Let Me Try to Explain My Nights
If you can imagine the clatter
when the bone china shelf collapses,
or the world-rekiltering when the parakeet
you thought was mute yellow sweetness
starts screaming obscenities in a sailor voice,
then you can imagine how I feel
some nights. Like my life is still right here,
still the one through which I move
quite capably from dawn until
the silent time, but then in the silent time
all I can think about are the ones making the silence,
and if I could keep everyone safe forever
just by touching them, I would grow
a thousand hands, but I know how
lucky I am to have the hands
I do, and how do I explain this? Look—
outside the stars are cold and ringing
in their great black bell and I can’t
do a thing for them. My voice could never
reach them, not even if a voice could
speed across years of light. But some
things I can control if I do everything
exactly right. So it’s night and I’m checking
the stove again, off off off off, I’m checking
the garage, I’m unplugging the toaster
that’s been on the fritz, I’m blocking
the front door with the piano bench,
I’m thinking tomorrow I’ll eat more
blueberries, more spinach, I’m circling back
to the stove. I always touch the burners.
I know a mistake would blister.
In the dark, though, it seems reasonable
to touch them, just to make sure.
Love Poem with Planetary Wonders and Loose Definition
Once we stood in our backyard in smalltown Missouri. We were young and had grown our first garden, which I guess is a metaphor though it was also an actual garden. The tomatoes were out of control. The cucumbers, the cayennes, the pattypan squash like elfin flying saucers. Hyacinths, hyacinths. Our grass wavered in the midsummer swelter. Everywhere, mosquitos and bees. Aphids dotted the undersides of wide leaves but we didn’t really mind. We couldn’t blame them for wanting to live in this hot green place.
Once we walked barefoot through the surf at just-past-twilight, the sky slipping toward navy. The moon, impassive and pink-tinted, glinted off the water. The strawberry moon, named for June’s ripening fruits but clearly committing to its name. The cool air alchemized the foam around our ankles to something warmer, softer. Beneath our feet, sand shifted; in the ocean beside us, unseen dolphins dove, caught fish, slept with their gentle eyes open.
Once we hiked the Broken Arrow trail in Sedona’s late spring quiet. The light ambered around us as we passed cactus flowers and juniper, a vast sinkhole named the Devil’s Dining Room. On a warm wide rock we rested and looked out: the red land to all sides, the blue overhead so absolute it seemed impossible the day would end. The sun settled on us like a great cat, purring.
A shadow crossed the garden and we looked up from our tomato-picking to see the bright bulbs of the hot air balloons—red, yellow, green—cresting the late afternoon. They were right there, so close we could see the riders in the baskets. The whole day tilted. We waved, and with our free hands reached for each other, stood there under the sky now strange with color and occasional flame.
I’m sure we could hear the stern hush hush of the waves against the shore, but what I remember are the sounds from the boardwalk behind us: the scream-pause-scream of the Sea Dragon riders, the tinny horse race game call-to-post, the bell after bell signaling Whack-a-Mole winner, squirt gun race winner, winners, winners, all. We stood and summer floated to us, gold and brash and ringing.
And when we made it back to the trailhead we were desert-dusted and sweaty, so we drove downtown to a coffee shop and sat out back under umbrellas drinking our iced lattes, looking at the wild rocks, the wild creosote, and later that night we went to a gallery and saw a mosaic that cost more than the house we’d just bought, and later that night we lay in our motel bed listening to the anonymous children on the floor above us tramping like small elephants, and later that night we slept the sleep of glad people, and we were glad.
Darling, here is a sky polluted with our city. Kiss me under it.
Catherine Pierce is the author of three books of poems, most recently The Tornado Is the World (Saturnalia 2016); her new book, Danger Days, is forthcoming in 2020. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, the New York Times, American Poetry Review, the Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-Day series, and elsewhere, and has won a Pushcart Prize. A 2019 NEA Fellow, she co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.