Ann B. Knox
My skin browns in the May sun,
the map on my forearm emerges,
the old burn scar. (We were arguing,
remember? I spilled the coffee.)
Pale land masses ridged by tendons,
rivers that run to harbors, bays.
If I hold my hand out and face north
we read how channel leads to channel
past islands, headlands, back
to open sea. But if we turn in
toward the mountains, we must cross
a wide plain, then hack trails
through brush and hardwood working
upstream past beaver swamp and falls
to high ground. The way narrows,
shadows are cold and smell of stone,
our thighs ache, mist closes in.
Then wind stirs, ground slopes away
and breathing hard we look back
into cloud. I lift the map. See,
we have come this far, but we must press
deeper, moving in toward a hinterland
I am not sure we will recognize.
For AFP 1901 - 2001
On my 73rd birthday
my mother gave me
a kayak. She was 97
and still greedy
for the river
for sand bars
hungry for smell
of swamp, for blood-splash
of cardinal flower
spill over rapids
and the long ride out.
She's known the sweep
around a bend
to sudden view of mountains
known hidden rocks
of roil yet
Now she's joined
the river and my craft
cuts almost silent
through amber water
and a leaning spruce
curved to plumb
itself with gravity.
STORY ABOUT JIM
(For my brother, Mike)
I made you promise not to tell, then
told you a lie, a story about a friend.
I was twelve and had never touched a boy but knew
the sour smell of them in school hallways,
how the dray crabs of their hands snatched
a jack-ball or peeled paper from a Milky Way.
Jim I made different, he was smart, nice
and never shamed me. You were nine and believed.
Was he good at sports? I wasn't certain--
a ball lofted over left field, Jim following,
mitt ready for the neat thwack. After the game
girls swarmed around him, so I gave us an island.
What we did there was survive. Together we built
a driftwood hut, Jim fished, I walked the tideline
collecting washed up bottles, shells, rope.
Odd I made him so ordinary, almost like me,
but we each invent our Fridays, our cellmates--
parrot, cockroach, rat. I needed someone
to believe I was alive, even a lie of being alive
and you did, all your life. At the end
you said you'd never told anyone about the island
or Jim, not anyone, ever. And I had forgotten
how fifty years ago I imagined the ocean quiet,
small waves fanning the sand, the sea-wrack
rich with treasure and someone watching.
It wasn't Jim, but you, Mike, who knew I was there.
I LEARN OF GLACIERS
The week we studied glaciers, the land's form
changed, the low round hills beyond
my attic window acquired history and a name,
drumlin. Snow centuries-deep pressed
denser than ice, spread over borders,
mountains, grid-marks, to arrive at this place.
I was grateful for reasons--to know that warm
blew in and milk-blue melt left valleys
scoured and lined with river-sorted drift,
that claw marks on granite were ice-claws,
I loved the evidence of what earth did to itself.
Danger lay not in ice, but downstairs
where people moved from room to room, went
away and came back or didn't come back, they told
stories, then claimed they weren't true. Where
was Gretl's father? No rule held, no
certain gravity or low of frost and heave,
only my own ordering gave uneasy shape
to a landscape without reason, without melt.
THANKS TO CAVAFY
You speak openly of giving over
to lust and the drawn out longing
that follows, even years later
you admonish your body to recall
a particular face, a texture of skin.
I regret I did not know your Alexandria,
the narrow streets, cafes, beaded
doorways, dark V at the neck of rough-
woven kaftans, smells of spice, kif,
men's bodies and the rush of unnamed
wanting, the surrender to pleasure.
Such excesses I never dared but your words
startle recognition--I must know
something of crossing the maelstrom lip,
the slick downward swirl, lessening light
and the hush of judgment silenced.
I thought I had forgotten all that, I meant
to forget, to remember is dangerous as a child's
dream of flying, the easy rise up, the self
alone, separate, holding over earth.
I let go of your city of gold light, lovers
I'll never meet, the half-awakened hungers,
but there is time yet to cross to an unknown
place even in this far room where the woodstove
clicks and snow falls outside the window.
"Clarify the referent," Miss Scott wrote
on a tenth grade essay. It behooved the council...
I liked behooved and paid no mind
to the small predecessor, but Miss Scott did.
To forgo the obliging word was not easy,
it covered multiple possibilities: it's
no good, it's for the birds,
it's raining, it's all very well.
A girl with orange hair, ears
a stickleback of gold rings, lolls
by the mall fountain and shouts at her mother,
"It's all crap, anyway, it doesn't matter."
A woman watches head-lights cross
the ceiling, she breathes stale smoke,
shifts her thigh from the man beside her.
"It was just fine," she says, "just fine."
Palming a folded bill, the waiter bows,
smiles, "It was my pleasure." As she retrieves
a broken lamp, the woman does not look up.
"Sorry," she says, "it was my mistake, my fault."
To find the referent is harder than you expect,
What was just fine? What doesn't matter?
And what did I mean when I told him, "It's
all right, it's nothing, it doesn't hurt?"
Ann B. Knox is the author of three books of poetry: The Dark Edge (Pudding House Press), Staying is Nowhere (winner of the SCOP-Writers' Center Co-Publication Prize), and Stonecrop (winner of the Washington Writers' Publishing House Prize). Individual poems have appeared in literary journals such as Alaska Quarterly, Nimrod, Poetry, The Green Mountains Review, and many others. Her collection of short fiction, Late Summer Break, was published by Papier Mache Press. For 18 years she edited the Antietam Review. She has taught creative writing workshops at numerous colleges, schools, and writing conferences and currently teaches at the Writers' Center in Bethesda. Her writing career started 25 years ago with a workshop at the Writers' Center and continued with an MFA from Warren Wilson College. The Washington area has proved to be a rich and stimulating environment for her writing; her cabin set in the first folds of the Appalachians provides a quiet place to hunker down and write without diversions.
Published in Volume 5, Number 4, Fall 2004.
To read more by this author:
Ann B. Knox: The Whitman Issue