A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
In those days, there was a woman in our circle
who was known, not only for her beauty,
but for taking off all her clothes and singing opera.
And sure enough, as the night wore on and the stars
emerged to stare at their reflections on the sea,
and everyone had drunk a little wine,
she began to disrobe, loose her great bosom,
and the tender belly, pale in the moonlight,
the Viking hips, and to let her torn raiment
fall to the sand as we looked up from the flames.
And then a voice lifted into the dark, high and clear
as a flock of blackbirds. And everything was very still,
the way the congregation quiets when the priest
prays over the incense, and the smoke wafts
up into the rafters. I wanted to be that free
inside the body, the doors of pleasure
opening, one after the next, an arpeggio
climbing the ladder of sky. And all the while
she was singing and wading into the water
until it rose up to her waist and then lapped
at the underside of her breasts, and the aria
drifted over us, her soprano spare and sharp
in the night air. And even though I was young,
somehow, in that moment, I heard it,
the song inside the song, and I knew then
that this was not the hymn of promise
but the body’s bright wailing against its limits.
A bird caught in a cathedral—the way it tries
to escape by throwing itself, again and again,
against the stained glass.
-Copyright 2019 Danusha Laméris. First published in American Poetry Review. Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author.
Danusha Laméris lives in Santa Cruz, California, where, after completing a B.A. in Studio Art at U.C. Santa Cruz, she studied independently and in workshops with poets Ellen Bass, Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar, among others. Her work has been published, or is forthcoming in: Best American Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The New York Times Magazine, New Letters, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, The SUN, and Tin House. Her work has also been in several anthologies, including The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. Her second book, Bonfire Opera, is coming out with University of Pittsburgh Press in spring 2020.
The Moons of August, her first book, was chosen by Naomi Shihab Nye as the winner of the 2013 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the 2015 Bingham University Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. She teaches private writing groups, works with individual poets, and is the current Poet Laureate of Santa Cruz County, California.