ISSUE SEVEN
May 1999

Pattiann Rogers

Pattiann Rogers Pattiann Rogers' most recent books are Eating Bread and Honey (Milkweed Editions, 1997) and Firekeeper (Milkweed Editions, l994.)  Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, and Best American Poetry.  A book-length essay The Dream of the Marsh Wren: Writing as Reciprocal Creation will appear from Milkweed in May, l999, in the Credo Series.
As the Living Are to the Dead    Listen in real audio


A sweet orange, peeled and sectioned,
lies on a plate atop a limestone
boulder covered with lichen
rosettes. A fossil of marine shell,

as if it were a stone heart, holds
and keeps deep inside the central
gravity of that rock. Grit and gravels
are contained, for digestion,

in the living gizzards of all
chickens—Cornish, Leghorn,
Yokohama. Such stones grind
even in the horny-lined gizzards

of fierce fighting gamecocks.
A purple-belled jellyfish drifts
along the sea with the current
of the Gulf Stream; its fair,

poisonous tentacles gracefully
snare and enclose a small prey high
above the motionless rock canyons
of the ocean floor. Within

the calcareous reef-skeletons
of coral catacombs, the surf
alternately advocates and declines.
Some people warm themselves

in winter by burning the black
rock of mortal bodies in the small
braziers of their homes. Tonight,
light from living and dying

stars is the only light shining
on the far-mountainside rocks
scattered across the cold other
side of the fully sun-lit full

moon. On certain spring mornings,
granite headstones speak, luring
many people to place cut May flowers
before their still stone stations.

 

 

Silva    Listen in real audio


After autumn and the casting-off,
leaves and leaves and leaves—oak,
hickory, sassafras, hazel—they cover
the ground everywhere, looking
like hands lying open in half-fists,
old hands lying still and open,
a congregation unaware of rainwater
gathering in their cups, burls
and knots and bared veins the most
prominent of their aspects.

Sometimes they appear to be
the fallen body-husks of flocks
of birds struck down by storm
or famine, sometimes the gutted
remains of field mice and voles
left desiccated after drought.
Whether blown or stilled, they have
the skeletal nature of skins shed
by many snakes, the piled shells
of plagues of locusts.

But they are always only
themselves. And in the spring,
I believe the leaves coming
are the very same autumn leaves
of before, not ghosts of themselves
in new bodies but the very same
leaves restored and resurrected;
as if those fallen birds had shuddered
once and joined again in flight;
the shrunken mice, the empty
voles had risen, fat once more
and ebullient; as if the old hands
had held and lifted to a sign
language of their own. Like space
and time at the edge of the event
horizon, this is an involution
of virtue given to being.

It’s no wonder then that leaves
can sing all summer long, even while
knowing for certain and remembering
the waiting winter ahead

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Pattiann Rogers: Poetry
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue SevenThe Cortland Review