The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2022

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MARCH 2022 Issue
Poetry

four


Illuminations


I found the purpose of the earlier scenes,
the Saint’s passion, for instance, bound to a diagonal cross
(in order to differentiate him from Christ),
meaningless, but necessary.
That Saint died after no more than three
days of torment. But there are full-page miniatures now
in his honor, in the Books of Hours, splayed in a diffident
specter-like cheer, his arms upraised, the crowd
numb and low and engrossed—
Human nature is bifolios, versos, even blank pages
with preparatory rulings for the scribes, never painted upon.
Little books of suffering saints and resurrections.
That’s what we are.


Remember that errors will be made.
Even in our laboriously created books:
(the ox, traditionally associated with Luke,
shown above Matthew), (the origin of the bear
at the Annunciation, problematical). On this sheet
the Evangelist dips a pen into an inkpot
and rests an arm on the side of a chair,
inspired, like Luke, by the dove,
preparing to set down an account of a life
on paper made from the skin of sheep.


The artist will demonstrate understanding
for the interpretation of receding space,
the progressively diminishing size of this conceit;
the depiction of the centrally placed coffin in this book,
covered with a gold-patterned black pall and white cross
will mean something other. Something unutterable.


The artist will look upon the bat for no purpose.
A mammal of the order Chiroptera.
And like the angel, every bat is terrifying.
They keep appearing in my house,
silent and graceful, and so too as in Rilke’s elegy,
we stand in the doorframe with coats over our heads
and fishing nets in our hands, asking, Who are you?
And so too, in the center of the village of
Brandon, Vermont, I will stand at a railing
and watch a bat come out from under the bridge
over the water that moves to fall, tumbling, magnificent,
endlessly into the ravine—
I will watch the bat that seems
like an ecstatic shadow of Rilke himself, circling
and circling the bearing strata, underneath the small span
of bridge, its brown-veined knife-like wing turning sideways
like a Star Wars ship, disturbing the surface of the water
with the sharp edge, the ripple moving out from the touch
as delicate as would an eyelash falling off the eye of a saint onto the water.


All nature is the guts of goats, hammered into paper
and painted with images of tortured pagans.


Perhaps the design I should consider is the stone, not the flesh.
No nutrition attached. No life. Not brought here by hunger
but the bone result
of all that desire that came before.
(The vivid colors of Books of Hours were sometimes
from semiprecious stones, gold, and egg.)


Consider the scene of the Virgin Mary
visiting her cousin Elizabeth, how
it is surrounded like our heads, by a droll,
grotesque marginalia.
A human half-figure fends off butterflies
with a sword. A snail attacks a tower. Behind them
the walled-in medieval city. The flayed sun.


When I am like this, I can taste
the earth by just looking at it,
like pregnant women who crave dirt, a gesture of animalism—I,
wanting to die, wanting to dig back in,
in a perpetual calendar of demise and resurrection,
want to put stones in my mouth.
Want to taste something of rock.
I’m stuck inside the walls of a secret garden
that hasn’t been tended in many years, maybe ever.
Its roses contort, the terminal buds gone amok—
it is some version of the feral, original state
after being tampered with: gardens left alone.


Sometimes you pass a house in Vermont long abandoned
and sinking into the ground,
and there will still be, every spring, daffodils
within the mass of weeds and new forest—
where someone once cultivated and controlled nature,
developed flower beds into specific patterns—
come back like bright, natural scars.


I dream I lay grief on a tarp by the highway, for sale,
for practically free. And wait.
I dream I go to the jail to turn myself in,
but at the last moment, turn away,
and live my life.


A page turns, stiff and adorned.
The painted pains we stand before, wait upon, pray to,
all the devotion to it, as if the slaughter
is all we can hope for, the living, smashed into pigment
and spread between the eyes of the young—
inheriting over and over again
the beautiful, upside-down fading look of saints.








Other Wound


The wound is usually someone else’s.
My love was never enough.
I couldn’t touch the whole of it.
I wasn’t a match for that depth.


Every daughter
has a cage around her head
and a mother on the cross.


I always hope to take it off, and rarely do.
Instead, I climb up, like a child into the bed.
I nail myself beside you.








Quantum Mechanics Reveals the Unique Behaviors of Subatomic Particles That Make Up All Matter


I’ve disappeared into the huge false teeth of my grandma’s mouth
hoping she’ll posthumously forgive me for our fight
when she shouted so hard, they fell out.
“You don’t like me anymore
because you found out I have dentures”
She said later. I was the crocodile stunned shut.
My love could never be
fully trusted.


Unique behaviors between mothers and daughters
are like the behaviors between subatomic particles
that make up all matter.
Yanked into the car. Beet-red. Broke.


I blow upon the tiny glass beads. I scatter them on the floor.
The image appears, shudders, disappears.
I feast as if on fresh snow. I feast on the song of it all.








In Absence—This Unknowing


When you leave, faceless
old lover, element
that I have tried for so long
to explain—I will be
suspended between
two large stones
for a moment
thinking you were good
before I am revived.
I will be laundry
that has gotten loose
from the line. Pantyhose
flying into traffic.
So long, handsome.
When you go, I will be
the moth, the butterfly,
turned to broth in the cocoon.
Reassembled, I will climb out
and you will be subsumed
into a majesty of vapor
gone as an orchid.
I plan it, little switchblade.
I will it, strand of sweet spittle,
endearing idiot I made
out of mud and loss—
you, whose shelf life is zero,
you, who keep me from totality
and the small sum of what
is otherwise infinite.

Contributor

Bianca Stone

Bianca Stone is author of The Mobius Strip Club of Grief (Tin House, 2018), Someone Else's Wedding Vows (Octopus Books and Tin House, 2014); the children’s book A Little Called Pauline, with text by Gertrude Stein, (Penny Candy Books, 2020). Her newest poetry collection is What is Otherwise Infinite (Tin House, 2022). She teaches poetry and hosts a podcast as Creative Director at the Ruth Stone House in Vermont.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2022

All Issues