From: Twenty-three Poems

by Jennifer Doane Upton


My Birth Dress

As soon as I was born, my birth dress was put around me
like an incubator. When I quit my kicking, voices accumulated
within the room.

These were the voices of the women who had made the dress cloth
with insect shadows over it. There was snow inside of
the arms and legs of these woman, but when they looked into
mirrors they could only see insects.

One of the women had no neck, so the other hung my birth
dress over her arms and said it was a necklace that sinks
into the ground during the daylight hours. This woman always
kept her arms and legs covered in the daytime.

This woman is my mother. When I look into the hollow
that exists between the nighttime and morning I see only

And because I was born backward she can never see
me. She remembers that, as the sun went away she went to her
mirror and combed her hair while it was becoming wet.
She heard my feet as they started to come out, and then
her memory of me ends.


The Back

There is a body within mine
no one can move.
Were it turned around
I could see the backs
of mirror reflections and photographs.
I would go
completely back
and live with the beings
it is impossible to see.


The Dining Room

   My childhood friend has gotten inside of my sleep and
I can't sleep. She gets up and turns on the lights I
wanted off. She steals my radio and makes me read her

   The notes I write to her become invisible. She watches
me through the walls. I can't see myself now, and I can't
find any pictures of myself.

   I see her as she goes into a room that my aunts are
sitting it. I go into the room and I don't find her.
There are many people walking through the house because
this is her funeral and she is inside of the coffin in the
living room. My aunts are in the dining room drinking coffee
so that they will be able to stay awake all night.

   Then someone puts me to bed and I go to sleep suddenly.
When I was a child I believed that after my friend died
she turned into a pig. And that night I dreamt that my
relatives and her relatives were standing around another
table and were slowly cutting her pig body into pieces.


The Mountains

I have been told that the mountains
would help me,
And yet in the mountains
I find no peace.

When I look toward them,
I still do not see them all.

The mountains are all people
before the mouth of their heart opens,
and today all the mountains
have crushed in upon my marriage-grave.

Today I can dream no longer.
The landscape I am walking through
is neither my dream nor yours --
and I,
who now know the faces
of so many men and women
no longer know where the place is
in which I last lay down.


The Massacre

Sometimes I feel that the dead
are mourning for us.
They approach when we can't see them
They talk to us when we can't hear them
and no matter how much they try to touch us,
we always forget the knowledge
that when we lost them
we also lost ourselves.

I feel within my nightmares
the cruelty they experience when they love us --
Wanting to speak to us
means wanting to have the very bodies
it has just become impossible for them to have.
We always look upon them as souls
and we say we love them with our souls --
Our bodies no longer know how to love them.

And in their own way they are cruel to us.
By the time we remember
recently forgotten names
they have already changed
and left us with the love that was rightfully ours
from the beginning.
It is only we, whose knowledge comes from our
   bodily lives
who can turn their cruelty
back into tenderness.


The Return

You, who I thought
was so far away --
you, are now standing
in my door.

Look at me --
since you have gone away
I too have become life and death.
The dead child I have
put into the earth,
and the living one I have
hidden away.

The dishes I meant
to set the table with
when you came back
are cracked now,
and I can no longer buy
electricity --

but come, and eat
upon this bright tablecloth,
for toward evening
the sun makes
this whole house glow.

And always, toward evening
I see you
as I saw you five years ago,
about to leave
and about to come back to me
in a single step.

We had just buried the dead child,
and the living child
which you never knew
I am still hiding.

© 2005 Jennifer Doane Upton

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