Monday May 27

Anna Journey is the author of the collection, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. Her poems are published in a number of journals, including American Poetry Review, FIELD, and Kenyon Review, and her essays appear in Blackbird, Notes on Contemporary Literature, and Parnassus.In 2006, Journey discovered the unpublished status of Sylvia Plath’s early sonnet “Ennui” and the influence of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby on it.

Fable Sleepless with Colic and a Pitch-Pine Forest

Each night, someone died
in our living room. In our
living room my mother left
her cop shows on mute. Each night,
whole inches slid from her waist
as she shifted my heat, my
hoarseness—my colic’s nonstop
song—from hip to hip. How long
can a person go without sleep? she asked
her father—a shrink—through
the telephone. The telephone’s dial
fit her finger like a shrunken
brass knuckle grown clear as water,
hard as sleep. She paced
to our piano—skewed off-key
from the humidity—walked
her hand over its ivory, its few
flat notes, like the woman in a story
who lights a trail with the glow
of her own insomnia—the on-off
snap of beetles, green as sleep. The ivory
path steeped in pitch-pines—
she watched their wooden knots drop
black seals of sap and open. As if she could
mute my howls by climbing
through a stump’s loosened window. As if
she could carry us both to that other
still world and sleep.

Fable with a Prison Nurse and Her Early Morning Embrace

Somewhere there’s a woman who dries Turkish apricots
on her windowsill. This
and a blue sea knocks
through my aunt’s television. But not here. Here,
outside my aunt’s wheat-colored doublewide,
the kudzu is trying to pick
any lock:
red bicycle sloughing
its sickles of rust, the neighbor-girl’s blouse
where only one round
pearl button snaps loose. Soon she’ll run off,
leave the lean
pin oaks hedging their bets. Before she leaves
she scatters
a yellow helix of potato
peelings for the wild deer. Their white
tails flare in procession,
close as votives. They step
like my aunt’s husband
finally returning
with their white truck, with their bank account
he drained entirely before
driving all night to Mexico. But it’s not him. It’s not
him and at five in the morning
she’ll rise to slip
into her prison nurse’s pantsuit. When she arrives
at the ward the men
are mostly asleep, so she’ll smoke
until the blue curtains keep
her breath threaded
through the hot, toxic fabric. She might
wait for the sun,
she might wake
one man with the kiss
of a needle and another with the firm
boa-squeeze of the blood pressure meter. She might
hold them each
a little longer, before she lets
go, before the rest of the men know
her neck’s
slow tobacco scent, the way she gazes
out the picture window while unstrapping
the machinery,
while the blood
comes rushing back.

The Only Way into the Portrait is into the Portrait
                                                   —Michael Burkard

It’s before my right eye meets a Kamala orange
mid-air. In the photograph, my small sister
and I crouch: two red-haired girls in the brick
complex’s grove. We fill our calico skirts with windfalls. It’s before a trio
of neighborhood boys circles and pegs us
with oranges, one hurled into my open eye—the slick fruit
fiery with juice, the oranges known
for the unusual looseness of their skins which makes
peeling easy. It’s just before the sting
and the celestial darkening
of my vision. Before I fall, howling, to the ground. Before my
four year-old sister grabs the red handle
of her large, rubber Hop N’ Bounce ball, tornados
toward the boys, bruises each one’s
gaunt kneecap until she beats them down. Now,
I know the grove’s ghostly
sun-glint in the photograph—its blinding white leaf—is the flicker
of her past life: samurai
or storm. For either way she’ll leave
the landscape in tatters. Either way, we’ll all kneel,
shaken to the ground.
                                                   —for Rebecca