Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche’s Weathers and the forthcoming collection, In The Event of Full Disclosure (Wordtech, 2013). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, American Letters & Commentary, and BOMB.
In Plain Sight
Incomprehensibility has an enormous power over us in illness….
—Virginia Woolf [On Being Ill]
I am certain of only one thing—
I am a team a team of (n)one.
In the lineage, all things pass
through the kitchen, the mouth, origin
to the tribe. Smudged surfaces claim every trace
in the family cell— I moistened my tooth-brush,
it came back with germs of madness—
Verdant and wet, just this side of the doormat,
pale footsteps left at the ajar
of an argument. One June afternoon, a feud
erupted (in the frozen food section).
It was hot as a dog’s nap, when a baby cried out
like a road side bomb.
I kept smiling at the cashier, thumbing bruise-less
fruits, counting the dated canned goods.
It took hostages, sealed windows,
taped my mouth shut
with sugar and pleasantries. I kid you not,
it pawned off my jewelry, blood diamonds
of /t/rust. I screamed out loud,
but nobody answered.
I need to mind what matters most—
My sister needing a phone call,
my husband an apology, the time to watch
my son fumble a soccer ball down a muddy field.
I am so clumsy
to the people I love. I’ve slid my tongue
on the sharp end of the conversation.
I am the form built to last, but made with
cheap labor and parts.
(Do you wanna trade your troubles for mine?—
yours are manageable, and state-of-the-art.)
The dog watches my son when I’m not home—
(I mean, home, but not).
Letter to Metaphor
Soundless as a disc on a dot of snow
It goes without saying, there’s something
for everyone. Remember the slut
of the multi-purpose room,
legs spread and bearing
the burden for everyone—?
Lipstick put on
for all the wrong reasons,
and all dolled-up for what
the bed of roses stole.
A note was penned
by simile’s hand—your first cousin
allergic at the ersatz country house,
flirting with images and glyphs.
Ask for subtlety, you’ll get
a mixed strip-tease every time.
No consequence, no punishment,
like when you helped write
cheat notes on the inside
of my hand—the same naked hand
that braided hair, slipped off a coat—
traded in sex for a prayer.
Without A Visible Sign
(after music by Jan Garbarek)
Seed me the need to pair down, threaten
six birds with one
stone. Indecipherable lists, breeding
more lists—Remember when
the chalkboard scratched its weary head
in delirium, desperate for the proof,
an empirical evidence
that we were here! Translucent shoal
of fish swimming a blue streak
in the river that holds
my religion—and my house beside it,
as if the domestic institution
of the soul.
The river is my lung, or the long green
dress, I never got to wear to the prom.
The crisp gown, stilled tagged
and left on the bed by my mother’s indecisions
like hush money clad in chiffon.
Is there ever simplicity?
The wrinkled symphony—the river’s violin,
the bullfrog floating with eyes closed
like padlocks and waiting to awaken
to the night’s uncertainty. The riderless
canoe spreads the inchoate word
of mankind. My foot soldier
(prom-date) weary and hocking for war or fertility—
it’s always one or the other. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Water and oil will be the elements
that make us kill. I’ll spend the rest of my days
telling my story, someone else will tell theirs.
The prints will be left—
You have to forget everything
You know to write poetry.
‘In Plain Sight’ was first published in In Quire. ‘Letter to Metaphor’ was first published in The Broome Review. ‘Without a Visible Sign’ was first published in Inertia.