On a charred mountain range, my body replaces several layers
of tree rings. I cannot help but view myself from far away. Centuries, miles: an
Odalisque as he'd called me. I'd always thought that meant something religious, untainted,
overwrought with purity. Was I composed as those cloudy-eyed women who hang
on chapel ceilings, as we stood whiskey-stoned and nerve-shining?
Over the washed-out bridge we watched the Superstitions. We shared
one sweater all spring. Its fiber loose as the inside of a milkweed pod unfurling.
Oblong in the empty creek, the moon was a science project
our sentences could never finish. There were far too many stars to name, an
omnipresence in the oh-so-quiet, that forest carved out by lightning. We spoke more
often to the landscape than one another. Carbon carriers, concubines
of whatever land we'd landed on. Cosmic or microcosm: who were we really,
our hair the same color as parched leaves, fingers tobacco yellow. In the center
of an ash tree we stopped for a great long scattered sometime. The dirt turned
opaline as the sky, doused the cacti and brambles in shadow. In the
ochre evening, a corpse of months floated down Fish Creek. When
one headlight crested the hill, I leapt away—spooked to the edge that
only went down and down. He caught me or he didn't. We pretended
only then that nothing had happened. And then nothing happened over and
over again. During one of the nothings, I left our sweater on the path. No
one noticed or spoke. We lit a cigarette. A dog barked. The air, a fuse.
Out over the valley we saw the city licking up the
open land. When I ask what blooms in the fireweed he said an
odalisque. I thought of a necklace with a pendant of a virgin; a figure
osseous in rags. I thought of her trembling with the unsaying of things; a man scrambling
over peaks and valleys, counting abacus beads, rosaries. We never talked
of questions that had answers, but if he would have asked me then about the fireweed
or anything really, it would have been his chin and I would have said dusk.
Rose Swartz currently lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan and teaches Composition and Literature at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Michigan. Rose earned an MFA in poetry from Arizona State University in 2010, and also has a BA in English and a BFA in visual art from Western Michigan University. She's currently working on a photo-essay and creative nonfiction collection about travelling in Asia and working in Beijing, China. Her poetry has been published in Devil's Lake, The Golden Key, Front Porch, The Kenyon Review Online, Sin Fronteras, Asylum Lake, and Carrier Pigeon.
I Watch Myself Loop
excerpts from whatever
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Sizzle and Chew
Satan's Skull Glows White Hot
When Lost in the Woods
Stasis in Ragtime
In Late November, There Are
Days of False Clemency