Two Poems by Margaret Ross

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Can’t help myself. I try again. My eyes
sent out by a jab of the stick that aims
its tip behind them. The small hand
           slips: it’s ten past ten. I back
                      my head against the imitation

cedar paneling the long edge
of the dive. If I could smell the loose
trees swaying dark inside cool air
           and quick with chitin, afterfeathers,
                      shed fur fuzzing up the needles if I

could touch something there. And given
splinters like neat endstops for my skin.
I want to rest here but the restroom’s
           always locked. Somebody’s finger
                      ran a ring around my wrist in blue

cue chalk to describe a long time
walking, looking for a place
to leave his thought behind his self for it was
           tedious to keep the two aligned. “I got
                      the vein. Went on that way until

my head felt soft inside, then saw
I lied down on the ground I still think was
the aisle of a plane. Same shit carpeting.” Some
           whine in the seat. The sticky remnant
                      of a napkin flags the change

left for a tip. Don’t
listen for a lesson for the less
you try to keep the less you lose.
           I tired again. Can’t help
                      this blank I am who in the name

of testimony slits
its truant wants as if
the blade I fiddle with
           the case to wasn’t always
                      only me, I touch

the wet rings on the tabletop for they are
missives from the insides of the trees.
Time snaking its concentric years
           around the soft pulp aisled up the center
                      tightening. “Show me the place you mean.”

                                       “You can’t see.”
                                       “Show it to me.”
                                       “No. It’s private”
                                       “Then describe the feeling

screen stuck on a mid-shot
of a river that never
leaves the river. “An ad for beer.” I flowed
           out to the edge. Describe
                      leaves. I thought I’d never

be this person turning
to a wall for company. Not
lonely. Measuring. It should be
           reassuring, fettering fear in a rim,
                      a cuff to keep my doubts constricted in

looped history
its clean cold stainless
circles turn about. I used a river
           for a strop. I let it out. I left my days
                      spent winding down the long self

                      for I thought what I
was given was a sentence to see
through, not the round I wake in
livid coil of a mind like the pop-out
car lighter dilating the high
of any near experience of
no, the line the dash-stitch mimes
I fibbed, I slipped, I missed me, it was
easy letting out the hem
the dress I wore a hooped life
ring-worm to the dun-eyed
animal who peered out
through the slats, I peered
back, sunk to my ankles
in the rich shit, flies did to the air
what fire does to them, a quick
buzz like an error, sound the gas did
to my hair when leaning down to light
a smoke, you have to pull
away before, I pull my fingers
out before I wear the repetition
like a wedding band.

“Do you need another?” “I
don’t think so.” “Anything?” No
sound to the emerald stretch of the pool
           table we turn our bodies sideways
                      to get by. It was called

fine, that feeling
you reported when
you got asked how things went. Meant
           far from here. Some reach
                      in the head the sense is

insufficient to relay. There’s
silt in my mouth for every
where it still feels sick of me. It’s crowded
           in the row the regulars sustain
                      like track lights skimming off a view

leave tinted mirror
where the window was, we see ourselves
an unremitting symptom in the air between ourselves
           that goes and goes, just breezes billowing the period clothes
                      resewn, recut, I right my skirt, I tell the time

to stop. Every where who died on the earth
looped in the instant still and catching on the present
sense the only surface habitable, I had a windy crown it turned
           to seed I had a seed it turned the dense soul
                      turned to water back and forth between

life’s stingy round
swilled down to ease the skin of edge,
the sharp mind of before, before belief in
           linear time there was a man
                      with greased hands crawling

deep into the rock, a hollow femur
clamped between his lips and packed
with powdered pigment blown out on the wall around his hand
           so when he dropped his hand there was the bare space it had been
                      surrounded by a red spray radiating the shape

of the doily memory is, decorating the immobile
bluff of what it was to be, we sat we rose we ask we check
and time spread aimless out in all directions as
           (“where was I am I am I”)
                      lace with its tendons cut.



I thought if there were no space left us
           then. Turn to the right
           tasks to put off dwelling. How many
land on a limb, is the forecast true. You draw

the sheets, white notes across
           a promissory silence. Our habits
           tender, blinds dye
the sky beige, salt grating hot

up the back of my throat. Though if we let
           the pretense drop, we need to
           talk about and go. Flies they twisted
out of cord and wire look just like

flies, embedded microphones
           to snag the whispering, record advances in a field 

           of poppies like recesses in attention, flagging
where the plot picks up, I realize now

lying, trying to stare through the ceiling - what? Fine
           grit deposited between the bedclothes
           leaves us less than feeling, even
when we’re speaking, measuring

proximity by things in common makes dumb objects
           witnesses to time spent side by side
           for form’s sake living up to terms we settled on
when I say all along I mean the past

few seconds. Four or five, it’s difficult
           to hear through the White Noise setting’s headlong 
           rush and the wall clock’s one
man stamping one boot every second down

for emphasis: this is this
           and afterwards the same
           risks hidden, integrated into 
drab split-level states of mind and that

appreciating interest on time saved 
           somewhere else. Just between us 
           do you think we’re still? Picture
an abandoned green and burnt sienna

duplex, everything remains constant, no, 
           oranges on the counter turning 
           gradually into mint and blue release
fruit flies like an inverse pollen. Outside

dandelions poise over rifts in the concrete 
           patio surrounded by a rising lawn 
           and trees cut for the view so it was
warm on the asphalt drive and there I stood and where

was I that the ground flashed into
           flickering grain, deep space scattering 
           sense overshot, shut up
in your room where it’s close and the air is

off. Just description, fairest pantomime of
           love, do you recall the little mining town 
           pitched so obliquely on a ridge, no one
over middle age could live there? Climbing

higher than the streets we found
           a teenage couple in lawn-chairs, faces
           tinted violet by their beach umbrella. They sat
all afternoon playing cards, chain-smoking, anything

borrowed on some thin reserve or 
           lent a form of love surviving 
           love. Doesn’t feel anymore 
inevitable. We didn’t mention it

after a while, the rate, I mean 
           a currency the length of
           hands as if they were sufficient
means to make a bed from. The steepest etiquette

we observe is actually
           distant bright red parachutes like 
           fingerprints touched open on my arm then
I turned over from the pillow so I saw you

like a long view lengthening, and it was late
           or early and I wasn’t really but I was
           alone beside whose body was the narrow ledge
I held, I didn’t look down. 


Margaret Ross was born in New York City. She holds degrees from Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has received fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo. She is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has taught creative writing at the University of Iowa, the International Writing Program and Yale. Her chapbook, Decay Constant, is published by Catenary Press. Other poems can be read online at Boston Review, The Claudius App, jubilat, The New Yorker, and Petri Press. Her first book, A Timeshare, was selected by Timothy Donnelly for the Omnidawn 1st/2nd Book Prize.