Amie Whittemore

Four Poems

Scenes from the Film Cafune

First slap of hot water on his back,
aer­i­al shot of a riv­er delta. No a paint­ing,
she tilts her head—is it fin­ished? A riv­er delta,
her water­col­ors dry­ing, paint tad­pol­ing
through the clear jar of water, her bare feet—
bit­ing a hang­nail he steps out of the show­er,
wraps a tow­el around his waist. He hears
her walk­ing, rins­ing brush­es in the sink,
she push­es paint out, out, out a rain­bow down the drain.
Earlier, in bed, her lover’s red lips over the rasp­ber­ry—
we see her see it—he’s tug­ging a hair­band
from her head—he thinks she’s asleep—
she sees a kiss kiss­ing a kiss, red on red,
he reads the strands of hair spread­ing
them like dark tea across her pil­low.
She is try­ing to cap­ture mem­o­ry:
below the shower’s steamy cape,
his back a riv­er delta, rivulets ragged
in the faint patch of hair on his low­er back
that place the size of her open palm.
Clattering string of seashells, an open win­dow,
shal­low dia­mond formed beneath her ribs,
her lover’s shad­ow hang­ing across her body
like a thin night­gown. She squints.
It’s unclear whether she rais­es her arms
to pull the lover to her / block the light….
A rain­storm. One woman shakes an umbrel­la out
in the foy­er, one checks the mail, their laugh­ter—
what did they laugh about?—the bare bulb
above their heads sway­ing like a sad, strung up moon.
Her neigh­bors’ shout­ing, so they eaves­dropped,
but drunk, climbed the stairs, laugh­ing, laugh­ing, laugh­ing
what did they laugh about? Then the soft thim­ble
of a rasp­ber­ry on her fin­ger, her lips, their lips,
a phone rings but their bod­ies ignore it, ignore
his voice on the machine like a prayer at least
the same three notes. His hands on the piano,
try­ing to remem­ber. She’s added yel­low to the paint­ing,
bites the brush tip. He knows what she drew
in the sand that night. That’s why he holds
her wrists while they make love why she
resists, enjoys resist­ing—
He’s found out. She blames the umbrel­la,
he blames the pearl of her nip­ple under a thin shirt.
He finds her. He uses the paint­ing as a map.
He con­fronts his lover’s lover. She begins with silence.
He begins by say­ing a name.
The woman pulls her hair into a bun, folds her arms.
No, no, no her head shakes its one sad note.
He says the name again, she says my sis­ter
knew some­one once by that name.
She takes her hair out of the bun, snaps the band
onto her wrist. No, no, no his head rings the same
three notes the geese squall as they rope across the lake,
across the sil­very blan­ket of moon­light that night
she said no one no one again and again, star­ing
at the full moon. They walked back hand-in-hand
slim dark­ness­es in a larg­er dark­ness.
That night she began the paint­ing, want­i­ng to see
what geese saw; he poured cham­pagne, held
the flute to his eye; through it
he saw her stand­ing at the can­vas,
bub­bles skim­ming her body, he told her she looked
like she was drown­ing. It’s the least, she thinks,
tap­ing a let­ter to the back of the paint­ing.
The way she said no one no one that night,
of course he thought she was think­ing more than
a mag­ic spell of a woman’s hips how she
feels like cham­pagne in the flute of her lover’s hands
which she binds with lace now to the bed­post
those palms two amaryl­lis blos­soms it’s not that
he wants to think the paint­ing on his doorstep
a love let­ter, the width between her mouth
and her mouth his mouth a sad O it’s not…
he runs his fin­gers through his hair
her hair pool­ing over her lover’s face, her lover’s
hands open­ing and clos­ing, strange flow­ers,
respon­sive to a dif­fer­ent sun, blue lace
in his hands, he unties the paper cas­ing the can­vas
he leaves the paint­ing on the doorstep
it’s rain­ing again, she says, she says back I know.

Winter Field

We go out to the win­ter field,
tak­ing turns smoth­er­ing the earth

with our bod­ies. Our soupy breath
warm­ing it only to crack it with our shov­els.

You are here because I asked you.
And we both know we will find noth­ing.

Though the wind steals every phrase,
though talk will only slow us down,

I want to tell you every sto­ry
I know about this field—beans

my father and I walked, first boy I kissed
pulling me deep into the corn­stalks.

Bee swarm so large and loud, from the house
we swore a dark hail poured here—the field

fal­low then, scrub­by with weeds.
Each spring turned up a new haul of arrow­heads.

But how can you under­stand?
To you, to any­one, it is just a field.

We keep dig­ging. We dig for my cousin’s horse,
my grand­par­ents’ ash­es, library books

my great-grand­par­ents nev­er returned.
We are dig­ging a hole for win­ter.

It would be enough, I tell myself,
to find the thigh­bone of that for­got­ten horse,

though what I want is my great-grandmother’s
first edi­tion of My Antonia, worm-riv­en,

my favorite pas­sage sur­viv­ing,
marked in my great-grandmother’s hand.

Evening Walk

I read in an advice col­umn it’s bet­ter
to think long love like small rivers
feed­ing larg­er ones, to think in terms
of growth and cur­rent, not those of fire.
Fire makes its own terms, of course,
then burns them. We know that.
But since we spend our lives cra­dled
in our­selves, this bed­ding
from which we nev­er wake,
it aches to be told no;
we can’t oxi­dize, braid with flame.
We can only hope for sparks,
cin­ders, lim­i­nal heat
extin­guished in riv­er upon riv­er.

Each evening, after din­ner, if weath­er allows,
my love and I walk. Beyond the catal­pas,
below the erod­ed ridge, Lake Michigan
spreads like a blan­ket across rest­less sleep­ers.
We rarely see it though we feel its win­try hands
even in sum­mer beck­on like we’re sailors
and it’s the ocean’s proxy. Close enough, she croons.
We take the route with­out think­ing, a loop
with parts we nev­er fail to admire: ornate lawn
with its point­er run­ning laps between stone hip­pos;
bun­ga­low nest­ed behind a pine;
col­lie who pops its head above the fence
ten sec­onds after we pass to let us know she knows.

There is no talk of revi­sion.
We’ve moved twice and built such a walk
each time with­out con­sul­ta­tion of maps,
only in the going, and I guess
this is our way of being a riv­er.
Water, it seems, makes few con­sul­ta­tions.
Land seems made to com­ply.
At times our voic­es rise and fall
like leaves or birds and once we saw
a skunk, once a rab­bit, once a hawk clasp­ing
a small, indis­tin­guish­able rodent;
my love might com­plain my poems
are too slow, that he remains name­less
in them, and I might sigh about the future
and make illog­i­cal remarks on the art
of friend­ship; and no one will speak with us;
and no one will rec­og­nize the cir­cle
we draw except per­haps a stub­born cloud
nes­tled in our sub­ur­ban trees for weeks,
a wed­ding veil, a sieve; a cloud
with lit­tle to do and a mind for obser­va­tion.

Dear Advice Columnist, what say you?
I see you shrug. I had hoped
to make an argu­ment for spark,
to say the walk car­ries us in the door
and drops our clothes through the hall­way.
Say the bed is always warm. Say our bod­ies
turn to silk. Say we nev­er cough or laugh,
say I could trans­late the strange col­ors
of orgasm. Say this is how it always ends—
but it doesn’t. Often we sit in front of the TV.
Often I for­get to look at him like he’s a lake
want­i­ng to be ocean and I’m a sailor sick of land.
I haven’t learned any­thing about love
from your col­umn. I have, how­ev­er, learned about rivers.
Sometimes their ways are dull; some­times thrilling;
some­times they wear night like a jack­et
only rain and moon­light can unbut­ton.

Encomium for a Peace Lily

Praise the cobra-hood­ed spathe,
milk­weed white,

white as new tooth,

altar cloth,

and sun­light through organdy.

Spathe: end of a child’s shov­el,
boat­ed leaf on a still pond.

Gloved hand open to hold wed­ding rice,
wed­ding white spathe the col­or of my grandmother’s hair.

In the chevron of your waxed leaves
is writ­ten: an old woman watered me.
When she said my name, a thou­sand but­ter­scotch­es melt­ed on her tongue.

Praise the spadix, slen­der tube
of knot­ted yel­low thread,

teethed-over cob of corn,
thim­ble,

minia­ture spruce, pollen-flecked,

spadix of wasp breath, slim hive,

slight beneath the sloped palm of the spathe;

how dar­ing your hope to erad­i­cate tox­ins from air,

cure our sick build­ings,
pre­vent car­ci­no­mas.

Remember the hand that once clipped
your dry leaves, woman who watched
for root rot, who tipped the water­ing can—

car­ry on.

Caress the light pass­ing through
the many flags of your body.

~

Amie Whittemore earned her MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and her poems have appeared or are forth­com­ing in Gettysburg Review, The Hollins Critic, Sycamore Review, Cimarron Review, Copper Nickel, and else­where. She was a final­ist in the 2011 Ruth Lilly Fellowship con­test and received a fel­low­ship to the Vermont Studio Center in July 2011. Currently, she works as a Tutoring Center Coördinator for University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, WI.