Likeness

May 6, 2014

Original

Judith Chalmer is co–translator with author Michiko Oishi of a book of poems, Deepening Snow, published as a limited edition print and trade book by Plowboy Press. She was a 2012 winner of the Newberger Prize from Lilith Magazine. Her poems have been published recently in Nimrod International, The New Haven Review, Conclave, and Stone Canoe.

I ran. Like it,

I was gone

in a matter

of seconds.

Still I would

have liked

to have taken

that much

space.

The huge head

lifting. But

that was after

I went back

and stood

in its place.

It was aware

of me. Though

I was big

it scared me. Why

did it wait

for me to move?

It must have

known something

about will. Something

like that, almost

no brain, just will

locked onto a future.

It was caught

in my hair, sort of.

It flew in.

I was sitting

on the porch.

My back was to it,

of course.

You don’t think

something like that

will come after you,

among the small

lots, houses, signs

for Children Playing.

For a while I kept it

in a jar.

But it was better

to feel it

springing a little

scratchy, a little

sticky, between

two cupped hands.

Of course

I never could

look at it.

And always after

there was the question,

put it back

in the jar or

let it go.

You couldn’t

hold it for long.

It wasn’t that

interesting.

It was scary

to go forward.

I had to

walk under it.

It wasn’t like a crow

or any other thing

with its own business.

I was its business.

I thought I had my own

and could pursue it

but no. Suddenly

on my own road

I was a stranger.

You know it

by its tracks,

the same way

engineers know

radiating subatomic

things. You follow

them, they’re curious,

as far as you can,

sometimes

stopping

at the base

of a tree.

You look up.

Later a neighbor

might say you were

brave to get so close

but you know what

he was thinking.

You had no idea

there was a sign

you shouldn’t

approach.

There was a time

I couldn’t enter

a room without

scanning for it.

I was worried.

Always I’d spot it,

near the light switch,

maybe at the baseboard.

Now I don’t bother.

I’m used to it.

Occasionally

there’s a lot.

They might swarm

out of a crack

in the sidewalk.

You can kill them

but then

there are so many

stiff bodies

and it’s hard

to walk away.

I used to visit it

spitting out its cage.

I suppose, looking back,

it was unhappy.

But I was young.

It was exciting

to stand in front of it

waving and jumping.

You can hear it

coughing

sometimes by itself

in the woods.

You wonder

if it’s real

but then

you’re ashamed.

It never misses

or thinks of you

mornings it steps

down to the water,

stands a bit,

blinks. How can you

be sure? Maybe

it isn’t real.

Sometimes a head

swims by, or rises

to the surface.

Maybe it doesn’t rise.

Maybe it sinks

partially under.

The important thing

is that you look

into its eyes.

It doesn’t like you

exactly, not

the way you’d

imagine, but what

can you do.

You can never

uncouple.

Nothing

you can do

will remove

your likeness

from its eyes.

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© Judith Chalmer

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