What Did You See?

By Fanny Howe b. 1940 Fanny Howe

For Peter S.

I saw the shrouds of prisoners
like baptismal gowns
buried outside the cemetery.

On the canvas frills exhaled
singed wool and cardboard.

The angels arrived as lace.

Took notes, then stuck. Awful residue
from a small cut.


The veil has been ripped from the skin
where it was burned in.

The skin is the veil, the baby-material,
imprinted on, as if
one dropped the handkerchief
and it was one’s wrist.

The cuff is frightening.  
Stuffed onto oil.
Water-stains might fence its ghost in.


“The barbed wire complex”
I understand.  
Winged and flattened
at the same time, poor things!

Some leftover specters of blood.

Remember Blake’s figures like columns
with heads

looking around for God?
When events are not as random
as they seem.


The article of clothing
is only half there, it’s not full,
but when it falls forward, it is.

Terrible emptiness of the spread
neckline and little sleeve.
Half-cooked squares.

Was this religious fire
and is this where it passed?

Maybe they are floating on water
of paint, pool-sized,
blue and ridged like foam.

You would have to fly
to see them flat as a map.

The rib and hem. Rained on
for eons. Noah’s children’s
floating forms.


Angels die?
It’s a frightening-miracle
because here they are.
The Upper God

has let them drop
like centuries into space.

And I recognize them!

Source: Poetry (May 2011).


This poem originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2011
 Fanny  Howe


Fanny Howe is the author of more than 20 books of poetry and prose. Howe grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and studied at Stanford University. “If someone is alone reading my poems, I hope it would be like reading someone’s notebook. A record. Of a place, beauty, difficulty. A familiar daily struggle,” Fanny Howe explained in a 2004 interview with the Kenyon Review. Indeed, more than a subject or theme, the process of . . .

Continue reading this biography

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Language Poetry

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