Priscilla Barton is an American poet whose work has appeared in Red Coral,
Some Words, Shades of December, The Rose and Thorn, Stirring: A Literary
Collection, Falling Star Magazine, Poethica, Rustlings of the Wind, Lily, Can We
Have Our Ball Back? and various other small presses. She resides in New York
and works in the mental health field. She is madly in love with poetry, and
sometimes it loves her back. She also writes a quarterly column for Confused Muse.
Tastes Like Love
You tell others I live my life in the margins, shake
your head when I hold to grays, become annoyed
at my resistance to the black or white of resolution.
Your need to compartmentalize, sort and label data
into neatly stacked cubes is greater than your need
for the disruption of my love. My corners are never
tucked in, and you pick imaginary lint from my skirt,
avoid touching me when I have my period, hand me
long lists of books to read. Where to go with this love
of mine -- unfit and never concise enough for a man
who always knows exactly how much loose change
is in his pocket? You insist escargot is an acquired taste,
but my tongue is too common for snails. Your friends
take their cues from you, and tolerate me. My bracelets
hang from the full erection of an African fertility statue
you gave me for my birthday. Irreverent is a word used
against me during arguments. I dreamed I was part of
the plumbing in our house, filled with rusted water and
ready to burst! I woke you, convinced it was an omen,
but you laughed and blamed my diet. Is there some way
you could expect less of me, so that I might mean more
to you? I understand that question, but I'm afraid to say
it out loud. When you kiss me goodbye in the morning,
I pretend you won't be back. I'm happy until I remember
your shoulder blades, and the small scar on your left knee.
I once watched you eat a mango, and its juices maddened
you, made you lean over the sink, turn on the faucet and
wash your hands after every bite. I tend to over-think
metaphor, but sometimes its message is apparent,
even to me.
You rinsed it
and dried it
with a paper
You took a knife
and peeled it,
then cut it
then tidied up
Inanimate objects know history. They have
been lifted, rearranged, made to hold other
inanimate objects. The book I was reading
when the phone rang sits dog-eared on the
red cushion of a white wicker chair in our
backyard. I have fallen asleep in that chair
on warm summer nights while you sat quiet
beside me, writing poetry.
Someone's brakes failed, left you inanimate.
My purpose is to identify, but I hear myself
lying. I tell them it's not you. I tell them you
could never keep your hands this still. They
wait for me to change my mind. You always
laughed at how impossible it was for me to
admit being wrong. I admit being wrong.
My skin is the hard cover of an unread book,
and my legs won't bend. So many of your poems
were about me; how I gave you reason to breathe.
I never once wrote of you, never once mentioned
what I always feared losing. You were my only
superstition. The birdbath holds the unquenchable
thirst of one hundred sparrows. Inanimate objects
know history. I cannot move.
That you would find me in the hollowed bones
of sun-dried cattle, asleep in the desert, and wake me
with the cells needed for my restoration, reassembled
into rivers of salt and blood, layered in skin never before
touched, newborn with shadow-sight, awkward and afraid,
unsure if the vast space inside me can be filled by a man
who would spin through my center with the velocity
of planets, and the scream of fierce winds, who would
identify me in the dark with hands of red clay, perform
the ritual and say the words, that I would, once again,
know the confusion and delirium of Lazarus.
The subtleties outweigh reason, applaud my efforts, and dismiss me
with a flick of their wrists. I become lost in the inference of touch;
the possibility of falling into mahogany eyes; the static movement
of small hairs on my arms, standing at attention, primal and insistent,
taking my breath, and leaving me wide open to elements just beneath
my skin. He offers a casual smile, and I pinwheel through centuries
and past lives, back to the cave, circling the fire, naked and hungry
for sounds that transcend language. Somewhere between a civilized
introduction and the formality of strangers, a river of saliva tries to
drown my tongue. I watch his mouth ladle my name like warm cider,
and I am jealous of my name. He brushes the hair from his forehead
with the stroke of two fingers, and my heart wails.
The Lies Of A Poet
I cannot live in metaphor. I recognize myself
in the barbed wire draped around your words,
but I am still that same woman who knows
the sound of one man's swallow. You speak of
love as if you alone had discovered its meaning.
No poem has ever mentioned me; how I force
myself to leave him daily. A kiss on the cheek
and "later" thrown over a shoulder. I spend the
day convinced he no longer exists. My return
to him is always casual with light banter -- so
afraid he will see the depth and power of this
thing you call love, and I call breathing. Those
I would die without you poems are more of
your lies. I would live long without him -- too long.
I dole myself out in small pieces, careful not to
overwhelm; this is my only secret. I read your
words in bed while he sleeps beside me. You
know nothing of my love, nor do I. Dear God,
I despair of losing him. I, too, know how to
arrange the lines, but the poem won't save me.
What Goes Without Saying
Before language there was no word
for moon, stars were the eyes of those
who lived behind the sky, and art was
the juice of berries spread with fingertips
across the smooth stone of caves.
We sit in the company of small words,
mouths gone slack from the shaping and
reshaping of syllables. Cordially, we bless
each other after every sneeze, but remain
steadfast in this our deathwatch.
I am afraid of sentences that begin with
'I need.' Eyes closed, I drift into places
left empty by words unsaid. I want to be
heard, but I can't define myself without
sounding like a beggar.
My tongue has turned to ash, and silence
waits to kill me. At a loss for words has
become a permanent affliction. You are
almost gone, and we have been defeated
by a language made extinct.
You would steal my horses
and call them yours, name them
after seasons, cover them with
You would feel their strength
between your thighs, soothe them
with an easy voice, talk the panic
from their eyes.
You would tie their power
to a tree without roots, and when
I whistled, these same horses
would return to me.
They are my horses.
For those times I have enough faith
to fill my mouth, I offer a quick prayer
to the ceiling. I want to follow that prayer
through the roof, past treetops and clouds.
Someone said each star is made of prayers
gone unanswered. The expression blind faith
annoys me, but I understand there are those
who have seen visions. I am not one of them.
My religion hides inside the sword of Orion,
and will not be taught in this lifetime. Lightning
can manifest itself as long as weather argues
with sky. Some cultures are able to create
storms, call the rain from air. I believe in
rainmakers, and they believe in me. During
high mass, the stars collect prayers recited
in Latin. I don't think God understands Latin,
but He appreciates our willingness to learn
other languages. You can smell the whiskey
in the confessional when being forgiven by
a priest without faith. Not one of my sins
has ever been forgiven, but I still send an
Act of Contrition to a star -- there is always
the small possibility of my innocence. It is
not enough to believe, one must be a true
believer (another expression that has always
annoyed me). You were supposed to put money
in the collection box every time you lit a candle.
I paid for one, and lit them all. Each candle was
a prayer I could never afford. I bear a striking
resemblance to Saint Theresa, but I have no luck
with plants. I believe in astrology, numerology, and
gynecology. Sometimes, I believe in pharmacology.
I have been blessed with the ability to destroy myself.
There are daily temptations, but I have a strong will,
and a curiosity about natural endings. My name has
never been mentioned in the bible, but there are subtle
references to my sins -- none of them original. I am
not superstitious, but I still make the sign of the cross
when passing a church. All of my prayers sit quiet
inside a star. I am a believer.