Selections from Rave

Selections from Rave


Live bobby pins,
Enamel cobalt and rose
Of damselflies that hover and light
On my wrist and blaze of hair,
Larger crimson and green-grass dragonflies
Held in dynamic still prayer
Among the big-headed clothespins on the line,
Then gone, as if shot
From little backyard catapults—
Louisiana damsels and dragons,
Jeweled toy rapiers and longswords
Sheathed in knight-mail,
Sapphire and gayfeather glint and lift
From paddles and salt-crystal piers.
I was three when we headed west,
Leaving our own flesh and blood
Tucked in the earth, and fled
To Gramercy, town of moonflower memory,
Little moons unwinding slowly under the greater moon,
Town of pink-throated lizard jewelry, swinging
Helplessly from my ears,
Town of sugar-slag gardens,
Where fairy-tale tomatoes towered into live oaks
And trees shed dime-sized frogs at dew-fall,
Town of crawfish castles underneath our mill house,
Town with minnows like dragonflies,
Bright suspension in the fishing bucket.

Gramercy, gramerci, grand merci
To you, damsels and dragons,
You skimmers and skippers above the feigned mourners
Of trees decked with Spanish moss,
Above the levee and the yard of spider holes,
You needles for linen and sailcloth, stitching the world
Into one piece with hover and dart,
You fire streakers to the Mississippi and Gulf,
Luring our eyes to the dragonfly sky,
Away from the sea of lost tears
With its undersea cliffs of salt water
And its foundered sloops and schooners
With hills of sand strewn over them,
And all hands gone down with the cargo.


Little moon, cream-white and faintly pitted,
Up from the night of garden furrows,
Moonseed with dirt-kissed cheek,
Moon toy, glazed moon marble,
You cross my palm,
Scrying me back to childhood.

The steelies and the aggies on the cool floor in summer,
Ticking together like an insect choir:
They nattered in crowds, chatting
In fricatives and clicks.
Inside the clear swirlies, colors on an axis,
The lampwork centers bright as dragons,
Vivid as summer dragonflies
With fired-mail bodies and outer wings of isinglass,
With gaiety like the favors of damsels
Fluttering from a metal sleeve or helmet
Into the sweet, clear air.

My father laid you out as atoms,
Moving electrons, protons, neutrons,
As in a juggling dance,
Attracting and repelling
To the snappy tune of you,
Clicking crystal,
Clicking song.

Making little families of same color or different,
Clip-kissing you together,
Telling the endless stories of your hours,
I could feel the faint, sure liveliness in you.
Gramercy, that you showed me
How every little crumb of Earth can sing—
Moonflowers tilted to the moon,
Blush-throated green anoles
And shy, glitter-eyed ground spiders,
Salt-sequined, silver wood of docks,
Pebbles and silt gathered in rock pools,
Castles built of mud below a house on piers…
Gramercy, that you sang in clicks to say
That all the world is stirring
And alive.


Dead, it was dead,
All its dried leaves still clenched
To the also parched branches
As Honora clambered up the breezy hill
That rattled dry or green leaves
And threatened to tear summer
Into fall—the hill tilting
As if to make her fall, make her be the Fall,
But Honora laughed, leaping a tiny rindle, whirling
In flare-up and squall, tumbling on tussocks
(Honora not like the fall, no, nor summer, but spring!)
And the boy, the wishful lover, laughing and shaken,
Spun round: sun bobbed like a top.

Rioting, Honora’s dress
Whipped like a gale of flags
As she drank at the sky.
She battled the rutted ground,
She battled the scourges of weeds,
Battled the tussocks catching at feet,
Until she gained the tree that was dead,
Until she reached for the skeletal branches
And the whole world unfolded and flew—

Every single leaf striated
And leaded in black, abruptly flashing
Blood orange in the late afternoon,
Exploding into monarchy, into anarchy
Of stained glass
With the sun shining through,
Sun snagging on the powdery scales,
The thousands of winged sleepers
Abruptly wakened,
Catapulted, shot, slung larking into air,
So that Honora and the boy, the hopeful lover
Cried out, lifting their arms,
Singing out, calling back
And calling after,
Praising after
The natural kingdom of the world,
Feeling themselves as one
With the wild, piercing torrent
Of monarchs streaming erratically upward
On the wind, like confetti of autumn leaves
Tossed from the branch in celebration,
Rivering into the sky,
The fine, ephemeral, winged
Part of what is human
In Honora and the boy
Following them,
All sally and flare-up,
Like a streamer
Tied to the tail
Of a kite.


There is an ache
That I want to praise,
Something like gold at the throat,
Something like a woman named Iseult
(Called Iseult the Fair, La Belle Iseult,
The child of another Iseult, queen in Ireland)
Who falls in love through sleights of magic,
And another woman named Iseult
(Called Iseult of the White Hands,
Iseult Blanchmains, Iseult of Brittany,

Child of Hoel, king and saint)
Who loves the very same man
But without any sleight of magic, or
Something like a long-haired man in wilderness,
The strands of hair and corners of his eyes
Salted with fine-ground dust and sand,
The man shouting into the sandpaper wind,
Love one another, love one another—
Or something like this, like
Coming upon a waterfall in a cave,
Coruscant sparkles
Just where the sun falls into the earth,
Drops sprinkling on pale cave dwellers,
Red eyed, flick-finned children of the moon,
A bleached piscatorial host,
Or something like my words fitted to notes
And played on an ancient recorder
Whittled from a woman’s bones,
Grooved with runic symbols
That might say the snow has been constant
A long time now, or that
The flute-player—oh, Christ!—wishes
(Though there is no Christ, not
For a long time yet to come)
That the lost woman were not lost and bone, that she
Would sing her songs beside the water
Under the moon and stars,
Curled in his arms.

I might say
All this means sorrow,
The hopelessness of loving an enchanted
Shape, earthly and unearthly,
Or the hopelessness of knowing
Love can’t be forced like a branch
Into leaf or flower.
I might say on, and say
That such sorrow, like a waterfall
In hiding, sings.
I might, perhaps, but I
Don’t say so.
Instead, I think of Tall Jorinda,
A teen, already an Appalachian giant,
Enormous in heft and in desire, a girl
Dreaming after legendary
Bunyan and the blue ox, aching
To be small, curled
In another’s arms.


You rush of gold,
You wildfire of spill,
You brute, muscular force,
You flying splinters, you freight of fine gold thorns,
Piercing and sliding through flesh and bone,
You infinite striations of drops stretched out for vertical miles,
You perpendicular spill from parapets
Of the steep seventh heaven—
High up, a great cloud of droplets
Moving languidly upward and away,
In places dense and white,
In places shot through with rainbow,
Down below, hills of cloud
Driven outward and away.
And in your gold heart a fish
Like dust hidden in the heart of a snowflake,
Or like a locket veiled by clouds of tulle—
Fish flexing, springing upward, scales
Reflecting gold and streaked with rainbow hues,
The raw chill from between the stars
In its veins, in its stippled skin,
In its mouth and throat,
Circling like a river through an ox-bow,
All its scales hurtling upward through sheer watercourse,
All its rainbow scrubbed and rinsed,
All its wavy fins and dancing skirt
Forced by the plunge and scour of drops.
Spirit-falls, you are the silent sound that defeats the clocks
And the mechanism of all gear and cog,
You are the cloth-of-gold, picked to threads by angels,
You are the gold-wrapped weft of silk,
The dazzled raging on a loom of air, on a harp, on a comb,
You are the guillotine metal-flash and drop,
You are the standing shape that radiates
Inside the hoop of a sun-bow,
You are the down-flux flick of eye
That passes like blinks through flesh
And knows both stain and brightnesses.
You are the spate of tears in an unending throat,
Stone that thaws and streams inside the athanor,
Channel for the frisking, jumping fish
With its brittle fingernails of scales on each side,
With its glistening lappage of sequins on the head,
With its eye like onyx in a bezel of liquid gold,
Round eye slightly elliptical, waxing gibbous.
You are the moving treasury of gold,
You are the transfigured waterfall,
You are rainwater leaping from the rock,
You are the element for fin and gill,
You are the mountain’s pay-dirt sluice:
You change this little fish to gold.


The fourth heaven has opened
In the dawn light, in the cold room:
Umbelliform inflorescences
Atop the hollow scape that runs
Toward meadow green, from almost white
At the bulb with its tatters like ancient papyrus,
With its layers not just papery but crinkled in places.
Lifting up the heavens, the stalk
Springs forth,
A phallus-tree of life, blunt
And naked without the straps of leaves
That find a way from the elephant-foot bulb
After the flowers, the heavy mass
That is now you four drifting heavens,
Perfect in color and female shape, that sparkle
And float on air like the most delicate fabric,
Faintly striated with a texture almost like crepe,
The six overlapping petals of each flower
Slightly curled back, slightly deckle-edged,
Your backsides tinged with ink of spring green,
Marvell’s “amorous green,”
Your throats tinged with ink of spring green,
Your dried sepals forgotten,
Withered like a tall fairy crown,
The female pistil divided, triune and curled,
The male stamens curled, the anthers
Hanging on air like six notes on a staff,
Playing a song of pollen and fertility, seed and death.

You are not the rain lilies of my childhood,
Leafless surprises blooming in the ditches,
Nor the so-called naked ladies on St. Michael’s altar.
No, you are not that amaryllis of the South,
But you are the North-flower,
Constrained and potted, seldom out-of-doors,
Though your snow petals bloom near winter snows
That also sparkle and gleam.

You are Hippeastrum,
Six-petaled Horse Star, Knight’s Star
Lily, emblem on shields
And a badge for Linnaeus,
The Knight of the Order of the Pole Star.
You are Amaryllis after the nymph
Who, on advice of the Oracle of Delphi,
Plunged an enchanted arrow into her heart,
Crying out her love for Alteo, shepherd, lover of flowers,
Every day plunging the stem, every day for thirty days,
Mocked by every onlooker,
The heart’s ink trickling down her body
Until at last the Earth let the blood root and grow,
Until at last a flower never seen was born,
And Alteo called to Amaryllis,
Her flesh sparkling, her heart enchanted and enchanting,
Her arms spilling with blood-red flowers.

So Bernini’s St. Teresa, sparkling like a petal of amaryllis,
Endures the shaft of gold, fire flowering at spear-point,
Endures the kindling of that lance of gold,
Her body tinder to the fire of love.
So the living Teresa knew
Her soul to be a seven-layer castle,
Knew the journey to Heaven a pilgrimage from room to room,
Knew the seraph with the golden lance,
Knew the strangeness, sweetness of a fire
To melt all snows, all flesh.

You are sparkling, you are bitter,
Your petal body is amarysso,
Your ill-tasting bulb body is amarella.
I am glad you surprise me with your amorous green
And your sparkle of flesh like the snow,
Here, where the season should be
Spring, the fairy girl at the ball
Who dreams up gowns like moon and sun and stars.
It’s still deep winter, the snow sparkling but bitter to me
This year when so many have died,
This year when I felt shaken—
This year when the first heaven opened,
When the second and third and fourth heavens opened,
Drifting, hanging
In the chill and gloom of our winter rooms
Like nothing we ever expected,
Like a weapon against the cold and dark,
Like the whole armor of God waiting in peace on a stand,
Like the hammered hounskull of the sun,
Like the great spiked mace called morning star,
Unwieldy and flashing in first light.

Photo Credit: Paul Digby

Marly Youmans is the author of thirteen books of poetry and fiction. Her most recent books of poetry are: The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, 2012); Thaliad (a post-apocalyptic epic poem from Phoenicia Publishing of Montreal, 2012); and The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011.) Her most recent novels are Maze of Blood, Glimmerglass, and A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (The Ferrol Sams Award, The ForeWord BOTYA Silver Award in fiction), all from Mercer. A South Carolina native, she has lived by Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass for the past seventeen years.

You can read more from Youmans on At Length here.


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