Have just finished reading her book while listening to Brian Eno’s Apollo (Atmospheres & Soundtracks). I should be working but — you get the picture.

Stray
Elizabeth Alexander

On the beach, close to sunset, a dog runs
toward us fast, agitated, perhaps feral,
scrounging for anything he can eat.
We pull the children close and let him pass.

Is there such a thing as a stray child? Simon asks.
Like if a mother had a child from her body
but then decided she wanted to be a different child’s mother,
what would happen to that first child?

The dog finds a satisfying scrap and calms.
The boys break free and leap from rock to rock.
I was a stray man before I met your mother,
you say, but they have run on and cannot hear you.

How fast they run on, past the dark pool
your voice makes, our arms which hold them back.
I was a stray man before I met you,
you say. This time you are speaking to me.

From American Sublime by Elizabeth Alexander, published by Graywolf Press, 2005.

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The morning after.

Blues
Elizabeth Alexander

I am lazy, the laziest
girl in the world. I sleep during
the day when I want to, ’til
my face is creased and swollen,
’til my lips are dry and hot. I
eat as I please: cookies and milk
after lunch, butter and sour cream
on my baked potato, foods that
slothful people eat, that turn
yellow and opaque beneath the skin.
Sometimes come dinnertime Sunday
I am still in my nightgown, the one
with the lace trim listing because
I have not mended it. Many days
I do not exercise, only
consider it, then rub my curdy
belly and lie down. Even
my poems are lazy. I use
syllabics instead of iambs,
prefer slant to the gong of full rhyme,
write briefly while others go
for pages. And yesterday,
for example, I did not work at all!
I got in my car and I drove
to factory outlet stores, purchased
stockings and panties and socks
with my father’s money.

To think, in childhood I missed only
one day of school per year. I went
to ballet class four days a week
at four-forty-five and on
Saturdays, beginning always
with plie, ending with curtsy.
To think, I knew only industry,
the industry of my race
and of immigrants, the radio
tuned always to the station
that said, Line up your summer
job months in advance. Work hard
and do not shame your family,
who worked hard to give you what you have.
There is no sin but sloth. Burn
to a wick and keep moving.

I avoided sleep for years,
up at night replaying
evening news stories about
nearby jailbreaks, fat people
who ate fried chicken and woke up
dead. In sleep I am looking
for poems in the shape of open
V’s of birds flying in formation,
or open arms saying, I forgive you, all.

I am exploring the idea of cocoons for my poems. I have a terrible fascination with them lately. Wombs, too.

Fugue
Elizabeth Alexander

Virginia Woolf, incested
though her childhood, wrote
that she imagined herself
growing up inside a grape.
Grapes are sealed and safe.
You wouldn’t quite float
in one; you’d sit locked
in enough moisture to keep
from drying out, the world
outside though gelid green.
Picture everyone’s edges
smudged. Picture everyone
a green as delicate
as a Ming celadon. Pic-
ture yourself a mollusk
with an unsegmented body
in a skin so tight and taut
that you’d be safe. You could
ruminate all night about
the difference between “taut”
and “tight,” “molest” and “incest.”
“Taut means tightly-drawn,
high-strung. What is tight
is structured so as not to
permit passage of liquid
or gas, air, or light.