Three Poems / Stephen Cramer



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                                                                                                      




                                                 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 


iii. In Lesbos

                Her town market 


                                                                           its teeming 



                                               wine flask, figs

& golden bracelets  

                           the punctured intervals erasing

                                                            half her city

                              so the streets are lent a new, 

                                                                                      imposed syncopation:

                                                     anklebone cups 



                                                                        each piece 


                 parceled & perfect, 

                             as if it were the first time 

                                                                                               sounds were used

                                                           to signify the world: 



                        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.