Susan Settlemyre Williams



Your brown empty city. The desert's out
of flower. Nothing holds it, grain

on grain. Light as sky in my palm,
in a blue ice cream carton, I hold the gray

soft feathers of your ash. Which will be set
in the brass pan against the other brass pan

that holds the feather of truth. Weighing,
nothing on nothing—I'm wrong, it's the heart

that's weighed. Your dust doesn't balance
anything; it hangs a long time in the heat,

lifts on an updraft. In storm season once
I flew through desert thunderheads rising

in giant chimneys, miles above
the plane. I don't understand weightlessness

or perfect balance, the boy hired to take out
my half-uprooted, leaning pine, how

he roped himself to it, walked upright its tilting
height. Left-handed, he chain-sawed

a branch on the left, then right-handed, one
on the other side, stood on their stumps and slashed

limbs, one hand and one hand, and balanced
on those stumps, and the dust

didn't fall at all, it seemed, sand-colored,
only hover and lift, until I couldn't watch him

step onto sky, how he swung himself
out on his rope and glided to earth, in three

strokes brought down the armless trunk.
The sky had no clouds, and the limbs

were slow and brown, but the ground shuddered
each time one came down on the tattered

chrysanthemums. The boy hung in the air
like his weight was nothing up there.

I don't understand how the body can be burnt
into nothing, this little plume I let go.

When I dreamed of Suzanne come back,
she had no more weight than you, but she glowed

and her milk-blind eyes had turned
to aquamarines. I want you radiant like her,

not dust hovering in brown summer air.



Sweet bite of loam.
She remembers that and sky peeling open.
Her wrist gashed with lily-pollen,
then the long hot where grass casts a net
over her face. Nothing more? Not the ragged
sneaker flown where someone beating
a pattern of seeking into the field will miss it.
Not the rustle, blow from behind, furtive
blade of pain. Not the pulling down, great weight
of breath slithering out of her body. Random,
what remains and what is a scatter
of glass. How none of it matters here
in the rhythmless dark in which she's sinking,
cold dark where nothing will ever move,
where seeker and pattern are only
their own distant call and answer
and then broken like stones.



Defined by what's cut away:
Last name. Breast.
What's left after the cutting is silence.

White bath. Snow light on gray walls.
Two rooms close and cold as a snow fort.
The windows look blank

on other walls, a flat roof. I tilt the blinds
till nothing comes in but light. In the stillness
the razor's snick on my legs is loud.

And why bother? No one will know how
smooth I am all over. Ice sculpture
under the surgeon's white scrawl.

All the color cut away. I forget
if I have color sealed inside. I only see
how sleek my vacancy has grown.

Once I went out at two a.m.
to watch the meteors. I lay down on the pavement
and disappeared. Over me, stars

blindly scribbled the dark, their flight
sudden, then broken off.


"Albuquerque, Your Ashes in Midair": This poem is in memory of my close friend, the novelist Rebecca Gault, who moved to Albuquerque three years before her early and unexpected death from cancer. In the poem I try to capture some of the strangeness of attending her memorial service in a strange city and of being given a portion of her ashes for her family back on the East Coast. Although I never actually scattered any of her ashes in the desert, I was very conscious throughout the trip of the temptation to do so and of questions of the soul's survival and the insubstantiality of the body.

"Silhouette" began with a casual comment by a friend about the period just after her divorce and evolved into an attempt to compress narrative and subordinate it to mood—a sense of bitterness and despair I don't remember having ever experienced in my own life.

"Lost": Again, this is an attempt at compressed narrative, in which the dying girl is intended to suggest as well those mythic lost girls, Persephone and Eurydice. The "seeker" may be Demeter or Orpheus, and simultaneously a member of a real-life search party. I have been struck often by the indifference the dying seem to feel toward the grief and urgency of their survivors—how irrelevant we become to them.