Still Life with Cupped Ear

 
Not flying buttress but fly-
on-the-wall crest, pressed white
as sugar, icing the stone arc

of an interior arch: a shimmer somewhere
between cut diamonds and glitter-polish
on the bride’s left-hand nails pale

against the bound stems she clutches
like a girl the May Day bouquet
borne for the granite Leader’s great

unveiling. Lieder sung
underwater: The Meat Queue, Stalin’s fronting
one row Czechs, one Russians, happy

Comrades all. When the Soviets dynamited it
from Letná Hill, some said the head rolled
whole into the Vltava, that great falling

from favor surfacing only
as a fading tracery of widening
circles, like lace shaken

from the drift of swans. Like a salting
of the fields, an arm swing’s mimicking
the broadcast of seed, the blown bones’ dust

settled the people’s shoulders, the Great Overseer dispersed
to a great listening. A word overheard, any grace note’s
staccato report, can be played

back as key tone; any echo sustained
made a gathering. Held in the wavering weight
of a single pitch, an hour glass’s sand

spilled onto the skin head
of a drum will settle each time to the same
spidery design. Four winds. Four cardinal points,

3 and 6 and 9 and the hands’ seal at midnight
indistinguishable from noon: what an A
clocks to, an anthem’s operatic close

in the throat raising through sympathetic vibration
the precise flatline the concert master’s wasted hand
drew from horsehair dragged across catgut

tuning the orchestra at Terezín. Tracking
the river’s skin, the seasonal murmur
of ice crackles to the shatter of heel-

crushed glass wrapped in a bit
of lace, the groom looming
above fragments of the light bulb

which replaced the crystal goblet for its ease
of breakage. Tracking the shatter unearths
that the electrician who served as model for Stalin

drank himself away from that nickname
which ate at him through bar mates’ acid back-slaps;
of the worker who chiseled hammer and sickle

into Stalin’s jacket button outsized to a swan’s
wing span, there is no record.
Like a train so distant it almost

can’t be heard, though it drums
the earth, boxcars of names blacken
a synagogue’s walls towards the bomb-

sheltered pitch bricked behind the Gates
to Nowhere, concrete bones of a never-
completed museum sprayed with the names

of skaters who air walk the blasted plinth above
where the sculpted blade of a giant metronome
now scythes that swath of air ghosted

with the missing: wheat fields, The Meat Queue,
and its artist, all mention redacted
from the unveiling after he followed

his lost wife by cradling his own head
in their apartment’s oven, climbing the whisper
of an absent flame—as if once the scales

fell from the eyes there could be
no more music. Just a small
blue hiss.

 

 

 

Still Life with White

After Jean-Baptiste Oudry, who set the style for the light-filled still life of the Rococo … [and] illustrated his theory in his Etude d’objets blancs, a painting … that caused a furor at the Salon in 1753.
    – Still Life: A History

  
At the MoonPie factory, gravity begins
the line, attic vats of marshmallow batter
a man called Red churns decades
with an oar. White water: the river is deadly

yet too shallow to sound. Oudry on painting
the many gradations of white: One is not
the other. Bone china. The hungered
plate. Ivory napkin balled in the fist

of peace and quiet; Sunday dinner’s
white-knuckled wake of another
tabled week the son didn’t come
forward to be washed white in the blood

of the Lamb. Fathom
as first music heard of the word you
are a waste, that melody voiced
from a white fugue of bedroom walls

even before the crib’s bars drop down
to what ratchets and mutes but washes
over always as a white-capped
rippling of waves. Breakers. Falls. Rapids

are ranked by air entrained
into water but anyone who’s lived
on its skin knows the terror in capsizing
is not being borne by a head

of froth but the veil that held
away the hard body bulked beneath
being rent. White the head of the hymn’s
held note. White the sheet that stems

the music. White the furor uncurtained
by Oudry’s big reveal, not for his fine-
tuning the hand to temptation but for the white
duck’s not being lost to the white wall he’d imagined it

strung against. White without
white-out, blizzard vertigo scrimming sky
to field to a highway’s dotted white breakage
blurred to the swim of breathed ice

no one came to break from a white-
masked cow’s glazed face. White gown. White
hood. White the hemmed garments of the chosen
to be chosen. Not albinos

but mutants, the white squirrels
of Transylvania County descend from a single
carnival-fled pair, all so puppet-wicked
by genetic memory that alarm still

spread-eagles them against black
oak trunks as the white-hooded raptor
dives down. Rapture catching the congregants
in fire. The boy cold ash. White

shame, white anger, white flag of the spread-
open body. Not the talons of a stranger
but the sizzle at the crossing
of wires. White spark, white ash. White

the saddling weight of sugar sacks unloaded
from boxcars docked to the factory spur’s
two taut strings. The Christmas morning
the father caught the son picking out Amazing

Grace on the guitar, he took the gift away
for good. Because God’s music is only what’s held
within His given body. A cavern of sweetly
steeped organs. Glint of his ring making Os

of moonlight, the fretted world clacking away
on its slats. A sheep slaughtered in a country of ice
and volcanoes revives a years-cooled eruption
through the embered sheen of her lungs. Without slicing

open the body, who’d know she’d breathed
her entire life as stone? Little lamb,
how your father must have drawn heart
from the white-listing of deacon after

deacon to continuing visitation upon his child
in the family kept intact: tucked-in, tacked
to bed sheets, arms pinned like the veined
cellophane wings of a crane fly stuck

to strokes brushed through oil. In trompe
l’oeil, who can resist putting out a hand
to pick the oily fruit? If idle hands are the devil’s
playground let us consider the work

of our own. The white duck hanging
from a tag signed with the maker’s name
is not the white wall it’s been backed
against. Because in the Book of Life

the names are few and composed
not of the born but the born into grace
as immersion, to choose not to be swallowed
is a stain on the white garments of the father’s

heavenly dress whereas the surviving
mystery of The White Duck is who sliced it
from its frame. Treasures on earth
as in heaven, white loaf that feeds

the many. When MoonPie cookies
are cut, the lace of dough severed from circles
is saved, slung back into the machine, punched
into cutouts of sweetness itself, but crystallized

frame by frame is how the memories return
like the tiny chilled eggs in the Sunday hen
your mother split open to show you
how those shrinking jelly globes trail back

into the body like a reverse stop-action film
of the baseball coming at you
from his hand. White belly twisting
between seams of red thread. Black plugs

of tobacco like pellets taken
into the mouth. Because family is a chain,
when Sunday after Sunday you did not go down,
the anger your father felt was for his own

salvation. That sentence of little Os trailing
to a simulacrum of perspective, a facsimile
of eternity spliced by the body’s beginning
and end. The lost history of ice,

compression, moulins’ windmills
swiss-cheese with melt the retreating
glacial snout; those jagged bites climbing the ice,
footsteps masked by crampons, little machines

blading the sole with an armored silver lining
forged to a fox trap’s frame, to mandible split
from skull, lacquered the thinnest
layer of gleam. Arm both anchor

and axe. Whether the duck was stilled
with a twist of human hands or the preferred
firearm of the time—swerve indelibly stamped
in its finish, the Damascus barrel’s coiling

strips of iron and steel permitting shooting
even midflight—is not pictured. If the not-
white thread in the white is what makes white
visible as white, if the father is the machine

of God, the worker of His Own Hands, explain
those nights the mercy of memory reversed
washed clean into white-out
for decades. A cappella, a boy learns to sing by picking

out his father’s voice, straining to match what nature’s placed
out of his range. White pillar fisted between red
columns of Word, how recover the weeping
salt of the body without winding again in those

dampened sheets? Oudry was famous
as the wizard of whites, but that man heading
the MoonPie line, not whether father or son or the sizzle
at the crossing is what I know but only

into each batter vat as he tipped it towards the final
vanilla sheathing, he spit a single stream
of tobacco juice. Because Father
meant Word, and grace, that ribbon of white

flicking away in the upward flight
of mourning doves pools still
to the hood of an eagle shot to a graveled
shoulder, what protected means to the one

who can depend on the light always
to have his back, little lamb, you unpeel
the silvered foil, again you bite
through the bitter vein

slit to beget that exact, exacting
marshmallow white.

 

 

 

Still Life with Flag Trees and Bone Chandelier

 
             Like arrowed feathers posed
to steady flight. Not to become

wind’s dolls. Evergreen there, backs
                         to what wears: absence
absent from this chandelier’s full nautilus

spin, chapel of shadows fashioned from the body’s

every bone, studded with skulls
wicked to candlelight—moth-flits tongued thin
             as stars when the snows first

creep in.
             Before the needles bottle, witched
to icy picks. An infant’s splayed

                         §

finger-bones.

                         What seams the light,
shadows the prayer: here

the sacrum, lateral cuneiform, trapezium: here
             ulna, patella—rather than crystal’s
strung charms, the radius ribbed
in octaves. The pelvis’s

stilled wings. Plague’s revelation, this

                         §

particular pearl, frill where the jaw
tore away, skull by skull—
                                          no singularity,
fusion; beneath the dearest face, that same

stalled swim. World

                         §

in free fall, any near miss: say a road’s

sudden dive, a bike’s zag and buck and the child burning
along that graveled shoulder, knee ground

to its ivory cap.
                  Beneath the blood
staunched, the layered flesh graveled

with grit: like a road’s bisection, snow banks

seeded with mosquitoes rising from melt
ending the one family picnic one

                         §

still remembers—

                August was an excavation,
then, tree line a road’s coring through weighted

remains. Before the range unghosted
             to mirror the cloudless sky trapped in the lake
at its feet, unchained from any

narrative spine, any lying
on the back telling that is a castle  that

a horse galloping  that a house

                         §

going up in smoke—

Electric and cold, what I remember
of white:
                white room, white light. Woman in white
tweezing shatter from my knee; the bone’s glacial retreat

as she stitched. The x-ray starred

by the single grain she missed: forty years
its bite a wintered

                         §

insistence.

                 Windthrow, when the roots, not
the spine, no longer
hold: just before alpine, hung by a wire

of wind—then, the gravity of flight. Angels
             of blowback, white limbs

against an emptied sky—

                         There, there, she
was saying. There, there, white hum
as she sewed, sowing that one

             missed seed—stone
against stone: correspondence,

that small ticking.

 

 

 

Sandra MeekSandra Meek has published six books of poems, including Still (Persea, forthcoming January 2020), An Ecology of Elsewhere, Road Scatter , and the Dorset Prize-winning Biogeography. Recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Poetry, the Poetry Society of America’s Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, three Georgia Author of the Year awards, and two Peace Corps Writers awards, she is co-founding editor of Ninebark Press, director of the Georgia Poetry Circuit, poetry editor of the Phi Kappa Phi Forum, and Dana Professor of English, Rhetoric, and Writing at Berry College. Visit her at www.sandrameek.com
 
Read poetry by Sandra Meek appearing in Terrain.org: Letter to America, two poems, and one poem.

Header image–Swan Attacked by a Dog, by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1745–courtesy North Carolina Museum of Art, Google Art Project, Public Domain. Photo of Sandra Meek by Paul O’Mara.

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