Emily Wolahan: The naked women lie back and repose
ET PUIS, ET PUIS ENCORE?
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?
SHEERNESS AS SEEN FROM THE NORE
Instead, water laps a low wall.
A dock crane’s long yellow arm
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
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.
THE NAKED WOMEN LIE BACK AND REPOSE
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
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?
ARGUMENT IN BAROQUE
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.