Issue XI, Volume V : July 2014
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Brittany Perham lives in San Francisco, where she is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Her recent work appears in TriQuarterly, Lo-Ball, Drunken Boat, and The Bellevue Literary Review. Her first collection of poems, The Curiosities, will be available from Free Verse Editions in November 2011.
Deborah Digges is Dead
Letters from Montolieu, France
I don’t believe in poetry. This might be the last poem.
The neighbor’s Pekinese barks his little head off
every time I unlock the door. The lock is loose, I can turn it
with a knife. I raise African violets
like those my father used to bring me:
stereoscopic purple, four yellow fish-eyes to a flower.
They make my window
my childhood window.
There were three steeples,
and on the rooftop opposite, a wooden owl.
The seagulls never failed to be fooled.
The mourning doves in the gable woke me up, woke me up, woke me up.
I grew up and behind me my brother grew up.
“Bye-bye,” I told my father.
I’ve been living away
on this other coast:
Mexican grackles, saguaros in the south, it snows in the mountains,
bike paths, pie cutter, sex. So many curiosities!
A bridge built to withstand earthquakes.
Earthquakes. The Golden Gate.
Pencil sharpener in a pool of wooden flakes.
My father has La Caja China ready in his yard.
A grown man could lie inside.
I hear he has shaved off his beard, which they say
had turned entirely gray.
Because I give those flowers too much
or too little water, my lover cares for them.
When I speak to my mother, I see her in my childhood
house. In my mother’s house,
here we are at Christmas.
Once I saw my father’s two taupe rooms
at the Extended Stay America in a hitch of the highway’s suburban loop.
This was no place to live, on the highway’s suburban loop.
This was all a long time ago.
Now I can drive by; if I wanted to, I could stay the night.
Any passersby can see me with my violets:
There is no privacy.
I keep my hair clean, and long. It ties itself up without a pin.
I hear my father has a lovely house and tomatoes trellised up the porch.
But the intelligence is old.
Any passersby can see the ultraviolet blue, the little yellow eyes.
The power plant trilled white smoke from its one thin lung.
See it from the playroom window.
I chewed until the polish came off in my teeth.
My father is preparing La Caja China for a hog.
His butcher has split the rib cage and laid the halves flat.
My mother held my head in her lap.
My lover holds my feet in his hands.
My brother and I listened from the breakwater.
The sea rats scratching.
From the Willows we heard the sirens
of the Skee-Ball machine spitting out a hundred tickets,
GRAND PRIZE, when the wind was right.
For a hundred tickets: a plastic kaleidoscope, pencil sharpener
shaped as goldfish, pirate’s eye patch.
My father loads the box with coals.
Here September is the hottest month.
The flies dress the apples up in black lace.
Here there is no lung-fill green.
My father injects the mojo beneath the skin with a marinade syringe.
When he is very afraid, and though we are mostly grown up,
my brother asks me to lie beside him.
Father, you were right
when you said I am different now: I am different now.
Tonight you will feed your forty friends.
The pig, of course, is dead already.
Deborah Digges is Dead
The vein was never opened by the needle’s little head; the carbon dioxide did not ratchet up any
debt in the blood.
No part was shaved.
The stomach was not plumed by syringe, nor was there tubing for urine, for spit.
The pulse was well contained in the bed of the neck: with the naked eye, no one could detect it.
The sun did not come up in rooms walked by those who each day heard the birds’ first call.
The blankets remained cool, the skin not sweated, nor marked by unchanged linen.
A gown was never tied about the shoulders.
There were no visitors. No vase of circus roses. No water poured from the pitcher, nor ice given on
the worst nights, in the usual way of things.
Nevertheless, a teacup slipped its hook.
It was not meant to be painless.
In the sink, a regular shattering, though it was not without
the sound of barking dogs. And still the water boiled.
All it meant was that a woman had opened a window from her fitted sleep
as we stood watching a crow fling to the air haphazardly, as though just-then released from well
below the earth.
Letters from Montolieu, France
From his high seat, he leans out the window,
holds his palm to the wall of the town,
gauging what space he has. His sleeve
hangs open along the sill of his arm, his fingers
gentle over the shallow doorway, the way he must
touch his wife’s shirt in the morning,
as she stands beside him, washing dishes—
the glasses given to him to dry:
brim and seam and the leftover
soap caught in the hollow. All is ordered by this:
her hands to his, the dishtowel passing between them.
The afternoon stretches as white
sheets on a clothesline
full with their own flat sound.
The storm has gone back
to the vault of the mountain.
You pour milk in the cradle
of coffee, sugar the mouth of the spoon.
Without a look, you crush your cigarette.
Without a look, the moon.
If the heart has a thousand windows,
I will close them.
Either way there will be rows of yellow, and yellow
for the vase in the window, for the single cuts,
for the bloom worn in the hair.
All afternoon women set bulbs in the soil,
their hands like earthworms
shattering the ground. Life seems as long
as it has ever seemed, traced to the earliest
star and rock and readying
for a new green, the indented paragraph
of each woman kneeling, bent toward work.
This is how the river sounds through the windows.
They will not open. The glass is recognized as glass
only when it shakes in the sills.
The noise is like coughing at night.
The noise, like stacking dishes in the sink.
The river concedes nothing
and each tulip along the house tightens nightly
into a fist, conscious of being exposed,
a child waiting for a skinned knee to bleed,
the scrape loosing its color, suddenly almost white.
There is a mark printed on anything left open.
The river offers its protection: funnels light
to the deep channels which divide
and become hallways too small to walk through.
The Virgin is the one woman
in the field of men, who pale
on their crosses, shadow on shadow.
She is metal-thorned in rust,
her features taken down by rain.
She opens her arms for their failed bodies,
the simple fruit falling.
Evening comes in a sudden stop.
Stars, more forward, give up
their darknesses, envy the small
gesture of her arms. She is
a closed cup, the night’s flower,
all her shine thrown inward.
You have left a bowl of cherries
on the table: they grate
against each other, skins opening
their small theaters of color.
They are the red in the garden
that pricks the fingers. They are
the eyes, unfailingly fixed.
The ceiling creases in light,
a handkerchief folding open.
These cherries: so much trouble,
so little sweetness in the mouth.