Jude Dillon Presents: Leslie McGrath
Up, up the steep road to San Gimignano, through high-walled
protection from pestilence, plague, and less lethal enemies
in the darker centuries, we passed up the Museum of Torture
for the small church where a quattrocento artist
had frescoed his revenge in the faces of the damned.
There, the local cleric garroted by the snouty demons
of Avarice. There, the louche blonde of Lust
rumored to have been his neighbor, beset
by something like an elephant’s trunk. Here, the gluttons
in a forced eternal debauch of wine,
dimpled biscuits and a platter of fowl, squeezed
against the table by their green-winged hosts,
not so different from the dank piazza
where we lunched for the second time that day
(tripe sandwiches and a good vernaccia.)
Of the seven deadlies, a few I’d sit in a jail cell for
but Gluttony’s the one I’d go to Hell for.
The Obstetrician’s Wife
I often wonder on Sunday mornings
if the vacuum’s whine grates on you, my late sleeper,
my better half, physician, healer
who works the hose of a similar machine
in your green-walled office where the stiff paper’s
pulled over the exam chair after each luckless one
leaves a cleft heart of sweat for her ten minutes there.
I wonder if, at the end of the day, once
your assistant places the remainders in the canister
marked medical waste, you ever look inside and see
among the clots and sponges a blunted valentine
that could almost be a fist. Darling, if your chest
clenches at the memory of the day we crossed
through the February fields of two states
for my illegal scrape, remember this:
we did what we felt was right; we’ve borne its cost
with childlessness, and every year
we measure our loss.
This Mirror Mine
How did I come to feel nothing
satisfies more than introspection?
Early I learned to cast nature
as simply costume, prop, prompt.
As a child, I thought the moon
followed me like a spotlight—
everywhere I was: illuminated;
everywhere I wasn’t: inconsequential.
Nothing’s challenged this perception;
the world’s a vivid distillate of self.
Look: this drop, this puddle, this sea
a mirror. This mirror mine.
The arc of my intention curves upon itself
like a nautilus shell; its direction—
ever inward-turning—my gesture,
that of my generation, that of my time.
The Aspiring Bride
~for Pippa Bacca (1975-2008)
A white-gloved thumb
thrust at the
you stood pigeon-toed
in white hose
and heels, a bride
holding a sign
by a lace veil
your way down
the Middle East’s
in the name of peace
but it was
a closer fury
that laid you
in a bride-bed
of dust and crimson
taken by the stranger
yoked to you.
Note: Pippa Bacca was a young Italian performance artist who planned to hitchhike through the Middle East in a wedding dress to promote world peace. She was raped and murdered in Turkey three weeks into her trip by a man who offered her a ride.
The misremembered phrase, unthorough erasure
The accidental wound, the healing itch
Must all the world’s undoings
be met with mending?
The stain, the stitch
An algebra of ironies–
error, fracture, and forgetting
move us closer to the sacred
than does the fix
He’d snuffle me like a puppy when I got home,
lick the sugar from my arms and neck
till I showered the bakery off with jasmine foam.
In our refuge of mattress and crumbling plaster, the sun
played a silent aria over the lath, and he’d picnic
on my sweet muscat, I on his Damson plum.
Afterward, the slow goodbye:
his hand atop the table of my hip, slipping
as his breathing eased, uncoupling from mine.
His sex, still reddened, hung
heavy-satisfied, while I lay widening, widening
as wine stains cloth when the revelry’s done.
Little Love Song Cycle
I. Little Beckon Song
Come to me stripped of all
you’ve spent a lifetime collecting.
Come to me with nothing
but the voice you use for thought.
II. Little Apostasy Song
Spring is come, tra-
it-o-rous spring! Sweet spongy air
just right for turning what’s inside
out. That sewage running fierce
toward the storm drain? Don’t look at it
and it won’t see you.
*pop* All the rut-rut boys
merged into one green-eyed
dreamboat; let my words in
the eyes, not the ears.
Caught in the retinal mitt
there’s a better chance they’ll settle in
settle in settle in
I said in, not down.
III. Petit Mort Song
rolling over water
IV. Little Go Song
on the lips, said go-
V. Little End Song
After spendthrift heat
and blue flame, after
after it has ridden
on undistinguished winds—
love takes its place
Bio: Leslie McGrath’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Alimentum, Beloit Poetry Journal, Black Warrior Review, Connecticut Review, DIAGRAM, Poetry Ireland, Nimrod, and elsewhere. Her literary interviews have appeared in The Writers Chronicle and on public radio. Winner of the 2004 Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, her chapbook, Toward Anguish, won the 2007 Philbrick Poetry Award. McGrath has edited (with Ravi Shankar) Reetika Vazirani’s posthumous poetry collection Radha Says, forthcoming in 2010. McGrath’s first collection of poetry Opulent Hunger, Opulent Rage, won the 2009 Main Street Rag Poetry Book award and is also forthcoming. She is both managing editor and nonfiction editor of Drunken Boat online journal of the arts.
*Photo Credit: Dia Lacina