by Wendy McDowell


HOW TO BEGIN, WHEN  I don’t even know
when a substance becomes a figment?
Should I start with when she kissed
his sunburned lips on the platform
and his breath was musty
as her grandmother’s attic?
Or should I choose a still point
of desire, like when she rested with him
in the garden after planting geraniums
and they said nothing together
as the flowers bobbed in the summer
air like red kayaks do in water?

Pearl, drip, kiss, sweat, frenzy, once
religion, now rotten, bent, vice,

limbs, phantoms, what gets left behind.

If there was no desire, there would be
no regret, but I’ve seen grief redden
the lips and, soon enough, part them.

Either you believe in iceburn
or you might as well be fingerless.

Just what did you think would be left
behind for me, a shroud and cedars
like in biblical lands?
And how did you remain
so unblemished? (my patina is a sign
of the dead in our midst, greenish
like lichen, unadored but esteemed).

In conclusion, you never did
have a meticulous sense of place
or gravity. No wonder you left
behind your husk like a snakeskin:
familiar, remorseless, dry.

Better to be a phantom than to be of the elements
but forgotten.

homiologia and homoeosis
Little Catholic boy, you were shiny
as an icon of Jesus, everyone thinks I’m
a good catch you said again and again,
you were blue-eyed like the Jesuses
we were all force fed as kids (Catholic and
not) and your hands and feet were cherry-red
like Jesus’s that time you got sunburned real bad
on the river, your blisters were shiny as icons
but still you were a good catch, you still had all
your hair and it was shiny like an icon of Jesus
and once you spilled cherry red on your hands
like Jesus, an icon, blue-eyed and shiny.

Hard to believe
how soon hands and feet
can be replaced.

It wasn’t so bad, my little lost
limb, it wandered in the fields
like a figure in a biblical
parable and the stump left
behind was not at all appalling.
worries the way you erased
the landscape with your cute,
dimply mushroom cloud,
after all:

The fewer legs you have,
the less ground you need.

Listen: they were together for what seemed
like a prolonged hot day, long enough to form
a lexicon but not to shed a skin.
Their lips and eyelashes met
on a platform, in a garden, in an infrared
land. They did nothing but together.

When the fields are dried
out as snakeskin and
the thickets are quiet
as eyelashes or communion wafers planted in hands,
when the minerals are hot
and liquid like melted butter,
when every limb is stiff
and white as a starched
collar. Then will the world
blister and be hurled
to its blood-red end.

parrhesia and repetitio
Forgive me my gimmicks and for using the word gimmick to begin with
Forgive me my killing fields, not to mention my faulty comparisons to Jesus
Forgive me my hot, my sluggish and my lopped off
Forgive me my hope for crushed red petals in the hands
Forgive me for having the stomach of a bastard and the blare of a saxophone
Forgive me my greenness and my blackness and, above all, forgive me you

Her pant leg was up but still, it felt
like it was down. The limb was real;
the pant was the phantom.

There is no gravity in this immaculate land, but better yet,
no grace. The phantoms have bodies here, they only appear
to be ghosts because everyone floats when there’s no gravity
but no one needs to leave or leave anything behind. There is
a stubborn peace. It doesn’t matter how many limbs you have
because you can always find a still point not to mention endless
wafers and everything bobs in the air like it’s water. In this
meticulous place, there is no sunburn or iceburn and yet everything
glows like an icon of Jesus or a saint, or better yet, the Perseids.

verborum bombus
He told her I know
how hard it is
comparing the rest
to me. I am
and will always be
your best.

As regret glows like a glow worm
in the frenzy of want, so too
the figment in flesh.



Only the moths to keep me company, their wings

like peeling enamel

This is my nth goddamn death-trap


You went and now my body doglegs in the cool sheets

in the ragged hem called “dawn”

Numb watching sex and fun, I can’t pick up


anymore. Imprecision: the subject of this

and/or ice-bitten windows

and/or wet boots. They excavated my feet

each toe blackened, one by one

I remember losing my wallpaper dress to gradual soil. Flatness


us. Impotence: the old modernism, twelve steps,

the new realism,

etc. Dukes and duchesses all over the

goddamn map

Piano-legged and ransomed all love


Have I convinced anyone yet?

Epochs matter!

You will name your new baby nothing

reminding you

of me. Frost-bitten toes know how

emptiness does ooze.



To be serrated as a
Sunday. To hear the beating
spleen in fields.

How many colors
of withstanding can
we withstand?

To see our cousins
lockstepped for a
borderline. To dance

and stand by, still,
as light pilfers
all royalty.

To reject purple
before it can.

To drink the East-
West chorus
of the putrid.

How soon sounds
of misbegotten
are misbegotten.

To be the teeth of
borders. To be nippled
and bruised. To be reunified.



It’s one of those lucid noons when
wood sparrows off themselves on
sliding glass and the tatted
hyacinth, so as to avoid
the bird underworld or witness
relocation, refuses to witness.

There is an urgency to the steel
wool and her memory is sheer
and crisp, greedy as an autopsy,
orthodox as snow.

It is that hour.

Often she has tried to regret
the stencil of her affections. Just
as often, she has seeded red pepper
on the windowsill but the cornice kills
it. The doorjamb aids and abets.

She means to believe in reform,
but who can devote when dust
on the needle keeps mugging
the piccolo’s double-tongue counter
in The Stars and Stripes Forever?

Dust is the inside man.

She knows it’s wrong, but chain stores
pitch tents inside her. Scouring
the glove bins she might forget
what’s been ladled out, the most
endangered list, the actual hour.

Still chimes break and enter,
pellets meant for cuckoobirds
riddle the sliding glass. She is too
crimeless and annelid. A useful worm
given useless prescriptions: a woman.

WENDY McDOWELL  is a poet, playwright, journalist and editor. She lives in the Boston area.



return to Issue  Five