Rebecca Reynolds has published two books of poetry, Daughter of the Hangnail, recipient of the 1998 Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America, and The Bovine Two Step. Her poems have appeared in a number of magazines and online journals, including Quarterly West, Boston Review of Books, Cimmaron Review, Web Conjunctions, American Letters and Commentary, The Literary Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Notre Dame Review, Verse, Third Coast, Open City, and Journal of New Jersey Poets. After a 30 year administrative and teaching career at Rutgers University, she retired to write and teach creative writing part-time at Rutgers-New Brunswick. She lives with her wife and cats.
Which of the following colors
is used to symbolize oxygen?
Maybe the color of your hair
once you lose your black
and the gray turns milky as a cloud
The online dictionary quiz says “white,” but
if I open my mouth to a stranger
I don’t know if oxygen builds
from my night throat. I learn
“commit suicide” sounds like a crime.
Instead, we say “died by suicide,”
or, attempted suicide—
in my numb response, I live
my half-life without speaking truth for months,
thinking everything turns to shit
is the wrong thing to say, before
you find work again
and the cats adore your strong hands, slink beneath
the palms where you touch fur, the delicate
bones and mandible yawns
that ship their fish-slight breath inside the rooms
with the same hands stroking my hair. What stereotypes
we halfway live: lesbians with cats.
What harm does it do? to ransom us from a language
we so badly memorize.
I compass nothing deep, archival, or unhinged nor
the half-documented rosters
not of written things but clouded windows
and inner lamps and the lovely anticipation
of meeting your body on the street one night surprising
as one studies matter more inside
than out, and Carver said
anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough
as he loved the hobbled ground
the mouths of seedlings,
holy dirt rasping its primer,
for how else can we know the dirt?
how the particles cool beneath each moon how it weighs
our rubble, swallows the smog,
and muzzles our black and light—
unless I line my ear to the mutter of crops
for the earth-sound of colors, the saurian ridges,
the wasteland of gulls, the lopsided plants,
dust-beggar leaflets and stalks,
cat-bitten fronds, boxed lettuce, and grimy thumbs
for the humming of what survives.