Published in Panhandler Issue 1
Taije Silverman, the 2005-2007 Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry at Emory University, holds a BA in English from Vassar and an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland. Her poems have been published in journals including Pleiades, Ploughshares, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner, and merited fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. New poems are forthcoming in Antioch Review, Shenandoah and Five Points. She grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It Was a Good Day
When we imagine someone asking us,
the answer is sadness. But what I think first
is this nightgown, the dark red silk
and my washed hair, that slow lull of space
before sleeping. My mother’s rash
is not the first thought. It spreads and loosens,
climbs her face, the bumps blur and I tell her
that it’s leaving. It is leaving.
Fear slicks down to size so that time takes over:
beef tenderloin with sugar snaps,
the lemon’s aftertaste. This, my father says,
pointing to the potatoes, this is really good.
My sister pulls three kinds of cookies
out of the freezer and my father asks
Didn’t we choose not to have cookies anymore?
Yes, my sister says, and I chose not to hear that.
The cookies are halved, passed around,
we claim favorites and tell my sister to take
the cookies away, then not to take them away,
we are laughing. I say to my father
as he eats, I love you, and he says, I love you all,
the three of us he is able to watch at the counter
in our sweaters and hair, bending and talking as if skin
were a grace. I take a bath. My mother reads in bed
and reads on the toilet, looking up when I look at her
and smiling. The rash will pass. It was a good day.
My father coughing now. Yawning.
The Winter Before
My mother knocked on the bathroom door
to read me a poem. Her happiness was shining.
Even now, she read from her place on the page,
the Beloved is tending himself inside of you.
When I didn’t smile she asked, Isn’t it beautiful?
God is inside of us. Yes. A thousand times yes.
For no reason I remembered my dream
from the night before, how I had no money
in a strange city and each male friend I asked
for a place to stay wanted sex in exchange.
No reason. I smiled. I let her happiness
be my happiness, which is easy sometimes,
but when she turned to walk back
to her bedroom, I wanted to call to her:
Wait. All my dreams had returned.
Dreams of being alone in strange cities,
a man following or being followed—death
as the lover we greet indifferently, on the stairs.
Wait. I wanted to ask her, Will we be all right?
My father was already sleeping in the bed
she would climb into and the skin on their bodies
was the most precious thing I would ever know.
I would lose it. Will we be all right? The door
closed click, shut. Ghosts cluttered the hallway.
Inside me somewhere buried and lightless
I was sobbing and would not stop, but in the mirror
my eyes were dry. I asked to forget and be forgiven
though I asked no one, and nothing.
Today we lay
across the chaise,
my head along her pillowed hip she said
I am going to vomit. I pulled her up
to sitting, quick. I cupped my hands before her.
She shook her head.
I grabbed the glass, dumped water
like spit, it hit the edges of her sandals, spread.
I think sometimes of dreams. They are like falling, in.
She threw up pink, the peaches
sliced for breakfast, how
she’d sliced them
smaller with her spoon,
each careful cut, I thought to help—
Slime on her lips, again, and then.
I made her laugh. I held her head.
I pressed my head soft to her head.
You useless heart, you gentle guilt.
Sometimes my dreams.
Her leg shook like a dull machine, the engine
low, on vibrating. The room filled up to watch her.
She closed her eyes, and did not answer questions.
We tried to be a silence.
Come time, we called, and swallowed it.
–a transfer camp in the Czech Republic (for Paul Otremba)
We rode the bus out, past fields of sunflowers
that sloped for miles, hill after hill of them blooming.
The bus was filled with old people.
Women held loaves of freshly baked bread on their laps.
Men slept in their seats wearing work clothes.
You stared out the window beside me.
Your eyes were so hard that you might have been watching the glass.
Fields and fields of sunflowers.
Arriving we slowed on the cobblestone walkway.
Graves looked like boxes, or houses from high up.
On a bench teenage lovers slouched in toward each other.
Their backs formed a shape like a seashell.
You didn’t want to go inside.
But the rooms sang. Song like breath, blown
through spaces in skin.
The beds were wide boards stacked up high on the walls.
The glass on the door to the toilet was broken.
I imagined nothing.
You wore your black sweater and those dark sunglasses.
You didn’t look at me.
The rooms were empty, and the courtyard was empty,
and the sunlight on cobblestone could have been water,
and I think even when we are here we are not here.
The courtyard was flooded with absence.
The tunnel was crowded with light.
Like a throat. Like a—
In a book I read how at its mouth they played music,
some last piece by Wagner or Mozart or Strauss.
I don’t know why. I don’t know
who walked through the tunnel or who played or what
finally they could have wanted. I don’t know where the soul goes.
Your hair looked like wheat. It was gleaming.
Nearby on the hillside a gallows leaned slightly.
What has time asked of it? Nights. Windstorms.
Your hair looked like fire, or honey.
You didn’t look at me.
Grass twisted up wild, lit gold all around us.
We could have been lost somewhere, in those funny hills.
And the ride back—I don’t remember.
Why was I alone? It was night, then. It was still morning.
But the fields were filled with dead sunflowers.
Blooms darkened to brown, the stalks bowed.
And the tips dried to husks that for miles kept reaching.
Those dreamless sloped fields of traveling husks.
The Dumb Bones
Last night I asked a man I love to destroy me quickly.
I wanted him to leave nothing, crushed up bones,
chalk they can’t trace back as evidence.
What, he asked, not understanding.
The man is a god. The god is a man. He kneels for me.
He puts my cheek to the white plaster, curving.
He lifts my skirt and I shake my head no, trying
to remember an instinct.
He nods and I want to lie down for him.
Make me chalk. Make me end.
Is it just love, this grief in me crumbling?
Just love, after all, just love. Sleeping. Trying to sleep.
I never knew to prize my mother’s happiness.
How tonight, she smiled at her guests in that slow candlelight
around the table. She was the center, and meant
to be the center, and grateful. I’ve only wanted this.
Then his one hand, slipping into me. His insistence.
Again I believe in promises.
from “Poem to Keep What I Love”
In the five minutes between here and there,
Bradford Pears blooming round as balloons
on the clipped blocks of dress shops, framed
chattering white now by trees fat with air.
Poem to keep the Bradford Pears.
Poem to keep sleep, dreams that burrow
under the skin with their knots of questions,
dreams evacuating through the alarm’s
blind end. Poem to keep the crowd of light
by the open closet seen only as light
upon waking and sourceless. Source
yields ending. Poem to keep five
minutes the sloped fields intact, the cows
unhesitating the blooms fastened to branches
completely. Poem to keep patience
protected. Afloat. Without pull. To keep stars
we can’t see from their myth-born explosions
their traveling downward their endless arrival.
When their absence hardens to air.
When their absence is the absence my body leaves.
When I will it gone.
Gone the last day moonlight waiting in milk pods
and gone the ringed oaks dropping dusk onto lawns. Gone
the light piled on doubtful black rooftops, the blithe
blink of lamps spreading outward like palms. And Nocturnes,
or opera, blue candle wax sliding, glass table’s goodbye dinner
set for the deck. The goodbyes caught
to collarbones. The last day lost to sleep. Lost as miracles must be
to what we refuse to remember. Only in grief will love speak
through memory: ribbon-thin language of nomads and thieves.
Only in fear will it shapeshift, trade inherence for accident, the unforeseen.
Come back. We’re the bird song.
Come back. We’re the hum of the house at night.
Come back. We’re rain, lifting.
Come back. We’re the whole of the neighborhood, just loosening.
Just gathering dark.