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Winter 1996, Volume 13.1

Poetry

 

Sharon Bryan


Sharon Bryan, a native of Utah, currently teaches creative writing at Dartmouth College. She is the editor of Where We Stand: Women Poets on Literary Tradition (Norton, 1994). Her third book of poems Matter and Spirit (Sarabande P, 1996) is forthcoming.

 

You Are Here

1

But the sign is over there,
its red arrow pointing
to X, one more letter
of the alphabet we use
to locate ourselves
in time and space—

there's plenty of room
for confusion, given the gap
between the map and the ground

we keep our feet on,
feeling our way,
listening for something

on the same wavelength,
for clues to our whereabouts
in words that come back to us

from the unknown, the ether
they've traveled through—
as if each syllable

were a question, a probe,
a toe in the water—
testing, testing,
a tentative

caress, a lover's hand
asking the body to yield
its secrets, asking the world

to speak our language.

2

You are here: that's the news
you wake up to each morning,
and of course it's everything,

the crucial fact, the story
of your life, the words
that open your eyes—

as they did when you learned
to speak and to read,
when what had seemed to be nothing

turned out to be fog
and its lifting revealed
fragments of a landscape,

an entire city of possibilities,
avenues of meaning to explore,
nooks and crannies of language

no broom sweeps clean
it all comes down to the body
and what it gives rise to:

the spirit that hovers
just above it, reciting
an alphabet of longing.

 

Frankly

I have some bad news.
Or maybe good news, depending
on how you feel, what you want—
not as in lack, of course,

but as in what you desire,
long for, hope for, would be
miserable in the absence of.
Perhaps I overstate. Let me

back up. I have some news.
Not that you don't already know
how I feel, about some things
at least, but inexactly,

and I'm about to say exactly
what I mean, as much as that's
ever possible, to strip away
confusion with the deft hands

of my words. Or to slip
the shapeless swirl of imminent
meaning into its proper nouns,
the sleeves of its blue blazer.

Whether words dress or undress,
they're smeared with the world's dirt—
and who would have it otherwise,
make language the crisp nametags

at a convention of things?
Look how far this effusion
has brought us, how far it will carry
in every indirection, giving and taking

shape in the mind's deepest trenches,
more paradoxical than the blind
neon fish I could bring up now
to illustrate the simpler mystery

of anything that remains unspoken.

 

I Haven't Got All Day

You'd think we'd be afraid
that saying so would make it so
too soon—maybe it's shorthand:

not that I am, but if I were
about to die, I'd rather be otherwise
engaged, in the embrace

of some warm-blooded beloved,
listening to Glenn Gould hum along
with Bach's interlocked measures

of time slipping through our fingers,
the fugue figuring our losses,
our desperate wish that the voices

persist—but one by one they fall
silent, go inside or outside,
depending on your perspective—

so what to make of the moments
when one who's long gone
whispers right in your ear,

as if a phrase replayed
long after the record
was back in its jacket?

As if some sounds
had an afterlife
like light from vanished stars.

 

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