November 2007

Sarah Kennedy


This marks an author's first online publication Sarah Kennedy is the author of four books of poems, including Consider the Lilies (David Robert Books, 2004), Double Exposure (Cleveland State University Press, 2003), and Flow Blue (Elixir Press, 2002). Her fifth book, A Witch's Dictionary, is forthcoming from Elixir Press. Sarah Kennedy has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and she is a contributing editor for West Branch and Pleiades. Sarah Kennedy is an associate professor at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia.
The Visions of Bertie Hoskins

Poplar Bluff, Missouri, 1940

Fulton State Hospital, the first public mental institution west of the
Mississippi River, in 1851 admitted its first 67 patients. . . . This
institution was to provide physical care for societal "lunatics."
Treatment approaches in the mid-1900s advanced to keep up with the
rapidly growing hospital. Electrotherapy, insulin and metrozol shock
treatment, and prefrontal lobotomies were all performed with the
more serious patients.

     —History of Fulton State Hospital, MO Department of Mental Health

Show me again.
                                  My linden canopy,
                                                          into sky,
my envelope of skin.
                                               The power
is off, at last,
                                               those million stingers,
that bed
                        in the white room,
                                                                    the doctor's
                                    breaking like a bag of poison
over me.
                                               Let him be gone,
                                                                                let him disperse,
let him disband
                                    into the air
                                                          with my daughter
and her daughters—
                                               my husbands and my
son, let them
                                                          into the bright
dangerous world.
                                                                    I carry God in my dark
                        My brothers
                                                          squatting at our mother's
table every evening
                                               while the dinner
biscuits bloomed
                                    from her hands for them,
             you old digger

                                                          (say: Cherokee),
no wonder the sister here
                                                                    thinks she talks
to the spirits,
                        can't  keep the skirt
                                                          pulled down.
It's that dark strain,
                                                          shows worst in a woman.

Their thin white skin
                                               couldn't hold in a soul:
their bad hearts dropped
                                                          them in the dirt—
                                                                                               I hear
the father-blood,
                                               exploding in their chests
like the current in wires
                                                                    that scorched my mind.

Ice all night
                        and now
                                               the giant crosses
laid low
                                    all the way down the road.
Hum, hum,
                        the voice of the Lord came unto
                                    as he lay in his bed
come to me come to me
                                               until he rose
and heard:
                        God will burn,
                                                          temper all evil.
The flesh
                                    is a sagging sack of decay
and the wires
                                               hummed through my head
                                                                                               all the day
nor did Jesus turn from me
                                               in that hour
of need
                        nor did the eye of God
                                                                    blink me
out of existence—
                                    hum hum, the fire did
not consume
                        but contained
                                                          me, chosen by
the hand that formed me.
                                               I was warm, even
in the winter
                                    of my brothers' staring,
even in that ice.
                                               My mother's house is
                        and how they wandered
                                                                    behind their lamps,
their false flames,
                                    through the rooms with their groping
big fingers,
                        their farmers' muscles,
                                                                    their weak,
their brittle veins.
                                               Consider the lilies,
consider every little
                                    brown sparrow
that feeds
                        in the fields.
                                                          But no, they would bind
my arms,
                                    they would have me
                                                                    driven away.
Place of rest:
                        of the restless,
                                                          the restive current,
             of the electric light
                                               the morning after
                        its golden globe
                                                          the devil's face
his hot tongue
                                    licking my cheek,
                                                                    then a tongue
of fire
                        spiraled from my mouth—
                                                                                a thousand
                                    every bud in my
                                                                    mother's garden
sleeved in ice,
                                               cold coffin
                                                                                for a seed's core.

Show me again.
                                               Man, behold thy mother,
                        behold thy son.
                                                                    I laid me down
with a pale husband
                                    and bore a pale brood.
O daughter,
                        you might have been dark
                                                                                like me—
I laid me down
                                               with a stranger and bore
the wrath of my father.
                                                                    In heaven will
be no marriage
                                               or giving in marriage,
will be no female and male,
                                                                                no white man
and Indian,
                                    no light
                                                          apart from dark.
These storms of late—
                                                                    little apocalypse.
And look,
                        when I stand
                                                          at the fields' hedgerows
I smell the burning—
                                                                    sunrise bleeding day.
My children deny me,
                                                          but let that go,
let them go, the children
                                                                    of the body.
Let them go be wed
                                               if they will, embed
themselves in the old way:
                                                                    husbands, brothers,
wives, all
                                    with their English names, name of the
                                                          the father not in heaven but
in the ground,
                                    grounded as the wires
                                                                                that they
fastened to me
                                                          were grounded at the root
of the bed
                                    where they tied me down just like
the root
                                    of the lindens,
                                                                                but the lindens
submit neither to the day
                                                          nor night nor
are they destroyed
                                               by the lightning
                                                                                               or hail
or the new moons of my nails
                                                                                in these bark
walls where I still speak
                                                                    my mother tongue, I
die to this world, embalmed
                                                          with dappled light.

Rebirth, I want
                                    to say. Resurrection.
Call it
                        a recollection.
                                                          I once met
the one called Satan,
                                    I remember him,
limb by limb
                                               he appeared a white whirl,
dust, blue eyes,
                                                          then a tongue of yellow flame,
then the arms and,
                                               walking down the road (it
was a road)
                                    toward me,
                                                                    a young man of words,
of the world,
                                                          singing a hallelujah,
                                               The devil hath power
to assume a pleasing shape—
                                                                                my body
with its maps
                        of vein and vessel,
                                                          stitched tight
at the neck—
                                    he had me,
                                                                    he surrounded
                        and then there was the room
                                                                                where the ghosts
stood a-watch,
                                    and then the black eyes
                                                                                               of Christ
fell upon me.
                        Where was my father?
no man father
                                    but only your father
who is in heaven,
                                                                    your mother,
remember the dark womb
                                                          of her lindens
whose limbs reach unto the ground,
                                                                    lo, even
unto the roots
                                    from which spring worms
                                                                                and grubs
who have fed on the mortal
                                                          remains which
are all that remain
                                               of those brothers—
no man brother
                                    who renders his sister
up to fire.
                        Each space among the branches
a great gap,
                                    a tear in the sky—
                                                                                from there
twist down
                        sun, shadows,
                                                                    in gold threads, in black—
I see heaven,
                        God's eye,
                                                          that darkling gaze.



Sarah Kennedy: Poetry
Copyright ©2007 The Cortland Review Issue 37The Cortland Review