STARLAND · JESSICA PURDY
From the trapdoors and “spy/code” that once enchanted her while reading Nancy Drew, to bumblebees struck by frost “still sucking from the cups/ of blossoms,” Jessica Purdy feels the pulse of mystery underlying ordinary life. Purdy negotiates the bumpy terrain of responsibility, loneliness, dreams, and estrangement in poems that often begin in the natural world and end with meditations on her place in the family landscape. Cover to cover, STARLAND is a complex, deeply felt, and finely written book.
Joyce Peseroff, author of Know Thyself
They’ve hired a body language expert
to interpret my dreams
of other women handing me their sickly babies
and being able to nurse again.
In pity, my breasts recall the twinge and spurt
but I wake up dry.
They’ve hired a handwriting expert
to analyze the cuneiform
on the walls of my uterus.
My son said he saw wolves in there.
I don’t imagine this was a good experience.
I visualize it cut out and discarded.
My daughter asked if I could still give her a sister.
That she feels this as something missing saddens me.
What’s worse, at twelve, she’s begun
to ask me why her hips are so narrow.
For proof that women are real
I look at Tintoretto’s Origin of the Milky Way.
Juno’s breast milk sprays past baby Hercules –
denies him immortality –
as if its propulsion is what rockets her to the heavens,
keeps her painted flesh suspended there.
Oh, but the stars her milk births,
and the lilies of the earth
experts agree were cut from the canvas –
as if proof of their existence
depends upon their disappearance.
Night Walk While You are Dying
The idea of night is black and still,
but house facades are burnished
bronze by a streetlamp,
and the air smells briefly of skunk.
Pale fog condenses
beneath a golden porch light
snapping on. “Night, Pa”,
someone says as she leaves his door.
Car headlights slide up the black
grease of trees, ghosting them
apparition white. Shadows pounce
up and out, jump the walls of a house
beyond, and then the chiaroscuro is gone.
The tree is itself a shadow.
Something made. Charcoal branches
against a star-wet sky. A train blows
through, its interior grows from within –
each empty seat a movement.
The motion in an upstairs window –
a girl in red pajamas, wet hair
obscures her face as she turns
toward something unseen.
In another house a woman’s back
recedes down a hallway, vanishes.
Veins in the asphalt like black blood.
Every bundle on the sidewalk hides a figure.
Every thing by some absence, transformed.
I wanted to be a detective, a private eye.
I would lie on the blue corduroy
couch and read Nancy
Drew while nibbling on a cherry
chapstick. I wore a costume jewelry
emerald bracelet whose eye
shape affected me deeply
when it reflected the green light of day.
The idea of trapdoors consumed my
imagination. I wanted a secret staircase, a spy
code, a hiding place beneath a crumbly
board, a box filled with spidery
handwriting found in a gully.
My sister loved paper dolls of famous royalty.
I envied her knowledge of fancy
beheaded women and their finery,
but their dresses dripped with dislocation. They
had nothing to do with me. Every
old thing I found was a clue, even if it was miscellany.
Once I spent the entirety
of an afternoon trespassing quietly
on the neighbor’s abandoned property
where I pieced together a tragedy
of newspaper clippings, tools, insect shells, and toys,
certain I would uncover the truth. Mystery
where there was none. Bravery.
Evidence is objects in eternity.
Here is what you cannot know. Now solve for y.
About the Author
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Copyright © 2017 Bud Backen
Cover photograph from the collection of Lauren Leja
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.