The Bones of August

????? i.

Not to go backward,
?????????? not to watch the women
peddling in reverse past the church,

???????????????????? the priest in his black habit
?????? receding from the chapel door.

Not to go backward,
?????????? the bones of August
becoming the bones of March,

???????????????????? branch of dogwood
????? picked clean by frost.

Not to say Yes
?????????? when asked the question
all women wait to hear,

??????????????????????? Are you anything
????? like your mother?

Not to be photographed in her dress
?????????? like a saint
carrying the instrument of her martyrdom,

???????????????????? Agnes, and her tray
????? of breasts—

or to throw the bouquet into the grave
??????????? where Bartholomew hides
with his bloody knife.

?????????????????????? Not to burn
?????? half the house down—

and build half the house up.
?????????? Not to forgive
the bad child

????????????????????? when even the bad house
?????? is forgiven. Not to care,

not to carry the bones of August
??????????? into September, foiled with redness
and nothing to squander

???????????????????? but the buds of spring
??????? dormant in their boughs.

Not to ask, Did you
?????????? love her? and leave
the answer in the ground,

???????????????????? where everything difficult
?????? is buried.


????? ii.

Attend the dead,
?????????? then welcome the bride—
backward, as Jews do,

????????????????????? reading Hebrew,
????? right to left.

First the mourning,
????????? then the celebration.
Backward, taking off

????????????????????? the beautiful face
????? of forgetting,

two names with the same face—
????????? all this time
a woman waiting inside me

???????????????????? to marry.
??????? Invisible, impermanent,

windmill girl in her cage
?????????? of breath,
insect girl in her element:

???????????????????? impenetrable shell,
???? putting on

the beautiful face of forgetting—
???????????? Fury??????? Sybil????? Isis
one of us

??????????????????????? wakes in her
?????? graveyard of guilt,

filamentary as fiber optics,
?????????? one of us sleeps on
in the temple, lulled

??????????????????????? by the metronomic
????? pulse of longing—

Did you love her? Are you anything?
???????????? That other girl is dead.
That other girl is dead.

???????????????????????? What else can be said
??????? about that other girl?


????? iii.

Same as mine,
????????? skin of her hands
laid over the ivory bones,

?????????????????????? dark map
?????? of the body—????????? Yes—

it was dark,
????????? but I was darker
on the inside.

????????????????????? When she was young
????? she was “a great beauty,”

in the same sense
????????? that “a roomful of adults”
is rarely ever.

????????????????????? I was never
????? like her, flattered

like a map
?????????? under glass,
slender as an axle

???????????????????? in a turbine—
????? enigma relic:

feet of steel, legs of wood,
?????????? cabinet of curiosity.
Even her reflection

?????????????????????? in a spoon
?????? was beautiful.


????? iv.

Labor into longing:
?????????? wild enthusiasm
of the dynamo engine

??????????????????? working in reverse—
???? more power

in the leaf of a flower
????????? than the paw of a bear.
Is it necessary

????????????????????? to remember
????? absolutely everything?

Golden hour on the birch-
????????? brailled bark,
weathered barn stacked

????????????????????? with malignant logs,
????? sweet mulch

of aether /ore
?????????? in the morning air.
We hung drapes

?????????????????????? over the mirrors,
???? they were flowered, too—

her bouquet a cabbage,
?????????? assembled by a florist
from 120 roses

???????????????????? Incandescent light
?????? flattened their petals,

made lace of their thorns.
????????? Uncanny—nothing in nature
so rigid,

?????????????????? nothing more harmful
???? than her rare affection.


????? v.

August: honeymoon at Niagara,
?????????? water shut off—
bad luck.

????????????????????? Two bodies,
????? a man’s and a woman’s

found face-
?????????? down in the mud
at the bottom of the gorge.

???????????????????? Neglected
???? on the cliffs above,

Tesla’s alternating current station,
??????????? powerless
in its pure machinery,

???????????????????? honeyed, lunar magnets
???? waiting in their sockets

for the current to resume.
?????????? Enough about friction:
this is about two bodies

???????????????????? at the end of America,
????? repelling each other

under the polar rush of water,
????????? generating their own distance
over time. Is it history

????????????????????? or home
?????? that hurts us more?

Did she look into the gorge
??????????? as into his face
when she said Yes

????????????????????? to see the downpour,
???????? even when it was damned?


????? vi.

Nothing in me wasted,
?????????? a use for grief, even.
I wore it on my left hand.

?????????????????????? I was married to it.
?????? I planted myself

in the dirt:
????????? alphabets grew up
from the bones of my feet.

??????????????????? I drowned my heart
????? in the lake.

Black hole, such vanity—
?????????? navigating the ear canals
like so many gondoliers

????????????????????? trolling the watery streets
??????? looking for someone

to sing to. Beautiful
?????????? fisherman who fished
my heart out of its lake—

????????????????????? I did not die. I revived.
????? I wore her face on my fingers

when I dug up my joy
?????????? up from the ground, singing:
Oh wooden coffin, woman’s body,

???????????????????????? boulder at home
????? in its stone skin.


????? vii.

Yes, then, to all of it: to the drowned
??????????? sea urchins, porcupines spined,
and the black-brain

????????????????????? coral that sleeps
???????? on the ocean’s floor,

ruinously blue. Yes
?????????? to the vultures that roost
above the waterfall,

?????????????????????? that don’t
?????? surrender their nests

at our dissolution,
????????? and to the bones that do.
To remember is to open

????????????????????? one door
????? after another

all along
????????? the white corridor
to say Yes when asked,

??????????????????????? Are you anything?
????? Did she love you?

To go forward
??????????? is to surrender
the necklace of tears she gave me—

???????????????????? this failed body
???? with my name on it.
?

Robin Ekiss, “The Bones of August” from The Mansion of Happiness. Copyright © 2009 by Robin Ekiss. Reprinted by permission of The University of Georgia Press.
Source: The Mansion of Happiness (University of Georgia Press, 2009)
More Poems by Robin Ekiss