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Renee Ashley: Poems

Poems from "The Various Reasons of Light" |

The Various Reasons of LightRenee Ashley's collection, SALT, won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991). Her second collection, THE VARIOUS REASONS OF LIGHT, has been chosen as the inaugural poetry volume for Avocet Press (635 Madison Ave. New York, NY) and is available by calling 1-800-496-1262). She has received the Ruth Lake Memorial and Robert H. Winner Awards from the Poetry Society of America; from the Kenyon Review, she has been awarded both the Award for Emerging Writers and the Award for Literary Excellence. She is the recipient of the 1996 American Literary Review Award in Poetry, and three Fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She received a 1997-98 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is the Assistant Poetry Coordinator for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Poems from "The Various Reasons of Light"


Before you knew the word dream
and the word fire, you dreamed of fires.
-- Lisel Mueller
"Talking to Helen"

Ever back to the burning. Before
you knew your name, before the fire
sealed your eyes, you were aware
of the flames -- your heart whispered
the music they danced to, your pale skin
wore their shadows like rouge.
You heard it within you: spiritoso.
Obbligato. You named it, never
spoke its name, but it rose inside you --
heat will rise -- and it spoke
from you, the great, urgent furnace
of your life burst forth, consumed
your silence, overwhelmed even your blindness,
and you shone -- forte, forte --
you burned like a white, white sun.

(first published in Western Humanities Review:)


She won't eat; even the sweetest, most translucent fruits,
their glittering liquors, repel her. And she's not
built for dancing. Unworldly, she drifts, evanescent
above my slick floor, my disheveled bed; she whispers
I can see you. I know what you're thinking.
Her vague arms are open and strong; she is steady,
ambitious. She is as fine as mist, and always with me.

At first, it was the tremble of her wings that sent me
speechless, backwards, pitching towards the fall;
it was the stark cricket on her shoulder, hard, real as coal,
screaking in her celestial ear -- an angel's own dark
and crook-legged witness. No one told me she would be there,
but, still, at the corner of my eye, peripheral and hazy:
an edge of her nebulous hem. I could not know her. And

when she spoke, I thought it was rain, I thought
the one white birch moved nearer, I thought it was the sound
of the lank ivy growing full before my eyes. I thought
Be not forgetful of strangers and the angel shifted --
squarely before me she planted her pearly feet in the air,
her faint feathers were still: I am your angel, your genius,
your chain. I am the distance you travel. And she knew me --

all trespass, all omission -- the paltry, impossible details.
She owns me; I am her own diversion. My barnyard of fears
is her playground, my bliss her bliss. She is adamant: No
to the honey and iris, No to the hornpipe in the riotous street,
to the slight breeze that swings up from the dense, moist
banks of the river. I say robin, tango, book.
Marble. Sunset. Bread. She becomes my hours, my intimations;

she is fraught with me. I breath her. I think
embodiment, manifest, God. I behold her borrowed joy,
her immaculate emptiness, behold the cricket, sturdy
on her shoulder, the dark, seemingly eyeless mote
who keens at the coil of her shimmering ear, who speaks
through her vast, illumined mouth, whose silence
stirs the violent wind, stirs the angel herself, moves worlds.

from SALT (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991):


"Ladies don't sweat, dear. They glow."
-- Mother

Glow my ass. Women sweat
wet as the tongues of dogs,
wildly slick beneath the breasts, beneath
the arms the body's water,
the body's salts like an oily sea;
and, where the soft thighs part at the open
mouth of the sex, where the dusky
flesh smothers, raw as an oyster, slick
as a throat, and bright like pearl or shell
in the dark, the musty smell of rich effluvium
lingers like air heavy with pollen and heat.

from "Salt":


Everything was sex or engines. If you were fast,
if you had the drive, that was the place to go:
Evaporation Heaven, ponds like furrowed acres, the crust,
the salt, crisp as beach sand, crisper even. No one I knew
ever touched foot to pond. The story was like this:
the brine shrimp would rush with their numberless
tongues, burrow in your skin, countless infinitesimal wounds
laying your secretmost particles open to salt. You could die
from the pain. But back by the scaffoldlike loaders where the earth
held firm, out by the cranes and the carriers, the salt railroad
tripped along the shallow edges, and there your car
would careen, stuffed to bursting with adolescent flesh,
an hour to kill with the view and a taste for hot skin. Never
a plain horizon: you faced the mountains, or the salt. The cock
in your hand beat like a heart. You learned to make it in long,
husky Chevys -- out there by the docks, beside the ponds, you watched
the salt like a sunset, watched the pools change color while the daylight
bled away, while the sun lingered in the opposite mountains, blue ponds,
red ponds, a thousand opalescent shades in between, and when the sun set
the billion stars tumbled onto the surface, stars white as salt far out in the wide-open bay.

Copyright © 1991-1998 by Renee Ashley. All rights reserved.

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