Hunger, said Emily Dickinson, is "a way / Of persons outside Windows / The Enteringtakes away." Miranda Field looks out simultaneously from both sides of the glass. She is at once without and within, famished and satiateda doubleness that, if it were registered merely in the subject matters of her poems (houses, gardens, bodies), would merely be interesting. Fields hunger is a formal principle, and her satisfaction is the continual reinvigoration of the edgethe entranceon which a readers desire depends. "What kind of wilderness / takes bread and milk / from a blue willow saucer," she asks, interrogating her own wildness, her own wish for enclosure. The answer ("a wilderness that trains you") is embodied in the movement, at once equivocal and inexorable, of these poems: they are too beautifully made to idealize freedom, too much in love with vicissitude to idealize beauty. "Some urgencies are tenured to the earth, its treasures," says Miranda Field, "but some forget us. Some go farther." It is impossible to resist such urgencies because resistance is already a part of the mechanismthe tension between the figurative and the literal, the torque of syntax and line. "The rooms we want to enter / disappear": read these poems, enter them, and be hungry forever.
This page is sponsored by Utah State University Press and the May Swenson Poetry Award.
What kind of wilderness
takes bread and milk
from a blue willow saucer?
A wilderness that trains you
to a feverish faith.
You feed it ceaselessly,
under a type of persuasion
a childs book might call a spell:
how invisible the walls are
Now say its nothing
but anothers bodyapproximate
to your own, but foreign.
The body must accompany you
everywhere you go. Now tell it something:
it doesnt listen. It hasnt the restraint
to live inside that cultivated space
speech makes. Feed it
from your finger,
a waterdrop with salt dissolved.
This provision is intimate, fiduciary.
Language is intent on entering
its hidden garden.
You ask this hunger for a name.
It sends you looking for one
tumbling on the ground, across the night-
grass into bushes.
Above the wall, the sky is plaster-white.
A voice climbs the wall. It disguises itself as creeper or vine,
it falls like milk spilt over the edge of a table.
It is the voice of the mother, climbing, falling, continuous.
It goes on trailed by other sounds, not liquid at first, but electrical.
By the voices of small dogs whose howls and little yelps
rise like cinders, but roll over the lip of the wall
and drip down, singed by cold stone.
And the voices of children, not musical like the mothers, not sonorous,
no more so than the animals. But as idolatrous.
The house has a black door set with jeweled glass.
Jewels fall from the door when the door swings open and bangs shut.
The missing jewels are buried in the grass,
the holes healed with flimsier transluscencies.
How the world appears through the dissolution of the doors window
is disordered, warped, underwater. Or as a wooded lot
appears to one lost there. The children lean in unison against the glass to look.
They know enough to stay. They know enough to know
they need not push the door to let the mother out.
Her singing passes through divided spaces like a mist. It rises like vapour in a still, then starts to fall,
though now and then an errant note will lift itself above the wall.
To follow it would be like tying a string to a bird
not to the acquisitive magpie swooping down to pluck a jewel from the mud.
Some urgencies are tenured to the earth, its treasures.
But some forget us. Some go farther.
The house beneath its sheath of roiled light
shimmers, a kind of bride. Almond trees
in front brocade the sky, air veils the doors
and windows: the lot runs
out from under us, a rained-on painting,
river of space. Under the film
of heat the facade is a kind of cover,
coaxing and dissembling. It draws us in
and closes, and the contents run amok:
ladders melt, stair rails cling red hot
and twisted to a wall. The rooms we want to enter
disappear, the way to them a turning vine,
impossible to climb, but flowering up and down,
blistering. Identities shiftfamilies
of foxes under the beds, wolves in the attic,
a cats cries turning human: Feed me,
fill me with reprieve!A lifelike baby-doll
mimics a baby left behind, and the fireman falls
for her, he gives the life she asks for, fixed
imploring arms extended from the crib. Innocent hands
strike matches. Fevers fly out, furies
fly out from the place of gestation, of origin.
Like the white silk-satin of Taste not of the tree,
which is a furled bud in the wood that framed the house,
a locked thing longing for a key.
I didnt have to grow into this longing,
or work too hard to glow
among the sinking and resurrecting shadows
underneath the rocking flowerbaskets
on the chapel porch. Every swan-neck and gloved hand bent
to fidget with and fine-tune my veil, as if beneath it
burned a single tenuous candleflame in a flooded cellar,
or crocus broken open in dead of winter.
All night, while you kept my ruched avalanche hitched up almost over my head,
a black dog five hands high prowled outside.
Not a literal omen, his sleek substance
superlative, masculine, shadowy sign without meaning
no, though this was what Id called for.
Pilferer, rifler, filcher.
Jacks Lake Originally published in the October/ November 2000 issue of Boston Review
for Joanne and Jenny
The surface of the pond we leaned across
shone like a bottle pulled from a fire,
burled with oil-swirls, buckled.
But things were moving through its rooms,
under the inverse chandeliers looped
from its mirrored ceiling. We leaned, reaching
for a paper boat becalmed past touching.
Our shadows stretched over the embezzled harbor
where our boat docked. In our hands, willow sticks,
and on the bank behind us, early fireflies
or lingering dragonflies clung to the tips
of the grasses. The sticks drew arcs in the air,
weighted like a metronome when youve
set it at the upper notch, where it nearly stops.
From afar the shape changed, turning
from animal to rusted thing to thing of wicker
or wood. Until the current drew it nearer
and we stopped wanting our lost boat,
it came unmoored from us. And we took
the strangers endless strangeness in,
and the twine around him, and the annexed stone.