Literature : Word Choice

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Sarah Muehlbauer, Untitled (from Yard and Alley series), Inkjet print from color film negative, 24 × 30 inches. 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

 

 

 

Gulf Freeway, Houston

The leaves and birds are elsewhere,
Having left the city despite a tropical climate
In which everything grows. The glass
In the buildings, the muscle-y engines. Even the trees,
Black and bereft of leaves, grow fiercely tangled branches
Clawing at cables strung across a vast blue. Beside the swollen
Concrete artery of the freeway, crowning the steep gable
Of Philip Johnson’s copy of Ledoux’s House of Education,
The white pillars of an open-roofed, glassed-floored
Tempietto hover above a university. At night,
A dead-skinny, hare-brained Christ-girl hides there
Above walls of globed lights and floating Tuscans
That make the cavern of an atrium beneath the glass
Under the furred blades of her feet. Her hands so small no one sees
The wounds inside them. Her flying saucer eyes
Haunt the freeway. And passing there
In my sister’s circus red car, I think of her salted away
Among the pillars holding up a smoky night sky
Aglow with the lights of refineries, her shy and alien
Manner, and feel something glowing in me
Like a tumor.
 

 

 

Exurbia

The night sounds
Of the large flat screen TV
Turned off. The house
Finally quiet. I wait to hear
A murmur from somewhere

Out beyond the window. A machine
Upon which the small town slowly turns. Red
Throbbing eyes of the cellular towers,
Where big steel crows perch above miles
And square miles of weathered wooden privacy fences.
A stoplight clicks on the empty street. The flood-lit

Little League baseball fields deserted and grand
With the cathedral lights of the mother ship
Landing. Far below the diamond, a generator glistens
In its concrete bunker. The grass in the outfield glows
Green from wired roots to glass tips. Spiders and ants
Disappear in the mist of an odorless spray fired
From the turrets of retractable sprinkler heads. Three

Days ago on the soap shelf of my scalloped sink, a silver
-Fish drowned in a drop of water. Tonight it shimmies off
When I offer it the milk-white shroud of a sheet of toilet paper.
The yellow-crowned night heron comes out of the marsh

To haunt the ornate lawns of the neighborhood, edging
Ever closer to the pink linen paper stars of the knock-out
Roses planted near beveled and leaded glass front doors.
In the distance, the highway glows and late at night

A convoy of trucks passes on its way, escorted by si-lent
-Ly strobe-ing lights
. Unidentified Flying
Objects are always attacking. I watch

From the window. See a flash
Out of the corner of my eye. The street
Light reaching the final brightness
Of its white hot shimmering signal. The night

Heron rises in the eye of the owl
Burning in chlorine vapors. Children awake
And slip downstairs to sleep with young parents
Who dream of the graves they have dug
For the rabbit and the dog, and taste the seep
In the shelter they’ve unearthed
Beneath the house. They are coming,
They whisper.

But we mean you no harm.

 

 

 

New Smyrna, Florida

She waits in the jungle beside a dirt road
Dead ends into Turnbull Bay, pelicans,
Skeets, close heat, no-see-ums, armadillos
Scratching in the dead leaves beneath the poison-tip
Blades of the killer fans of the yucca gloriosa. Headlights
Ply the dust. Pulling himself out, blinking hard, no reason,
Presents himself to his fare, he’s a 50 something hillbilly skinny,
Damp hair, chews on the remains of a menthol smoker’s
Cough; a juiceless ghoul in a Members Only Jacket,
Gray socks, a blood sugar tester, driving a '90 88
In a 2 car fleet run out of a Locksmith's shack.
She laughs, a little nervous, pictures centaurs assaulted
By ten million stars, dreams of Voltaire’s secular
Angels, a magical technology and fetal abductions. He starts
To wheeze, a vacuum of awkward pity opens up
And she goes weak in the knees. What happens next,
She tells it better. “I’ll do it if you want.” He couldn’t
Hear, she opened her mouth, he gave up only a little prod.
It was like an apology for how beautiful she was.

for sg

 

 

Bottomed-Out, Brake Line Smashed Flat

They got the trailer onto the weedy lot
Beside the gas station gone out of business.
No driveway, fast moving traffic and a big fat curb.
Me, 2-3, and The Kid moved in and started breeding
Ambitiously. But it was her intention to gain 45
Pounds, get depressed, smoke Pall Malls and ruin
Her whiskey with Mountain Dew. I’ll cover the 45, he said,
Polishing his distended liver, you stay pretty,
But baby, maybe we could sell yr front teeth
To that Army Surplus store, the one with the dungeon
And mail order secrecy. They kept a tub full of cold
Capsules and a butane torch. At night he would sneak
Over to the land fill behind the chicken processing plant
And scrape out the insides of 55 gallon drums,
He made menthol biscuits for the babies.
 

 

 

Confession

Drifting from my left eye
A range of snowy mountains. Driving west
I reached the sunny foothills
By late morning. The houses were cruel
And all the same to me
Come from among the drifters and suicides
On the cold streets of Denver where I had met,
For only the second time, my teacher. He sat
At a window, creatures poured from his eyes. Heavenly
Creatures I had never seen arrived to him with the sun
Wrapped in a sparkling white linen napkin. I wore the bad disguise
Of pity or confession’s ruthless music. So he stabbed me
With a sun beam and my heart, in its welter
Of wounds and confusions, died and now waits
To be born into the next thing, elsewhere,
On that far shore upon which I could not gaze
Without death in its solitude addressing me
By the wrong name, without addressing myself to the inhuman
World of deer, stone, white pine and mountain hemlock
In the alien teeth of diamond starlight. God gave me
Eyes at birth, and the birth of his dear son,
As blind as a kiss or a sunbeam disguised
As a yellow school bus. God is fast at the foot
Of the weather-ravaged mountain beneath
Stars bursting from the inconsolable
Future of death’s million little windows
Always open. God is fast as the grasslands
Full of unseen birds.
 

 

 

Ronnie Yates studied at the University of Houston, Harvard Divinity School, and received his MFA from NYU. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, POOL, Colorado Review, and was a finalist for the 2012 Emily Dickinson First Book Award (offered by the Poetry Foundation and Graywolf Press). He has been awarded residencies at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and the Jentel Artist Residency Program. He currently teaches in the IART program at the University of Houston/Mitchell Center for the Arts. Yates will soon be completing and showing collaborative work as a part of the Morning Drawing Virtual Residency. Visit the Morning Drawing Residency for more details.

 

Sarah Muehlbauer was born in New York, NY. She received a BA from Sarah Lawrence College in 2010, and an MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2012. She currently works and resides in Brooklyn, NY. You can see more of her work here.

 

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Poetry
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