Koi, by Katie Ford

After all the days and nights we’ve spent
with Starry Messenger, with Dante,
with Plato, his temperance
painted as a woman who pours
water into a bowl but does not spill,
after particle theory and the geologic time of this quartz
gilded beneath the roaming gone,
composites of limestone calculated down to the animal
that laid upon it and quietly died,

after hearing how camels carted away the broken
Colossus of Rhodes, showing us how to carry
and build back our destroyed selves,

hearing there was once a hand
that first learned to turn
an infant right in the womb,

that there was, inside Michelangelo, an Isaiah to carve out
the David, the idea, the one buried
in us who can slay the enormities,

after all visions and prophecies that made the heart large,
once and again, true or untrue,

after learning to shave the gleaming steel down—
the weapon, the bomb we make,
and the watercolor made after
of the dropped-upon crowd, thin strokes
over a pale wash—
after all this, still
one of us can’t know another.

Once under an iron sky I listened
to a small assemblage of voices.
Two by two broke off into the field
to strip down the unbroken flock of starling dark
between them. The ceremony of the closing in,
the hope each to each might not stay tourists
before the separate, chiseled ruin of the other:

The unspeakable, illegible one before us—

this is what the linguists call the dead, isn’t it?

But how are you, we say,
meaning how have you been made,
what is wrong, what
happened, we ask, how long have you been waiting,
are you on my side, can you promise to stay,
will you keep
the etchings clear on my stone
and come visit me, your never-known,

will you lean over my ghost
how we leaned over the green pools of the Japanese garden,
a cluster of lanterns blowing out above us
wisp by wisp, a school of koi pausing at the surface,
letting us look all the way in
until we saw each eye
was like a net heaped on shore.

Just like our eyes, weren’t they? all accidents, wastes,
all saving needs filled and unfilled, the cracked shells,
the kelp fronds torn from their buoys, all caught here,
inside us—
the seven we loved, the six we lost—
seaglass the living
and the human, alone.

Breaking Across Us Now, by Katie Ford

I began to see things in parts again,
segments, a pen drawn against the skin
to show where to cut, lamppost through the stained glass
with its etchings of light against the wall —
it was the middle of the night. It was something we would tell no one:
The hospital roads with standing water, I drove quickly through,
saying, you won’t have to stay.
                                                 But then I left without you,
you whom I’ve felt missing all this time —
when I sat in the weeds of the yard, told to pull them
from the root, not to touch the wild trillium, tying knots in the daffodil stalks,
discontented. When I watched the scatters
of firs sway their birds out through my storm windows,
the tree itself now and no more,
I thought I needed belief — walking through the stubbed wheat grass
requesting everything that would undo me — the nearness of Christ,
abandon and devotion — no one has to teach me
my disobediences. No one sees
the shed I see now, its roof bent with snow, all of it
leaning south how it was never built.
The inches overcome it, but
the green wood darkens, oceanic and deep.
                                                                   He might not wake up,
I thought that night —
                                         I remembered the house I boarded in one summer
with a widower, his wife’s fabric samples left draped over
the arm of the unfinished chair. I could feel her eyes
in my own when I tried to choose
between them, almost, if the sun of the alcove
hadn’t faded them, the dust and his arms worn them.
The sky as stark as the first sheet laid down
after they took her body.
                                           But on that night
while I waited, the clouds casketed the stars,
stars with no chambers or hollows, filling themselves
with their own heat how a hive quivers
to fill each crevice with itself,
how I have never been able.