[ToC]

 

SELF-PORTRAIT AS LIST OF FIGURES

Elizabeth Wade

after Brent Green

Gravity: you said it was
impossible to visualize,
but I remember it being everywhere.
we knew its taste, its grasp, its sheen.
how its burnish deepened
each time we rubbed against it.

Eggs: brown or ecru,
green or speckled.
never what we hoped.
never the red of those hills.

Weathervane: shaped like a chicken,
like one of the house hens
a girl from Mississippi once told me about,
explaining how, when Katrina hit,
they protected the best producers,
tucking them beneath the staircase
with the family’s other valuables—
a single silver candlestick,
the quilted double wedding ring.
the aluminum no longer spins to guide us,
though light seeps out if you strike its beak.                              

Nails: outrunning gutters,
overflowing pockets.
once I took one into my body,
not knowing it would rend.

Window: where I watched
the feathers flurrying
around the head
that could not raise itself.

House: hinged. opened in moonlight
for wishing. (our wishes were futile.)

Bed: a platform, a pyre. I remember
pulling the mattress from the frame,
moving it to an open space
so we could sleep before the stars.

Kitchen: the stove, labeled stove.
the board that bore the word cutting.
the months when my brain
was too broken to know it was broken,
how it forgot that things had names.
how I saw your tears
but could not speak of them.

Laundry: piled like Babel.
tower of coverlets and calicos,
soiled and waiting to be cleaned.

Piano: at first, it seemed
just a collection of dead objects:
trees no longer in flower,
tusks rendered unthreatening.
only later, afterwards,
would I learn to trace each note,
watching lyrics smoke on your tongue.
in winter I chased your breath,
hoping to touch each sound
before the steam that carried it cooled.

Mouth: vaulted like a chapel,
the one we found in those woods,
that place where I,
unwilling to be filled,
would not take or eat.
the place where I starved.
the space you filled with bones.

 

 

 

 

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I've been fascinated by Brent Green's work since I first encountered it last summer at SITE Santa Fe [website]. At the ASU Art Museum in Tempe, I saw the set of Green's Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then—a film about a man's futile attempt to heal his dying wife. I was certain I would write about it, though I initially believed the poem would be about someone else. Instead, it unfolded as a self-portrait, with scenes from my own life projected into Green's set. For more about Brent Green, see his [website].