Poetry | March 01, 1995

Winner of the 1995 Editors’ Prize for Poetry.


my ally: wasn’t any drug could make me recall

not any could make me forget

this life backing me out death’s door

but—how can I tell you?—keeping me here


eg. a psychiatrist asked

what are your three greatest problems?

I lost my shoes.


What else? I lost both of them.


How did you get those scars on your legs?

Losing my shoes.




Cicadas cut through the muffle like a saw through sand

piling in on itself


I was sailing on the river, only sailing

a squall came on the horizon

I don’t remember

the horizon. I meet it here

each moment

horizontal to the next : at the foot of the bed


my father looked to my mother who looked to my father

who looked to the floor


  light pressed against a filmy window


silence passed


    a ball rolled


under a parked car




But how, but why?


There is no sound for it

my voice

stuffed in the oxygen tent


There is only my breath, my body creating

space to let the air come through.


This much I knew

These hands bound mute

these hands round the tiller slipping

a slow fat-cat boat into the storm

the river was still

and I was glass

these hands bound and stuffed

the canvas sail in its bag hands coiled

the mainsheet

the rope round itself

thirteen times I counted and once to bind the knot

fourteen years, these hands

bound the noose

slung from the landing

I slipped into

swung from the stairs

these hands hung




amnesia: the miracle

of a single clean moment


a vessel socked in the fog

involute horn brayed from her bow


She would blow in like wind

from the north—I would undress

like a beach in the south

Again and again naked to the tempest, tasting

Brinking one moment to the next

Wave under wave under her


though, the stupor of my health,

the healthy year




My numbed out fingers

clung in the oxygen mist as if

it wasn’t day
there was no heat in me
blood burst in the white of my eye

again I tried to dock the boat

I sat on my mattress, wobbled

in a heaving storm

darkness rocked me on her inland sea

Nothing… in the realm of necessity

Except what my hands could do*

I held the tiller   coiled the sheets   tossed

the bowline off her prow


my father from the doorway watched

me navigate and fall

back, I threw up

in my lungs




it was something

undone, unsaid




The sailboats move on the water

when I am alone in the room




I’ve lost count of the years I’ve been ill, I can remember,




If you had to die would you rather

freeze to death or burn? we used to ask

It was a casual question

Oh burn my sister said

It would be much quicker


I would rather freeze having been that way before


I slept in a tent up behind the house

without a sleeping bag

to see how much cold I could stand





this moment

a perfect integer




The mist a vapor between us, and I

for the first time saw

the mirror on the concrete wall,

morning still as nurses can hold it

still as stopped breath but I pushed

out of the oxygen tent,

shuffled to the sight of myself


My hands held my hands, held all I knew

looking through the child I was, only

pieces remained afloat

in the stillwater of an eye,

parted in the flood of an other


They pulled me back

alone to the clean air

tucked away with an image     memory now

split wide the horizon, the bed against my body breaking

down the infinite, only the mist a vapor


At last they gathered round

no evidence in my veins

no story
only that


we’d all held life in our hands

They’d severed an artery, spilled its blood, filled it again

and opened wombs, lifted infants out

These interns with clipboards in studious rows

prepared to lift the veil and mark


across my throat the open wound

stretched like a grin

turned them to stone

in their stiff white coats



Late August the cat-boat sat

on the river, swung round her mooring

as the tide came in and out



*Adrienne Rich, “Integrity”

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