Jane Huffman is a current MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Iowa Writers'
Workshop. Recent work is featured of forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Radar Poetry,
PHANTOM, Word Riot, The This Magazine, RHINO Poetry, and elsewhere in print and
online. She works as an Assistant Editor for Sundress Publications and Best of the Net
Anthology and teaches in the English Department at the University of Iowa.
Year of wands, I do not recognize your calendar
of dressing and undressing the moon. Your swans
are not my swans. My wonder was quartered, halved,
and then whole. You cannot unzip my coasts quickly
enough, and the night keeps breaking and breaking
its fall. My father photographed a carousel horse
at The Spree, and I coveted the slide when he reeled
out the hefty projector at holidays, pointed his laser
at the curvature and called it exposed. Over and over,
something in me crowned and I held up my hopes
like they were old haunts. We would recognize them
anywhere, know the bar in Old Town by its nudie
paintings, a club in Barcelona that was decade-themed.
In the 70s, you could buy a bar of disco toast
if you were showing enough shoulder. I named
all of my miseries using a baby book. They respond
when I call out to them in crowds. You were the year
when Whitney Houston sang my mother to sleep
on a bus, your fall was when she won every costume
contest she entered. I played in a box of nylon spider
legs and wished I had her long fingers. The women
who knew me said that I would get them. My wonder
has never betrayed me like they did. I sit there now,
between the wish and the grant, and my hands
still look more like my brother's. You were before
he existed, anteroom, and I am left only with first words.
There is a door inside of me that is also inside of you.
The Prayer of Agreement
Don't give your angels a head. They'll come
back, propping the opera of your after hours,
whistling the stage manager's whistle. Every
figure in your drawings knows more about you
than I do, New Year. Your ghosts haven't earned
their coats and arms. I met the pastor who knew
how all of the saints died. He kept their names
on cards to pull in moments of grief. Oh, Lorenzo,
in the wind over Italy, he was burned at the stake
on watermelon day. He invented his own feast
days. Anything good can be turned into a meal
and another reason to light a candle. A box
of curiosities held all the tools for my baptism.
Enclosed garden, I could have begged for it
in every color you can dye a white carnation.
There was glitter. There was always glitter,
or its semblance, and a padlock. I ate the dirt
from the shrine on Easter and worried
about a tetanus shot. Then there was the ladder
climb in Bandelier. The Alcove House, the plateau,
and the two-manned horse puppets. I was
not invited to throw popcorn, so I watched.
Vertigo cannot be lopped and scattered
but it can be risen. On the third day, I posed,
naked for the eye in my mirror. The minnow
leered back. I said, tell the ravens I say good
morning and keep your trivia to yourselves.
These early images of Christianity: Bell church, womb umbrella, turtle dove, tying and untying the bows on the back of my stockings while an angel stands over me, both of us upstaged by the wooden star, hung like a bustle of wet bras from the banister, and painted yellow, like the side of a shed is painted yellow to ward off prairie cats. A sister leans down and says "it's about time" as if time could be about anything and I say: If you're talking about sex, I know all about the belly-button. My cousin told me about the Sheep and the Shepherd, if you know what I mean. She doesn't, so I look to any old station to rise above: the tenth, the fourteenth, and Mary, in her poplin coat, wonders out loud about the son she booted from the dinner table because of his problem with rage and magic. She makes three plans in her head at once: keep the boy, let the boy starve, let the boy die. The sister hears these plans and clutches her rosary like an ignition switch but I say, go Mary, flail the swaddling cloth like a whip. I'll weep for both of us.
Pierre Bonnard's Parakeet
Shouldered, Miu Miu bag, crystalline, box
beak like a leopard zipper, feathers not fur,
not the yellow you expect. I watch you watch
it watching her. It toddles, squawks like a boy
with his fingers in a cage. Birthday shaped,
brave Mediterranean summer, submission
to the picture and subversive questioning
of plumes, he is a technical marvel. Uncanny
in the way the bird stands like an accessory,
a reflection to the crime of red, where Bonnard
painted using only the sense of taste.
The woman's dress doesn't oblige the laws
of the garment. It doesn't fall, drape. It conceals
nothing. Nakedness is not a kind of canvas.
The Parakeet was not a native bird in France.
He imagined all of his waltzes and leaned
on all of his angels of natural history. First,
the woman, then her shoulder, and at last
the bird. The bird's stamen. The bird's meat.
The bird's heavy and lettered golden feet.
I can see them fettering into this existence.
Back to Front.