Helen Wickes lives in Oakland, California, and worked for many years
as a psychotherapist. In 2002, she received an M.F.A. from Bennington
College. Her first book of poems, In Search of Landscape, was published
in 2007 by Sixteen Rivers Press. Her poems can be read and heard online
at From The Fishouse. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI
Online, Confrontation, Eclipse, South Dakota Review, Stand, Runes, ZYZZYVA,
Chicago Quarterly Review, Natural Bridge, Santa Clara Review, Limestone, The
Spoon River Poetry Review, Bryant Literary Review, Southwestern American
Literature, The Coe Review, Crucible, The Jabberwock Review, Kaleidoscope,
Pleiades, PMS poemmemoirstory, SLAB, The Griffin, Salamander, Epicenter, In
the Grove, CQ, CSPS, Freshwater, Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, 5 AM,
the Bennington Review, and the anthology Best of the Web 2009.
What You Hope For
The day trying its best to heat up,
the snow breathing cool off the mountains
in July. As the amber iris fades,
the golden mule ears open--it's a yellow translation.
In the forest there are thrown-out tires,
a splayed-open fridge, old windows.
The moss on the trees is too bright,
a hot, green tangle. It's hard to get away,
but from what, toward what?
A mashed place
in the rye grass where the deer sleep.
And then I find a tiny bird's nest imprinted inside
by underbelly, heartbeat, but the outer twigs
roughed up by onslaught.
The loud camper passes, loaded down
with bikes and rowboat, dragging a jeep.
People together--an act of courage,
how they do this.
The beauty bounces off the surface,
the morning strokes the mist from the lake.
The day's thin-skinned but not for long.
On the lake one canoe swerves,
then lurches. How worrisome
to watch the two people, cosseted
in their bosomy life jackets, jerkily stand up
and exchange words, exchange paddles.
Their bouncing boat soon rights itself. Ah well,
crying is not an option.
You can get love wrong again
and become an expert of the aftermath.
The climbing body thinks: left foot,
mariposa lily, right foot, three stones;
three stones means a trail,
another person's been here before us.
This high up there's heat, granite,
and silence. A steady drizzle of pebbles
skittering down the slope.
Elements of Style
Waking to fog, the fog declining its chance
to unfasten pearl buttons from its wrist
and shake hands with the blue. On the ledge
a green parrot sings his one song,
mimics the sound of electronic warfare
pouring from a video arcade.
To achieve clarity, they say: be clear,
be concrete, avoid the passive,
and save emphatic language for the end.
At the end of my street, newspapers in racks,
many choices and such a modest vice. Give in
and there goes the morning's poem,
take your pick. Jingle your pocket change,
glance at headlines while pretending not to,
then look away, remembering the woman
at the South Pole,
needing to cut into her own breast,
to figure things out alone and fix them.
The end of her story, so far, unknown.
The paper is bought. Getting from the real
to the imagined space is immense and delicate.
In the supermarket line the blind woman
says she can crack her eggs
for a souffle, keeping her yolks from her whites
by feel, making me think of that saint
breaking open a honeycomb,
all that trapped light spilling out, flying back
into space. Next to us in line,
a 50-pound toddler flaunting her dismay,
someone else muttering about a muzzle
and leash. They say, as a writer, you must remain
in the background; don't be breezy and don't explain.
Not a Georgia O'Keefe in Sight
Evening rises from the canyon floor.
Colder by the minute,
songbirds sing louder, pickups growl uphill.
Frost has burst the pinyon cones,
sticky, fragrant, thick with seeds.
For a week in Albuquerque
people dangle from gaudy balloons,
tethered to earth by radio.
They tangle in phone wires,
obsessed with ballast and gravity.
Stones clatter, two boys in the arroyo
scramble for the lion-colored siamese cat.
A man calls them home for dinner,
right now, this instant, do you hear me.
I have here an ad from the Neptune Society,
one seagull and a message,
Leave with dignity and still afford it.
If birds carry the soul to Heaven,
who decided it should be a seagull?
Bonnard, saying he used objects
as a source of intimidation,
that's as good a wisdom as a body needs tonight.
Find your object. Keep it scary.
Anything will do,
this sheet of paper, glitter-eyed birds,
or the juniper-handled light through the window
sliding across the bed,
soft-knit butter light,
enough to grab hold of,
roll around in, plenty left for winter.
Cebolla, New Mexico
Raked sky, slurred clouds, the dirt road to town is a center part
through the rye grass, and on the chamisa, a breath of ice.
A retired Santa Fe boxcar hunkers in the field,
housing the wares of the purveyor
of Victorian undergarments. Her wares
a still life in satin and velvet, chamois,
and bengaline, hand-crafted exoskeletons
from thorax to belly, defying the logistics of bosom
and breath, worn inside out when the stays wear down.
Bustles cost more, they stop the eye, as do those billboards
of bandoleros, crisscrossed with cartridge belts,
outside Tierra Amarilla, saying land
or death, land or death.
I pace the fence line and throw one rock at another
for the sound. The people here were too loud all day
and have gone to Chama for lunch.
I sent them away, now want them home, while pondering
the lacing of the corset, which requires an extra pair of hands,
and how signature markings along a woman's naked back
can be read, revealing just who has left
his runic imprint upon her skin.
I wonder what the mind wants for the body,
this cash crop, this risen dough. Many ways to bind
the living. So much keeps breaking out: the mountains
through the metallic, ambered light, the day, which seems
eager to be lived. I could nearly give in to it,
to the cold that bums cottonwoods into color,
to the insistent sound of an engine changing gears.
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