In the veiled light, the chest is a shroud
for what used to linger, powdered wing
and circle of flames destination
mapped my understanding—
gaps at the waterfront where the ships slowed
to listen to the gulls’ song bodies
O, this close to the sea
The salt covers everything
like a stuttering glass garden
at the turn of winter
The women crouch in the sand
wrestling shells from the insistent shoreline
My pocket flooded with charms
Dusk drawn dawn, moth hour—
venerated faces balance outside the window—
The day’s failed confession
A black stone on the tongue.
I remember crocus’ tips like pink mimeographs create their method,
and an uncertain resemblance: two girls under the pines
They imagine a door, struggle with its lock, then wander
onto a path of soft gray needles arms twined, eyes fogged.
You said the gray was absolute But
at the beginning of the Nineteenth
Century a boatman waved his rifle over the Natchez Trace—
being quite alive the girls held ground
to a translucent square cottonwood leaves lit a thousand tongues
panting in the muggy air tasting fire. The river
curled like a finger around its sloping banks
mustard weed and lambs ear underfoot
You wore homespun and satin slippers I was there
when the light fell
The soul had other ideas while we proclaimed blond
brilliantly in this umber season of molten rust. Arriving
at the door, itself a bronze medallion. Snow’s centerfold
was a sedge meadow
creased with wildflowers. We gathered
our hands together in a brocade bouquet, milk-cloud sky brimming with charms—
We were offered safe passage, handle
shaped like a horn, our hands before
sun-defeated contrails were chrysanthemum blossoms
separating our eyes from the outer body.
What artifice, what control! The air thrumming
with startled sounds, the body quiet as a page.
A silver tabletop laid with cards, but our unwieldy
communion finished with illegible spades. Sparrow’s
eggshell, comfrey stem, toast crust. A wintry caul
netted the pink afternoon.
[Why Loss Burns Back the Only Accompaniment Our Name Hardly Saves]
We waited in the zone of forgetting
Warming tincture in a tin pocket
And pedaled furiously when the door opened
Soaked sugar cubes extracted a kind of fire
As if taking back summer’s long rhythm
Or demanding a timpanic line
Something to rouse and rabble
Something to secure a wisp of blue smoke
As when flames over whiskey curve into lavender undulations
The snake of our too-close approximations
Reminiscent of lilac-silver-maple- supplications
We are carved from instinct
Knowing that liquid itself sanctifies a storm’s condition
So your heart up close is the truth
a handful of shadow
against a bare tree
strike a warrior stance—
your jade eye opalescent
your skin filmed with white—
thick with cameras the woods
crouch around you
animal loosed in the dead
leaves you pick up the scent
I laid down for you.
My cabochon tongue clicks and
your hand twitches open an abandoned
nest threaded with glass
the light sequins the floor:
records of every leave-taking
Black of the bruise
that spirals from the eye—
lilac, goldenrod, mint—
a scented bouquet smeared
across your skin: war palette.
I wove grasses into the dead
wings of uninvented birds, crushed
berries into blood so that the eye
would reanimate the woodland
of your face—
cast-off smile, a coal cabochon
In the hand, or smooth ash on
the tongue. You tasted your wound
wore it like a diadem, the crown
Of every hour
About These Poems
I first met Hillary in a van from Reno to Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Mid-conversation with another poet who was living on a lavender farm, I heard her voice behind me—engaged and alive in details of canning jams: cherries, rhubarb, rosemary, cinnamon, or maybe cardamom laced. We ended up being roommates that summer. Subsequently the whole house became a quick flock of friends. Perhaps this poetry from friendship or friendship out of poetry arrives and disintegrates in one breath.
Memory’s dislocation, newly leveled by fragment. It is daunting, this capture of admiration and sense of camaraderie I held for Hillary. I found in her a witty, lively personality, extraordinary intelligence, casually aware of all that crossed her parameter, and able to confidently yet modestly engage in any subject. She created a mirror within the relationship as a person with whom I could aspire to my highest potential. Her friendship was a rare and generous gift, and the poems we created were like that: unexpected, quick, yet prepared, conjured. We discussed the prospect of writing collaboratively over Cajun vegetable dishes at Dhat Island, a Caribbean Creole restaurant in Redlands. “I always liked the idea of the pseudonym ‘Hillary Christmas,’” she laughed, and we visualized a snowy chapbook’s interior vellum pages spilling outward into a multifold.
Our first collaborative poems addressed “Dear Madame Snow,” which was perhaps an exaggerated beginning, but fun. These poems arrived as effortlessly as our conversations, sparked and easy, written rapid fire via email exchange. We layered line by line, sentence by sentence, back and forth until we exhausted them—we added titles, omitted what was unnecessary until we both decided they were complete. We set few parameters and navigated the poems with little exterior discussion.
Thus our joy in writing together occurred in the surprise and dissolve of two efforts into one. Using gemstones as a focal point, the poems “Sardonyx” and “Amazonite” were written independently under the spirit of collaboration. I chose Amazonite, and she followed with Sardonyx.1 We also wrote a few poems using our names as prompts, and to the topic, taken from a behavioral assessment survey I often use at work: “Sometimes, When Alone, I Hear My Name.”
Now, alone with the thought of Hillary, I am able to read and reach back through poetry to connect again. Her generosity continues, as well as the entirety of her voice.
When I speak to the ghost inside our ghost, you are spared. We drink plum champagne, listen as ginger bees’ melodious scores swarm our laughter. Your giardiniera of late summer conserve: kumquat, clove, sycamore scent. Witness, you read the sky’s seam as botanical impress. Despite being led to this, nothing led us here. We followed glass shoreline’s effortless shoal. A frayed sail at cliff’s edge. Your eye turned away. The body, without intimation, recorded an imagined stillness.
Inside the snow my ghost trekked north. Architectures just shy of meadows—as you crossed a landscape’s furrowed constellation. Everything shameless. We ascended dusk. Meaning, my archetype’s unkempt gleam flattened to moss beneath battened currents. I set a lantern upon the wet grass.
1 these poems here are both Hillary’s