"Everybody removed the masks."

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Issue 13: Free Form

Issue 12: The Necessary Ear

Issue 11: The Necessary Eye

Issue 10: Out on a Limb

Issue 9: The Missing Body

Issue 8: The Lily

Issue 7: Passages

Issue 6: No More Tears

Michelle Mitchell-Foust

Birds without End, Poem for Oona Hyland

                       Art Factory, Gweedore, Ireland

Split infinity, the moon jelly
breathes under a boat.

It doesn't know it's hiding.
I don't know my dream

until I see it, the pianos
paired down to harps

in the art factory, and
a table of dead crows

whose wings are books now.
Every crow is a book

and the angel has
a sheep's skull for a pelvis

and many for a spine.
And my god the spiral

in the stone. The terror
of massive crow

and sheep angel
femur spokes for crown.

And I was lost and lost
looking for the place.

And then you rained
your godsends.

What I want
to tell you has more vowels

than I can pronounce. (I've
given you a metaphor

instead of a map, reader.
That's what they give you here.)

Listen to the sea birds
passing over in the dark

the bids of quiet astonishment
in the grass.

Look at your own hand
and then the bog tree.

Your slip is made of red.
Your dress is made of poem.


Dangerous Place to Stop a Fable

Hurry washes her hands by the light of a night light whose square of silver print is an etching of two deer-horse creatures sprinting, one at the other's flank, the one in front with his front legs up and the one in back with his back legs up, and they are the best three toe horses of Oligocene, the Mesohippus Bairdii, according to the South Dakota School of Mines. Hurry's dog can't sleep, and so that night Hurry sleeps only during the very last hour of the night and in that hour Hurry's relationship to war is that she dreams she is in the Trojan one, running up a stone staircase behind a woman with dark hair. Normally the hum of the war is like a heating and cooling unit, and you can't hear it until it stops, or you remember you were hearing it all along, until the silence, when the pressure on your inner ear goes back to zero. Hurry might be a woman or a man in her dream, and she can hear the Trojans shouting from below the castle and they sound so close and so loud and the re are so many of them she is terrified. A woman on the television demands two spring lambs for a hand-made doll. The doll is a spell, and the likeness is perfect. A neighbor's saw covers up what the television is saying. Hurry's dog goes to the door to smell where the noise is coming from. He's essential to the fable. At eighteen, he's the ecstatic truth. Please believe me. The doll's going into the fire, and the death isn't quick. And Hurry's dog sits in the sun outside the door. How convenient the dollmaker's a neighbor. In the war, on the television, no one's dead yet except the lambs.


Hurry loves the sudden appearance of animals. She wipes the pee smell from her dog's feet and carries him in to the quilt he sleeps on. The firemen clear away the pink crosses from the dead teen's memorial, but the skid marks are still there, cutting a path like a black cat to the yellow leaves and scraggly trees that stopped her fall and started her fall, and it's so beautiful with Halloween coming on. During one of the rare, hard rains, rabbit pellets flood the walk at the skid. Hurry has twenty definitions of ghost and each and every one applies to the wavering blanket of bird shadows covering her by day, and each and every one applies to the enormous owl at the side of the road the other night just sitting there for the second in the headlights as she road by. Hurry holds her dog's toes up to the light to see the quicks, even in the dark toe: she can see it and the nail's curled too much. Hurry cleans her dog's feet, between the toes so he bucks his head against her cheek . This is a good sign. The owl could have been Hurry, and the branch coming out of the hole in the barn could be a hand grabbing at a skid, and this is a town, and this is an owl, and this must be the dead girl flying off. Hurry must really be in the whole world.


Us in the Dark Wandering Home

Falcarragh, Ireland

For Kevin and Pam

I found the Aristotle paraphrases
of Albertus Magnus, and the milky way
was certainly full of stars. I couldn't stop
reading the revision of Magnus saying the lunar
rainbow appeared to him twice in one year,
not the once-in-fifty-years of Aristotle.
I have only seen the lunar rainbow once in a lifetime,
over the high bog of an ancient gravesite
lit by a ringed moon. The whole thing
with a small rain.

It was midnight and the arch was black
and every color, and the new burros and sheep
made such a racket instead of sleeping
that we knew we were seeing something profound
among the sock puppet headstones
in the deep August light, us wondering whether
the souls of the layers of the dead beneath us warmed
to the rain under the phenomenon,
us in the dark wandering home.


Imago Mundi: war poem for Anselm Kiefer


And in the painting
of the pool you've
added a wiry ship,
lead, ashes, and
a dress. Little planes
have landed on the ship,
shitting little fires; partly
they obscure the lineline
linelinecrossthrough, linelinelinelinecrossthrough,

of someone counting the laps
he swims. A little plane
comes out of each
orifice of the dress. The war
goes on. More little dresses
need to blow off the line,
and land on the painting's
little ship, but they don't.
There are no more dresses
over the pool or under
the air craft carrier
in the post-war painting,
and they are miles from
a girl waking from a
sound sleep. Her feet
dangle. She is sitting
in for the bicycle
that sits in for the
angel, an artist's model
for a casualty, so tired
is she with her hair
hanging over her ears,
her striped coat behind
her on a hook. Her sleeves
rolled up over her shoulders,
she sits on the stretcher
balanced on treasure chest
and up-ended box. A sink
is in the room. The
porcelain gleams from the
corner. My bird sings to
the helicopters on
the television. Actresses
thin as ashes and pale as stone.
This ship on the pool wall,
the same. Ashes. Stone.
When my birds sings,
it's a needle in the air.
In the distance, the artist's model
for a wounded angel
with her hair hanging
over her ears. She'll give
us the time of day in heaven.


Eurydice at Mammoth Caves, 1983


"Eurydice at Mammoth Caves, 1983" and "Hologram" are two chapters of the same poem, both set at Mammoth Caves. In the first, the Eurydice of Greek mythology finds herself in the caves after the fatal bite to her foot on her wedding day. (Some members of her wedding actually show up in the caves.) She's traveled from Sadorus, Illinois, her hometown in the poem, to Mammoth Caves.

Eurydice at Mammoth Caves, 1983


"She was there, limping a little
From her late wound, with the new shades of Hell.
And Orpheus received her, but one term
Was set: he must not, till he passed Avernus,
Turn back his gaze, or the gift would be in vain."



The Metamorphosis of Ovid


"Concerning love, I know a conjugation..."



John Nash


They take our picture
before we go down

into the cave,
in case one of us

goes missing,
thirty or forty of us,

some of us too pale
in our summer clothes.

(I think I
closed my eyes,)

managed to miss
the white doors (doves?)

flying from a truck
onto the road.

I lose track of the truck
and the sirens

but not the fire,
a bird buzzing my cheek.

I look in a windshield
to make sure it's gone

and see how black the bird
must have been against my hair.


The tour bus idles on the gravel,
a child cries because

she left her money at home,
I'll tell you what the dead want:

not to go missing from the picture
they take.

They are the slow eye.
They are not missing
, I tell them.

They put a rock down
to stop the photograph of us

from whipping around
like a bird in the house.

They sign the back
H    E    Double Toothpicks.


A fan blows all the other group photos
of forty-or-so people who might go missing

in the split second of the camera flash.
In the split second of seeing an 8

or a 3 in the camera flash, I turn
the number on its side, and it's

eternity, or half eternity.
It's forever,

a dismembered newspaper
flapping in the teeth of a palm.


I go missing. Sunburned
red geranium smell, strong

even as I turn a number
on its side, and it's forever.

The man I love consults the picture
all night. There I am,

a likeness
to numbers

on the wall by now.
In the copy.


They have an easel
up against the mountains

with an oil
of the hill

exactly as it looks,
except for a cloud

not in the actual sky
that breaks and spreads

like a sunrise,
no painter anywhere,

just the oil
left with the weather.


The seals sound like birds.
The birds sounds like seals.

The children with their backs
to the headstones

draw the new house
across the street,

the frantic creaking door
of a great heron,

wings beating prehistoric
over the roof.

Maybe they will draw me
from memory.


The egrets fan from one tree
to the other above a picnic.

Their voices are under-water voices,
or mouths coming up for air.

A crow screams at its reflection
in the gift shop window.

That bird hates gifts,
a child says, watching it scream.


They have colored lights
around the stalactites

and cartoon characters
placed here and there

around the stalagmites,
cooling the blow

of the sublime,
and they have potted roses,

beautiful in spite of
the rust, and a souvenir map

wrapped around
a pencil full of small stones.

Illegible. You can have one
for a song.


Their map has terra-incognita

the old mapmakers called
sleeping beauties,

where the line stops
and starts again,

no accounting
for the birds inside,

for the umbrella
over the sea.

My imagination
to my desire,

makes something
inside the trees.

My foot hurts
inside my shoe,

but not enough hurt
to stop walking.

A song
is every sleeping beauty.


They have a throat singer
whose one voice

sounds like a number of them.
Spooky undertow

inside one mouth,
he sings the sounds

of the air near water.
I try my hand

and send up a cloud of gulls.
He sings so strong

we feel the vibrations.
Sometimes we don't know

the vibrations are there
until they stop.

The jaw at rest.
Our jaw at rest.

Our role models

For instance
the ghost of the tallest man
in the world

who limps as I do,
whose foot killed him, too.

In the Masonic temple
they know him

because in life,
just like now,

he has to walk sideways
up the stairs.


They have Jacob's Ladder
which our tour guide keeps saying is

bottomless. I believe him.
I've never come to the end.

Therefore they have pogonophora riftia,
the mammoth worm with the red plume

and black smoker ocean vents
that feed the fish

who don't feed on light.
Everything is red around the lower rungs.

My mother grew something
in a clear bowl (the world, I think).

nothing to do with leaves,
cave texture fingering up the insides

of the bowl, and laundry soap graininess,
interplanetary in pink and blue,

and there was a smell
back in the terrarium craze,

and quilts with crop circles
sewn onto them, and a goat

a water dish.

A gift like a cave should always
over-run the border.


They have the unfinished paintings
of Thalia Lincoln,

the half colored in
birds of paradise.

They have a blonde child on a gray
heating and cooling unit

with a pink bucket on her head,
two white balls, one larger,

at her feet. They have blue stars
on them, and behind the balls

sits a real white rabbit
with huge red markings.

The rabbit seems larger than the girl.
Large for its kind

as she is small
for hers.


In her Lavender "Mammoth Caves"
T-shirt, with little white footprints

running up to her right shoulder,
she sings.

If you look long enough at a word,
you can see it moving.

A word is never at rest.
The words on a girl's chest

move with her song.
She reminds us of a thousand years.

The small blonde
solitary reaper.


They have a guide, a teen,
who says, Sad heaven,

enter me
before I kill again

and several women
from the group photograph

who frown and laugh
and dig around inside their purses.

They no longer have to
think about

the two sounds
coming from the world's

shells. Maybe
they never have.

They have a petting zoo
with a pig's tail wagging,

and a tent away,
the yoga sellers

who will rub your shoulders
for five dollars.


In the split second
of seeing an eight or a three,

the women know their young guide
complements their sulky daughters

who were made to leave
a boyfriend at home,

who covet a green kleenex
full of shells,

and a tiny (plush)
state fair extra-terrestrial.


Every sulky daughter covets
a typographical theme-park

portrait, thousands of numbers
instead of a face

when she looks up close,
eights or threes turning on their sides.

Funny to think
I'm one of those,

scrolling the concrete poem,
the thousands of numbers

that are Orpheus' head,
in my hands.


A child tries
to take back a spell:

Lemniscate. Lemniscate,
a scab of symbols.

(to the tune
"boil, boil").

She grieves because she tried
to show how another child

let his helium balloon go,
chimp face on the red balloon.

She let hers go like this
to show the boy next door,

both of them
looking up,

her hand still up
in the white sky

widening between her hand
and the white string,

her thinking
that her demonstration

is just that,
a specter balloon flying away.

She can keep her balloon
and let it go

like a secret,
like a number,

to show him
how people lost theirs.

The man I love
maybe thought

the same way
when I went missing,

a leopard in his mouth.
A special boat

getting away,
his yells are mine.


They have a barn
a few miles up the road

with a black roof
that reads in white block

"Mammoth Caves (arrow
pointing left)".

They have
the ghost

of the world's
tallest man

walking sideways
up the stairs.


To call the birds,
a single register is necessary.

I knew I wouldn't
be able to fly.

I wasn't
of a flight culture,

but I wanted
bird song

at my wedding.
We were going to throw doves

instead of rice
because bird song

is why you should stay
on earth, and why

you should not.


They have an Irish
famine painting here

of an Eagle's nest
where rests

a human leg.
In real life

the Donegal people
burned the leg.

They have no painting
of the burning.


Soaked sheep's wool
caught on the gravel path

of the ancient ring
of cemetery.

Mary anchored
in a fishbowl there,

the grainy texture
of a headstone

enlarged by the water.
I mistook her for a mermaid.

Down the hill
the townspeople have filled

the tiny museum
with their own wedding dresses.


I have this life
soaked and strewn

as sheep's wool
around the cemetery gravel,

Mary suspended in water
like a goldfish

over someone's grave.

On my wedding day
my robe opened

when I opened
the curtains,

and I forgot
my relationship to the world,

and I (quick) hid my breasts
from the mountain.

No one expects my wedding party
in the curve of this cave

though people are always
getting married here.

Two ring bearers
enter the gift shop at a run,

their faces bracing
with the changing temperature

of the air.
In the split second

of seeing an eight or a three,
one ring-bearer

whose ribbon separated,
who has her little bracelet

on one plump hand
on her father's leg,

raises her eyebrows
instead of smiling into the camera.

The breath of the flowers
steams the glass.