A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Maybe this is how it is: as you fall asleep a small hole opens
in the back of your head just above the neck where children
love to be tickled. This porthole opens and sleep tests the air.
Slow molecules count themselves into the long plastic tube,
till there’s smoke moving in the light of a projector and the
gas develops a flavor like the taste of a lover’s tongue. Then
the calm heat rises, taking you with it. Your soul’s misplaced,
your thoughts laid out like the unclaimed dead.
Or maybe this, a curtain falls somewhere in the cavity, the
diaphragm relaxes, winds die down, and you’re suddenly
soft, like the baby in her bath, like raw sausage, like clothes
from the dryer, the words you spoke only an hour ago broken
down to the inconsequential speech of women in Russian
novels, Sophia and Esther in the summerhouse, the young
blades gone to battle and your own pink sponges soaking up
blood. You’re so quiet, ribs chromatic as xylophones but at
the end you panic, gasp like a drowning man, fish-mouthed,
unlovely, and suck in sleep.
Or this. The nervous system gets it first, those long wires
that cross the plain of your back are strung with lead weights
at irregular intervals, sagging, unable to blow in memory’s
breezes or transmit the simplest text, how now brown cowand
you drop the disguise of your personality, lie slack-faced,
unbothered by intelligence as valves are opened and closed,
your limbs arranged on clean white tablecloths, septicemia
sounding in the distance, echoing until the submarine of your
body drops its scope and you sink.
Or maybe not, maybe it’s a carnival, all bright hallucinations,
a tilt-a-whirl ride and the small prick barely noticeable among
the helium balloons, the periphery alight with fireworks that
detonate like giant dandelions and as your stunned brain
scans the midway, neurons careen down a luminous path
where green-masked barkers offer rigged chances to count
backwards, to sing the national anthem, to say what may
have been left unsaid. And the words ricochet in your skull,
sassafras, sassafras, sassafras.
Copyright 2002 Deborah Bogen. From Living by the Children’s Cemetery. Chosen by Edward Hirsch for the 2002 Byline Press Poetry Prize.