Kathrine Varnes


Both of these poems came out of physical activity, although this isn't always the case with my work. “Learning the Shape of the World” is one of those rare poems that just appeared whole cloth as I was walking home. Tetrameter – for the most part – lends itself to walking, or the reverse. Of course, once I wrote it down, I saw a few embarrassments that took roughly ten years to fix. “For My Tulips Covered in Darkness” began as rhythm, almost as if a little drum were playing it inside my head. Rhythm, then words. I had been digging in the yard. It was hard work, the sort of work that dishevels everything put together: the flannel shirt, the pony tail, even the laces of my boots.



Learning the Shape of the World

When I was young I took ballet.
Before my breasts burst from their B-cups
a perfectly smooth relevé
was easy: raise your arms, jump up.

My best friend’s father’s studio
was in North Hollywood. A box
with wooden floors and mirror so
we could check our form, it had no clock.

Our serious bodies would answer his rap —
(he danced principles for ABT)
with more turnout, blisters, and chronic hip cracks.
I remember him bored, annoyed, angry

with something, always. Restrained by charm,
he mesmerized most of his students, young girls
who held all of the delicate world in our arms,
our trained hair escaping in long wisps, or whirls.

It was what it was. We didn’t ask questions
or think about how things should be.
Spinning our hearts, we whipped out our hairpins
and set down the future, for all we knew, safely.



For My Tulips Covered In Darkness

Boone County clay is what he called it,
pitching the hardwood bark from bed to barrow.
Something about a man with dirt-stained knees,
shifting the landscape tree by tree
tamps down the loosed uncertainty.

Amend the soil (much easier said)
with compost, sand, manure, top soil, peat.
We dig; the neighbors’ children play in the street.
Like cutting butter into flour
if clay was butter and flour was sweet

the way dark earth has a carrot taste.
A driveway bloom, this girl astride her bike,
expounding with a jacket tied around her waist
on her mother’s garden prowess, smooth
braids where a mother’s fingers traced.

I notice her shoe’s unlaced; she ties
with efficiency of a girl who practiced hard
and pedals away with a child’s single mind.
Boot sole to shovel’s edge, I regard
the earth, imagine a spring unscarred.

Points up, on a dust of pulverized bone,
that day all things stood square in their places,
sure in the knowledge dormancy gave way
to warmth and water, my quiet surges,
answers nosing through the clay.



Kathrine Varnes is the author of a formally engaged book of poems, The Paragon (Word Tech 2005), and a play, Listen, which is scheduled for production in summer 2007. She is also co-editor with Annie Finch of the poetics handbook and anthology An Exaltation of Forms (Michigan 2002). Recent or forthcoming works can be found in Prairie Schooner, Per Contra, Black Clock, and Measure.