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Two Poems, by Elizabeth Robinson

 

Wear Away

Light makes light; day makes day.

The endless panting of the dog owes

nothing to heat or pain, but to measure—

each breath is an increment and breath

wears away the husk

of increment.

 

The moment falls into jeopardy, yet not

jeopardy.  Unsafety.  In the dark

we hear its quick breath.  And we are lulled

to sleep.

 

Light undoes light; day recoils from day.

In the ambient noise of time, we

no longer hear the dog’s ceaseless

panting, but see in the dim its

necessary tongue curling

around breath.

 

This threadbare, this eroded

breath satiates undoing.

But time remains: obstinate.

 

Give the creature a treat, a

morsel, to distract breath from

breath.  Head

vibrating with the heat

of respiration.

 

Breath

is creation, the fleet rhythm

of desperation.  Grasped

by the lung, and so ejected.

 

We see light recede

from the window of the day when

to see is to rub through

sight into darkness.  Dark

reducing dark to a nub, and night’s

breath ragged, then slowing.

 

We sleep through the unsafety

of darkness, tempted and finally

trained to breathe more slowly,

lips introducing raveled breath

to the margin of lung, lost time,

the dog hidden in a rhythm shiny

with overuse, a vague glow, a consoling

warning.

 

Lost Gospel

In the lost gospel, children gambol
in the master’s field and when he

tells them that it is his—they must go—
the children strip naked and stand

before him.

The story waits for punishment,
but the children, in a row,

cannot quite stand still, twirling,
extending their limbs.

They are innocent because they
have no understanding of guilt.

 

The master is at a loss, looks away.
They were not quite children.  More like

feathers pouring out of a torn pillowcase.
Or leaves in scatter across a field devoid of
trees.

What it is to play? It is to accept arrival
as coincident with departure.

Pink on the surface chafed with
nakedness. Here is

the dark inside them: beneath tongue,
at navel, inside whorl of ear, armpit.

An insistence where there wasn’t any.
Gravity distended into space.

*

They frightened us by their innocence.
They came away from their crime so readily.

The master took a blade
and cut the shiny locks from their heads

but did not otherwise dismember them.
He planted the hair

in the empty field or burned it:
less deciduous than ashy.  A reek

of burnt hair in the lost story
that portended good news.

*

A wrist that lifts

a hand toward the falling
leaf that changed course, drifted elsewhere.

Felicitous loss.
Hide and seek.

The hand, reaching, finds what would prefer not
to be found.

*

For the child, what is naked
is what is supposed to be

naked
for a child.

The children gasp in delight,
bending down when they realize

each hand, like each foot,
has five appendages, not

just parallel, but the multiple

parallels, the gospel, the
tree, the child, the master,

the bare bareness,
naked hands and feet whose parts

fall away
and then are reborn

when they
are fitted back together

in the innocent reach
of the body.

 

Elizabeth Robinson is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Rumor and Blue Heron. Robinson's book On Ghosts was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. She has been a winner of the National Poetry Series for Pure Descent and the Fence Modern Poets Prize for Apprehend. With Jennifer Phelps, Robinson co-edited Quo Anima: Innovation and Spirituality in Contemporary Women's Poetry.

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