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Seven Poems, by Gillian Cummings



I would give anything to
I would make an offering of

Myself in the autumn field:

black tasseled shawl over
flowy white linen skirt,
black buttoned boots—

a still out of Tarkovsky’s
Nostalghia, only I am old.

I am climbing out of infinity.
I am standing still in the field.

There is no mist, no white
horse munching grass, no—

And I have come too far
to believe the last goldenrod

proves salvation, as if God
wove a web of the meadow,

as if I could close my eyes
and a storm of sparrows

would lift out of an effigy.


White and Red

Far, far away there lived

The white glove of snow
over the hand of the hills.

In a hut thatched of wolf howls
In a forest laden with ghost clothes
In a bowl of strawberries and tears

I ran my mouth through the milk
of a thousand slaughtered calves.

If that was what drink meant.

There are things that go
legless by night and eyeless by day.

Over the still and blind hills.

Tomorrow, will you come to fetch me?
Tomorrow, will the trees lose their limbs?
Tomorrow, will you bury my tears?

Please leave my tiny, trepanned skull
in a poppy’s bloom, to lure bewildered bees.


Olives, Tomatoes

The willow bends to the water
The fish cry aloud about salt
The woman feeds them sesame seeds

that fall from wheaten rolls.

A girl beheads all her dolls
A doll wears a dress stitched from oil
An oil rig builds a sky for more suns

as fire falls over houses and barns.

I told you I wouldn’t run, says the horse—
I told you I wouldn’t burn, says the barn—
I am unequal to the task of being naked, says the doll—

The woman wants: tea, olives, tomatoes—
The girl wants to cry herself asleep with the fish—
The oil wants to bloom, a lily in a bird’s beak—

Some people want the olive branch.

Some people the sky peeled of skin.


Wolf Hour

—after the composition by Justina Jaruševičiūtė


I fell. Asleep.
And falling, fell asleep.
Only I was not sleeping.

The room. It moved.
Moved like a tired tree.
A tree by the window, soughing.

The night was a bird.
In the mouth. Of a wolf.
I opened my mouth to a tree.

Night said, Count the tree.
Your blessing. Count the bird.
And the wolf in me looked

To the moon. The moon
crying light through the tree.
Blooming out of my fear. Like a bird.



—after the composition by Arvo Pärt


Everything is exquisite:
the night rain falling and falling

through the ruined ceiling
of the scriptorium, the mold

on the manuscripts, all the delicate
scrollwork of tiny leaves and birds,

all the calligraphy in still-wet gold.
If there was something that came

between us, let it be written
on parchment in quill-fine gold.

And no words, not one, spoken.
Let violins, let pianos, let rain.

It’s not that we cannot speak.
It’s that we do not want to.



—after the composition by Aija Alsina


A paperweight,
a small glass bird,

kept in a cardboard
box, weighted by

a house of stones:
prison of one soul.


One day, one breath:
a breeze of almost

no touch, yet touching,
timidly, like an after-

thought of love. One day,
touch said, This is.


The weight of night
the bird had known

shattered into down,
the tiniest of feathers.

And dawn stretched
a blue blanket of last stars.



Disaster, the dove’s wing—
dun-grey against the sun.

Tomorrow, a wooden cross—
ablaze on a sculpture of skulls.

Now, this moment, my hand
holding a daisy, delicate petal-ring—
every white finger of flame torn off.

Where do we go when ash falls,
dun-grey feathers on hand-dug graves?

Where, when the God-prophet prefers
twist of thorn to burst of grape?

Where, now, when nothing is hidden,
yet I cannot find the river of life
crossing my palm to where horses drink rain?


(Image: still from Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice)


  • Gillian Cummings is the author of The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter, winner of the 2018 Colorado Prize for Poetry; and My Dim Aviary, winner of the 2015 Hudson Prize from Black Lawrence Press. Her poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Boulevard, The Colorado Review, The Journal, The Massachusetts Review, and other journals.

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