Two Poems by Christine Gosnay
The Past Recedes
I moved to the monastery so I would not have to pray.
The city surrounded its high marble walls
and cast grand shadows on us where we walked
within, hands open, palms bare,
lips parted, ecstatic air
escaping our mouths as song.
When the flowers opened,
they were the size of salad bowls.
Bees swarmed inside them and flailed
like we flailed ourselves, out of mindfulness.
Forbidden to regard or stroke them,
I twisted my thoughts on them until they turned
into grotesques to pet with my thinking hand.
I remembered the colorful bathing houses
squatted up at the edge of the beach,
where I flew in laughing out of the sand,
my hands stained still with the sin
of what I did with them.
I held the rules of a no-limit game
in my mind, fanning out cards,
laying down bets on secret shames,
making thousands large on my mistakes.
I remembered kneeling on the balcony,
blowing bubbles for the children down the hill,
how they leaped with their eyes wet for mystery,
oh I did it so few times!
And soon, the children were starved and uninterested,
and the soap water listed in the sun.
The mother discovered my petting face
and said this place is not for amends.
She sent me away, crying and kicking into the city.
There are no flowers here at all, only sick
on the ground and dust in the trees.
I remember how my little one, turning
stones already in her secret heart, would pick
the flowers so carefully, and pack them
in her tiny fist. Save them! she told me, throwing
a few behind should we lose our way.
What did I ever save? Even now, I am lying.
The first time I was alone,
I created magnificence, oceans.
I made myself beryl seas.
It’s best to decide what you love
late in the season of things,
once the fog has settled on its choices,
once the chill in the sea fevers the air.
When the wind drives the system in,
imagine the surprise in the trees;
the offshore forests roll drunk
in their crystal cloaks of gin.
The ignorant snails make them necklaces.
To be unhuman, to be chosen by the fog!
And driven to stillness, and foolish of light!
No, all night I twist in a dream of traveling
backwards to the moment, far gray
and failing, when to touch and to see
and feel flooded around my throat.
When I came to see the waters recede,
I tried to wander in.
I was never here before or since.
I stood in the corner
of a vast thing unrolling.
The sinking under my feet recognized me
for who I was a thousand years
before I drew the oceans up.
I dyed my fingers clear in the tide,
I played like a child with my hands,
and the little soldiers of death
washed forth in the ebb.
In the distance, the swath of tule sank downward
and sighed flike a sleeping girl,
her mind unchained from flesh by the filtering sun.
I try to see past myself, I try to say.
A clean sound shoes in my ear,
something climbs against my mind.
It’s the audible tone in the harbor
pressing against its interval,
chasing off ships in the gloom.
It hurts me so when I hear it, and
when I hear it, I hear it every time.
It goes all night like a shot in my dream.
Just once, before and after it was forever,
I heard it clearly. I was never here
among the waters, the waters I have not left.
Never turn your back on the ocean,
says the machine
who hasn’t once been made to face the sea.
About the Author:
Christine Gosnay’s first book, Even Years (Kent State University Press, 2017), won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize. Her work has been selected for Best American Poetry 2020, has appeared recently in POETRY, Image Journal, AGNI, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Poetry Review, Ecotone, and Bennington Review, and has featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Her chapbook, The Wanderer, is the 2019 title in Beloit Poetry Journal’s Chad Walsh Chapbook series. She lives in California.