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Susan Terris: Four Poems


Susan Terris lives in San Francisco where she is a writer and a teacher of writing. Her most recent books are CURVED SPACE (La Jolla Poets Press, 1998) and NELL'S QUILT (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996). In 1999, she will have two new poetry books published: EYE OF THE HOLOCAUST (Arctos Press) and ANGELS OF BATAAN (Pudding House Publications). Her many journal publications include The Antioch Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Painted Bride Quarterly, Southern California Anthology, Nimrod, and The Southern Poetry Review. On-line she has had work in Recursive Angel, The Blue Penny Quarterly, In Vivo, Switched-on Gutenberg, Kudzu, Conspire, Zuzu's Petals, Zero City.



We were on a bare stage somewhere,

hot under blue gels, and Balanchine wanted

to make sure I was strong.


Instead of admitting ankle-sprain,

I retied ribbons on my practice shoes

and stretched hamstrings at the barre.


Balanchine told me to do a plié; then

pressing his hand in the small of my back,

another. No arch, he said, flatten it.


Not nineteen or any linear age,

I could feel skin-color tights webbing at

the crotch, pleating below the knee


as I remembered how he loathed im-

perfection. Reaching to smooth my tights,

he touched my thigh, said, You're


getting fat. Silent, I turned from the barre,

stuck a pin in him once, then again until

he began to shrivel, until he popped.


Limping past pools of hot blue light,

I found a girl-child hunkered

in the wings, arranging animals from


Noah's Ark. She was hanging them

from a broomstick two by two, suspending

each pair by their necks with silver wire.


A frayed tutu jutted below her belly,

and her laddered tights sagged at the knee.

Looking up, she arched her back


and picking a scab from her elbow

asked why I had popped my balloon.



They are beautiful, she tells him. Elemental,

stripped down, pure. He'd just watched her

crawl from an Incan rock tomb

where she'd dug up

a single gray-white knuckle,

to tuck in the pack that holds beak and

legbone of an albatross.


At home, she has sea lion scapulae

from Baja, ribs of deer and boar,

camel vertebrae from Petra.

She tells him of immigration in Amman

when she was held until agents

found them in her bag and,

laughing maniacally, waved her through.


She describes watching bones roil

in the La Brea Tar Pits,

of seeing them entombed in blue-white

glacial ice, of how - after the accident -

she touched the uncanny whiteness

of her son's skull.


First, as storyteller, she relates these things.

Then looking away, she says,

They are props for my ghost dance.

They exorcise images of

our flesh deserting our bones.



They dive and fluke their way down

where coral burgeons

and a moray eel jabs his head

toward caverns that phosphoresce

blinking crevices to unreality.

And water undulates

without intent until its currents

draw them through stippled tunnels, mazes

where angelfish and Moorish idol nudge them

as they plunge, swerve, tangled ribbons of hair fanning,

never pausing, pulling, thrusting,

a mystery of the unrehearsed,

their scales: stars in pooled darkness

dimming as they descend,

their hands seining water,

breasts canting outward as they stroke

exhaling bubbled strands,

singing to dolphin and humpback.

Oh, don't forget us,

best beloveds, for we can still breathe songs

and, though sheathed, can love

with eyes, hands, lips, tongues, for

freedom and betrayal are in the mind,

and we may be myths men fashioned,

but the eel will snap his jaw,

acknowledge our sway.

His force knows force and makes no other claims,

aware we've left our abalone mirrors and combs

within reach of the rising tide.



On a Perseid night in mid-August,

spines of liquid silver, ancient dust, a comet trail,

air steeped in fumes of white azalea,


a rustle of footsteps: vole and fox, rabbit and bobcat.

Leaf-wrapped, mud-daubed, our raven hair

loose and crackling, we unleash voices into the air.


Lend us hot blood.

Lend us the sweet-gold of bees and a hint of sting.

Lend us rills of darkness and rivers of light.

Give us the gift of weightless song.


Then we circle a maypole of dew-blossomed vines,

dig soles into forest duff, and weave

furious spells to staunch the summer's flow.

Copyright © by Susan Terris. All rights reserved.

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