Terri Witek is the author of The Shipwreck Dress (Orchises Press, 2008), Carnal World (Story Line Press, 2006), Fools and Crows (Orchises Press, 2003), Courting Couples (Winner of the 2000 Center for Book Arts Contest) and Robert Lowell and LIFE STUDIES: Revising the Self (U of Missouri P, 1993). A native of northern Ohio, she teaches English at Stetson University, where she holds the Art and Melissa Sullivan Chair in Creative Writing.
A Broken Compass is Right More Often than A Broken Clock
Granted, spatial relations have never been my strong suit,
even according to the aptitude tests administered in school
where you’d need to unbend shapes in your mind to count
their vertices. Sometimes I can’t even find the bathroom
in a particularly large house I’ve visited before. But the times
I drove a Plymouth station wagon around DC, skipping high
school or evading curfew, were the most hopelessly lost
I have ever been before or since. I grew to loathe L’Enfant,
veering around traffic circles and crabbing down one-way
streets, unsure if headed to 9th & E Northeast or Southwest,
aware that all the streets radiated outwards from the hub
of the Capitol but clueless how to get there and what to do
once I did. Three spots I could get to on remote control:
a dance club with a volleyball court separating two floors,
the Mall, and a liquor store at 14th & P that needed no ID.
Going anywhere else was part map, part hope and prayer.
Once coming back from a rave in an abandoned warehouse
surreptitiously fitted with strobes, booming sound-system
and a smoke machine, the kind of place you find the address
to the day of the party, driving home with two candyflipping
brothers, one of whom would throw himself off the Golden
Gate bridge over a decade later, I was stopped by the cops
who found a dime bag in the backseat and made us starfish
against a chain-link fence, flashlight full in our faces, yelling,
querying the nature of my grandfather’s asthma medicine
in the trunk, ripping out panels in the doors, threatening
to drag us all to jail until the owner of the bag, the brothers’
reedy friend, fessed up. That night our parents were called
but we were not dragged to jail. Under the blinking redeye
of the Monument, before the entrance to I-66 tripping
streaks on acid, confronted by two forceful cops, I literally
pissed myself standing out in the cold. No one until now
has ever known that sordid fact. What precisely constitutes
redemption? To confess is not necessarily to transcend.
But if I hadn’t gotten lost we wouldn’t have been stopped.
Then it’s pure conjecture. Coordinates in space I can handle.
by Terri Witek & Ravi Shankar
Castle looms blue on the porcelain plate.
Its groves have vanished, along with one crinkly river,
and since the scene no longer requires a knife
this has dropped nearby like a drawbridge.
The window next to a window we know
must be the princess's. Or so we infer
from the blue curtain and a songbird
who seems to expect a palmful of crumbs.
And that something's amiss—
which is to say, in her story,
it rubs between her shoulder blades
or under one ear as she drifts on
her blue bed. Perhaps it's the insignia
under the plate, "John Cheswick and Sons,
that so dismays her. But even
to think this makes the blue castle
shake like a trellis as another pattern
(still blue, now above us)
fills with the grit of unseen stars
ubiquitous, unnumbered, so unlike this plate
hoarding dust and dark in a credenza drawer,
along with an alabastrite bust of a Native
American horseman frozen in full gallop,
and cutlery got at an estate sale in Pontefract.
Where there Cheswicks there or their kin?
Jowly boys with gangly limbs, pale girls
who owned closets full of rococo gowns,
her age but happier in that they are imagined?
Blue castles are surrounded by dry moats
in her story, have no recorded history
save the song she hums in rote distraction—
Par dessus nos vertes collines, les montagnes
Au front d’azur, les chaps rayes et les ravines
J’irais d’un vol rapide et sur…
Poulenc’s ribald relic passed on
A blue song, scribbled each dusk
into trees that have already gathered
into their own sly clatter two raccoons
who aren't afraid of local, dream-laden children
and a platoon of titmice harrowing an owl
who glides down with one seven-tongued sound.
Maybe he's the hero, not some bungling prowler.
The sea's so dark now it's only a murmur
in elsewhere's throat—or so it seems here,
where empty moats thicken into a pattern of brambles
rounding the edge of the world.
But nothing is safe—not the drawer's teardrop handle,
not the hour, not the drift of song lifting
suddenly, like a blue skirt.
Something more lilting than a boned bodice
lined in jacquards, trimmed by crepe de chine,
Yet less mephetic than chrysanthemums
drooping in cut glass until they shrivel
surely as the suggestion of quirky impropriety
secreted away in the minds of old ladies
who swore never to let such insinuation
besmirch their family name, left delicate plates
instead, blue inked, blue-veined, not meant
for canned carrots, better kept wrapped
in terrycloth, never to expose its verso to the stars.
Only along her long limbs, like the scent of sand
after a hard downpour, had the princess
carried off what the ladies could not speak,
a snippet of song broken off, the dim memory
of a castle, the squared jaw of prototypic
handsomeness animated under her fingertips,
a man who broke horses, mounted carriage-wheels,
made his opinions known to the Templar Knights,
spoke softly to dogs when he thought no one saw.
And so what they had been in their world
enters ours, broken by touch,
calling back from leaves curled like fingers
an old sniffer-outer who will drop fragrantly
outside the first junk-shop door.
Plato, hound of the real.
If they're hungry, biscuits and gravy
from white plates in Hunter's Kitchen Cafe
and other doors chiming, loose on their hinges,
even the going-out-of-here-soon's store's,
whose signature goods are already down
to display cases: one waist-high, lit shelf
by shelf, and a taller, revolving one:
$75.00, better money for both.
Here even blue feathers on a stick
(the Candy Castle's owner is dusting
trays in his window) slightly bemuses,
as if summoned from air for a different use,
some other planet’s version of reliquary,
a dimension where, were it to exist among
the thumbprints of deep space, they are synchronous
with us, princess and hero, biscuit and gravy,
plate and inscription, two sides of a coin,
the imagined and the real contiguous
and on consignment, smelling of shawl wool and used
appliance. What particles cling to plastic?
What fragments cohere between the blue lines
that turn turret? If the shape of loss
has no shape because it is ongoing, how describe
the way he unfastened her hair from her nape
when both their names, once considered capital,
have washed away, down a crinkly river, vanished?
A whisper is a tendril is the part of her story
she was never told, though she cannot sleep
when black night turns blue with gathering storm—
soon as it bursts, she’s out.