Cleopatra Mathis

Cleopatra Mathis

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Cleopatra Mathis’ eighth book of poems, After the Body: Poems New and Selected, will be published by Sarabande Books in July. Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, Poetry, Ploughshares, Tri-Quarterly, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The Best American Poetry, and two Pushcart Prize anthologies. The founder of the Creative Writing Program at Dartmouth College, and Frederick Sessions Beebe Professor in the Art of Writing, Emerita, she lives in East Thetford, Vermont. (Photo credit: Jon Gilbert Fox)

Cleopatra Mathis

What Words

From WTP Vol. VIII I#4

I have heard enough.
          The terrifying papers, newscasts
calmly reported, have nothing to do with
           the animal prints on the porch,
drying blood on the bird feeder

where something came to an end.
           I was deaf in my bed, thankful
not to wake again to a night of coyotes,
           their victory howling, their yipping
hysteria over snowbound kill. In the woods
           something is always watching,

my own fixed eye on the line
           of three-toed tracks of the ruffled grouse
etched onto the bruise of snow.
            I embarrass myself, this way of avoiding
what I might see, not able to bear
            even the logical, as the illogical bears down:

the boy shot and dying in his brother’s arms.
            They said it, then they said it
again, no end to brothers, no end
            to listening. The countries merge. In Beirut
with the Syrian refugees, my friend
            writes that she sleeps in her coat, a knitted hat.

She is a lucky one, she says, safe
            in an unheated apartment, no longer a pacifist
because she imagines the bombing of Assad’s palace,
            though she imagines all the other bombers
filled with food, dropping parcels over the city.

Her letters keep coming— I can barely follow.
            I go out in the day-after calm of weather:
the wing of a grouse is perfectly etched in the snow,
            an angel shape where she dove.
I want to slap myself for my limits. What words
            for this seeing, what faith?

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