Poems by Lisa Orme Bickmore
L o v e’ s B o d y
As if it were a reward, somehow, for hope—
It is a useless idea. You find it somewhere
Along the arc that begins at expectation, that
Disappointment ends. If you were to predict
A point on that arc at which it would be likely
To occur, it probably would not be in bed
On a snowy morning, with the milkman’s footsteps
Printed on the walk, then turning away; with
The tousled sheets just warm on your legs, your body
Deciding whether to relax into sleep, or gather
To rise; the baby’s head turned away from you;
Her every breath under the quilts lifting them
With a shudder, then a sigh. Who would ever dream
Such a moment as one particularly happy?
Before we fell into sleep,
We huddled on the floor,
Searching an old map of Utah,
Seeking the legend of those
Dry dusty names, austere mysteries
We’ve never seen: Cataract Canyon,
The needles, Standing Rocks,
The Windows, the Maze. Then,
We fell to the desert of sleep,
Dreaming separate dreams of red
Rock, hot stone, God’s arches
Sculpted from the strata
Of time, and the sand,
Shards of that hard light
[p.33] Then I found
Myself awake, naked as stone,
Your lips at my breast
But before I wholly woke,
I half-dreamed myself part
Of the red dusty hills,
That elemental, with the purest,
Deepest groundwaters running
Secret in me, deeper than you
Or anyone could plumb,
Deeper even than the most ardent
Well of love or desire.
Love’s Body [p.34]
It is very small. It emerges with no language.
It is itself a language. It exits me, squalling;
Its inscriptions read, firstborn daughter.
We hold her and study her. She sleeps solemnly.
Her skull is shaped with a delicate chevron
Placed precisely, its opening saying, brain; the
Point saying, eyes, the view.
We clothe her in tiny garments that obscure
The unbearable detail of her anatomy. The sleeves
Of her gown, for instance, envelop her fingers,
Since the nails may mark her face. The fine
Bones of those fingers, the pink nails like fragments
Of beach shells, are so miraculous we must cover them:
We can bear only a glance.
In the rituals of cleanliness we observe,
I realize that I cannot bear to trust
The world into which she must grow. I wash her,
Take clean white diapers brought punctually
Each week by a clean white van, swaddles
Her buttocks, abdomen, genitals, mute with wonder
That I cannot make a world in which water
And white gauze are sufficient protection.
I imagine this body grown woman-size, opening
Herself to the uses of sex: I imagine first
A gentle partner, one who loves her body as much
As I do, I who brought her body here—then
I turn away from the hard man
Who is indifferent to her, who makes her
Fit him, who changes her always. I do
Not want to see if their faces are different
Or the same.
I remember her back before, before
She emerged, her inarticulate voice,
When she was still a little lodger, my body
Was an efficient hotel. She checked out
After her last month’s rent was paid up.
How quickly the staff cleaned up after—
The blood, the milk drying up—
And we stand, two female bodies,
The imprint of the one on the other almost
Invisible, like a newly made bed with clean sheets.
My Discontent [p. 36]
In the night we sleep in endless dialogue,
And if a child creeps between us, our bodies
Wake to argue as if our voices had never ceased,
As if we never slowed a breath or word.
In a twisted nightgown I lie awake after sleep
Takes him, put my arms around him, listen
To his breath’s cadence. The child sleeping
Between us, her hair smells of white soap,
I stroke it with my right hand; the left under
The pillow like a slice of dreamer’s wedding cake
I might wish upon, dream endlessly of endless
Marriage. One man, one mind. I carry
The girl back to her bed, my shadow moving
Before me on the wall washed in white
Midnight. No child between us. In the dark
I make my way back to my discontent,
To him sleeping, as if sleep might close something;
Me waiting to ease into a less interrupted sleep.
Abandonment [p. 37]
for Penelope Austin
The breath of my children hovers over their beds
Still and unwavering, nothing disturbing
The field of their sleep. The spotted dog
Sprawls on the floor among discarded garments,
A moan in his throat as he shifts his great bones.
I imagine them leaving one by one, before
They’re ready, stepping with that grown assurance
Of a fortune to be made, but with the height and posture
Of an eight, a six, a four year old, their baby sister
Creeping behind. Or they leave all together: no longer mine,
Refusing to cohere as mine, their faces blank, staring
Past me,not recognizing in my face the face of their mother.
And so it must have been me: I must be the one leaving,
I walk away and don’t look back, so that they lose my face
In the crowd of souls who walk away from one another, leaving
Choirs of dogs behind them as they go. Or I turn a key
To fire us the car with one speed and no brakes,
The engine of this dreadful plot in which I find a room
Where the bathroom is white, the surfaces clean:
And if I return … and when I return, to the house I left,
And there is no one there, and I have no address: do I go on
To live in that deprivation, the absolute free exile?
A Woman in Her Thirties [p.38]
stays awake after the household is blanketed
in sleep for late silence is the best silence
and an awaited solitude as sweet as wine
uncrosses her legs and stands to cross a room
looks at the man she knows or doesn’t know
and says why him? and then why not?
dreams dreams that freight her daily steps
with faces and gestures she wants to handle
with a grave hand a lingering touch
smells the heaped pears in the basket
and touches the table bearing them up
the scent of onion staining her skin
knows the music of the voices that inhabit
her house its transient phrases and melodies
hears the ghostly episodes when the house empties
can lay and light the fire that flickers before
the altar of preservation that saintly incense
the smoky flame proclaiming both hearth and burning
[p.39] in any case
If there is any sense to be made of this at all,
it will be in the insistence of the lower case—the diminutive
letter—an envoi in miniature, never sent.
It must be diminished, because this figure
looms so large, so lifelike, in dreams—eyes
a golden hazel, the fiber of the coat making
its rough impress. And the license the appearance
of that figure gives to lawlessness, criminal
behavior one wants to enact, but which one must let
fall, censored and uninscribed: this figure may not speak
its lively speech. In effect you must be scribe and translator
of what lives in the wide space between desire and act:
mute love and speech: allowing the silence of the former
its powerful moment, the full round minute before declaration.
I run water into the green cup, and my son
Drinks, then pads down the dark stairs
To his bed where he will dream deep
Till morning. Nights like these I walk back
To bed with eyes still closed, though I only
Float the surface of that shallow stream
And wait for the next small body standing
Next to me to pull mine out. She wakes
To tell me the terrible story she has invented
With her eyes closed, that I must revise for her with
The curve of my body against hers in my bed. For
The smallest I find the lost blanket she has kicked
To the bottom of the bed where her feet do not reach.
I turn off the light, and turn it back on.
I hear their footsteps though they are sleeping.
Anyone who wants to can walk into this bedroom.
[p.41] This night my old piano teacher walks in
In her nightgown to sit on the edge
Of my bed, crossed leg keeping time,
Pulling dark threads from a ravelling hem, but when
The clock digits click, she believes
The clench of my eyelids, the weight of my sleepy limbs.
And when his hot hands touch me, I turn
To my husband, but in his face move
The uneasy faces of a hundred men
Whose names I know and do not remember.
I get up and go to the window to see
The dark windows of houses before dawn,
The brightness of the white street.
Outside a pale peignoir hangs
Gracefully on the peach tree’s lowest branch,
But I turn back to my bed through a crowd
Of moving murmuring bodies, whom I ask
To forgive me, it really is my bedtime.
They arrange themselves by ascending height,
Whispering stories that insinuate sleep.
In the Old Way [p.42]
As in every summer of my younger, lesser life,
This July we went north to our cabin. More than the lace
Made by the sturdy hands of my father, my grandfather,
More than a city-dweller’s retreat, more even than
The story of wilderness and restoration, spring of the big West:
It seems at this point to be stored in my cells, the longing
For the long road through fields of wheat, barley, potatoes,
The georgian vistas of eastern Idaho. We stop
To get the key from my grandparents, have breakfast
Without haste around their table. It is a fast eighty miles, some
Of us dozing through Ashton and Sugar City, but when
We hit the trees and the altitude, the air is unmistakable:
As if every old story of clean air, we inhale as if starved,
Expanding our boundaries, exhaling what we’ve left behind.
We speed past the lodgepoles’ insect-eaten, fallen, naked trunks
In horizontal disarray, and the new trees’ green spikes
Piercing the debris. And when we get there, to the cabin,
The trees new just about fifteen years ago (a storm knocked down
All the old ones that summer), when we unlock the doors, enter—
The believers entered their shrines in this way, once, removing
Their shoes, raising the dipper of sacred water to their lips,
Rinsing their hands, shaking drops of light from their fingertips,
The rites of people at the thresholds of holy places.
We’re people without such ceremonies, but as we bring out food
In from the van and put it on the shelves, with a wrench
Turning on the water and drinking the first cup, opening the windows
And lighting a fire, too warm even for a mountain night,
[p.43] We can believe that we are celebrants of an ancient god,
One who intervenes favorably on our behalf, who gives us luck;
A fisherman’s god who yields up trout from the rivers of the region;
A god of afternoon rain showers and warm enough nights;
Of skies blue in the morning and black at night, and filled
To the brim from his cup of stars; who lengthens and deepens
The calm spell of our sleep, and multiplies our pleasures
In love. A god of affection, and hence we are loath to leave
When we must, to sweep the floor and draw the curtains,
Shut off the water and lock the doors. Promising it won’t be
So long till next we come. Driving away, the slow miles
Down the mountain, back to newer houses, their modern ways.
for Sophie & Walker
She runs, her feet as intelligent as her hands, the ball
Moving with their quick pace. Behind her runs
Her brother, much smaller, and she knows he hopes
That he will get that ball, make it go far with the force
Of his little legs. It is late afternoon on a fine September day.
On one field her older brother plays with his team.
At the near edge, she could hear their hard breathing;
If she slowed, she’d see the flex of their muscles, smell
The sting of their sweat. On the other field are girls,
Like her, soccer players, but older, and they too breathe
Hard, seat, run with the force of young bones strung
Like instruments with muscle. But for her their play
Recedes, their pale movements shifting with the whimsy
Of kaleidoscopes; her own movement in her own body
Runs west toward the sun at its western limit. She has made
Of the space between the two fields a green corridor,
Having as its origin the east where rose the sun this day,
As its terminus the west where now it sets. Behind her runs
A tiny body, trusting her sure step, her feet with the rolling ball,
As they advance over the field’s gentle curve toward the dark.
Late Winter Snow [p.45]
All this long evening it has been snowing,
And before morning it will snow more:
It is midnight now, but the night sky is still cloaked
By the clouds, with their gray opaque light.
Before morning they will splinter into stars.
I stand at the window looking into the sky
And see the clouds begin to break into snow;
And I think of you, and of the street where
The houses end, where the big fields will fill
With snow. Before anyone wakes I will walk
The white streets, and walk past the houses,
Whose windows will still be dark, closed to me;
And the clouds will hold, lose and gray, with no hint
Of sun, the light that would unlock this winter
Weather. And all through this night, still bright
With February snow, you will move through my sleep,
As long and as faithful as this weather
That I love, that I know can’t last much longer.