Silk Becoming
I had been a friend of language
                               in the mulberry days
when I devoured the leaves of books
                                  like stolen oranges,
sleek on the bright secrets
                          of their pulp.
Daily I tore them up
                   and recombined them,
inventing words to talk about
                            my hope of wings.
I would repeat them in my sleep
                           amid the peelings
and wake with other speakers
                           lurking--waiting to trap me
with dry arguments
                 on hard embittered questions:
what besides words would
                       I give for wings?
Would I go hungry or
                   sleepless or without books?
But I escaped without
                    an answer--there was
mulberry as far as
                 the eye could see.
I only wished to go
my words could speak
                   wings into life, their graceful
veining like the surfaces
                        within my stolen fruit.
But arguments persisted--
                        I could hear them
when the dry edges of the leaves
                               turned bitter
in the porcelain vase on the mantel
                                  where I kept them
after I turned inside to keep
                            from answering the questions.
I would not subject my hopes
                           to argument--rather,
I would confine myself in a shelf
                                of books already read,
dried mulberry in a vase on the mantelpiece,
                                           the bed--
I would turn from the blood of oranges
                                     torn into in my head.
I would describe them round and gold,
Here is a rope of tangled sheets,
                                wound hard
across my body as my hopes
                         are wound in words
unsaid, wrapped secretly around
                              a small red stone
of hunger--the pages
                   I have peeled
and eaten in my mind
                   return in bitter threads
of thought, the stubborn part
                            of a rind.
I recall the words I made
                        to speak of wings
(jewel-paned membranes,
                      dry leaves reborn
in gold)--they are the answers
                             I will not give.
Then how will I escape
                     this world of white,
this bitter bed of ropes,
                        this season
of unreasonable hopes
                    I hope to keep
from argument?
             These mulberry words
cannot sustain my flight:
                        I am trapped, I will
be boiled like a believer
                        in the next hard fact--
an orange thief caught,
                      unable to recant.
I turn from my own argument,
                           inward and away.
How can I tell the color
                       of new silk, beyond
all whiteness? It was years ago,
                               there was a girl
in a dusty green Communist suit
                              under the dust-
choked sun of a high old
                      factory floor.
We had seen the tight pods
                         of industry
as beautiful as bandages,
                        easy to explain.
Then there was the skein
                       between her hands: twisted
by her, twisting itself,
                       complicating sunlight
and dust and everything--unraveling
                                   my language
as it spun. There were all
                         the small deaths in the skein,
all the tight-wound bitterness
                             of hope undone
in boiling, the flights that became
And after tea and oranges
                        in the reception room
and the souvenirs,
                 the bus back to the hotel
(by way of a famous garden),
                           another twenty years,
I am left with the frayed
                        white pith of language,
all the arguments
                I have refused.
I have not escaped--
                   I remain at the mending frame
by the mantelpiece.
                  I am hungry; I work, I wait,
my thread like lacework
                      re-knitting over the flesh
of an opened orange,
                   or like new words that make
old arguments impossible.
                        A tired girl, all day twisting
that glory light
               from mulberry dust
and bandages: as trapped
                       as I, as ignorant
of the names for colors that do not
                                  appear in books.
Come then, I will stop
                     turning. We will wind it
back and forth; we will mend
                           what can be mended--
we will eat the stolen words
                           that fetter hope.

Cyd Harrell, 2003. All rights reserved.
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