can complicate with what I know: my father’s first dog who’s puskaa you cursed and who was later poisoned by a neighbor, the slope of ramp that some days delivers
my sullen mother to this, her northern confinement. I don’t know what you ever said; perhaps you would tell me your son’s six boys can eat at least twelve dozen fresh doughnuts.
All I have of you: a picture at the side of Lake Eshequagama:
well-cut overalls, in your left hand slung a giant fish. Hannah, tell us,
we are wasting, tired, remiss. I am asking for my students (preposterous
to learn from me), my teachers (as ridiculous to ask of you).
I know only the moon you saw, a floor you swept, but if you
tell us, we will wash our faces in the sauna ash,
we will wear our condescension as a collar. Hannah Haapa if you can, tell us
how to forgive our unmarked faces, our lightly soiled
shoes. Don’t leave us here, dangling hook through palette,
twitching while we gawk at the shifting speed of light. Cradle us instead
in your free hand— all of us, bodies seeping—as you might hold pellets for the chipmunks’ maw.
Elizabeth Spackman studied philosophy at University of California Berkeley and received her MFA from the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop. Her work has appeared in ibid and Upstairs at Duroc. Currently, she is adrift in the world, looking for the next city to call home.
This is part of a series of poems from invited poets. Previous contributors were Luke Heeley, Joe Ross and George Szirtes. Illustration by Jonathan Wonham.