Apr/May 2002 spotlight

Six Poems

by Kathryn T.S. Bass


Analogy of the Thorn

How easily it slips in; how you might think it wasn’t staying, wasn’t tooth. The night competes with the sun in corners and closed mouths. Under cover of its shadow, darkness finds a place deep in your flesh. You know the reference: love of God, of man for woman, burrows sharp, penetrates slick arteries, the fists of sweetness knocking each other breathless, the ventricles, the pulse and throb. Remember how she said, so certain then, I want to know, and how her palm was crossed with it.


Santa Fe

As far as he can tell, there’s one main drag to this town, circling its wagons, hoarding its thin treasures against time, and he can’t get off of it. He’s got one place to go now, from the clinic parking lot, but he can’t find it, though it’s easy to find, according to the doctor he asked, the latina woman he asked, the receptionist he called.

His sister’s voice crossed the continent once to tell him that artists liked this town; she said “there’s a quality to the air.” He sees the air is empty; he sees clearly and into the distance. He breathes it in, and smells the dusty streets and dry cottonwoods, though there are flowers blooming, pink and purple, gold and blue. And here he is again: Walmart, Walgreens, Strip Mall, Brown “City Center” Sign. He’s tried to switch lanes here before, and veer right up ahead, but that wasn’t the right way.

Inside the circle, bright mexican rugs and loose sundresses hang on the sidewalk, interspersed by churches with wide, empty steps. Outside the asphalt belt, slate-colored sage brushes squat on the red hills like lost sheep dotting a landscape; and he, the shepherd, not knowing where to start, keeps marking this protective circle though there’s nothing of value within it.


Sometimes You Do Something Before It Happens

I know when I open my mouth I will start
the conversation that will end everything
we knew before.

We have held our breath to prevent this.

I know this is where it will happen: Our
botanic gardens; that the sound of my words,
the hard, irreversible, until now unspoken
truth, will dwell here for you among the lavender
and english thyme and lamb’s ears (so
soft) and rosemary, which you
always remember is for remembrance.

Broken, like the silence, we will walk away
from the warm light, the dotted Spring sky,
the reticulated ivy, the knot garden, suddenly
untied, and you will begin, and I will
begin, to create our separate stories
of the break up, our hollowed-out chests not
showing the concave shell blown out between us.

You will walk away, believing
that we have a later we can meet in. I will try
to love you at arms’ length, then, and remember
with this emptiness, how you filled me, almost

enough. But maybe this is not the time, the time

that’s coming. Maybe in this moment, as you bury
your round and generous face in the full pink peony (a beautiful
cabbage of a flower), as you risk inhaling a dozen courting ants,
seeking its sweet, sweet abundance, I think maybe
I will say nothing, nothing sharper
than those vivid petals, that spherical bloom. I nose

into a flower myself; it so supple, even the edges feel smooth,
so stiff, it seems to bear my weight, bend rightly,
and bounce back, holding again its perfect shape.


Why We Stay

Like the sun, an angry lover, relentless,
unleavable, as compelling as looking
in windows. There always seems
a chance for the golden hour—that slanting,
peaceful light blanketing, enriching
the dark corners. We love
the fact of love—as certain as the contrast
of shadow and sidewalk—shelved
between hope and its opposite. Often,
an hour breathes as a breeze through
screen doors, shows us the perfect globe
we might hold with tenderness, tenacity,
or let drop, shatter, grow jagged, dangerous.
That's why we hover there:
To cradle what might roll, in anger,
from a thoughtless hand. That's why
we wait patiently for love to break or break
through as long-awaited light.
That's why we think to sun ourselves
in what some call a storm.


The Disappearance

No deep, ripe sleep for days, the dull ache now pulses with her through the sere streets. There, in the cathedral, or here, in dappled shadows, she sits contented without. Soon, the need for sleep will fall from her, discarded peignoir from an overblown romance. Soon, she will be half day and night, distinct as continents from sea. In the quiet hours her breath becomes a labor, her children, invisible, populate the atmosphere, easy to let go, to forget or fail to recognize. No one knows she's here, making life, keeping safe. She concentrates on her invisibility, a charm. She names herself an angel, oversees the ambiguous creatures that slip into recognition, take on unknowing roles in her conspiracy. Maybe, you are looking through her right now.



His shoulder ripens beneath her rounded palm,
polishing gently. How can she speak against
the tears' mysterious source except to murmur
beauty, beauty into the swirling cavern of
his unfurled ear. The curve of it reminds words
of the sea they came from; they can't help but fall
under the spell, the river of music. He opens
into fields, the rich, earthly patchwork
that she flies above—fragile, minute.

It's not difficult; harder surfaces
have given up beneath the gentle pressure
of her voice. Her round breath shines
the faded stoplight lips. And he decides
which wings to wear. Enfolded
in her hollow mercy, he drifts away
from all of us, memorizing her sweet
amnesia lullaby by heart.


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