let me count the waves :: sandra beasley

    We must not look for poetry in poems.
                    —Donald Revell

You must not skirt the issue wearing skirts.
You must not duck the bullet using ducks.
You must not face the music with your face.
Headbutting, don’t use your head. Or your butt.
You must not use a house to build a home,
and never look for poetry in poems.

In fact, inject giraffes into your poems.
Let loose the circus monkeys in their skirts.
Explain the nest of wood is not a home
at all, but a blind for shooting wild ducks.
Grab the shotgun by its metrical butt;
aim at your Muse’s quacking, Pringled face.

It’s good we’re talking like this, face to face.
There should be more headbutting over poems.
Citing an 80s brand has its cost but
honors the teenage me, always in skirts,
showing my sister how to Be the Duck
with a potato-chip beak. Take me home,

Mr. Revell. Or make yourself at home
in my postbellum, Reconstruction face—
my gray eyes, my rebel ears, all my ducks
in the row of a defeated mouth. Poems
were once civil. But war has torn my skirts
off at the first ruffle, baring my butt

or as termed in verse, my luminous butt.
Whitman once made a hospital his home.
Emily built a prison of her skirts.
Tigers roamed the sad veldt of Stevens’s face.
That was the old landscape. All the new poems
map the two dimensions of cartoon ducks.

We’re young and green. We’re braces of mallards,
not barrels of fish. Shoot if you must but
Donald, we’re with you. Trying to save poems,
we settle and frame their ramshackle homes.
What is form? Turning art to artifice,
trading pelts for a more durable skirt.

Even urban ducklings deserve a home.
Make way. In the modern: Make way, Buttface.
A poem is coming through, lifting her skirt.

flour is firm :: sandra beasley

       The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, line 4234

Baking two parts flour to one part water
could stop a bullet. So good soldiers
carried their hardtack over their hearts.
Break it down with a rifle butt, flood it,
fry it in pig fat to make hellfire stew.
Gnaw it raw and praise the juice.

Does wheat prepare for this as it grows,
seeking the light in a half-thawed field?
Do stalks know their strength is merely
in their number? What is ground down
we name flour in promise that it will be
made useful. Otherwise, it’s just dust.

Sheet iron crackers.
Teeth-dullers.
Would you call it starving, if a man dies
with hardtack still tucked in his pocket?
Can you call it food, if the bullet comes only
at the moment he gives in and swallows?

vocation :: sandra beasley

For six months I dealt Baccarat in a casino.
For six months I played Brahms in a mall.
For six months I arranged museum dioramas;
my hands were too small for the Paleolithic
and when they reassigned me to lichens, I quit.
I type ninety-one words per minute, all of them
Help. Yes, I speak Dewey Decimal.
I speak Russian, Latin, a smattering of Tlingit.
I can balance seven dinner plates on my arm.
All I want to do is sit on a veranda while
a hard rain falls around me. I’ll file your 1099s.
I’ll make love to strangers of your choice.
I’ll do whatever you want, as long as I can do it
on that veranda. If it calls you, it’s your calling,
right? Once I asked a broker what he loved
about his job, and he said Making a killing.
Once I asked a serial killer what made him
get up in the morning, and he said The people.

cherry tomatoes :: sandra beasley

Little bastards of vine.
Little demons by the pint.
Red eggs that never hatch,
just collapse and rot. When

my mom told me to gather
their grubby bodies
into my skirt, I’d cry. You
and your father, she’d chide—

the way, each time I kicked
and wailed against sailing,
my dad shook his head, said
You and your mother.

Now, a city girl, I ease one
loose from its siblings,
from its clear plastic coffin,
place it on my tongue.

Just to try. The smooth
surface resists, resists,
and erupts in my mouth:
seeds, juice, acid, blood

of a perfect household.
The way, when I finally
went sailing, my stomach
was rocked from inside

out. Little boat, big sea.
Handful of skinned sunsets.

the fish :: sandra beasley

Bullet dodged, meant your thrust. Another: Load the gun.
You bit my shoulder and I thought Turn, turn and fire
those nights we barely surfaced from sleep to go at it,
pulling each into the other’s half-dreamed agenda: Liftoff.
Touchdown in ten yards. Umbrella, unfurling in hard rain.

For two months I felt the drift of your hand to my thigh
as fish, fish, fish, Japanese tails muscling through unseen water.
Always, the body just an alias for something more urgent—
one morning sex was a fist pounding on the submarine hatch;
once you reported our fuck rescued a dozen Croatian children.
Once you tried to call it making love and I said I don’t think
that counts, what we do
. Now my room is silent, save for
three fish plucking their gold mouths at the water’s skin.
They make it look easy—that blind gasp for something
you need. O, O, O. They make it look like breathing.

hear the reading

love poem for wednesday :: sandra beasley

You’re the day after Tuesday, before eternity.
You’re the day we ran out of tomatoes
and used tiny packets of ketchup instead.

You are salt, no salt, too much salt, a hangover.
You hold the breath of an abandoned cave.
Sometimes you surprise me with your

aurora borealis and I’ll pull over to watch you;
I’ll wait in the dark shivering fields of you.
But mostly, not. My students don’t care for you

or your lessons from the life of a minor god.
Can you hit the high C in our anthem?
Can you bench press a national disaster?

I fear for you, Wednesday. Your papers
are never in order. Your boots track in mud.
You’re the day I realized I didn’t even like him,

and the day I still said yes, yes, yes.
Sometimes I think you and I should elope,
and leave this house of cards to shuffle itself.

You are love, no love, too much love, a cuckold.
You are the loneliest of the three bears, hoping
to come home and find someone in your bed.

the sand speaks :: sandra beasley

I’m fluid and omnivorous, casual in
my eternity. I’ll knock up your oysters.
I’ll eat your diamonds. I’m a mutt, no
one thing at all, just the size that counts

and if you’re animal small enough, come;
if you’re vegetable small enough, come;
if you’re mineral small enough, come.
Mothers, brush me from the hands

of your children. Lovers, shake me
from the cuffs of your pants. Draw
a line, make it my mouth: I’ll name
your country. I’m a Yes man at heart.

Let’s play Hide and Go Drown. Let’s play
Pearls for His Eyes. When the men fall
I like the way their arms touch, their legs
touch. There are always more men, men

who bring bags big enough to hold
each other. A man who kneels down
with a smaller bag, cups and pours, cups
and pours, as if I could prove anything.

unit of measure :: sandra beasley

All can be measured by the standard of the capybara.
Everyone is lesser than or greater than the capybara.
Everything is taller or shorter than the capybara.
Everything is mistaken for a Brazilian dance craze
more or less frequently than the capybara.
Everyone eats greater or fewer watermelons
than the capybara. Everyone eats more or less bark.
Everyone barks more than or less than the capybara,
who also whistles, clicks, grunts, and emits what is known
as his alarm squeal. Everyone is more or less alarmed
than a capybara, who–because his back legs
are longer than his front legs–feels like
he is going downhill at all times.
Everyone is more or less a master of grasses
than the capybara. Or going by the scientific name,
more or less Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
or, going by the Greek translation, more or less
water hog. Everyone is more or less
of a fish than the capybara, defined as the outermost realm
of fishdom by the 16th-century Catholic Church.
Everyone is eaten more or less often for Lent than
the capybara. Shredded, spiced, and served over plantains,
everything tastes more or less like pork
than the capybara. Before you decide that you are
greater than or lesser than a capybara, consider
that while the Brazilian capybara breeds only once a year,
the Venezuelan variety mates continuously.
Consider the last time you mated continuously.
Consider the year of your childhood when you had
exactly as many teeth as the capybara–
twenty–and all yours fell out, and all his
kept growing. Consider how his skin stretches
in only one direction. Accept that you are stretchier
than the capybara. Accept that you have foolishly
distributed your eyes, ears, and nostrils
all over your face. Accept that now you will never be able
to sleep underwater. Accept that the fish
will never gather to your capybara body offering
their soft, finned love. One of us, they say, one of us,
but they will not say it to you.

(via Poetry, via Metafilter.)

the piano speaks :: sandra beasley

      After Erik Satie

For an hour I forgot my fat self,
my neurotic innards, my addiction to alignment.

For an hour I forgot my fear of rain.

For an hour I was a salamander
shimmying through the kelp in search of shore,
and under his fingers the notes slid loose
from my belly in a long jellyrope of eggs
that took root in the mud. And what

would hatch, I did not know—
a lie. A waltz. An apostle of glass.

For an hour I stood on two legs
and ran. For an hour I panted and galloped.

For an hour I was a maple tree,
and under the summer of his fingers
the notes seeded and winged away

in the clutch of small, elegant helicopters.

another failed poem about the greeks :: sandra beasley

His sword dripped blood. His helmet gleamed.
He dragged a Gorgon’s head behind him.

As first dates go, this was problematic.
He itched and fidgeted. He said Could I

save something for you? But I was all out
of maidens bound to rocks. So I took him

on a roller coaster, wedging in next to
his breastplated body in the little car.

He put his arm around me, as the Greeks do.
On the first dip he laughed. On the first drop

he clutched my shoulder and screamed like
a catamite. When we ratcheted to a full stop

he said Again. We went on the Scrambler,
the Apple Turnover, the Log Flume.

We went on the Pirate Ship three times,
swooshing forward, back, upside down,

and he cried Aera!, waving his sword,
until the operator asked him to please keep

all swords inside the car. He was a good sport,
letting the drachmas fall out of his pockets;

sparing the girl who spilled punch on his shield;
waving as I rode the Carousel’s hippogriff

though it was a slow ride, and I made him
hold my purse. On the way home

he said We should do this again sometime,
though we both knew it would never happen

since he was Greek, of course, and dead,
and somewhere a maiden rattled her chains.