Apr/May 2012 Poetry

Three Poems

by Lauren Henley

Dog Teeth

I find them everywhere now,
whereas before—
maybe a grain of uncooked rice
or the sharp dart
of a fingernail clipping.
Not disappointing
but not worth saving in a glass jar either.
It would be crazy,
it would be alarming
to dump
a new jar of jelly down the drain,
soak the jar in the sink
until the label came off clean,
all for a grain of uncooked rice.
But now,
Teeth shaped like nubile goat horns
or the serrated fins of albacore,
teeth shaped like the decorous
prongs of a royal crown,
like the flames of an enraged structure fire,
teeth like party hats and wizard hats and head wraps,
the kinds of shapes you'd find
in a storm-racked ocean,
the waves hurling forward or falling back
into themselves,
teeth like mountains summoning snow
at various heights,
their places of discovery as unpredictable
as crash sites—
one by the couch, one in my gym shoe,
and another, still clinging to a tennis ball.
I now understand scientists.
Or maybe I understand parents.
Collectors, eccentrics, fanatics—
those who can stare for light years in quiet contentment
until they understand the molting bird,
the uncurled fist,
the strand of hair, the piece of bone.


This Morning, Over Coffee, I Try to Remember the Time Between Conception and Birth

I assume
that I was there
in the predawn dark
of my mother's body,
meaning, rather,
that I was conscious,
that I actually heard the ballet of the galaxy,
the toothed wheels
of her parts
driven by a copper spring—
but really,
what thing so new to the world
could know more
than a needle on a record player,
helpless but to fall into the groove.
Inside another body,
we are mute as seeds, weightless,
turning as waterwheels in space.
Sometimes we grow a sideways vine
or a backwards bloom,
a thin arm
with a bud closed forever.
When I was being made,
my father was a wind tunnel
and my mother was scattered against the window
of the brightest house.
When it happened,
conception made the sound of a shotgun
being fired at close range, though
they had expected the reverb of a gong.
How could two bodies know what
they are making.
What do I know. That is not a question.
I am not too proud to say
that I was there and yet
I was not there,
that it was dark
but it might have been the brightest room
in a perfect house
I will never come back to.


The Metaphor

These friends, these rooms, I walk through them
every night,
touching lightly the broken lace of curtain,
the origami stars tied to floss and dangling from the ceiling,
the three-footed candy dish turned pink in the window ledge,
the roach and the copper pin inside a Styrofoam cup,
and then the thin blankets draped over bedrails,
acoustic guitars of basswood and alder propped up in corners,
listening for water to boil in the kettle,
for the album to turn over,
for the sound of women coming up the path, their names
swaying the way I have seen their hips
and purses, the way small
good things sway.
But now of course none of those sounds come.
Now I have to bow my head to get through each doorway,
as these friends, these rooms,
are getting smaller.
Probably it is that I no longer fit,
and because my memory is fading, I carry too much in my pockets,
I wear every thing I own.

Once, in these rooms, I could say something partially true,
say drunkenly that I could smell the coldness
of my birth, that therefore birthdays were
empty cruise ships in the port of Hammerfest, Norway,
that parties are smashed igloos and there is nothing
to do about it,
I could stand abruptly, try dancing the cancan
and trip,
spill a bright red drink
on the carpet, and no one would say, “Lauren,
you are cursed.”
Here is the whole of it:
when friends are gathered on a sagging davenport,
each one of them touching you with a limb,
each one of them looking at you
as you tell your story and sob, you will find
no right metaphor, there simply will not be one,
just the various smells of their skin
and the taste of tears in your throat,
and the moment will be like many things,
many similes will float by you
like the fuzzy seeds of dried dandelions or soap bubbles
from a plastic wand,
but the moment will not have a metaphor,
it will only ever be what it is.
Only when the friends are gone, may you be
eighty or twenty-seven,
will you find these rooms which have been waiting for you,
the broken lace of curtain, the origami stars,
the roach and the pin, an early Bowie album partly out of its jacket.
Only when the last friend has left, their disappearance
like a pearl dropped in the sea,
will you come bowing and bowing through each doorway
wearing your coffee stained bathrobe and nothing else,
looking like some kind of sad and hooded monk,
only then will you know
as you know your own name,
the metaphor.


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