Lent 14: August

This is my littlest sister’s favourite poem, by Esta Spalding. I can see why, there’s lots to it.

I found this on a forum, she found it in Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, you can also find it in Anchoress.

She says she worries about sharing it with people due to its length, but then struggles to share mere extracts because it’s all so good. So, here it all is:


Skin-tight with longing, like dangerous girls,
the tomatoes reel, drunk
from the vine.

The corn, its secret ears
studded like microphones, transmits August
across the field: paranoid crickets, the noise of snakes
between stalks, peeling themselves from

I am burdened as the sky,
clouds, upset buckets pour
their varnish onto earth.

Last year you asked if I was
faint because of the blood. The tomatoes
bristled in their improbable skins,


This is one way to say it.
The girl gone, you left.

& this another.
Last year in August I hung
my head between my knees, looked up
flirting with atmosphere
but you were here
& the sky had no gravity.
Now love falls from me,
walls from a besieged city.
When I move the mountains shrug off
skin, horizon shudders, I wear the moon
a cowbell,

My symptom:
the earth’s
constant rotation.


On the surface the sea argues.
The tide pulls water like a cloth
from the table, beached boats, dishes
left standing. Without apology
nature abandons us.
Returns, promiscuous, & slides between
sheets, unspooling the length
of our bodies.

Black wild rabbits beside the lighthouse
at Letite. They disappear before
I am certain I’ve seen them.
Have they learned this from you?


I read the journal of the boy who starved
to death on the other side of a river
under trees grown so old he would not feed them
to a signal fire. His last entry:
August 12 Beautiful Blueberries!

Everything I say about desire or
hunger is only lip service
in the face of it.

Still there were days I know
your mouth gave that last taste of blue.


When you said you were
I pictured a tree;
spring, the green
nippled buds

not the fall
when we are banished
from the garden


Another woman fell
in love with the sea,
land kissed by salt, the skin
at the neck a tidal zone, she rowed
against the escaping tide
fighting to stay afloat.

To find the sea she had to turn her back to it,

The sea is a wound
& in loving it
she learned to love what goes missing.


Once the raspberries grew
into our room, swollen as the
brains of insects, I dreamt a
wedding. We could not find our
way up the twisted ramp, out from under
ground, my hair earth-damp.

I woke. A raspberry bush clung to us
sticky as the toes of frogs.
A warning: you carried betrayal
like a mantis
folded to your chest — legs, wings, tongue
would open, knife
the leaves above us.


If I could step into
your skin, my fingers
into your fingers putting on
gloves, my legs, your legs,
a snake zipping
up. If I could look
out of your tired eyeholes
brain of my brain,
I might know
why we failed.
(Once we thought the same
thoughts, felt the same things.)

A heavy cloak, I wear
you, an old black wing
I can’t shrug off.

O heart of my heart,
come home. O flesh,
come to me before
the worm, before earth
ate the girl,
before you left without


You said, there are women
I know whose presence
changes the quality of air.

I am not one of those. The leaves
lift & sigh, the river
keeps saying the unsayable things.
I hesitate to prod the corn from the coals
though I have soaked it in Arctic water.
I stop the knife near the tomato
skin, all summer coiled there.
You are not coming back.

One step is closer
to the fire.

September will fall
with twilight’s metal,
                                   loose change
from a pocket. Quicker than
an oar can fight water,
I will look up from my feet
catch the leaves red-handed
embracing smoke.

Around me, lost things gather
for an instant
in earth-dark air.

See the intro/roundup.

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One Response to Lent 14: August

  1. Pingback: 40 Poems of Lent: an introduction & roundup | impeus.com

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