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Diane Raptosh


Neck and Neck

Seahorses do it. Colliding like interstellar clouds, they'll hold each other's tails or grip to the same frond of sea grass and twirl—happy as sheep at a hump of onions—sidling by each other snout to snout, exchanging gray-browns, the male throwing noises like finger snaps; like a pair of mixed breed pups balanced in the back of a fast moving pick-up, they are stunned beauty wrapped within fish kiss tail-tip to withers, gills breathing heavily, both of them up from the squidgy mud: Two dotted and spiked necks that go on the full length of the body spiral thus skyward, horse sweat dripping and rising, her trunk itching for his pouch, cricket-sounds lasting like vowels from Sinatra, each seahorse choked up on necking's angelical cord, which is ancient as brine, sweet and right as the brain that talks to itself in sleep. Here and there, one has to let go a sea whinny, scales and scurf sent flying. Equal parts art and awkwardness—even trackers sometimes step on their own footprints—fetched from grass meadows out of the deeps. Finally, tired as rain-lashed Lenten roses, both of them sink and swim their own ways, back to the circled blue salt lick of sea.



Parts of Speech

The silent night of the clay has been a journey toward the rightness of another human face: the knowing loin of the nose; the mouth, in its successive lapses toward the sea. The cranium's base arcs a small heaven. From low in its crib, muscled and mucous, buzzes the larynx like so many leaf cutter ants. The light plum taste of forming vowel sounds is a go at freedom; the cicada's screech levers a charley horse to the throat. As does crying in a dream. But here is what's really at issue. At the end of every word that called for one, for mostly every note Sinatra forged and held—long as rue and pure as catkin fluff: his clean pronunciation of the consonant.




The unity of the world rests on the pattern of tension and release: Think of the words plop, bespatter, and perfuse. Last week dozens of robins, purple beaked, dropped drunk to their deaths along a California sidewalk: fermented privet berries, buxom as plumes of grapes. Before the whole piece closes down, Tolstoy gives his characters a chance to live better at death than during life. It is too simple to understand—like speaking in tongues, like the need to say two things at once. Thus spoke Empedocles: "I have already at times been a boy and a girl, and a bush and a bird and a mute fish in the salty waves." Light as words, peonies sized to Clark Gable's head simply erupt, aroma of old-fashioned roses. There are days so blind with ache and brine and loam you have to whisper of them, madcap, in your lover's mouth.


Diane Raptosh has published two books of poetry, Labor Songs (Guernica, 1999) and Just West of Now (Guernica, 1992). She has also published widely in journals in the U.S. and Canada.
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