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By KATIE PETERSON
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESSCopyright © 2013 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
I have been trying to read King Lear. End up drinking
red wine, and talking about the tropics.
Thought there might be a poem in the play,
maybe the way he talks about the button
on his coat before he dies standing, carrying
the body of the hanged. Maybe the part
where she refuses to bargain and the maps
on the table are redrawn.
* * *
I am sleeping. Elsewhere, you are finishing Tess
of the d'Urbervilles, those last chapters, before they end
up at Stonehenge, and Angel says to Tess
Sleepy my dear I think you are lying
on the altar. The part where the book lets them
hold each other, without sleepwalking
or lies. Angel has traded in his harp
for a tin kettle and bread. They picnic in a damask-curtained bed,
a fugitive and an accomplice. I may be turning
toward the branch of apple blossom bearing its burden
of the raindrops in an even more buoyant aspect
than the night before. Now you are the caretaker,
finding Tess's fine silk stockings draped
on the damask coverlet in the house they squat in,
giving both of them away.
* * *
The tree in the side yard not
yet in the kind of flower to release it
and uncover it again. Everything, everything, and before
everything the possibility of something else,
the moment when a moral gets minced by an account
a body makes of any other body,
and time takes place instead of taking time.
Cordelia with the armies of her husband
scouring the unharvested corn of her homeland
for her naked, wandering, delusional father.
Tess at the dairy, good at her job. Angel
in the field, his fingers on the strings of his harp.
You carrying me into a lake in August,
the summer my mother left the earth.
At the border between winter
and spring, at the house I am living in,
outside the window
in the bedroom, closest to the bed,
a branch I thought of as near dead
comes into a cascade of flowers
the color of champagne.
For weeks, I couldn't think of the right
figure from myth.
I rejected the seeds of the pomegranate.
I rejected the mirror, rejected
going in drag toward the laurel
and calling it mine.
I wanted a woman who grabs.
I bought a camera, and began to save
the sound of the wind through fences,
to layer it over water
running the course of an icy creek
in the desert, but I couldn't keep
the scent of sage rising with the rain
across a rock covered with lichen.
All winter that dark arm
scratched my window, paying no
attention to my appetite for sleep.
I could have ripped it right out.
Something kept me from that.
Judgment is preferable to faithfulness.
A pair of handcuffs better than a ring.
The mistake other people make,
I won't: because the rules have changed,
there is nothing beautiful to obey.
For three hundred years an island lost
the ability to make pottery on a wheel.
They looted ruins that had been houses once.
But they knew they had been houses.
I refused the pomegranate, I took
back the mirror, but I took from
the pomegranate its difficulty, its bitter
extraction. From the mirror, I took
its appetite for change.
The laurel had been my address.
I changed it.
I can't say that I'll stay up all night
waiting for the ghost, but I will promise
a thing more difficult:
If she asks, I will do what she says.
So when I fail her, you will know
exactly how to punish me.
ARGUMENT ABOUT HEAVEN
As a child, I was taken
to look at a mountain, every year,
in the summer.
I was only willing to say:
nothing terrifying happens to the good
The lookout road opened
when the snowpack melted, late
in the season
Others have argued for green fields
Every year my father pointed to the mountain.
I couldn't see that far—meaning, I suppose,
I didn't want to—
His finger traced a rivulet toward a source
high in a crease where two mountains met.
His thumbprint on
the site where he had camped.
When others speak of green fields,
I get sick.
A map etched in metal with the names
of all the mountains in the range
and a line of ridge representing the crest—
we leaned against that.
Fantasies I've tried recently to kill: happy
I liked to trace that ridge with my ring
finger, on my left hand, the one
I wrote with, and then do the same
in the air, across the original. Later, in the car,
with my eyes shut, I tried again, on the window,
as we drove across the bay.
Shouldn't goodness be rewarded
with the absence of terror?
We went to fish, not to climb.
At Deadman Creek, my father
baited his hook while half a dozen
sucked the blood from his hand.
But I have seen the shape green fields
make in the eye,
like a casino in a small town.
One year we didn't have time
to go to the mountain.
That morning, we had fished a lake for nothing.
The night before, we played poker, but the children
wanted to make everything wild.
Too many wild cards kill the competition.
The adults becoming frustrated
with the children playing their games,
though it would be wrong to say
we had no regard for rules.
I begged to see the mountain.
But it is punishment that governs the field.
That meant I asked once, on behalf of someone else,
but experienced my own disappointment.
You're not a farmer—the field
doesn't pay for you. You pay for the field.
The mountain isn't a bottomless well.
You know you have to pay your tribute.
The good breathe so deeply, it is like eating—
your tribute is your presence, the coinage
of your person—
those from whom the burden has been lifted—
though the country you drive through is beautiful
with a range of blues the envy of the Netherlands—
their hands rest at their sides—
it is not the mountain—
and you can live like that.
Sick in bed with a sore throat,
I can't get out of my mind
the image of the cat
harpsichord from the eighteenth century,
soothing a prince with laughter.
It worked like this: the tails of them attached
to the strings of the instrument
were pulled by different notes, and the difference
between the way the cats
cried was music.
A shadow is only a shape.
Which is why certain individuals
can put their hands in light
and make them birds, can say in shadow
what they can't in light.
The tiny branches of the hedge
in the yard that separates
my house from the next
look like the rib bones of a bird
when the sun hits lunch.
The world, they say, is best for a nest
but no good for a flying place.
Come back, I say to my dead,
and the branches don't even graze
the window, when I eat it hurts.
ARGUMENT ABOUT APPETITE
When you say, imagine yourself in a safe green place, I lie
on her grave, looking up
at the inscription in the monument
where my father's date will go.
The question of alignment
complicates the spiritual writings
of the ancients.
Fog drifts in. We are safer, I think,
without sunlight, without
St. John of the Cross
keeping his head up straight,
so his soul, which he calls
the body of the bride
would be looking up,
not just the eyes.
Eleven o'clock in the morning
and the whole day ahead.
Or that each pose in the series
proceeds to headstand
or standing. In the arm balance
I am inside an anxious quiet
called Crow, the knees nest
in the upper arms, and the head
I think I have always been there.
You should breathe into the hands.
You should remove the bones
of the hands and replace them
with adamantine chains.
Definition of picnic: excursion to the country
taking food to be eaten outside
The earth takes the soul out of alignment.
The body takes the soul
fishing for nothing in a shitty river
Originally, a meal to which everyone
brought their own share
In one pose, the hands
reach back to catch the toes.
You have become a bow.
Later, any assemblage, an anthology,
in the nineteenth century, one guide
to the wild flowers of a private park
in England called Best Man's End
was called End's Picnic. You should see
There are many practices,
the specimens, dried and pressed,
identified not only by name
but by the approximate
time of their plucking.
The trick is practicing every day
what it is you practice,
an assiduous acquisition, a rape
to continue on the path.
Often, in the imagination of these texts,
determined by the perfection of the petals,
a lack of tatter,
and the sturdiness of the stem
the spiritual workday is night
To the picnic I bring my body,
the eyes have a meaning past use,
and little else, I am so thirsty,
the question is are you saved
I open my mouth to the fog
because you pay attention?
It is difficult to believe, but before
the Japanese maple oriented
the corner of the brick front
porch, before the roots
drank up the minerals
of rich dirt, and the branches
spread into hands and smaller
hands, under the porchlight,
which still drops
a circle of its orange light
evenly across uneven
leaves, as the tree met the earth
unwillingly, transplanted from a garden
where all it had to do
was be like anything near it that resembled it,
since that is how so many lives
begin, especially the decorative,
which are not less because they are not deep,
as, literally, these roots are not deep enough,
my mother planted a rosebush
which thrived so before it died
we walked on petals three seasons of the year.
And though this was California,
such behavior of a plant could still
be understood as the excess
of what a person tending
the garden should expect.
To hold on to one thing to
the excess of all else
attached to nothing at all.
The years passed;
the replacement grew refulgent.
Excerpted from The Accounts by KATIE PETERSON. Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.
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Table of ContentsAcknowledgments
Argument about Heaven
Argument about Appetite
When Fruit and Flowers Hung Thick Falling
Argument about the Beginning
TWO: THE BODY
From the Nest
THREE: I AM THE MIDDLE
I Am the Middle
From This House That House
Argument about Silence
Argument about Responsibility
Ars Poetica: Fuchsia