INTRODUCTION BY ERICA DAWSON
Many poets are familiar with Denise Levertov’s 1979 essay, “On the Function of the Line.” She writes, “[T]here is at our disposal no tool of the poetic craft more important, none that yield more subtle and precise effects.”
This poet, whether having read the essay or not, certainly understands the importance of the poetic line. While using enjambment to create rhythm and, of course, tension between the line and sentence, the poet lets a single line carry the weight of a most-striking image. In “Medusa,” we encounter lines like these: “a single lantern, a pool of gold,” “in my hair as I rave at them,” and “among the dark asps writing and hissing.” This poem, like the others, is mysterious and haunting, yet grounded in a way that immediately transports readers to the world the poet creates. And we want to stay a while.
You come to me from the woods at dusk,
when the wild deer drift out to feed,
the mist rising up to their bellies.
I can feel you in my hair,
how it pops and crackles with rage.
You come from the shadows
with all your snakes,
and they coil about my arms,
their cool shifting energy
soothing my hot skin.
Let me use your great bulging eyes
to turn them all to gray statues on the green lawn
those whose words turned
me to dust, those who left
me there: ashes from a spent fire.
Let me rise from the earth,
and sing their names in the wind,
so they come to me willingly in the deep woods,
a single lantern, a pool of gold
to guide them to my door.
Let me strike them into silence,
their tongues thick and stuck.
Then I shall stand
among the dark asps writhing and hissing
in my hair as I rave at them
all this night, my utterings crashing
over their mute faces
like hard winter rain.
after Emily Dickinson
Once she called herself
Vesuvius at home.
But Emily never set foot,
on the ashes of destruction
the way I did, never saw the dead
woman’s form encased in plaster.
She’d been crawling on her belly
gasping for air, trying to escape
the gases that killed them all.
Another was curled up, crouched,
arms covering her face,
hiding in a corner of the house
near the stunning mosaic, all reds and golds
the archeologists uncovered
in the bright white heat August.
That mountain was metaphor for her,
but I saw what it really was
as I toured the ruins of Pompeii,
the powdered bones of the dead,
the mountain green
in the distance,
the volcano still alive,
the crater churning with fire.
Where are you now, John Garrott?
You who held the secret to my life,
some mystery there when you opened my chest.
Did your hands massage my heart,
caressing the deep red muscle,
so the blood would flow again through
my brain like a blossoming red zinnia
and out to the fine lace veins of my eye lids?
What do you know of my death, John Garrott?
Can you tell me why ten years later
I still slip and say back in 87 when I died,
forgetting to use the word, almost?
Did I die there on the table that night?
Did I rise above you like steam
and gaze down at you
trying feverishly to start my heart
as the sweat broke out, a thin black band
along your pale green surgeon’s cap?
Could you feel me above you?
Was it your voice that called
Katherine, Katherine, come back,
like a call across the water,
the echo glancing off the dark pines,
seducing me back into this world.
What happened that night?
Why is it when I saw you last
I grew shy like a school girl
who comes face to face with
the older man she secretly loves,
the one she dreams about finding
curled with her in bed the next morning
and while he still sleeps
quietly pulling the white sheet
up around her blushing, scarred throat.
Katherine Reynolds’ poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry Northwest, Western Humanities Review, Slipstream, and are forthcoming in Cimarron Review. Her prose has appeared in RedRavine. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Georgetown, Texas.