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The Almost Live and Frightened Woman

ISSUE:  Winter 1986
for Leonora Carrington


It’s otherworldly, really,
how she comes and goes,
a winding and unwinding wisp,
a blue oval. Do you like
poetry? I ask her. No.
She cannot help it that
her lamentations aren’t
always as melodious as
the other seductive voices
of the night. Psychic waste,
that’s our fate: the briefly
eternal psychosis of two.


Born once in the palm
of mitten-shaped Michigan
out of Estrella by Jorge
or out of Matilda by Paul.
The litany of madres lindas
and les noms des pères is long,
Leonora was born many times
onto the earth’s cold bosom.
Once as a horse
and she showed me
throwing herself into snow.
When she got up
her whiteness was thunderous
like that of a waterfall—
her fine limbs
were like arrows and her mane
it was made of white plant roots
and floated around her wet face.


She loves a man:
Joseph Tragedy.

Not like Dachau
or Hiroshima,

it’s inner misery
obsesses him.

She says that when
she kissed him

stars fell out
of his eyes, and ground

burned them.
Why do you love him?

Because it’s what I do—
I’m the moon over abstraction.

Why aren’t you with him?
Not out of fear
and not indecision.
The mere weight of the body

won’t permit it.
I am weary.

He is weary.
The gods are weary.

Our hearts are so weary
they beat every two hundred years.


This is the goldfish eroding its bowl.
This is the carpet that covers the hole.
These are the peppers that twist from their stems.
Leonora, Leonora, Leonora, Leonora.

(The grand jilt of wings,
the lilacs, the cypress, your face,

A dullness too large to replace.


I’m speaking out of hard times now,
out of the hammer-down of year after year,
out of the land of diminishing choices,
the limited shape of a life, a bit of trauma.

Doesn’t it always come down to its tokens—
the poems of her, the jewelry of me,
the ghosts at the edge of the swamp
throwing petals on water?


The first time she came was in yellow October.
It was strange, a vaporous night.
I say that, but the moon had risen
tough and clean above the vivid canyons.

She woke me with cow-bells
and spoke out of blue xenon lips.
What she said
I wrote down.

When I woke again in the white
royalty of sunlight, I was happy.
Wasn’t the sky lucid?
Weren’t the bright leaves alive?

Then I read what I’d written—
elliptical rhymes about how time passes
then turns around and passes again
then repeats its past passings . . . .

I lived out the rest of my life suicidal,
her luminous shadow
a cerulean gas
in front of me and behind.


She sits in my room
brushing away a few fruit flies
hair down or up wearing oh
an old dress with perspiration stains.

So little is left to say until the tornado
hits. She says, Everything
is a euphemism for literal death.
Even this.


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