Volume 08: Shelter

by Gigi Marks
(winner of the 2010 Coal Hill Review Chapbook Prize)


A Welcome

I like the look of sadness
on a face because I know it,
can welcome its shape against
my hand and feel its smoothness.
I like the way my fingers can
knead its doughy cheeks and
softened jaw, the way my own
breathing changes to its slowed-
down breath. I like that I can
kneel down right beside it
and look face to face and see
myself, as if it were a mirror.



I watch you down the row,
picking, chest close to leaves, legs
close to straw, fingers red and busy,
and I am glad for that hot sun
distracting me from all the thoughts
that have made me angry hours ago
and makes you beautiful, a figure of
desire, steaming with sweat, smiling
up to me with a bucket full of berries
while I have been waiting to see you
look up and show me what you have.



Because she was the first
I did not know it as familiar,
how quickly the body takes in
a different kind of breath that is
the beginning of a different kind
of breathing that will not change
back again. Pulse changes, shifts,
blossoms in that surge of rose-
red blood, and the skin I wore
darkened, flushing
from that first sight of her.


In the Garden

The way the bees
in the lavender are so
intent on nectar that they
don’t notice me: I am
not one of them, I am
not the wind that knocks them
off their flower, slows them
down, and I am not the sun
speeding the flowers
past this bloom.
I am a shadow, a footstep
or two, I am not here
long enough to really matter.



They hook into my back and shoulder,
press into my temples; they move up
and down me along with the other fingers;
they are filled with full-moon nails and
scrape along my cheek, and when they
are done with me, they are easily taken
to other tasks; they are busy with work,
and when I stop them and hold them
for a moment, they bend too easily back;
when they are in my fingers they pry away.
They are busy or they are at rest, but they
are never mine; even when they are close
at hand or in my hand, they belong to
palm and hand and those other fingers there.



Where I was born,
out of the opening wings of my
mother’s legs and into the hands
of someone I would never see again,
was a place I would not go back to,
and later, a hundred times, a thousand,
I was in my mother’s arms, like
wings that folded over me,
but mammal-warm. Because there are
places that disappear, the ones that
I go back to stand out in relief,
but what says mother, mother,
also says feather and wing and fly,
fly off and away.



Hyacinth grows up with its heavy
head, so solid even with its
dome of star-like flowers and
fragrance lighter than breath.
The wet ground is not far enough
below it; it becomes part of
the hyacinth’s appearance and
breathes its own heavy odor.
When the wind blows, it shakes
from base to top and cannot bend
without breaking. Poor flower
that cannot save itself. I stoop
down face to face with it, mine
so clearly blemished in this clean
spring light against the hyacinth’s
pearl-smooth petals. What the flower
finds to mingle with: the spring wind
that rushes by, the blown up leaves,
the dirt black ground that crushes
its one poor foot planted there.


Close By

In finger reach I kept you—
as a small thing beginning,
your hair weaving
my hands to you,
your hands knitting my arms—
you were the beginning of growing,
laced into the gaps I had, and then
you were the how of growing:
out of my arms but still no further
from me than a finger. And then
you were unwinding, unraveling
and growing into everything that
opened and reached out to you,
even the things past where
I could point a finger to.



She’s up against her mother’s legs
sucking milk. She’s walking the pasture
just barely steady in deep grass.
Look at her black reflective eyes—
you can see the fence wires there,
a line stretched across her sight.
There’s her mother back the other way,
swaying to the sounds that cows move to.
She hears it and shakes her head to toss
the flies away. She’s got a tail to do it, too,
and her mother’s tongue will clean her
of the sticky milk that brings the flies to her.
When she’s back against her mother,
she’s got to move the way her mother does,
the way all cows do, and then, from here,
you can see her eyes are closed and
she’s not seeing any more than you or I
would pressed up so close to one another.


One Hand

Reaching into the bush, separating
healthy branch from what is
overgrown, holding steady what
the other hand, with saw, will cut.
The sky is blue, leaves are pale
green in the drenched spring sun
and that one hand holding the saw
belongs to the world—firmly
gripping what is useful for its work—
and the other belongs just to me,
one hand figuring what is healthy
and strong and what is unnecessary,
and then one holding on with a tight grip
to what it is that nobody wants.


Field Oats

Into the windblown oats, a pattern
is only there because two boys
are walking in there; they are
small green figures in the silver
topped grasses, looking to find
their way further afield. Bent
at the ground, those damaged patches
are what they skirt; they are not fast
like the fox or aware as the deer;
they slowly take their summer
bodies away from the house that is
as big as a box and as dark as a shadow,
that held them all winter long, and go
into the light that is finely diffused
by water and air. And they are touched,
each limb and their trunks, by those
grasses left standing, whistling
by wind and all the wetness being
dried by their green skins.



Very quickly there is the sensation
of nothing underfoot, and the realization
begins, and then there is the fear that floods
the body as quick as rain in the river drives
past the river’s banks: trunk and limbs
can hardly contain it, until the sudden
meeting, less than a minute later, of arm,
back, butt, leg, and the hard ground, a broken
branch lashing out at the final swing of head
and neck. And then there is so much time
to feel the waters recede: the sun has come out,
and although the body has sunk in itself,
it also rights itself against the familiarity
of roots and rocks and the geometry of dirt.



Shelter is the warm night on the deck
of a boat that has sickened me with
sea swells all day, that has settled late
to let me sleep along with the others:
kicked aside shoes, thick coils of rope,
the stars, the moon, the steady call
of water, the shape of my lover after
he has made our bed behind the captain’s
wheel. He breathes like the sea breathes.
Tucked against the cove of his arm,
I see the dark sky lit up one more time
before I drop anchor, shut the roof of
my eyes, and then rest before I sleep.



runs from the middle
of my head, splits
into different paths
on my forehead where
so much of the work
of piecing together occurred.
I was a grown woman
with both my parents
around me as if I was
a child again as the doctor
worked post-car crash
sewing and knotting
and picking out turf and
ground from where
I met the ground
as if to root there.
There it is—a path
I can trace my fingers on
now that I am without them—
top to side to side to bottom—
as if the journey
is finished and I am old.



They keep working, folding into palm,
reaching out, free for moments at a time;
while you cannot speak with your mouth,
they grasp the hand that is offered;
they remember how to move to a song
you’ve forgotten, how to touch and hold
and let go. They are your last extension,
the furthest reach you have, and they are
trembling, opening up, getting ready
to be born and new again while the rest
of you is, at arm’s length, slowly dying.


On Her Face

If the table’s edge were not there,
she would have caught herself with her
hands, and I could have picked her up
and kissed her sore palms. If her foot
hadn’t twisted and turned her
body as she looked the other way, she
would have walked over to her brother
and joined him playing. If I had carried
her on my hip from outside, asked her
what she wanted inside, I would have
felt the warm quiet rush of her heart
and seen the clearness of her baby face.
What happened is written on her face,
the deep purple streaks of bruise,
the black eye, the swelling that comes on
with tears and doesn’t disappear.



My skin was pulled taut
to cover, and my feet were
staked to the ground, and once
they were gone, they still came back
to me for shelter, until they were
grown, close to full-size, and then
I folded up those sections, flaps
that were my skin, pulled up
stakes, and they became feet again.


Gigi Mark’s chapbook Shelter. To purchase the chapbook please visit the Coal Hill Review chapbook catalog.