Sunday, February 1, 2009

Joanne Merriam

Deaths on Other Planets

Vacuum seal burst.
Uncontrolled cellular mutation.
Cancer presumably caused by radiation overdose.
Multiple stab wounds from metal claws.
Oxygen poisoning.
Overgrown with mold.
Eyestalk hemorrhage after hovercraft accident.
Narrative necessity.
Robot rebellion.
Strangled with own tentacles.
Crushed by weight of own cranium.
Beaten to pulp by human children at play;
sun-dried and washed out to sea.

Guest Room

The man's fingertips seep oil shiny as eyes in a bottle. Just
before he starts he says he's sorry for what he's going to
do, but I can already sense it swimming into and over me,
cold as leftovers fresh from the fridge. When his fingers
spasm I wake in the guest room and reason myself out of
the conviction that the sweat covering me is his. Behind me,
still caught in that other world, other naked women scrabble
for open windows. The bedside clock's measured ticks are
their toenails on his gleaming tiles.


A word for the sound plants must make at the moment they
break soil. See how your fingers curl tight as fiddleheads
and your whole body smells green. The glaze from breaking.

A word for the way home. For home itself. For the ocean you
hear, cupping your ear to it. For melting, soft as tulip petals
or morning glory, impatients or convolvulus petals, moonflower
petals or forget-me-not. For the small animal sounds you make
when it's good. Salt-laced and so tired now.

A word for tensing like the fretted strings under your capo.
For the red darkness behind waking lids. For the buzz stars
must get when they finally wink out.

See how moonlight's sharp music breaks all of your windows.

-both poems taken from The Glaze Of Breaking (Stride, 2005)

Throwing Signs

When I was mean I was the rolled-up newspaper, the bent
coat hanger, the torch. I was the unknown footprint drying
on the porch. I was absinthe disguised as lime. I was state-
sponsored bindweed whitening a ditch. When I was mean I
was a bitch who told strangers I loved only them and meant
it every time.

When I was six I loved to burn ants with a magnifying glass.
I turned beetles on their backs to watch them dance. At
sixteen did the same to men. I was the fan that barely stirs
the heat and I was baby's breath hanging to dry. I was the
bite of cayenne. I was the sky.

When I was mean there was no room for the rest of me.
There was no rest for me. I was in the details: I was the
crisp line of your teeth traced in the apple's skin; the string
dangling off the broken violin; the sweat on the soldier's
forehead and the hand that shoots; the hurricane pulling
up the graveyard trees and with them the coffins resting
on their roots; the saliva in your cup. After every fight
I was your reason to keep getting up.

North Shore, Lake Superior
(after Lawren Harris)

The gallery is all white walls and calm,
a courtyard with fountain bathed
in sunlight, rooms stretching away past soft,
provocatively posed women, faces that seem
alive, are hidden from the viewer,
rooms full of promise and oil stucco skies,
soft brushwork, improbably crisp
vegetation, space that
expands outwards and up and

quilted clouds absorbing numinous light
like syrup and you imagine them
boiling through the bars of sun,
black rock squatting behind, implacable
and dark but it's what's left
of the tree--dead, shattered,
but still standing--that draws the eye

that drew a generation home again

that draws you here
like some dumb mannequin
and then you come to,
to the soft ululations of art student charcoal
and the slow flightless grunts of gray tourists


  1. "North Shore, Lake Superior" is fantastic. I love Lawren Harris' work and I really felt that his art was captured in this poem.

  2. My two favorite phrases from these poems:

    "crisp line of your teeth traced in the apple's skin"


    "improbably crisp"