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The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2021

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JUL-AUG 2021 Issue
Poetry

seven


Bottomless Wings



Do it like you’ve never been hurt before, they said, opening jam packets with their teeth as if everything
after Delaware never happened. Do it like your soul was just born from one eternity into the next.


If a hawk could smile it still wouldn’t. I mean just because you’ve never seen it doesn’t mean it can’t be.


So beset by surprises, it was as if this whole country were under some enchantment. All feelings return to the
same place like dimes rolling on an uneven cabin floor. I think it must mean something and so fine be
that way then.


They left before dawn but stopped early for breakfast and there she was, the world’s last widow, petty,
heart-pounding.


When I get back I don’t know the difference between faith, grace, and what guides good drivers. I was so alone
at the video rental. I touched all the covers, made sacred vows, came back the next day, and the day
after that.


I heard her out back shouting, “I’m not a child” to the night like the night won’t decide how old you are.


Whether you like it or not I don’t want anything else and so it keeps coming, rain in April, blood in eye.
In the gift shop at the hospital there was this decorative bucket fountain under a hovering spicket which
poured down water from no visible source, endlessly, and I thought there it is, secret of my cul-de-sac,
heart of my ancient heart. I begged you to buy it but I know you did not.


So I started collecting carved angels, attracted at first by the naturalism of their postures and then by the
anonymity of their features, like the name for a regional specialty that means nothing anywhere else.


At the bottom of the ravine at the center of the world we didn’t find any of the things we lost. The view
from your childhood window on Halloween morning remains unchanged, just the trees get bigger, the
trees and you.


Having seen it, clear and soundless, they left the restaurant before they were finished, knowing what was
coming and what would not.


I watch them walk to their car through the window, like if it makes you happy then why.









How To Get Water



It would be easy to mistake the desert
for a grave, but the desert is the ocean,
and the ocean is a grave. If you must
grow, grow slowly, see if time makes you
sturdy, if a four wheeler can pass you over
like a breeze through a mariner’s hair.
I walk to the bow, do my little shake
silently from laughing routine. I listen
to your music and pretend it’s mine.
Or that we are together and the same.
The glass is in your hand, the glass
is in mine, the glass is across the street
at a party, talking with girls about
animals they’ve known, or wished to. The sky
is about to break and destroy the tiger
orange balloon that escaped its festival
and now rolls fugitive along the street. I never
asked for this or for money or for the sun
in its relentless splendor to chase us
down each day, jealous of our sports teams
and love and fancy cocktails and the way
mortality makes them taste more minerally
and sweet. I could devise a test, and the
test could generate a map, and the map
could us deliver to the armory of dead letters,
and the letters could form a code, a code
that I will waste what’s left of my life
in struggle to decipher, and then one day
my granddaughter smoking a cigarette
with her gills, could finally see the system,
drop her cigarette in disbelief, and it would
embering roll like a ball to the sea.









Eventually everyone needs a woman
to appear at a distance and burn like
science fiction’s distant cities, with
medical training and the memory of
six or seven summers by the water,
draped in silver from the hidden filth
of icicles, receiving confession with
a clerk’s casual disinterest, a stingray
at the end of the ocean, the hardest
blue of dawn, walking backwards
from a station fixed by nothing
but the firmament of her argument
won in chaos, to stand in her
silence like a vandal at the crypt,
in love with its marble door.









Two Truths And A Lie



Before you die you watch The Ring at your friend’s mom’s house and you wonder where the bathroom
could be for a long time before you finally get up to pee.


No technological advancement is necessary to hear your voice in my head, just like no technological
advancement could ever turn it off.


My dad worked for Prince before I was born. He and my mom lived in Minneapolis, as did my
grandmother and uncle. One weekend they all painted Prince’s windmill. I can guess what color, but I
can’t begin to imagine what it contained.


Whenever a bird sits on your fire escape, it’s channeling the spirit of a dead pet from childhood. That’s
why it seems so pissed. It’s there as God’s evil spy and soon it will tell the angels everything.


All those exercises we performed when I was your gym teacher were not simple acts of cruelty. Each loop
and toss had a special purpose and soon you will wish you could thank me.


Today in the country house I toured the stables, selecting which horses should live and die. I, believing in
no God and under orders from no man, let loose their fiery cries.


It’s called a ventricle in memory of my wife and the hollow of the sky under which she paces eternal,
radiant, annoyed.


The canyons only echo because they want you to know how dumb you sound right now.


This is a photograph of a healthy heart. And this is a photograph of a helicopter. And here my mom is
seated by a tree. She is wearing a sweater. Around her, the 1980’s. She is hoping that if someday she has
a daughter she will crease her calendar, bring the weight to the meeting. She loves Gene Wilder and
Malibu rum.


Children run around this lot every day. No one knows where they came from and no one sees them when
they leave.


You slow down as you approach the candy factory. You think about taking a tour, but wonder how much
more information you really need. The sun is baking you, but too slowly for you to ever be done. Your
breath tastes like vitamins and you are enclosed in imaginary crinoline. There are things you can’t see that
nevertheless see you. They watch with feigned disinterest, or maybe it’s sincere. When you die,
the weight of a petal is added to the world.









Birch Witch



Bright honey, you late guitar,
you all throney. Era over. Thrown
downed, marshful angel, opera-
tional cadence, bug or splinter, what
country. Big honey, old phonics,
some party, huh, Jody? Eleven
to twelve to most Marshalls,
mere love could not the day
defeat, the gate to start the
counting over, feel s-o-o-o-o
optimistic in it, rattle geese,
rattle glowing. Maybe alive I’ll
try with you. Sky, sky,
dirt suit, the tornado that
soon the town won over.









Reverse Seance



When I get home it’s going to be
everyone’s Halloween. She painted
on wood either a siphonal canal or
an eye, or a drain with slender tentacles
emerging from its mouth. Her beauty
as I imagined it made me feel
uncomfortable, which is a part of
the sublime when you are trying
to live with it but find yourself
daily ill-prepared for existence
on this temporal scale, its dangling
earrings clinking against your own.


Where were you before you were
here? A wire outside a building,
the trash bag covers a shrub.
The plague of my training in
predestination, to see in everything
I did everything I could have done
and the maze of consequences
which would have followed, so
I feel simultaneous regret and
panic at the precarity of
circumstance, however unyielding
it may seem. But then I feel too
a relief to know I’ve always picked
the thing I could survive.


How anyone has the energy to
do anything after work. I go
to my lake as an apostle to drink.
It’s one of those things you don’t
care about really, but in all your
moves you never lose, forget,
or break, and now it sits in a
vexed position between
superstition and trash, the
privacy of your idols, where
nocturnal animals sleep.


I bought those rocks from a psychic
in Marin County. I got some for
my mom and sister too. I was
at that time the standard apex
of disaster, I felt free, but not
in a way I particularly enjoyed.
Then I went to a grocery store
and thought about the folly of
believing you can start over when
everything is always ongoing
while I also planned
the next steps I would take
in my starting over while I also
looked for the apples I thought
looked best, least
bruised and most red.


When you break down an anthem
it’s still just verse and sometimes
chorus, but the worst type
of either. This is your reminder
to use water-based lubricant
so you’ll be ready when you’re
washed to the sea. I know that
nothing is missing, but nothing
stops me from wanting more.


I hope heaven is like a particularly
comradely free clinic waiting
room when no one is too sick,
even though then my grandma
would hate it after waiting for
so long. The blanket my mom
got her for the last of her Christmases,
as the rock-purveying psychic had warned
me it would be, now sits at the foot
of my bed. I always take it off
before having sex, not out of shame
or propriety but because it’s white and fluffy
and trouble to wash. It lays outstretched
and looks exactly like snow on which might
rest the humble village where a woman
is laying out breakfast for people
who don’t have time to eat.
I was reborn a frozen cherry. Not
knowing who was on their way or in
what ways they would change my
new circumstance. I think it was
brought in by the mist, obscuring
the statues, exposing the vulnerability
of grandeur. Pretty as a picture
of the municipal water tower that
was abandoned by the city in 2004
but never by me. Love has four wheels.
Love keeps increasing BPM
like a cruel but inspiring pottery
class. Regardless, I enter the circuitry
of your family—tell me five things
you are sad about right now.









Jennifer Hollywood



Pissing yourself at a party isn’t that embarrassing if you aren’t weird about it. Jennifer takes her hand,
they turn gently on the landing and climb back up the stairs. Jennifer tells her mom to chill for a minute,
there’s so much pressure on women to be perfect, to be women no matter what else they are also doing.
When things start to get really crazy, they call neither a priest who is young nor a priest who is old, they
call one who is both, they call Jennifer. She shows them how to get out bloodstains, how to really quickly
thaw frozen fish, and how to balance on the ceiling as it wavers and cracks. The demon visitor is charmed
by the way Jennifer snorts when she laughs. They live like this, house-playing, relaxed ambulance, night
gestures. It’s not that the crisis is averted, it’s just that it’s fine.


Insurance scams can be sexy, but often they are not. Jennifer looked and didn’t know who to save, so
following her good sense chose the teenage stepdaughter. Perhaps everyone else still died, but by then
Jennifer and the stepdaughter were living new lives, feeding meat to wild dogs and finally perfecting the
telephone. Their telephone only works when you want it to, and only at night, except in October when it
doesn’t work at all.


The city is always being destroyed, which is the fate of all beautiful things. The house is always going
with it. Jennifer says not to worry. There never was a city. This is nowhere. Now it’s over. Now it’s
making its comeback.


When the family moved to California, Jennifer was already waiting. She surveyed the boardwalk like an
amorous debutante. Not her, the boardwalk. Vampires don’t have reflections of their own because they’re
too busy reflecting the fears and desires of all the people who look.


Jennifer was in debt, but more amused by the idea that people imagine themselves debt-free than
concerned about consequences for her particular lack. She did want to keep her cat though, so she drove it
to the hills to hide in the garage of a castle. She finds the perfect hiding castle easily, and after parking the
car is invited in to preside over funeral rites. She pressed her fingers into the magenta velvet of the coffin
lining and knew this place was hers. She had not forgotten what a star looks like. She sees them
everywhere, in grocery stores, in dreams. Habits develop quickly. Jennifer spent the mornings by the pool
with the actress, swimming and rehearsing. She quickly understood the rules of bridge, and beat everyone
every time with one hand in a bucket of pearls. On New Year’s she traced the tiles, singing lavish, ravage,
dine. Soon the golden age of silent film starts over. Language is no longer written down, as all messages
are conveyed through blinking and glistening, all meaning evanescent, except for glamor, which is
eternal. Meanwhile Jennifer is involved in writing a script, a script about a teacher, at night with a hotshot
on vacated studio lots. The hotshot is getting married, she has dreams, she wants a nose job, she’s clever
all the time. They walk imaginary night streets and talk about childhood. They stop writing before the
story is over because stories are never over and never is writing. Every moment is a close-up. All seats
are taken but it doesn’t matter, anywhere can be here.

Contributor

Laura Henriksen

Laura Henriksen is the author of several chapbooks, including Agata, Canadian Girlfriends, and October Poems.

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The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2021

All Issues