Some nights you have to take what you hear for fact: five poems by Mary Karr

The Wife Of Jesus Speaks 

Ours was the first inch of time.
The word passion hadn’t yet been coined,
and I’d not yet watched my beloved

laid out to butchery and worshiped as a virgin, son
of a virgin even. This was before the Roman
bastards hammered his arms wide

as for some permanent embrace,
before the apostles paid me to lie,
he never shuddered to death in my arms, I never

feasted on his flesh that now feeds
any open mouth, and inside me he never released
with a shudder the starry firmaments

and enough unborn creatures to fill an ark
all in salty milk I nursed on.
His God gave us no child

and even the books of salvation have not seen fit
to save me. Not the first woman
a great man denied knowing,

I said no back, for eternity.
With a rope slung over a tree branch,
I put my face inside a zero,

and with a single step clicked off
his beloved world’s racket. Now my ghost head bends
sharp to one side, as if in permanent awe.

When he came down to hell and held out
that pale hand for rescue, I turned my back
(the snapped vertebra like a smashed pearl).

So my soul went unharrowed.
In these rosy caverns, you worship
what you want. I have chosen the time

in time’s initial measure, history’s
virgin parchment, when with his hard
stalk of flesh rocking inside me, I was unwrit.

Before me, I hold no other god.


Diogenes Tries To Forget

It’s one of those days when everything is half-off,
half-on. My shirt, for example, which I notice
is buttoned wrong while staring in the diner window.
I think I want a slice of pecan pie, some life
sweeter than this, life my childhood in Texas.
There’s no pie today, just you,
by accident again, bent over your coffee
like the “V” the geese fly south.

It’s a fall day. Because we’re melancholy,
we kick leaves, pick up rocks to consider
tossing them at dogs. I only breath with one lung
since you’ve been gone
, you say. And I love you
with one hemisphere of my brain,
the dumb one, which forgets.


My New Diet

A guy in the bar where I drink every night
told me a great lie about pigmies – how they eat

just once a year, when the rains come, and then
it’s anything in sight. It was a wet night.

We drank to the pigmie hunt, lifting beer mugs
to the giant boar, speared and dancing in the air,

the ceremony ending with a belch, the village
asleep beneath palms we imagined, then the waitress

tipping the stools up on the bar. Some nights
you have to take what you hear for fact.

Some nights you have to believe a man just because
he needs to be believed. I swung open the door

to my taxi and took him home. I slithered out
of my black dress like a python while the rain

beat its brains out on the window, the ritual thump
of zebra drums. No photographs were taken,

but the world seemed black and white when I woke
alone at dawn, hoping no one ever captures me

like this: poking my finger down my throat to return
everything false I ever swallowed, return to the eager

feeling I had as a girl, thumbing through National Geographic
on Sunday morning, hungry for another place and dying

to make something of myself, however small.


The Last Paris Poem

The dream we had was Paris, and it was the sweetest lie
I ever heard. Grace, you said, and there were swans
feeding on bread we tossed from a taxi window. Lilac,
and from the stirrup of your hands, I balanced to tear off
branches. Angel, and we slung cameras around our necks
like tourists in heaven who can only love
from a distance. This is a snapshot of you
taking a snapshot of me taking a snapshot.
This is Minneapolis, where we breathe snow
in the dark bubble of the car,
where all that remains of Lilac
is the fear of falling,
which is the first truth.

Last night I fell asleep with my face on the typewriter.
The keys marked my cheek.
So at dawn I stood at the mirror
reading myself like a page of braille.
I don’t know who we are or how we once dreamt
of Paris. I watched the perfume-maker squash
a thousand blossoms into a tiny vial. I imagine
your coins still plunk on his glass counter: Grace, Lilac,
Angel, we paid dearly. I rushed at swans with arms wide
until they rose in one graceful heap,
like the handkerchief I lift as you drive away,
a snowflake I dot behind my ear.
This is a snapshot washed black by the airport x-ray.
It waves good-bye.


The New Year

Tearing up snapshots to forget a handsome face
is what movie queens do. But this woman, shredding 3x5s
at the window all night, doesn’t feel royal at all,
and she remembers everything.
There are winter nights
when even the street sweeper seems thoughtful
under the falling snow, and this woman,
framed by white curtains like a postage stamp
on a package, waiting to be delivered,
seems to release moths into the air.
Just erasing the pages of her diary
won’t free her from history.
She imagines the pieces of paper float
together in some proper order, that her life
can be solved like a puzzle, like the crossword
the handsome man used to sulk over on Sunday,
in bed, when his wife was only a grin
in the window of his billfold.

She no longer studies squares of light
staring from other buildings, nor pigeons
sleeping wing to wing beneath the eaves.
All she sees is debris, blowing up the alley,
things people have abandoned, forgotten news
whipped against parking meters, windshields.
She’s about to turn from the window with her hair in spikes,
to look into some camera and paste down
a picture of that look, which says she’s scared,
as humans tend to be when they feel something
flying from their fingers.

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Some nights you have to take what you hear for fact: five poems by Mary Karr