ON MARC CHAGALL'S THE POET AND THE
Until the birds appeared, I stared at the clouds,
smooth as boulders. I watched edges blur
in the new breeze, the grass go golden.
Marc trusts the goat when it dictates
ecstatic purples and deep reds,
when it says gravity means nothing.
But I know I will not levitate from this earth.
If the birds are my muse it is good they can fly
on their own, wheeling into the trees
to speak to me. They are white, blank—
only the vibrant play of color around them
allows them to exist at all. I strain to hear them.
If Marc hadn’t called them birds, hadn’t bound them
to that tree, they would be my words, forming
and reforming, flapping against an impossible sky.
Once there were four brothers.
One of them—you—ran into the sea
and became a walrus, or maybe a seal.
Many years later, I married your brother.
We all live in a castle-type set-up on the sea.
Your mother dominates the wives, but grows old.
Your father is dead now—your brothers run the place.
Most nights I stand waist-deep in the water
and the dolphins come with their perfect softness
and rub along my legs and toss their heads.
One night when the quarter-moon shone silver
you swam right up to me and nuzzled my arm.
You are definitely a seal—no giant whiskers like a walrus.
I had only heard tell of you, the lost brother.
You told me who you were, and I backed away,
took refuge on the beach—it’s not often that a seal
with human eyes speaks to me in the moonlight.
But you flippered ashore, lay next to me on the sand,
and told me of your adventures. I love your brother, I said,
and also, How did you get the sea to take you in?
When you dream of nothing else but salt and undulation
and endless freedom, you are ready, you said.
But there is always something else to dream—
babies who need tending, fairy tales, a husband
who hums and smiles in his sleep. You visit often.
I bring you hunks of meat and household gossip.
One day soon you will dream of us, and the sea
will take your flippers and set you back on sand.
monotype and woodcut 23" x 34"
see more work by Susan Goldman
AT THE WILD ANIMAL KINGDOM...
1. We ride in a black cherry Dodge Caravan
with doors locked—the animals roam free.
2. The heat index shoots over 100 degrees—
tongues hang out and tails and ears
flick—it’s south Florida—flick-flick.
3. Monkeys and baboons sprawl
in the patchy grass along the road
in suggestive positions—blushing
my sister and I look away and giggle.
It’s probably just nature.
4. The gazelles only start running
because the car in front of us
keeps laying on its horn.
5. There seem to be sections of nothing—
the park map says RHINOS.
6. The lion is the color of sand and lies
there on it, mane thick with sandburs.
I wonder what keeps people from opening
their car doors and trying to get the animals
to move. Or take pictures with a lion.
7. An emu comes running up beside us
out of nowhere and starts pecking
the hell out of the driver’s window, angry
or crazy, or wanting our Cheetos.
My dad speeds up then slows down
but the emu keeps pace, bashing
its beak into the glass next to him.
As the minutes pass, it’s hard to tell
if we are laughing or screaming.
AFTER YARD EGGS, BY SALLY MANN
Mama says when my hair blows
like that it makes me look mythic.
I say, like a princess? She says,
like Ophelia drowning in air.
I don’t ask who Ophelia is, but I know
it feels beautiful when the wind rushes
through the yard and leaps at my body,
tries to steal my hat of eggs
into the sky. Eggs don’t make sense,
seem too fragile to hold baby birds,
seems too dumb to leave them cuddled
in the dirt under the bushes for me
to find and carry away for frying.
Their mamas think the sky will hide them,
that the leaning grasses will hold them close
and watch over them. My mama
knows better. She is always watching.
I can shut my eyes and feast on the wind,
thick with sweet green smells—I will not
blow away from this yard with her eye
constantly whirring the world into stillness.
BEFORE NEWTON WE FLOATED
Before Newton named it gravity,
what did people call that force
that pinned them to the ground,
that made walking off the edge
a drop, a dive, rather than a rise, a flight?
Maybe they never dreamed dreams
where the world they thought
was still, but was really spinning,
stopped spinning, and just like that,
they floated off the ground,
rising like helium balloons
they couldn’t imagine either,
pirouetting through the sky
with their livestock and lunch,
their children and tools,
their spears and boats and wheels.
There was apparently no gravity
to their situations, except there was—
that unnamed infant of a force
holding them fast.
No one knows who invented
the word love. It was named
in all the first languages—
a force worthy of a label.
But before you named it, I dreamed
that dream again and again,
always on the verge of floating
away, sucked into atmosphere,
a pinprick of light, untethered
in the weightless dark universe.
Abigail Beckel is the cofounder and
publisher of the independent hybrid-genre publishing company Rose Metal
Press. She has worked professionally in publishing for more than ten
years, and received her MA in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College.
Beckel's poetry can be found in So and So Magazine, The
Vanderbilt Review, and Rainbow Curve. She lives in Washington,
in Volume 12, Number 4, Fall 2011.