is the author of The Map of What Happened, winner of the 2012 Backwaters Press Prize and the Jacar Press 2014 Julie Suk prize for the best book of poetry published by an independent press in 2013. She has one other full-length collection, Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Poetry), as well as two chapbooks, Where Good Swimmers Drown, winner of the 2011 Concrete Wolf Press Chapbook Prize, and Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many literary journals, including Blackbird, Diode, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and online at Verse Daily. Susan currently curates the Bridge Poetry Series with three other poets in collaboration with the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison. You can learn more about her at www.susanelbe.com.
This is called practicing eternity.
—Tao te Ching
So what if you believe in angels,
if once you left your body
on a clear October night, if you
sit, feet numb, spine grieving,
and lose yourself in breath. So what.
You’re sunk into this muddy world
up to your hubcaps. You waltz
under its mirrored ball, delirious
as a 1940s girl in her white faille
dress and peek-toe pumps.
This bully world still has the strength
to break your heart
with all it’s street-smarts and its swagger,
its Spanish love songs
and its one and only mango moon.
You say it’s not death, but the dying,
what comes before,
but it is death—giving up that moon
none of us can bear to leave,
the Chardonnay and berries,
summer’s peonies exploding
and the alchemy of autumn,
the caught breath that demands
itself, refuses to give in.
Each day you say, start now.
Teach yourself to yield. Become
light without desiring light.
But see how you’ve failed again,
your heart attentive and engaged,
a lighthouse at the edge
of a cold and dangerous sea.
Once again the child
climbs its hundred dark stairs
and with one small smoky lantern
tries to guide the boats safely in.
First appeared in CALYX: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women (Vol. 20, No. 2, Winter 2001/2002) and in the anthology A Fierce Brightness: Twenty-Five Years of Women's Poetry (CALYX Books, Inc., November 2002)
* * * * * * * * *
Evening, russet as an old penny, drops into our open hands.
A loon cry arcs across wet air,
full of copper and fog.
Here I am, here. Another calls. Here, I am here.
Back and forth they yodel,
flipping the bright coins of their want into the fading light.
Out of the long grass, the moon, enormous, paper-white
rises and breaks tether, weightless as a summer kite.
But we want more. We want miracles,
to hang on the sleeve of heaven and witness miracles.
Deep-sea divers film a cormorant 300 feet down,
a depth where water weighs enough to crush human lungs
and Russians, drilling the Antarctic ice cap,
find Lake Vostock two miles under glacial seal,
its warm and pristine water full of million-year-old microbes.
Even these are not enough. We want myth to manifest itself
beyond our own lives, to revision our beginnings—fish
who flung themselves onto the land and walked,
the wolf who howls inside the skins we wear like gloves,
the hard idiom of stars, eternity’s declension.
We want the hollow bones of birds who fly in water
to be the flutes we've forgotten how to play,
flutes to sing us through the deep and salty dark.
First appeared in Ascent (Vol. 26, Number 3, Spring 2002)