The Constellations of Summer Hands
I can always find Orion’s belt, ellipsis
of light on the dark, wild page of night:
three stars immediately familiar, a pause
I can grasp amid the noise of a busy sky.
But what use is recognition? I can’t steer
by it, can’t remember its season of display,
or what degree it rises from or sets to.
It’s either there, or it isn’t, always surprising
when I find it again, like the face of a friend
in a crowded room. It spells out nothing
but recollection, steadiness, constancy.
I know it like the backs of my hands,
both covered in their own stars—freckles
that rise and set with the seasons, darker now
in late summer, netted together in my
imagination to become a queen and a stag,
two huntresses, a temple, a running bull,
an empty table, a river, a child on a swing.
More charts I can’t steer by, maps in a language
I never learned—my own distant fires telling
me something, too far away to understand,
too close not to love deeply, regardless.
–after James Wright
Just off one of the main streets in New Haven,
Connecticut, a man slaps me
on the ass as I pass him on the sidewalk.
I don’t stop walking, just turn to look back,
and our eyes meet. When I reach
the hair salon, I smile too much and say
nothing of it. They can’t do anything
about it anyway, I tell myself.
There is no loneliness like this.
Fragments of my hair on white tile
cursive a benediction I can’t read.
His eyes darken into an echo
that follows as I walk home—a different
street with identical houses. It thunders
in harmony with my tense heart,
which now sings a hymn to which I
immediately know all the verses.
Suddenly, I can read the prayer
on the white tile, all parts of my body
crying out, in awful gratitude,
thank god thank god thank god thank god thank god—
The city is green and blue. A light breeze
wilds my clipped hair across my face.
—thank god, it could have been so much worse.
Suddenly I realize
that if I stepped out of my body
I would break
“greenness is a kind of grief”
–with thanks to Philip Larkin
I’m surprised to see, as I pass an upstairs window,
that my neighbor’s front lawn is missing:
two massive squares of bare dirt, still a damp brown—
like a skinned knee, tissue of the earth exposed.
As I watch, they seed the dirt, comb and hay it, covering
the wound they made, watering it like an apology.
One morning, soon, I will be surprised to see grass there,
as if grown all at once overnight—surprised, as I always am,
by the way that spring comes back to us each year. Surprised,
as I always am, by our own and unexpected springs:
all of us sprouting hyacinth and wisteria, snap peas
and iris, wild strawberries and foxglove and tomatoes,
crocuses and clematis and beets, sage and honeysuckle
and peonies and yarrow—all of us cultivated, like a miracle,
from the ruins of dead leaves and the bones of what’s been uprooted
and culled, and letting us begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
New Ways to Describe the Moon
I desperately want to tell you that tonight
it looks like a sliver of fingernail, a thin shard
clean-clipped from some god’s astral thumb—
because that is exactly what it looks like, hooked
by one sharp edge in the deep blue velvet
curtain of the sky. But this is nothing new.
This is nothing you haven’t heard before.
You already know the moon is a wheel of cheese,
a smile, a frown, a big pizza pie. A hunting bow,
Artemis’ Bow, Cupid’s Bow. An eye, a bone,
a single pearl. An ivory button, a silver coin,
Death, a sickle, scythe, scimitar. A balloon.
Beauty. A virgin, a mother, a pale goddess.
An O, a C, a Zero, a fragment of angry candy.
Make it new, they say. Make it interesting,
make it worth something. After all, what good
is a metaphor if it doesn’t choke you into awe?
What good is a poem that doesn’t slap you across
the face, then sing you into full-body goosebumps?
Novelty must have value, or else what good am I,
in my newness, if not relevant, worth remembering?
The moon tonight is a freight train. It is a box
without a lid, the sound of a dripping faucet.
It is a trapeze, the word Apostle written in cursive.
The moon tonight is my grandmother’s bedroom
from a dream I had last week, her closet transformed
into another room, with another, bigger bed in it—
its gauzy canopy the color of lilacs before a storm.
After graduating from Southern Connecticut State University’s MFA program ELIZABETH WAGER moved back to her native Western New York, where she currently explores too many crafting hobbies and takes care of too many aloe plants. Her poems have appeared in Pittsburgh Poetry Journal, Cordella Magazine, Cathexis Northwest Press, and Able Muse, among others.