Poems by Andrew Ruzkowski

Ballad for a Dead Grandmother

 

There is a line of symmetry nested

inside me like a distant vowel

 

in your name, or the name we share

on a headstone or cemetery plot.

 

In a photograph you are wearing a

stained dress, it is lovely like

 

red umbrellas and your hair is

a tight bun, needle trussed.

 

Your skin, as pale as my spine,

wears you like an apron and

 

it is 1962, the year you will die

at the bottom of a stairwell,

 

drunk, at 28 and still

not beautiful enough to make time

 

stop or make my father love you.

When I see your body it is

 

mirror-like and made of floor-

boards.  Your forehead is still

 

not a woman’s, it is soft

at the temples and punctured

 

by a nail.  Do you remember

the day your fingers turned

 

to sand?  Or the day this

photograph became too

 

small for you to live in?

I think you’d have liked

 

the pleasure of contrast,

the way paint hardens on velvet,

 

the inversion in a camera’s lens,

or the teeth shackled in your smile.

 

I wonder if you know the way

milk breaks in acid, or how to feed

 

your shadow in the film reel

of a boy rowing on a lake somewhere.

 

When I was born, tethered umbilically,

the size of a jar, and brittle as a spoke;

 

you came to eat the ripe placenta.

My body would never believe

 

your voice, small behind the ears

and on the verge of being.

 

There were postcards with your name

stitched in hair and cigar smoke.

 

I want to wade in dirt and

follow you back to sleep.

 

 

A History

 

Soft bone floats amniotic-                              your body glows like a peeled orange, the pith shaved from skin:

 

not broken,      not fragile.

 

There is a history here, traced in spinning veins and fragments of the I, and the river we both drank from.

 

You unzip a song from your lips to remind me of the air between us, something like the stratosphere in a ceiling fan.

 

There is a crack in your voice and it smells     warm like the rain

                              

                                                                  from last September.

 

 

In this half-city,

 

you retrace yourself and there is only one set of collarbones here, one idea of home and one outline of your map on my brain and it smells like

 

warm light.

 

It is delicious: these footsteps, the way your hip is softening and damp, the way you speak to me in stilts and fabric.

 

How long has it been since you held my arm like a breath,                truthfully?

 

Have you learned to freeze yourself like an eggshell, membrane and all?

 

I remember the field where we both grew up, the house in that field, and where it all fits together web-like in our landscape.

 

We both lie in separate domestics, foraging for something visceral or at least something we can taste, something that can become my voice.

 

I look for a city in my mirrored face, find yesterday’s black snow, and try to write in my palm.

 

None of this is anything like the way I remember your sentences or the way you told me:

                  do not give yourself lasting mercy in this night.

 

When this litany writes itself or copies in echo and your veins collapse and a new space evolves from the old field and you think of tea and lemonade and the gin we stole,

 

                                                                                                      please do not call me brother.

 

Although you won’t admit it, there is a biology at work here: emptied, pressed, and endless.

      I am convinced you are one accident mounting one

 

                                                                                                                  on top of another.

 

There is nothing in the memory of you that collects in the silence between our rooms or the salt in my blood.

 

When I sing in bursts and cup water in my hands and think of your sheets and breathe storms,

 

                  I am the body but not the head and it does not matter

 

                  who conceived us beneath each other’s arms.

 

 

 

From Oz to Anywhere

 

            for M.G.

 

I smell your blood on my fingers, each little dried sliver under

nail, blood and bone logic.  I lick each tinny shard, smell blood

type.  I can taste each clump of hair torn

from root.  Less lonely, less thistle-like,         less.

 

I thought of you on the day your father died.  His heart

encased in plaque, your heart in his, still lit and

throbbing,                    still.  You told me they opened his

body, his I, undone

in convulsions; blood sprawled on the bed, sliding out numbly,

so         literal,

so         necessary.

 

Suppose I, non-existent, don’t believe your dream-root

light, your methods of travel, the same midnight

weeping, the same cancer, the same mal-formations, the same

certainty, your same lonely                 ness,

the same less.

 

I look out my window and see unconscious trees and wailing

children on the beach.  I can only think of the way

you light a match, somehow in mourning, and

always bending back like a tongue.

And though you are like the water beneath

ice, like a fish pinned with leeches, your body

is soft, half-naked and hidden by mid-morning.

 

Suppose you, forfeit the body and its skin in thick

layers, shining and tumbleweed-colored.

Suppose you watch something invisible,

all day long

but it is not, or, it is just a sky

so                     distanced.

 

And in our different sleeps, a fleck of hidden speech

wears my mouth and bleeds and breathes.

And I want to live longer wearing

each other’s clothes.

 

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