Portrait of the woman under observation by Annie Stenzel

Portrait of the woman under observation

In the new place, at dawn the eastern light
finds its way through three tall windows.

At night, a street-lamp mimics the moon,
sneaks in to amend the bedroom’s darkness.

All day, not far away, freight trains take a leisurely
tour of small-town tracks. Clang-clang-clang-clang

as the barriers descend on sundry streets. Traffic
is philosophical. It’s only a matter of time.

En route to one word, another word interposes itself: Why not
say Vespoli when you mean Tivoli? Okay. No harm done.

Already, she finds things put away in the wrong
drawer, or on a shelf too high for easy access.

A labyrinth of boxes and bags dwindles, but
hodgepodged items loom where they were dropped.

Every move from one space to the next previews
that unthinkable portal to the place that is no place at all.

*

Annie Stenzel (she/her) was born in Illinois, but did not stay put. Her full-length collection is The First Home Air After Absence (Big Table Publishing, 2017). Her poems appear or are forthcoming in print and online journals in the U.S. and the U.K., from Ambit to Thimble, with stops at Chestnut Review, Gargoyle, Nixes Mate, On the Seawall, Psaltery & Lyre, SWWIM, Stirring, and The Lake, among others. Her second collection was recently shortlisted for the Washington Prize at The Word Works. A poetry editor for the online journals Right Hand Pointing and West Trestle Review, she lives on unceded Ohlone land within walking distance of the San Francisco Bay.

Two Poems by Annie Stenzel

Let the skull be a bowl

A question came to mind the other day when I doubled
mirrors so that I was there, and there, and there, as far back
as the eye could see. And I pictured my skull without
the rest of me, tried to see the skull’s cracked places, four deep
dents that remember blows from some unknown
enemy who felled me on the street half a lifetime ago.

In the absence of a better vessel, the top of the skull
would serve, once the brain is lost or taken. Go ahead.
Scrub it clean of its first material, let it bake
in medicinal sun, be rinsed in rain. Call it a bone
bowl, readily cupped in the palm and able to hold
a meal. What’s to eat?

Sometimes it is necessary to cast the imagination
on a long line over the waters of history, so that the lure
sinks into a time about which little can truly be known.
Yes, there are artifacts. Maybe I didn’t invent the idea
of the brittle basin that could have been worked on, or decorated
by an ancestor, then kept to hold cooked tubers or grain.

And what if I hadn’t survived? Could my skull have become
a receptacle? Would its flaws be visible during every meal?
Would the places where the bone was broken and never
got the chance to heal make the bowl less prized
by its new owner? Or maybe more so.

*

Incarnation

We all look out of the same eyes, if we have eyes,
but the heart studies what we see. And yet, heart
is to fist as muscle is to trouble; trickster mind
an everyday cornucopia. Once, before our innocence

freckled, perception was self-regulated. We
had to learn to apply admonitions in a strictly
binary way. Go and Stay were not yet opposites, because
verbs behaved more like everyday carp in a koi pond.

What happened? These days, a kneejerk propels us
toward longing when we turn our gaze outward.
Inter-species wistfulness? Some of us peer at hypothetical
x-rays and see baleen when we search for ambergris.

Or vice versa. Then everything flashes an irredeemable
green. Because this is the bardo, not a strange dream.

*

Annie Stenzel was born in Illinois, but has lived on both coasts of the U.S. and on other continents at various times in her life. Her book-length collection is The First Home Air After Absence (Big Table Publishing, 2017). Her poems appear in print and online journals in the U.S. and the U.K., from Ambit to Willawaw Journal with stops at Chestnut Review, Gargoyle, Gone Lawn, On the Seawall, Psaltery & Lyre, SWWIM, Stirring, The Ekphrastic Review, and The Lake, among others. A poetry editor for the online journals Right Hand Pointing and West Trestle Review, she currently lives within sight of the San Francisco Bay. For more, see anniestenzel[dot]com.