I Take My Signs as They Come Sierra Nelson I take my signs as they come, the early morning DJ out of nowhere saying, We all should read more Auden. Everything I need to know is on this gas station TV: the word of the day is juncture [JUHNGK-cher]: a point of time, especially one made critical or important by a concurrence of circumstances, like me filling up my tank at this particular Arco on the way to Friday Harbor, learning that Almovodar made one of the world’s greatest alley-oops. (No, that can’t be right.) Like many a traveler I am overpacked and underslept, easily swindled perhaps by fortune tellers. Like this teabag tag (American Cliff Notes’ for reading the leaves) proclaiming: Friendship is a sheltering tree. – Coleridge (And it is!) The trees here are sturdy; I’ve noticed that their trunks do not sway despite the coastal winds. Remember when I went almost a year driving on the tiny spare? I thought that tiny tire was the whole poem! The metaphor for everything! The longer it went on the more wedded I was to it. But what about that stranded flat hour, moon through the windshield, when I weighed (waded in) my whole life? Is capacity the same root as capsize? Or what about now, all four pretty- decent all-weather wheels of fate turning solidly beneath me singing to the radio? Vessel is now loading says the vase to the flowers, says the body to the spirit, says the poem to you, and me too, and the six cormorants on the piling and the one that just now takes to air. The signs are not a trick, even if we don’t know how to read them. Their friendship is a sheltering lee.
Missing Shapes Sierra Nelson Mr. B, R.'s art teacher, probably high as a trapezoid, says, Sometimes shapes are made of other shapes. That's just the way shapes are. Now draw what is living and what is not living. R. is decisive: Banana — living. Potato — living. But is that only while still attached to the plant? Is it still living in our kitchen, a doomed existence? Teeth — living. Eyebrow — living. It feels easier to deny these parts, our parts, their autonomy: you're nothing without me. (Though don't certain older gentlemen's eyebrows seem to sprout independent existences?) And what about the heart? We talk about heart transplants, think about the organ alive between vessels, maintaining its own beat, and the new body and this guest must decide if they agree, if they can now live together as one entity. I don't tell R. about the mother I worked with at the children's hospital, helping her to write poetry, as her child was on a wait list to receive a new heart. She told me she wasn't sure what to wish for anymore. She told me healthy hearts that can be used for transplant are usually the result of death by trauma, some unexpected blow. Which is especially terrible to think about in children. Could she in all good conscious hope for that to happen, a heart small enough for her child, wrested free? We worked together over several sessions. A few months later I learned that they were granted a new heart, and her child seemed to be doing well post-surgery. But she herself had died. The mother, I mean. Out of nowhere, a sudden unexpected ailment. I couldn't understand it either. Hate writing it even now. But I think of her often, how she held that terrible knowledge of shapes made of other shapes, of the way things are, and the shape of her now missing.
Hemorrhage: Etymology of Rent (2nd Trimester) Sierra Nelson There was a rent in me: maybe something I owed, I thought— unable to render in mind what was performing in body, knowing only I poured blood, a gush, alarm! alarm! Was it you, through? Too soon in a rush? (Hush.) We listened for heart: was heart. Through my blood you butterfly beat. So the root was not what was due but simply what was torn, a rending of some interior rind, Middle Low German for anything broken: it could have been anything. Helpless hemorrhage, I could not make my own blood stop. But it did stop. I could not make it heal. But it did heal, or seemed to. More importantly, you held. For your own or unknown reasons, despite the flood. My rivers returned underground. Even now I cannot hold its meaning. Rupture, burst, yes, but not our star, not this time. A different solar system. So back to waiting. I can only yield to the present. To give back is not to restore.
Where Are the Stairs to Future Perfect? Sierra Nelson Not these stairs but the blue stairs, toward End No. 2— but which end are we on now? Take these bones which will have been put back in the wrong places like the dinosaurs’, like the hands on a clock face hiding the dread that ticks in your dreams. I want you, future you, to remember this: how much we didn’t know at this moment, our best intentions unzipped like a bulky overcoat to get to the warmth beneath it. Close your eyes: a murky aquamarine below, the blue distance of mountains above. “Ready to go?” “Ready to go.” The words from your mouth now belie the inner fissure. If ‘chest’ strap is inside, pull through armholes. By the time you read this? Remove from container and unfold. And now: I’m throwing a rock into the water as hard as I will have loved you 200 years from now.
Sierra Nelson’s books include The Lachrymose Report (PoetryNW Editions), collaborations with visual artist Loren Erdrich, I Take Back the Sponge Cake (Rose Metal Press) and artist book Isolation, and forthcoming Vis-à-Vis Society collaboration 100 Rooms (Entre Rios Press) and a Cephalopod Anthology (World Enough Writers / Concrete Wolf).
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“Missing Shapes” was originally published in Narrative Magazine.