“and even you forgot those brilliant flashes seen from afar” -Ruth Stone

Elizabeth Powell

A SCULPTURE OF JOSEPHINES

For Sylvia Shalit-Itkin, sculptor, grandmother

From each slab of moon
she pulls out a Josephine
like Rodin pulls the hand
of God out of marble.
There are four of us, all
her granddaughters, all named
Josephine, made of full, Gibbous,
half and crescent. She once lived
on the moon in sinkholes full of water.
The moon making rhythm
from moonquakes into iambic
pentameter spells that help make babies.
We each hold a burning key
that she spraypaints gold
When the moon is full
and she can’t sleep.
We are molded with braids
on our heads that hold candles
whose fire is earth lava
in a dream Yahweh had.
For us everything is diaspora
narrative. There are birdcages
constructed in our chests
where inside carrier pigeons
Are trapped. I open the door.
All is process, myth and flowering cervix.
Our wombs like pomegranates
from which tigers emerge.
My cousins, the other Josephines,
hold out eggs in their palms.
Appendages grow out of us,
arms twisting together, lovely
arms reaching for amicus briefs,
that bring law and order
to ovulation, to fertility.
All the Josephines dream
of a string of paper blue birds
hanging like Tibetan prayer flags
from the ceiling of the sky.
Moon soot cakes the window
of the warehouse where Grandmother
sculpts in the office furniture graveyard,
among Steelcase files and Herman Miller
desks: each of us can pause the sea
with a Bakelite elevator button
going up and up. The sea is calm tonight.
Time is not linear. We are delivered
to a place by a marble bench
where under thorny William Baffin roses
she sits with our grandfather while courting,
watching the moonrise over Brooklyn.
As her grandchildren we will go forth
and populate the earth,
so that history cannot be stopped.

 

 

INTO THE MISTAKE

What is a mistake
but a misunderstanding of the mystic?

My mistakes spread
like sumac trees, heavy clouds
at the perimeter, stalking.

My hidden questions rejoice
in my arrival here, a bouquet of pink clover,
an understanding that quells
an argument. I walk

the desire line of path with my bow,
toward the straw filled boss, it’s bull’s-eye
my third eye. The translucent wings

of white bramble on thorns and tall grass,
lead here to the upper field. Missing the mark
is what some call sin.

On my way back the thick urinous stink
of plum trees and flop. The neighbor’s Guernsey
calf in her pen like a ghost in the machine.
How can she want a field when she’s not yet been?

In the loud high-pitched moan and moo,
the greenness calls like a shofar.
Blessed are You, Ruler of the world.

I pet her spotted nose, then wave.
She’s become my parents
disappearing on a boat into the mystic
sea, being as I am made of the oars, bones,
and blossoms, the string physics
of their mistakes.

 

 

FERTILITY

A cathedral of oak
looks upward toward
slivers of revelatory light
like the kind at the end
of the tunnel people talk
about when they die
and come back. This is

the way trees divert
us from their roots,
that grasp old forest
burial grounds, lambs
to the slaughter injected
into the life of orange
and red foliage. The world
is on fire, melting polar
opposites. Huddled, divine,

alive, their fungal
networks call to divine
the future. Here time is
not linear, and fallen
leaves drip like ritual
candles. The crown
of the tallest, leaves a ring
of thermodynamic ardor.
Queen of Divination
by Photosynthesis,
a kind of intimacy

with Being. The rain
makes the tree’s witness
vulnerable, which is how
the living can be
begotten of the dead.

Inside each tree, a scroll
of commandments. The slow
pulse of each tree’s signals
from each root consort
like a drip of sap, sugar
knowledge of what is Holy.

They sway their pheromones,
a coquette’s trickery. Their roots
heard only unto themselves

in prayer at 220 megahertz,
if only we could transcribe
it like a court stenographer,
inaudible to us mortals.
Their swarm intelligence
makes them a religious tribe
in diaspora worldwide,
trying to stop

the great undoing.
The oaks make
a dwelling place
that holds the catafalque
that is the dark
mortuary of earth where
what was and will be
follow the call
to reincarnate before
it’s too late, as the oaks
give the communion
of air to the world,
their sacred honor
and duty to make
the prophecy of rain.

The forest beheld me,
stares inside me, my pupils
dilate, eggs ripen,
cherubim in Solomon’s
temple. Wherever
we’re exiled the Shekhinah
the trees made went
with us. I have knelt
at their wonder.
The fruit of my womb.
I have been
Blessed.

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Elizabeth Powell (born in New York, New York) is an American poet and professor. She is the author of three books of poetry, “Atomizer”, Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances and The Republic of Self. Read more