Emily Wolahan: The naked women lie back and repose

Emily Wolahan



 Under the table, vainglorious, subterrained, festooned,

you huddle and cry

            mon semblable, ô mon frère!

            as I state on the turn of a heel,

            You let yourself go

and return to the place set for me in the dining room.


What horror behind a rich chablis

held in a container stemmed from arm

to elbow to a being solely aware

            of its own drama.


The gilt handle of a knife rests on linen

            shadowed by a platter heaped with roasted shoulder.

There is only candle light and in it your lips


reach for a different limit, mangle the attempt.

            Soutine would have painted this

            a death, the kind infused with finitude,

                                    oak tables and felt.


Where are our rabbit corpses, our sadness, the fault lines

of crumble?  Comment trouverons-nous le nouveau?


The table littered with bits of meat and Brussels sprout,

                        lace drenched in that chablis,

burning, the candles burning up—


you can barely keep your eyes open when you point to a feather

in my hair and ask,

            that incredible extension, What is that—is that new?




Instead, water laps a low wall.


A dock crane’s long yellow arm

dipping slowly,

the afterimage arresting the sun.


There’s a funny way in it—a kinship to discover.

The man in his boat looking at us squarely,

his pipe, the smoke

on the mountain beyond.


Or perhaps that’s a low cloud. His boat

handling higher waves,

a gull in privacy, its mouthful.


We are silent together, those are the rules,

forms articulate in burning light

at the edge of our city, the precipitate

forms salt marks ringing levels

of deep and shallow.


In this light the bay looks shallow—

            from here to New Jersey

wading water, flat bottom barges

skirting ruin.


We are filled upon acquaintance

with light as it is acquainted with water

ship, bird, land. Upon meeting you,

a space created and filled,


the problem of how to capture

a distant low cloud

not a problem until decided upon.


Sheerness as entrance to the sea.

The sky peaked and vast and us,

our instruments to navigate colour

that spreads across canvas, dries and hangs,


a barbarism precious,


the greater understanding of two approaches,

like your voice on the phone

and me imagining your face. I imagine

rapid thugs of the helicopter pulling

itself into the sky.  The creak of these ships

moving politely past each other.


There is no great quality in space.

It seems tattered already, elbows loosed.

Already the sky exposing curvature,

captured thus in savage paint—

pipe smoke curl and two oars hanging at the catch.


The title of this poem is taken from a painting by J. M. W. Turner.




A quiet, doleful state between two stages

of sleep. Relaxed and, in a sense, pooling.

.                                                  Skin purple, yellow

.                                                  mottled.  And really okay


(really) with an elephantine dominion

on the settee in the middle of the room.


Tell me what is troubling you.

Please, go on.


.                                                 We are harvest, she says.

.                                                 People as animals interest me.


The mirror image of a face

read as portrait.

                                    ** ** **

Our curator would like to make clear

male nudes are more disturbing

for we rarely see the male figure so objectified.


Art that is ritual

remains within a vocabulary, breathing

the comfort of parameters.   Even in January,

we can remember summer heat,


slow movements. Skin. Deep breaths.    


Curled beside the dog-animal,

            a snout resting in hand.

Ribs expanding, contracting, the smell

of newly installed carpet warmed by afternoon sun.

                                    ** ** **

Not nakedness as in

no clothes.


Rather the expanse of your eyes on me and through.

I continue with what I’m saying.


The light in this room on my hair,

emanating misdirection in the mirror.


I say, We have space our own.

I have written this so that you


might gaze, shifting your weight 

back and forth, tilting your head, and think,


Those aren’t really her eyes.

That’s just paint.  How is it then


I know what she is thinking?





Walking off season, the narrow beach, empty

                                                salt-faded houses, even in this calm water,

a woman could walk in with heavy skirts,

                                                even in this century, and keep going

then go under, gulp water, confuse her body

                                                until the body reacts, tries to save itself

quite apart from her mind. If executed well,

                                                she knows she’s losing and gives up,

tires, sinks, and I have no real faculty to be able to imagine

                                                lungs filling with water. 

The houses scattered to afford sight of a still grey bay,

                                                the breakwater, a small light affixed

guiding sailboats. Beyond, more

                                                sound, deeper water.  From the nursery,

you scream your sister has stolen a favourite toy,

                                                which makes me think of Plath

and her children, your desperate undirected

                                                frowns, the foundation for another frustration. 

Walking into the water off a New England shore

                                                can be product of frustration, not one

voiced, beyond language. You scream

                                                that you want a particular fairy book,

each fairy named, its powers afforded in the seasonal

                                                structures of miniature worlds,

for I never let you chose anything,

                                                nothing at all, not once, only I know

what you want. No one can give it to you.

                                                Plath, Crane, Wright, Wallace, my uncle

Bill, my uncle John.

                                                Raindrops hitting moving water,

the land of Shelter Island that surely lies

                                                at the horizon, not far.  Here to there is

one journey I’ve never tried to sate a great desire

                                                for help, for something to go well, for

satisfaction—which is not really

                                                what I want, but I’m at a loss for quite how

to put it, like when you sometimes ask me

                                                what a word is and I try to tell,

but you can barely read a greeting card, sounding out

                                                the single letters, not always well, that o makes

an ah sound, not an o sound,

                                                how will you understand?



Emily Wolahan’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Drunken Boat, DIAGRAM and Boston Review.  Her prose and reviews can be found in Boston Review, Gulf Coast, and Big Magazine.  She founded and co-edits JERRY, an online journal of poetry and prose.  In 2008, she won the Bennett Poetry Prize judged by Karen Volkman and was runner-up for the Drenka Willen Prize for Poetry in Translation. She currently lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with her husband and daughter.

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