Carol Guess

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After the publication of my first book of poetry, Femme's Dictionary, I began to feel constrained by conventional lyric and narrative forms. I wrote a sequence of poems that veered toward fragments -- loose lines without punctuation or conventional syntax. Although I loved the music of that sequence (soon to be published as a book, Love Is A Map I Must Not Set On Fire), I wanted to return to storytelling, to strike a balance between story and sound. Prose poetry feels natural to me right now, but I wonder if it is an end point or yet another passage in-between? These poems are part of a manuscript first titled Maiden Names, currently titled Tinderbox Lawn.

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BACK

 

Blacksmith in love hoists the 9-lb hammer, forges a coffin the size of her fist. When it cools, she sets two mice inside: bodies entwined, bones dried. She seals the box with barbed wire locks, a gift for her lover as he weeps for his sister: the Green River Killer’s next-to-last murder. Picking me up from the airport last August you drove the shortcut down Sea-Tac strip. Dozens of girls by the side of the road, bridges and brides in overgrown green. Remember the river and the names in the river. You drove for miles while I begged you to stop. That night a noise woke us, coyote or shot. Your flashlight led us through sharp grass, saplings sprouting where we’d gorged on cherries. When the stranger ran past us the sheet slipped her shoulders until she ran naked down Rural Road. This was not a dream of the river but waking life: the bloodstained mouth, a scattering of seeds, saplings crowding each other to breathe.

***

Your next-door neighbor was always crying. One afternoon she stood in the grass cutting her hair, which vanished as it fell into the thick of green things. In case you’re wondering, I have a web cam. People pay me to have sex and then cry. She brewed herbal tea with leaves from her garden, mint so sharp it brought tears to your eyes.

***

It was for the time in the car with him. He’d call and she’d say yes, although she’d come round to say no to the others. She’d write it down on the calendar above the sink. She’d wash her hair the night before. He always said that he was grateful. He paid her more than the going rate. For over a year she rode in the car with him every Saturday, twenty minutes each way, forty minutes a week. She continued to take money from him after it happened. He continued to say that he was grateful. Because of these things she came to believe that what was happening was happening to a different girl.

***

Your mother’s maiden name was Dexler. My mother’s maiden name was Dexter, and we remarked on this coincidence, our secret handshake. It felt breezy, sharing Dex with you. Secretly we each liked our ending better--your ler, with its drunken waltzing; my ter, with its sequined tap dancing. I met your mother twice. The first time was an accident. I was holding your place in line while you went back for something you’d forgotten. A woman stood behind me; I helped her unload her basket. Then I heard your boots and turned around. I asked for her name. Gladys, she said. I introduced you to your mother at Madison Market. Later I realized what the resemblance was: the way you shook hands like strangers to love.

***

She sets blue flowers in a vase of blue water, stems sticking up, blossoms face down. She drowns conversation in touch, a language others have to pay her for. Haven’t I been here before, panties in my back pocket a backhanded compliment? There was a door but I didn’t use it. There was a chance for neglect or escape. I drape her solitude in dreamless sleep. We’re wearing matching music today and isn’t this lovely, sex without a lens or a man? How we light each other’s dresses. How she dresses and undresses. How quiet the world before the word belief. I release doves from the crook of her crooked smile. She leads small ruined lives into the midst of this.

 

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Carol Guess is the author of four books, most recently Femme’s Dictionary (Calyx Books). Two new poetry books are forthcoming in 2008: Love Is A Map I Must Not Set On Fire (VRZHU Press) and Tinderbox Lawn (Rose Metal Press). She lives with her Canadian bride, writer Elizabeth Colen, in Bellingham, WA.