Three Poems//Erinn Batykefer


Cold Dark Matter Epithalamium

 

            after Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, by Cornelia Parker

 

 

How to move into an unlit room? Intuition

is a stone cast from the doorway. Listen—

 

a ricochet says many objects. Skitter and coast says, flat

floor, far wall, no obstacle; plummet and drop says stairs.

Or no stairs.

 

 

Imagine your life as a length of white cotton string, the end

of which you cannot see, nor the beginning.

 

Imagine my life as a white cotton string

running parallel.

 

Follow them across the tabletop, into the vast expanse of woodgrain

that is the future.

 

What will you do if the strings do not end

but are the same string, one line rounding a corner into the other?

 

 

The space beneath my ribcage is a room in the Tate Modern,

blackout shades drawn, a bare bulb hung from the ceiling

 

like the meeting of spark to gas, hand to face, lips to throat.

 

A halo of debris moving outward. Gas can. Window frame. Spoon, spoon,

unopened letter, horseshoe.

 

The splintered walls of a shed, and the rupture-flung shadows

a second shed. Still exploding.

 

 

The room has two doors. One faces east, the other north,

and a wet line of patrons’ prints connects them, shining white

in the bulb’s shifting gleam.

 

Occlusion of light, of entering a corner room from different doors,

unable to see past the corona of damage.

 

The cast stone drops and drops, revealing nothing.

When we meet, when we touch, what will usher in?

What wreckage will we risk?

 

 

 

 

//

 

 

 

 

Needlework Epithalamium

 

 

I am Isis of the marketplace. On every crowded street and sidewalk

of Saturday’s Strip District rush

 

I am crouched in black river’s-edge mud,

dragging the water

for pieces:

 

I search for your throat

among throats swathed in gauzy summer scarves,

your hands among hands that sink into

cool barrels of red lentils, yellow lentils,

 

the fingers weighing lychees or white eggplants

that glow like moons, lips that part

for honey-drenched tongues

of baklava.

 

In my net today, only wrist, wrist.

And then, your shoulder blade.  Sudden,

half-hidden by ribbed cotton,

 

and caught one breath before the body

of the not-you it belonged to

disappeared into a sea of stalls.

 

 

*

 

 

This morning at a café, I collected your ankles, teeth,

and the fine arch of one rib

through the wrinkled buttondown of someone

 

bending to help his love

into her seat before a table set with bone china, mismatched forks,

tea and a pale slice of pear galette.

 

She twitched and shook, muscles

leaping like a litter of kittens knotted in a bag of skin

and tossed in the river to drown.

 

I left with a clicking handful of bones

and a question: could I love

as he loves, knowing from the start how it will end,

 

each moment spent like a coin

to cool the eyes?

 

As if in answer, faces rose like fish

to the roiling surface of the river:

all those I loved before I understood

 

loss. All those I would have chosen

not to love,

had I known.

 

 

*

 

 

It is like sinew-stitching scraps

of leather to make a bag

because you want to open it, because you want

to see what’s inside.

 

I line up my tools:  awl and needle. Lengths of linen

and pounded-tendon thread.

 

For a long time I leapt toward the fleeting bones I saw

in crowds, expecting to follow

someone’s long fingers to the blue-veined crook of your elbow.

I expected your body to come

whole. Already beloved.

 

I know now you were butchered, scattered into a river

of other bodies

 

and so I am a scavenger: a raptor diving from a high wire.

I learn to glean;

 

I learn where to punch

through the meat of a shoulder

to stitch on its arm,

 

how to build a body like a house I know

but have never been inside.

 

To bind what falls apart

with linen.

 

 

*

 

 

All at once, you are assembled, bandaged in scars.

 

Your skin flushed faintly green as you rise

into riverlight whole.

 

Body I know.

 

Mouth I have already bitten

now speaking with a voice I’ve never heard.

 

I know how I will suffer

 

even as I open your shirt, press my mouth

to the notch where your collarbones almost

but do not quite meet—

 

 

 

 

//

 

 

 

 

Parallel Universe Epithalamium

 

 

What are you now?

 

Once honeybee, dragonfly, red-winged blackbird, whatever I was.

 

And now? World without hive or nest, without the spectrum’s longest wave.

Without family or phylum in which I belong.

 

Wherever you are, is there the myth of the hydra? A many-headed lizard

against whose necks a hero dulls his sword,

 

and each time a wriggling head thuds to the blood-spattered dirt, fanged mouth snapping,

two, three more spring from the wound?

 

The whole body splitting and branching.

 

Our world was one such monster.

 

 

 

There are moments of lucidity. Even now, wet-winged

on a flung branch—

 

rent leaves and cicatrized bark recall origin, taproot,

the subcutaneous beginning.

 

everything possible. everything happening. under the world’s skin

every possible world brimming—

 

Wake, surface to an unraveled life: the blunt-force

trauma of dementia, carwreck, rehab; a same-body, almost life.

 

it is happening right now, it is happening to you right now,

happening in some other, in every other permutation, it is already happening

 

When lunacy draws its hand down my face like lights-out,

the last thing I think:

 

somewhere I am open-mouthed, somewhere your thumb

along my cheekbone, somewhere else.

 

 

 

I spend your lives blinking, breathing.

 

The shadow-selves streaming from us resonate like a the lip of a ceramic bowl

ringing when the nesting bowl is lifted from it—

 

we inexplicably collect lake-tumbled glass in a jar, rocks pulled from a beck.

 

Another body we loved once swims in, walks along

those bodies of water, their other versions.

 

In this possibility, my world is long. In every instant of it, your worlds shear away,

a succession of lives lived as I wake or sleep, and in each one, you die.

 

A year of my dreams saw lit wicks put to drapes, beams blazed and weakening.

Thunder, like a wild spring storm, and collapse.

 

 

 

Because once we were like bees, we are bees again,

articulations of a single organism:

 

the split tree grows wholly in halves, its scorched center

sending up spring-sap branches, drawing water from a deep, intact root.

 

Now the house is a hive of mirrors. Around every corner, not reflection

but a whole self,

 

divided only by space, the material of our bodies.

 

The bees defy physics. Their days are mundane with bilocation, a whole self parsed

and occupying many spaces at once: clover, hedge, queen’s quarters, air.

 

What separates them, the hive from the field, this world from another world?

Inconsequential matter. What separates us.

Erinn Batykefer is a writer and a librarian. Her first collection, Allegheny, Monongahela won the Benjamin Saltman Prize a long time ago. She’s currently at work on a new collection of poems and a novel and lives in the part of Connecticut that is basically just an extension of New York. She tweets at @erinnbatykefer and @eb_writes; her websites are here and here.