POEM OF THE WEEK: LISA FAY COUTLEY
Lisa Fay Coutley
It’s been an hour since the storm sirens
began, yet I’ve felt freezing rain for days.
Outside my window, the plastic bag
snagged in the neighbor’s tree is filling
with wind then letting it go over & again.
I cannot stop breathing. It’s been so long
since we’ve spoken I’ve given up trying
to remember the last words you slurred.
Your voice a broken shell I cut my ear
against. You & I both know I hope for
no ocean. Now that you’re dead, do you
think love is wasted on the living? I have
pretended to look for you in every face
since I left the last room we breathed in
together. Remember when you dropped
your favorite dress at your ankles & stepped
into the street without me? Each night
some woman stumbled home & tried
to cook your recipes. Her hands just cut
you. I was seven. I promised then I’d never
let her hold me. My life began inside you. What
else is there to say? When I listened to a machine
beep your last heartbeat, I never rested my head
against her chest. Dear Mom—I’m still waiting
for that horse in my heart to stamp its hooves
again. I can drop a potted plant from my roof
a hundred times, though it takes only once
for it to learn to brace against the next impact.
I’m sorry the world made it so hard for you
to know the difference between a caress
& a closing fist. I’m sorry you left yourself
alone. Lonely. Briefly, today’s rain gathered
on the slats of the deck, & I admired the sky
twice. Still I wish I didn’t need to see the trees
dark as charred bones, poisoned veins. I’m sorry
I made you a disease I wasn’t willing to admit
I had for so many years. I close my eyes & try
to summon your face—a hole blown through
the center of every floor in this endless sky-
scraper inside me. Sometimes, in the mirror,
I stick out my tongue & widen my eyes & cry
like a baby who needs her mother to see her
need, to be her initial witness, to prove she
exists, so she can stop hauling her body
from city to city, bed to bed, searching
for herself in the faces of strangers. When
the temperature finally dropped, the rain
froze a mosaic, angry fragmented second
sky the snow is working hard to cover now.
The sun never showed today. Still I feel her
setting. As a girl, I’d sit by the shore & study
her early bruise & her evening blood spilling
under a door to another room of the universe,
as if I knew every gray day to come without her.
Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of tether (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming 2020), Errata (Southern Illinois University, 2015), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, and In the Carnival of Breathing (BLP, 2011), winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition. Recent poetry and prose appears in AGNI, Brevity, The Cincinnati Review, The Los Angeles Review, Narrative, and Passages North. Her poetry has been awarded a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Academy of American Poets Levis Prize, chosen by Dana Levin, and has been anthologized in Best New Poets and Best of the Net, among others. She is an Assistant Professor of Poetry and Creative Nonfiction in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska Omaha.