Noir by Julia Mishkin
Someone has placed Arum lilies in the vase by the window
and she raises her hand to trace the shape,
her fingers never touching him,
his head held close enough, she can feel his breath
against her cheek and his hand resting on her waist,
the slight pressure—how correct, the pressure—
as she sways slightly the music slows, dims,
he feels the fabric of her dress against his hand,
cool silk, redolent of leaves, that small hollow
the long slide down, the knoll,
pressing his face against it,
the scent, someone tracking him
and the edging of the sun
through the afternoon haze, that autumn sun
that rises unbearably hot and then fades—
she moves her hand on his arm, only a slight movement—
the counterpoint, the music
which has shifted again, her eyes drifting,
a dazzle, everything white, pure, no color
so she can inject what she wants
as he moves against her, his hand tightening
on her waist (the old well-house
with its smell of earth)
and she remembers what it was, that song
with its hesitations, the ecstatic strings,
her hand inches slightly up his shoulder
to curve around his neck, she can feel
his blood (the slow ascent, their footprints filling)
the leaves decaying fast
beneath their feet, the floor of the forest
seeding a silver streak, and rain.
The smell of earth.
What is this he holds in his hand?
The flesh has been eaten away.
Nearby her sweater brightens.
A packrat has nested there
and used her hair as a cushion.
Such a blank, the emptied stare,
the bones of her left arm
slipped under his right as if
she had been holding tight.
He was telling her about the room
he slept in, the sound of breathing
through the walls, someone turning
over and over without rest,
without pause, as if sleep
was a long climb alone in the dark.
I know the bottom he said.
I live there and never come up,
not for light or air.
Drought by Julia Mishkin
The wind comes off the fields
like a whip and the air snaps
and lurches. And because
there is no moisture in it
you think of it as dry ice
smoking at the fingertips.
As it is there were many times
you cursed water in great detail,
hating the sequence of drops
on the casement window, the gutters
overflowing with the season's leavings.
Or that recurring dream
of drowning, the surge of water
discharging under the skin:
people in the street moving
around you as if navigating
a flooded back road.
Now it's the wind you loathe,
everything seen through a haze,
ochre cornfields with one
vertical line, a gray
and opaque thread of smoke.
This indistinct world furnishes
other worlds, you can almost
chart the movement, like waves,
or the arms of swimmers stroking
fast, the air empurpled
with splinters of ocean.
© 2005-2009 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas