Restoration of the Delphic Sibyl
detail of the Sistine ceiling
Not so much sky as ceiling. I darken with candle
soot, palm print. My life is spent
this way: grit-pressed, obedient. Peel of my finger-
tips and heels. Hear the plotting: paint touch,
give her a new red mouth. Call me
fan dried, renewed. A chisel deep
inside my eyes. Stack of scaffolding, sand-
paper scrape. Ask nothing of me
while the plaster hardens my skin. Not
how I have seen the burn of a leather strap, how
a father could not save his son
from the thorn bloom, each spear strike.
How a tree split into a cross and I carried
his son’s face on my clothes.
I still wear that grief, its dark sweat. Brush
this from my throat, bury it.
Limbo for the Miscarry
Over the fence
the oleanders scarve the earth
with their bright pink blooms. Listen—
someone walks into the yard
and plants a bulb. Birdbath, drained
to dry. You, not born again of water,
but ghost, your breath’s red light.
Everything is a sign of your nearing—
air, its winged back, how you wash
the rafters with your drizzled
rain. Sunlight, less than
you are to her. Hold up the hem
of her dress, see how far
she thinks you’ve gone. Side of her
knee, thigh-down, pooled
in a sock, under fingernail. Far,
you’ve already come. Back
to the edge of the house, lattice
of grass and weeds. There—you
finger-plant spring, unnoticed. Redbuds
open below, break the mid-
point of rock and ground. It’s what you see
when you see yourself already dying,
how your paper tongue petals
her hand, silences the yard.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
The mourners gathered on the porch. No one wanted to be the first to ring the doorbell, to enter the house with their hat in hand, or a chicken casserole wrapped in aluminum. The words of grief: isn’t it a shame, isn’t it awful? The man had died young, arms outstretched, hanging by his wrists.
The will was read later in the week. The friend with the expense account and yacht expected to receive the largest of the estate—hadn’t he known his friend for nearly 30 years? Hadn’t they shared the same bicycle seat, a bag of M&Ms? He’d lost touch. There was the stint in rehab, the blonde in Bermuda. His friend had sent postcards—I miss you, come back. He never answered, stuck them in a drawer next to his pipe tobacco and flask.
Another friend sat in the back while the will was read, pulled at her shirt until it frayed. She had grieved for days. She talked out loud, thought he could hear her. Where have you gone? Once, she thought she saw the same shoulders, same back of the head buying The White Album. Impossible—the open casket, the wounds dressed for viewing. I saw him.
The lawyer read to the crumple of Kleenex, the checking of watches. What do I get? The first friend asked. You, the lawyer said, you get the hammer and nails, his mother’s blue dress. The lawyer turned to the second friend. You have inherited the earth, he said, handing her the papers and a pen.
She never questioned her inheritance. Never said, how big is the earth, how do I cross it? The next day, she bought a spade, a garden hose, began to trench. She said to the toadstool, this will be umbrella, this will be shade. She cracked the crust and watched the lava river, the ocean salt. She planted a tree, took to the business of counting the bushels of fruit and blooms. She said to the air, hello, you are there, I breathe and you find me.
Amanda Auchter is BOMB’s 2006 Poetry Prize Winner.
Special thanks to contest judge Susan Wheeler, author of the poetry collections Bag ‘o’ Diamonds and Source Codes. BOMB congratulates Susan’s four finalists, who made it very difficult to select a winner: Jessica Bozek (Athens, GA), Rebecca Keith (Brooklyn, NY), Michael Quattrone (New York, NY), and Bronwen Tate (Providence, Rl).