archives spring 2009



What No One Plans

is to inhale for sixty years the fumes
of burning nightshade, then with lungs
stiff and pocked, between coughings-up
and sippings-in from a flammable tank
you have to wheel or carry, to continue
to light those leaves and try to breathe, 

to cast every hour or oftener from the bed
the plastic tube out to your only other room,
already fully sfumato, so you can have a “safe” smoke,
which the neighbors smell and try to evict
before it explodes,
                            then afterward
to reel your line back, to reinsert
your cannula like jewelery, little reed-flute
only the dead can hear.

No one plans to make their nurse,
paid a little by the state, love them
for selling their car to her for one dollar,
then hate you, to make everybody hate you,
for jerking your tubes out, dialing the police
when we weren’t looking to charge us
with leaving you, you swore, in your piss and shit.

No one is born planning to swear that no one comes.
No one is born planning to order everyone to stop coming.

Therefore if there are creatures of fire and light
whose task it is when someone dies
to lift off the roof of the house, and carry
to judgement everything hidden,

the person that did these things
will be screened (may she be screened)

behind the heaven of what she did plan,
dancing as she does in a black-and-white,
snapped in Cuba, as far as I can tell, before the war,
furniture pushed back, dress caught, flagrante,                                                  
in the act of swinging out to the tune,
the mighty tune of black moiré caught tight
at her tiny, not-bloated waist, rhinestones
at her throat, ear, and wrists, where no skin
is as though burned or scarred or torn,
in the arms of a handsome man
not my father, not knowing all of us
that she would come to know,
not yet driven mad by too much love
and nowhere near enough.


Not Pure

No matter now she was a burden to know,

to go to her or stay away, futile,

that she scared kids, handed them to strangers in restaurants, threw a glass of red
          wine in the boy’s face, took a hatchet to the door of a room where he hid
          (the room where the father slept, before he fled).

No matter no one believed this version, she hiding her bedlam till she could not or

that no one who hadn’t listened to her put a needle in the groove of Jocasta’s aria
          again and again at 3 AM could understand or approve
          the miles her son and daughter kept between.  

While she lived, the chance lived
paradise might sit
at her feet.

That died
with her,

so for a while the man sat
at the foot of the idea of her ashes.

Before she was gone he thought her death
would project a reprieve complete and pure
onto the future. Now he understands

what mere relief can be,
a wide and lonesome way to move is clear. 


Patrick Donnelly’s collection of poems is The Charge (Ausable Press, 2003, since 2009 part of Copper Canyon Press). “What No One Plans” and “Not Pure”" are from an extended sequence about the poet’s mother, which forms the centerpiece of a new manuscript, Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin. Donnelly is an Associate Editor at Four Way Books, and has taught writing at Colby College, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and elsewhere. His writing has appeared in American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Yale Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. With Stephen D. Miller, he translates classical Japanese poetry and drama. He is a 2008 recipient of an Artist Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.