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Fall 1998, Volume 16.1

Poetry

 

Nancy Hanks Baird Photo of Nancy Hanks Baird.


Nancy Hanks Baird is a freelance editor and writer. Her poems, essays and articles have appeared in
Ellipsis, Dialogue, BYU Studies and several collections, anthologies and news publications. Her book of poetry The Shell in Silk was published in 1996. She received her B.A. from Brigham Young University.

 

Into The City

All the noise—the music I’ve grown to despise,
the constant, numbing conversation,
even trains pulling in across the valley floor
in the morning dark,
that wind chunneling through the high
Wyoming plains—all can go, all
but the soft rasp of your chin
against the back of my neck, the words
more motion than sound, more
heat than whisper
coiling down.
A deer on the lawn last night, lost
in the city, caught in the flare of fireworks.
Our eyes meet in the sulfurous burn,
he, as illuminated and unsure,
as uneasy as I have always been in the conflagration
of passion and possession.
The deer shakes loose, fades into the city
knowing, oh yes, knowing
it is safer—simpler—to be lost
than found.

 

Diamond Head

I am planted here, in the blowing sand,
privy to all your lives.
We examine each other’s flesh:
that girl with the tattoos
who called me Brian Head,
a lot of black-eyed children,
Germans and sailors.
I have lain here so long without
moving…but really,
it has been a pleasure to slowly
wrinkle in this kind of weather.
I have been content watching people
in unguarded moments.
With so many strangers in my lap
I did not expect a lot of kindness.
I could tell you stories…
Today the sun was bright on the beach:
a father played in sand with his son,
both elderly, the younger one retarded;
a stranger fed a drunk.
I know about the human heart—
my bowels are scarred by those who wished
to kill, I am layered in trash,
crusted in greed. From the corner
of my eye
I see a woman flick a glittering hip,
string her mouth, pursue a hapless man.
She drapes her wrist about his neck
like an eel.
Do not think because I lie here so quietly
I am tender, or growing soft.
My heart burns for all of you
but my rage rises in my face.
I am grieved by your cowardice.
You should know my indifference
is not as dependable as your foolishness.

 

Exhibition Road

At twelve, wandering the great city—
handmade leather shoes, lemon curd, weeping
cobblestones, and pigeons. A child only,
with chopped hair and thick teeth
she slips through the charcoaled streets.
Down in the Tube, a man offers
her his genitals in painful
eagerness. She studies his face,
what the hands hold.
Usually it rains,
but in winter the fog rolls across the park,
muscles down the wide avenue where she lives.
The steps of her thin elegant house are lapped
by the ghostly river. Its silence snuffs
the city.
At the school for girls, she hums, and her
knuckles and knickers are rapped. It is
Mr. Pierce she offends, who teaches geometry,
journeys the rows with a ruler by his side.
Her best friend lives on Lettuce Lane,
is beaten by her father, conceals arms
as greened and plummed as radaccio.
In the school, they sing hymns, sitting knee
to knee on the grey linoleum, recite in unison
Sanctus and Benedictus
the answers to prayers.
Her prayers have always been to see
enough to get home.
In front of the painting, in the long gallery
by the square with pigeons and sailors,
drawn by the spectral ship down a corridor
of sea and yellow mist, she knows
she is a pilgrim, a stranger,
searching for the face of an angel,
gifted with hunger.

 

Is Not What You Expect

  1. Autumn is so undisciplined, nothing
    in its place.
    Weeds spun out on canyon roads, gilded
    as wheat: Rapunzel’s hair
    spiraling in the Indian wind.
    And leaves leaping from the trees,
    splattering the barely cooled earth.
    Up here, risk
    buzzes the air as salsa spoiling—
    there are so many ways to conceal.
    The river moves darkly through the trees,
    rock walls rise through vapor
    as before,
    but on this trapped morning
    the headless rattler lying in its blood
    on the blacktop,
    the doe foot severed neatly at the ankle
    left in the gravel at my feet,
    are not
    what you expect.
  2. My gut is drawn and quartered,
    heart bent,
    blood scraped clean.
    And how many ways can a voice
    be silenced?
  3. The bed in the rain forest:
    your knees against the roots,
    my head in the leaves.
    Overhead, light foams
    through the mango tree,
    the smell of crushed ginger
    seeps from my hair.
    Your eyes are childlike—
    you do not know whether
    to trust me,
    but you are glad this is
    happening,
    and your lips are smooth
    with surprise.
  4. Overnight, the world has twisted
    a quarter turn—
    winter has come too soon
    to these mountains.
    Too heavy with leaves,
    the trees have crumpled,
    broken a rolling river thick
    as melted glass.
    This winter trick should come
    as no surprise—
    trouble coats us like salt scum.
    Why the grief at a turning leaf, why
    the rage and resignation
    at unexpected loss?
    Through the wet, black trunks,
    the white-blasted forest,
    deer step elegantly—ghosts
    caught in unaccustomed light.
    They are confused at the shrinking
    earth, blinking,
    and they have nowhere
    to hide.
  5. I have heard
    if you cut the tongue
    of a mockingbird—
    split it with a knife—
    it can be made to speak
    as a parrot speaks.
    A mockingbird does not expect
    to talk—
    what a surprise.
    My question is:
    can it still sing? 

 

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