Three Poems / Stephen Cramer

Sappho                                                        


 

i: In Egypt  


 

Mummified crocodiles—

                                   her shredded

 

          songs curved with the dry

                                               sticks of their tongues.

 

                                  Strip by torn

strip, unknowing

           

                                            servants applied them

 

           to the mummy’s solemn  

ribs, & what ancient                                                                                                      

 

                                  paste

 

                                                 could have saved them

 

                   from sifting to trays

 

 

of shriveled olives

 

                                         & pomegranate

 

 


ii. Ellipsis




                             Her songs restored, thus:  



                                                                  unraveled to vacancies,


 whole sections traded for

                                 an arid hush, slender omissions



                       abrupting into strains 

               of a nervous lover—my tongue



                                     breaks up & a delicate fire


                            runs through my flesh— 

                                                                                                    her body ravished 


                                                   by a need so deep



                   only this forged 


                                                                    rhythm could keep her



                                            from breaking down,

                                 from seeing that the fires



                                                                  which rage inside us are a kind

 

                  rehearsal for death.

                                          & how to edge closer 


                                                         to that mystery than such 




                 silence





iii. In Lesbos




                Her town market 


              preserved,



                                                                           its teeming 


inventory: 

                                                        oyster, 


                                               wine flask, figs


& golden bracelets  



                           the punctured intervals erasing

                                                            half her city


                              so the streets are lent a new, 


                                                                                      imposed syncopation:


                                                     anklebone cups 


                honey


                                                              chickpeas 

                                                                        each piece 

 



                 parceled & perfect, 



                             as if it were the first time 



                                                                                               sounds were used


                                                           to signify the world: 


                crocodile, 


                                            pomegranate,



                        the words curving, still wet 



                                                             on my tongue. 



 

The Chase                                                          

 

I hate that the word

I spilled in anger is still

traveling away from us

 

into space, particles

striking each other

in a commute unending,

 

a mini comet

with my fury as that tiny

pinprick of fire out front.

 

When my body’s gone,

I’ll still be the record

of all the words I say—

 

that slow, irregular

Morse code rippling out

to the stars. But some day

 

millennia from now,

some unfathomable

life form may catch,

 

in their alien equivalent

of an ear, my future

long since past—how,

 

with my next words,

I hunted down that ridiculous

quarrel, how I trailed it,


shadowed it past pulsars                                                       

& through asteroid belts,

far past our galaxy’s

 

milkiest rim. I hope,

whoever might overhear this,

that they’re as patient

           

as you, my sweets,

that they don’t turn away

before they hear how I sent   

 

the smallest emissary

of a kiss stowed in a capsule

of whispered syllables

 

to hazard those hurling

fires uncharted,                                              

that unnamable dust.

 

 



Witch Doctor                    

  

She may not got

much teeth, but

if she likes you

 

she’ll make

your skinniest hen

lay a double-yolked

 

egg. I knocked

on her door,

still learning to shed

 

all my muscles

had acquired: 

the rigidity of curb,

 

my step aligned

to the obedience

of crosswalk & yield.

 

She mixed herself

a bowl of yolk

& ashes—the sticky

 

pulp of birth

& departure—slicked

her hands with it,

 

& darkened her body

with a second skin,

exhaling incantations, 


slipping in & out

of two languages

like a high heel

 

& a clog. A breeze

lifted from the lake,

& as she washed,

 

& tempera dissolved

to the water basin’s

wood, she sang

 

her dream:

the snake’s

scaled rainbow

 

coiling the grass

as it tunneled

out of itself,

 

the clouded membrane

finally torn

from its eyes.

 


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