Erin M. Bertram, “Shun Not My Arrows, & Behold My Breast”
This week, a new poem by Erin M. Bertram.
SHUN NOT MY ARROWS, & BEHOLD MY BREAST
Who will weep without shame at your death?
Buttressed, lifted up—& into—suspended, as if the
wind were never to pick up again. As if the arms
were never to break.
What sorrow takes shape between breaths as you sleep?
Think crossbeam, think joist—the muscle in that—a pair of corresponding
parts, the pair coming together. That there’s a name for that.
When the tumult comes—& it’ll come—what will you do with your hands?
Think, too, of the single tattoo crowning the weaker of her feet: two blue
fish chasing one another, forever, as if time were an arrow bent back upon
itself, or a ship cutting cleanly through water whose depth is
immeasurable, or, more accurately, no longer, any more, the point.
Have you woken to sweat, & silence, smelling of devotion?
They stay the course, those two, but why, & for what? Out of habit? Out of
cruelty? Out of boredom? Out of love?
What would you do if your arms were no longer bound?
I’d die a little. Salt lines contour the summer sheets, marking the borders
of our newly flagged territory. She brings a finger to my lips, a poultice to
balm my aching hands. What else can I say? I offer her my most insistent
quiet. And the hawk, stunning, scans overhead.
What brings you, without fail, to your knees?
She hums something inaudible—breathes it almost—something necessary
as water. Incidental as bones mending beneath the skin.
* * *
Place it like this, she said, here, & here. Yes, like that like that, & I’m a fledgling circling a canyon of colorstone—hollow-boned, tough in the beak, many flights in my feral wings—the wind’s cool muscling my cheeks. Is movement given purpose enough to make of a no-man’s-land an open field? The smallest gesture, the small of the back, the weight shifted from one leg to the other, a whisper breathed strongarm into the ready ear? Tallgrass, tallgrass. The shape it takes depends on everything.
* * *
Let’s cut our losses & move camp, pitch a tent downriver, tramp through the firelight
like initiates, & call each other Big Fancy.
Let’s climb the roof & pin our names to the wide back of the sky.
Let’s hip & hip.
Let’s consider all the times we could have broken hearts & did, all the Friday nights
we spent alone in our pajamas, eating take-out & wishing we were beautiful.
Let’s spool our indecision around the memory of last night’s winnings.
Let’s unwind each other by any means necessary.
Let’s thank you thank you for the mighty spindrift, the hallowed grass stain, the ever-
Let’s birthday cake.
Let’s handshake & call it a day.
Let’s oscillate wildly when the nightlight in the hall goes shy of batteries.
Let’s chaparral & karoo, & urinate beneath only the tallest trees.
Let’s press our fears into diamonds, blood dried on our forepaws, a little charcoal
dusting our blushing cheeks.
* * *
When I dip my finger in honey & bring it, shiny,
To my lips, the cardboard sour of the hive is close,
Its birch sheaves akin to skin the way, on my forearm,
A firebird is caught & held, midflight, in ink, between
Layers thin as tissue paper. The body is least delicate
Further away from the long, dark corridors of the heart.
Stay your eager hand,
I want to say to you. Just stay.
All night, the blue-startle flash of lightning livens the sky
As I sip from a mug, watching the steam rise & fall & rise
And fall & rise. This morning, I’m aftertaste, lionheart,
Gathering wind, the warmth left in the bed when you lift
Your body, slowly, into the wide-open mouth of the day.
The possibility of escape is never not necessary.
This is my body this is my body,
ERIN M. BETRAM is the author of nine chapbooks, including Inland Sea, which won the 2009 Robin Becker Chapbook Prize, and Memento Mori (forthcoming), and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in So to Speak, Bloom, Phoebe, Copper Nickel, Fourteen Hills, Handsome, and elsewhere. She teaches English and Women’s & Gender Studies, and tutors, at Augustana College, where she co-coordinates the campus Safe Zone program.
**This poem borrows its title from George Herbert’s “Artillery.”