If there’s a synonym for magic
it lies not in the wand
but at the bud-bent end.
The body’s a spring,
the mind a whore.
Easter dawn, and loss.
Better to have been born poor
than come to this late poverty
where milk carries its aftertaste
and what’s been bought and sold—
orchid from the realtor
sitting on scarred teak table.
Better to have been made
to make do all along:
then she unwrapped a stick of butter,
saved the wrapper to smear a pan
for the next flat cake
taken from the cavern of her oven.
An old moon-faced clock
just beginning to light
the humbled kitchen
where each day began
at the same stained bowl:
then she wore her torn robe
over white bra and underwear,
a dateless slip,
four dresses that carried through
every season—lavender in a vase
on the Formica table,
its smart yellow chairs.
If you think I freed you from the tree
only to have you master my minutes
with rare speeches and harsh orders—
if you dare try that alchemy
without first consulting the oracle
who lives apart from your image
of yourself as little god and hero
come to implement strategies, to write up
here what couldn’t be done on land—
well, I am under your aegis despite
my lack of form. Go on then, try to harness
an elemental. Stare me down,
wrestle me with your ugly veined hand
and I will fight towards the shore,
for I alone can swim the distance
from this compartment bordered on every side
by water, and I would be thought fair
by any brother who came from the woman
who birthed you, who thought of you
as gentle, retiring, kind, well brought up
in art as in the science of planets, orbs,
and droplets, of mercury, in which—heavier
than you, I daily bathe, and gain
outright audacity, the spirit to hear those birds
bearing what is left of land: talon, feather, claw.
Judith Skillman’s new collections are Broken Lines—The Art & Craft of Poetry (Lummox Press, 2013), and The Phoenix—New and Selected Poems 2007 – 2013 (Dream Horse Press). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, Midwest Quarterly Review, The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, A Cadence of Hooves, and other journals and anthologies. She is the recipient of grants from the Academy of American Poets, the Washington State Arts Commission, the Centrum Foundation, and the King County Arts Commission. Visit judithskillman.com