Annie Pittman

ARS POETICA, FAILING
                                     
—for Victoria

Tonight, as I’m tending my pages,
the power goes out—
the whole complex, even streetlights
put to rest. Here at the edge of town,
the mountains are just silhouetted
lumps on what in a few hours
            we’ll call horizon.
I’ve forgotten what this kind of quiet
will do to a body. I take
a sponge bath at the sink.
How false the flashlight seems,
propped on a towel rack
& shining in the bathroom mirror,
too white like those new
halogen headlights I hate
& as they might find strewn
on the side of the highway—
            I am a speckled fawn
when dried bits of toothpaste
on the mirror are reflected
as tiny shadows against
my bare chest, dappling
my breasts with astral matter, 
nipples flecked planets of rust,
skin constellated into
something beautiful. Something
            I am trying to love.
Surely there’s a metaphor here
about having no light
as I tied the ends of my poems
together like prayer flags.
What I’m trying to find
the right passage of light
into, what I’m not saying
            is that V. is still dying.
On the way to the doctor’s office
the morning she’d learn
the prognosis, she sent me
a picture of the sunrise—
sky swelling with pink
as the cancer was doing
in her head, that quiet
awakening. Now it’s climbing
down her brain stem
& each visit the doctor
hands her new scans
of grief less time & now
            I am angry at the first
dumb flowers
of this spring—how quickly
they’ve already dried.
V. says she didn’t know
it would hurt when her hair fell out,
didn’t expect to feel each strand
abandoning its follicle.
            Tell me,
what lights here—what sacred
growth, my friend on the table
where they radiate her skull,
cells blooming her crown—
my words can’t touch? Not enough
to kiss the biopsy scars,
as if my lips could
somehow take her back
pre-op, back to the place
of unknowing, as if
darkness unprodded
is easier than the darkness we name.


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