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Thursday
Jul132017

A Map of the Heavens in Four Poems

Photograph by Peter Spencer


The Weight of an Empty Heart: Lymphoma This Time

It lies on its side, that large, bell-cupped vessel
With the seraph-scrolled handle meant
For comfort’s grip, meant to hold tea and warmth.
It is nearly empty and very cold now, rolling on its curve.

In the other room, I can hear him thrashing.
I ignore the sounds, the moaning, finally, the silence.
In my chair, I read a magazine, anything to delay
The vault into that high bed with the pillow top.

Of course, he is angry, the truth is that we both
Want to choke the living daylights out of that tumor.
Cancer, chemo, radiation, the ill-fitting parts
Of someone else’s whole, here in the unhappy dark

On our highway of silence, where we race the prognosis
Too angry to signal, too full of ourselves to stop.
Gently, I remove his glasses and the unread book.
I turn off the light and roll on to my back, a begging supplicant.


How to Pray in Kazakhstan

(Alma Ata)

Beware of dogs facing west
Horse skulls laid in moat.
Beware the crystal breath caught
By paintings of the dead
And photographs that steal the soul.
Remove your shoes at the door.

Beware the tight, cold wire of false friends.
On the high plain, beware the steppes
That lead to the savanna, beware the
Sleepy eyes of the Tien Shen Mountains
And the dangerous roar of spies who come to
Hail and bury us deep in the ditch of glory.

Beware of whistling indoors, but drink the tea.
Beware of truths told in a woman’s sleep.
Be careful, please, to avoid the creaking trap.
Step over the pit, walk the long way around.
Share the sheep’s eye, eat the cheek, stay
South of Siberia, the apples will make you complete


How Small You Look in the Bed

Like a boy in his underwear with
his mother dishing up bowls
of healing, salty food, strawberries
inky red from the farm, the juice of love,
the first sunflower smiling at you from
the garden’s chaotic western shore
and a bandage big as a badger wrapped
and bloody around your long, thin foot,
you turned on your stomach, sheet over brow.

How hard it is to see you like this,
tiny and huddled in a warm room
as the sun goes down on a distant beach
and the jazz station plays soft harmony,
prayers made of tears of my love dressing,
the tender buttons and fragile blossoms
inside where you are a boy with your first
stitches and it is always bloody summer.


A Broken Barometer and a Bullet Casing

These are the things you left behind
The fairy dust in the nightstand
I had already taken the “polar bear gun”
And stuffed it up in the rafters where
It was lost to you, but you kept the bullets.
I guess you wanted to throw them
At intruders, any intruders—you felt armed.
I knew the barometer was from your old office,

The last office that you barely went to, that
You took just to prove you could still turn
Notes into blueprints and blueprints into towers.
The role of the barometer was unclear.
It was always broken—a symbol of everything broken
In the last 97 years of life on an imperfect earth?
The bullet casing was different; it didn’t seem
To come from any of our guns, I thought.

It was one of those mysteries wrought in bluing.
One of those shot shells from a country road
Where almost nobody went, but you picked it up
And put it in your pocket anyway, a casing
From a shotgun, a casing from a missed shot?
What was the target? Bottle or bobcat?
Why did you need a broken barometer in a drafty office?
How did it come to this somewhat unimportant drawer?
Why does the ball of lint in the corner seem

Bigger than the sum of all this left behind.
DNA, nail parings, things useless and gone—
A dropping of a life that once included
A camel caravan? Beer on the Great Wall?
A thunderstorm in a spy plane over Sakhalin?
A forgotten case of Château d'Yquem?
A fine Sauterne guzzled with friends?
Kyoto in the snow? Your mother’s rose
Smuggled, like you, in a flour barrel?

There is no telling, for the bullet casing is silent.
And the barometer is sworn to the mystery.


“How Small You Look in the Bed” previously appeared in poeticdiversity, the litzine of Los Angeles.


Viola Weinberg has published ten books of poetry and a text on child abuse. She was named the first Poet Laureate of Sacramento, California, and is also a Glenna Luschei Distinguished Poet. She lives in rural Sonoma County in northern California with her husband, photographer Peter Spencer. Since 2013, she has battled Stage Four cancer, thanks to the love that surrounds her and the grace of God.

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