And Always the Desert Close Behind
Blood blooming over the curved earth, torch of the bombs,
a rage that my grandmother spoke without translation
in the ancient tongue, shaped by the wind that blows through holes
in the city walls and pocks the earth with stones like olive pits.
This was the story she offered with one hand in her pocket—
sorrow that followed her here from the East with its dry sockets
and apricots. But I didn’t want that story. Instead, I waited for light
like a dog, my legs raised to the gold of summer sun, shamelessly bare,
my legs stretched out to be touched by one long blade of grass that grew
from an abundance of green. I looked away from the news, the desert
with our people in it, racing from death, or stepping right in. The desert
with its shattered bones and the tongues clicking “tsk, tsk” at the girl overseas
averting her eyes. Here, it was summer, and I could pretend I forgot everything
but green, soft as the belly of a bird, or the airplanes that marked the air like a grandfather clock,
roaring the clouds clean every hour. Here, where a tulip was my long painted finger
as it reached its stalk deep into the vase. I have desired like that every day of my life,
with all of my cells sprung and frothing like a carwash in the center of the moon.
Today even, I use my desire like armor, breastplate and greaves. I have turned my back
from my grandmother handing me the ancient hates she kept in her skirt.
I have done this to avoid feeling what it is to place a tulip on my father’s body
cooling in its casket while the bombs arc and roar like slow-moving meteors
in a sky yellow as a cat’s eyes, while the bombs drown my grandmother’s cries
from the cement wall of her grave.
Unrhymed Sonnet with Lake, Old Bones and Mary Oliver’s Geese
Up over Kezar Lake, the White Mountains like mothers
hovering with their awful worrying, their heavy legs
purple-veined majesty and just reaching the summer storm clouds
that wagged their gray tongues in the style of old rabbis, trembling lake
a cold green and three feet lower than last year. Each day I would cling
to the dock ladder, watching the rocks that looked like Mary Oliver’s geese
just peeking through the moving lip of the surface, and I wasn’t good,
I would pee in the water, relaxing my body as I only can when immersed
and step with a squish into the weedy mud lake floor full of dead eyes
and stones and the bones of every poet who had come to the colony
in the last 100 years, mud rising out of their empty sockets, cold water
pecking at my bare legs like the beaks of the underwater geese
that honked with each rush of the waves from the passing motorboats,
hours, hours, hours, hours, hours, hours, hours, hours.
Unrhymed Sonnet with Heat Wave and Hours
Tuesday, the heat was a heavy wine, still as skin,
my legs askew in a chair where even the fabric
itched with loneliness, hours empty of people
like an echo across water. How delighted I was.
Hours made of blurred glass, like the mirror
after my daughter has traced her face in sunscreen,
pressed her flesh to see the imprint. Hours like grease
spattering the stove and left to trap the dust. Hours
that dissolved like honey in my swollen mouth. Hours
that ached, calling and recoiling like a throbbing sore
touched and touched again. The sting of solitude that shook
as if racked by sickness, the mountains watching me
to see my next dull move. A poem. A swim. Raking up mud
with my fingers or feet, one way or another.
Unrhymed Sonnet with Full Moon and One Ripe Tomato
Poetry in my nails splitting with the dark along with moon
in gold air coming over a lake cold below a simmering heat,
groundhog nibbling and darting into taller grasses at the periphery
of lawn, tying scarves around my heavy hair, happier than I’d been
in years, my body whole and lonely, moon yellow, poetry
as nourishing as touch, my own words glowing like a million moons,
my toes long as fingers, picking up the stones in the lake
to feel the jagged pressure against tender skin, gleam the gold of myself
in the hours curved long with poems, digging into the silt
of all I had been before I cut clear to the quick. I watched the lake
shiver under my eye, I watched it roll with the coming wind,
I cut a tomato red ripe and leaking seeds onto a white napkin,
each one in its jelly, each one destined to fruit if I would allow,
give them what they need to root, bloom.
Meghan Sterling’s work has been nominated for 4 pushcart prizes in 2021 and has been published or is forthcoming in Rattle, Colorado Review, Idaho Review, Pinch Journal, Radar Poetry, Pacifica Literary Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, The West Review, Mockingheart Review, Small Orange, SWIMM, Rust & Moth, and many others. She is Associate Poetry Editor of the Maine Review, and winner of Sweet Literary's 2021 poetry contest, Equinox’s 2021 poetry contest, and West Trestle Review’s 2021 poetry contest. Her collection These Few Seeds is out now from Terrapin Books. Read her work at meghansterling.com.