The Bones of August


Not to go backward,
           not to watch the women
peddling in reverse past the church,

                     the priest in his black habit
       receding from the chapel door.

Not to go backward,
           the bones of August
becoming the bones of March,

                     branch of dogwood
      picked clean by frost.

Not to say Yes
           when asked the question
all women wait to hear,

                        Are you anything
      like your mother?

Not to be photographed in her dress
           like a saint
carrying the instrument of her martyrdom,

                     Agnes, and her try
      of breasts—

or to throw the bouquet into the grave
            where Bartholomew hides
with his bloody knife.

                       Not to burn
       half the house down—

and build half the house up.
           Not to forgive
the bad child

                      when even the bad house
       is forgiven. Not to care,

not to carry the bones of August
            into September, foiled with redness
and nothing to squander

                     but the buds of spring
        dormant in their boughs.

Not to ask, Did you
           love her? and leave
the answer in the ground,

                     where everything difficult
       is buried.


Attend the dead,
           then welcome the bride—
backward, as Jews do,

                      reading Hebrew,
      right to left.

First the mourning,
          then the celebration.
Backward, taking off

                      the beautiful face
      of forgetting,

two names with the same face—
          all this time
a woman waiting inside me

                     to marry.
        Invisible, impermanent,

windmill girl in her cage
           of breath,
insect girl in her element:

                     impenetrable shell,
     putting on

the beautiful face of forgetting—
             Fury        Sybil      Isis
one of us

                        wakes in her
       graveyard of guilt,

filamentary as fiber optics,
           one of us sleeps on
in the temple, lulled

                        by the metronomic
      pulse of longing—

Did you love her? Are you anything?
             That other girls is dead.
That other girl is dead.

                         What else can be said
        about that other girl?


Same as mine,
          skin of her hands
laid over the ivory bones,

                       dark map
       of the body—          Yes—

it was dark,
          but I was darker
on the inside.

                      When she was young
      she was “a great beauty,”

in the same sense
          that “a roomful of adults”
is rarely ever.

                      I was never
      like her, flattered

like a map
           under glass,
slender as an axle

                     in a turbine—
      enigma relic:

feet of steel, legs of wood,
           cabinet of curiosity.
Even her reflection

                       in a spoon
       was beautiful.


Labor into longing:
           wild enthusiasm
of the dynamo engine

                    working in reverse—
     more power

in the leaf of a flower
          than the paw of a bear.
Is it necessary

                      to remember
      absolutely everything?

Golden hour on the birch-
          brailled bark,
weathered barn stacked

                      with malignant logs,
      sweet mulch

of aether /ore
           in the morning air.
We hung drapes

                       over the mirrors,
     they were flowered, too—

her bouquet a cabbage,
           assembled by a florist
from 120 roses

                     Incandescent light
       flattened their petals,

made lace of their thorns.
          Uncanny—nothing in nature
so rigid,

                   nothing more harmful
     than her rare affection.


August: honeymoon at Niagara,
           water shut off—
bad luck.

                      Two bodies,
      a man’s and a woman’s

found face-
           down in the mud
at the bottom of the gorge.

     on the cliffs above,

Tesla’s alternating current station,
in its pure machinery,

                     honeyed, lunar magnets
     waiting in their sockets

for the current to resume.
           Enough about friction:
this is about two bodies

                     at the end of America,
      repelling each other

under the polar rush of water,
          generating their own distance
over time. Is it history

                      or home
       that hurts us more?

Did she look into the gorge
            as into his face
when she said Yes

                      to see the downpour,
         even when it was damned?


Nothing in me wasted,
           a use for grief, even.
I wore it on my left hand.

                       I was married to it.
       I planted myself

in the dirt:
          alphabets grew up
from the bones of my feet.

                    I drowned my heart
      in the lake.

Black hole, such vanity—
           navigating the ear canals
like so many gondoliers

                      trolling the watery streets
        looking for someone

to sing to. Beautiful
           fisherman who fished
my heart out of its lake—

                      I did not die. I revived.
      I wore her face on my fingers

when I dug up my joy
           up from the ground, singing:
Oh wooden coffin, woman’s body,

                         boulder at home
      in its stone skin.


Yes, then, to all of it: to the drowned
            sea urchins, porcupines spined,
and the black-brain

                      coral that sleeps
         on the ocean’s floor,

ruinously blue. Yes
           to the vultures that roost
above the waterfall,

                       that don’t
       surrender their nests

at our dissolution,
          and to the bones that do.
To remember is to open

                      one door
      after another

all along
          the white corridor
to say Yes when asked,

                        Are you anything?
      Did she love you?

To go forward
            is to surrender
the necklace of tears she gave me—

                     this failed body
     with my name on it.

Robin Ekiss, “The Bones of August” from The Mansion of Happiness. Copyright © 2009 by Robin Ekiss. Reprinted by permission of The University of Georgia Press.
Source: The Mansion of Happiness (University of Georgia Press, 2009)
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