Max Winter's poems have appeared recently in Denver Quarterly, Colorado Review, The Paris Review, and New Young American Poets (Southern Illinois, 2000). His reviews have appeared in recent issues of The Boston Review, Rain Taxi and Bomb.
I write at the cuff of the world.
I catch myself drifting, and would think to be a man. Would the poem of woman differ from the poem of man?
That the poem of woman would be standing and the poem of man sitting, legs and arms crossed.
Must be one different from the other. One of them must be humming with ripeness,
the other just. Not. Cannot be both.
The women who watch me start to open their programs. They would speak at a high pitch if they would opt to speak. But they would not opt in this darkness. There is room only for my rhetoric.
Because I am the woman speaking and I am the woman writing the poems. Not to be too fine.
There is a man, after all. Out watching me like a mantis. The only thing putting him from me is I loved him once.
Some would say they go away. Staring at the seat before him. Wonders where I am, why I do not sit in that traveled seat. That is not my question. I did not begin that in him.
But he asks now, look at the mess. Piled so high. It hides her eye. Have you seen that look before?
I feel nothing as I listen but a tapping on my ear. As if a stray dog nuzzled at it. Freshly escaped. Freshly filthy.
It began as a tiny thread, he says, and grew into a whole catastrophic skein.
(Do not listen. He is only one of many.)
We were laughing when we lay the great gray cubes, he says. The great gray cubes are hard as flesh. I know them, he says.
(I reckon you. I thank you. No one goes home without a bruise. What would the world be, anyway.)
Or maybe that's not it.
I have not slept
and yet I am happy.
I have spent the whole night
listening to straight lines clattering on my desk,
covering each other up.
They cannot help falling,
it is as if they have been pushed
from behind the gauze curtains
and although they vanish almost instantly,
there's a story in the descent
like flower petals soaked in water
to make a sort of invisible ink
readable only by footbound princesses.
What I have been trying to do
is be one of those princesses,
although my voice is too deep
and my footsteps too heavy on the snow.
It keeps you awake or at least in hopes,
a matter that turns itself over and over again
without ever connecting parts to your liking.
Thus entangled you walk out to the country
in hopes that an answer will pick you up
and the radio will be well awake
and you will rattle singing into the yellow-pink continuance.
But if it doesn't happen, you fall in love,
as I have, with the first thing you see,
which is in this case a dead chimera.
Its head rises like a foreshadow
in the perpetual musky dawn
even as I have taken a rod and lifted
this simple cranium up to greet us, even as I push
the thing back to the water. I'm wise enough by this hour
to know this is a beginning,
if not of a city then of a dream.
I'd like to tell you
But I can't
I forgot what I was saying
After the last cloud dissolved
It wasn't necessary
It was more about pulling loose
You can do that at any time
You don't even have to be awake
You are attentive
I will begin again
But the serpents say stop
I listen because I know something
I cannot say what it is
You note my silence
I am in bounds from now until then
I might try writing down these thoughts
I worry they won't stay
Everyone stays close to where they wish to be
If the time comes to go there
All they have to do is say it
It is all easy
If you have the right attachments
What are yours
I have asked before
I have not listened
And we have sat on this rock for twenty years
Waiting for a meaningful contribution from the air
What do we offer
What is our sacrifice
When did breath become a standard