Nancy Naomi Carlson


.........Language is primarily so much air...
...................--Anthony Burgess

We read the shapes of lips
as they frame each mouthful of air--
the taut pull crisping sound

or the rounded pout,
meaning twisted into patterns
that take on a familiar slant.

Eyebrows arch and drop,
ride the curves of inflection.
When the timing is off,

words appear before they are spoken.
Some sounds run on
as if from underwater,

meaning rising to the surface
with an instinct to survive.
Feeling amplifies

the steady beat, beat of idea
that opens to a human voice
transposed to fit any key.



Picture braised, sliced veal loins purloined
from the bone and restored, laid over a bed
of cut pasta with truffles and cream--

did I mention the sauce Mornay?--for queen
or diva a fitting tribute, or the perfect dish
for the prelude to a tryst set, let's say,

in Rome against the ruins, or Palazzo Farnese, or maybe
the Tiber, sweat beading on our sunburned flesh
like rain on an apple, golden and delicious, rare

and forbidden, each bite's aftertaste
another hunger, a scene glazed like raku, hot
from the kiln--sapphire sky, white crests of a river

out of control, an overflow, an other-worldly tint--
Sant'Andrea della Valle bells tolling, veristic pitch.



I'm a brass-bellied Buddha's dream,
an evening of gauze, stars blue
and windswept, the quicksilver moon
tangled in the limbs of a lone banyan tree.
Oh rub me to a blinding sheen!

I am the sitar's ragged throat, pitched
between here and when,
caught in quartertones, worlds bewitched.
Why these four arms so long unkissed!
Am I not your goddess?

My five mouths roll their uvulas,
guttural as high winds crossing desert dunes.
Is there not a stopping place for us,
adrift, two souls who speak in tongues?

Stevens Carter
The Embrace
see more work by Stevens Carter



Untethered in a sea of sound,
words before they root themselves
into daily speech insinuate
meaning through the shape of lips,
the exploration of tongues--
sibilants hissing danger,
stops stanching the flow.

Neither shush nor shoo,
sheesh combines secret with outrage,
speech with a twist,
or screech when the direction is wrong.
Godzillion surpasses what cannot be grasped,
hard to hold as hawthorn,
thornbill or magpie;
fried marbles, their cat's eyes sizzled,
frozen until centers cracked.
So many ways glass can splinter
without coming apart,
each ray of light taking a new turn.

Animal grafts to mineral
in foxglove and wormwood.
Mutations arise from vowel shifts
or consonants dropped back into a pool
like fish too small to hold a place,
or chromosomes that miss
their acrobatic linkages
(no safety net spotting below).



........................Elle allait sur la pointe de ses pieds nus...elle s'abbattait
........................contre sa poitrine, avec un long frisson.
..................................--Gustave Flaubert

Aveling's Bovary comes to Leon barefooted,
but Russell's Bovary tiptoes on bare feet.
The difference begs definition. A double supplication--
pieds nus losing truth in the twice translated,
like a copperhead shedding its skins.
Tell me the perfect words to bring me to you--

as if perfect were not petals of abstraction,
white and unknowable, but the fruit of here and now,
thick and earthy, weighing down the tongue.
Would you have me come in well-heeled pumps
or spiked heels, wobbly and drunk?
Sneakers padding the floor, laces trailing like adders?

Or stripped to essentials--flesh and bone.
But barefooted or on bare feet?
Bare feet seem too plodding, since I would be light footed
and running toward you. But would I throw myself
upon your breast with a long shudder, swooping
like a tern, wings beating against her own dazed reflection,

or sink into your arms with an equally long shudder?
No, if I were to sink, it would be into the green pool
of your eyes--more of a resurfacing,
an emerging from the long cocoon of longing.
A dipping, as a taper that grows, or a plating of gold,
or a brioche brushed golden with yolk, devoured.



Nancy Naomi Carlson's work has appeared in such journals as Poetry, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, The South Carolina Review, Chelsea, Puerto del Sol, and The Greensboro Review. Her collection of poetry, Kings Highway, won the 1997 Washington Writers' Publishing House competition, and Complications of the Heart won the 2002 Texas Review Press's Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize. Imperfect Seal of Lips was the winner of the 2005 Tennessee Chapbook Prize. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2003, 2004, and 2005, she currently is an associate editor for Tupelo Press and an instructor at The Writer's Center in Bethesda.

Published in Volume 6, Number 3, Summer 2005.