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“Cosmic Nursery,” by Isabel LeMay

Issue 97, Summer 2017

Four Poems

Ecce Homo, He Says, And I Do


I behold the man chosen—philtrum bristled, 
his lip a pink bruise among beard spokes.

The underdown of parakeets nestled 
in his armpit, a soft white fury of curls.

He says I’m a better wife than I think I am.
Amorous. Loyal. And I decide to enjoy 

the rare comfort of being told I am good, 
even as I hide the handcuff key beneath 

my tongue. Hair on his chest flat but curving 
like a map of the trade winds over his belly.

My love a plummet and a plumbing, a chart 
for the nautical miles I travel away and back 

again. My love happiest like this, arresting desire
in its nascent swelling. The want lingering in 

its catalog, still sinless and waiting, weighing, 
letting imagination tax the body. His knuckles

scarred by the beaks of macaws displeased 
at his sweet thieving, splinters in his fingers

from carrying someone else’s dream into 
the wilderness. One nipple turns in on itself, 

the other bitten and unpuckered. The ghost-hoof 
arched on his chest like a door to heaven 

I could open with a charm, a kiss, a word, 
and with a tongue, pull the radiance through.

If That Diamond Ring Don’t Shine

Well then, rubies or topaz or a star sapphire
gleaming from a witch’s middle finger,

but not the finger itself, which I will hide,
just the gem and the gold it glimmers from.

And if that pulls you from your doze,
then Brahms, or its sequel with a bigger 

budget and computer-generated roses.
If not milk, patience. And if not patience,

we’ll hunt the mockingbird and all his known
aliases. If not the shepherd’s roll call of onesheep,

twosheep, three, then we’ll listen to the secular gossip
of cicadas, who really only have one rumor anyway. 

If not the documentary on the nocturnal habits 
of Serengeti predators, then the bonus footage.

If nannied by stars and nursed by the moon, 
then dreams that don’t know your middle kingdom, 

your vowel dominion, your stage-one REM cycle,
your hypnic myoclonia, your stir and hush and cry.

If That Mockingbird Don’t Sing

I’ll find you a bird with more admirable passions
and a syrinx made for nocturnes. And if its voice

can’t soothe you, I’ll find one of Sandman’s disciples
in the foxglove. And if she offers to cast you 

as King Arthur if only you’ll audition in nothing
but chamomile and a sword, say yes—it’s best

to stay on a dream-bringer’s good side.
If all she offers you is eternal sleep, say no,

but pocket the pill. God’s only going to rapture
eleven souls, and sleep will be hard to find 

after that. But who needs the ineffable when 
you have sleep and the easy symbols of its gods?

And if dreams don’t come to you with loose teeth
and shipwrecks and pirates in bikinis, I’ll give you

a hand on your back and call your name, take you
from the dream against your will and I will give

you the portrait of a nightingale grieving like
a gardener in winter. I’ll give you a local god

and his raucous allegory. I’ll diagram the moral
calculus of the fable and edit towards safety. 

Beware the wolf always, but trust the witch
and the sugar-crash, the star-lore and wind

that shadows your cheeks with your lashes,
let the night swallow you whole again.

Lullaby at 102°

Let the moth muster some enthusiasm
for the streetlight. Let the tap run cold.
Let the laundry lie limp on the line. Let indigo 
bruise the hillside. Let dust-stung and withered. 
Let wind be the reason. Let July. Let clouds marshal 
over the stars. Let the night be good.

Let the dreams be merciful and full of snow. 
Let rain. Let rain. Let the lilies close if they can. 

And let thunder arrive with rattles and drums
and aspens lashing the windows. Let lightning 

find the tallest spear of grass. The fire that burns
the sheets casts such easy and welcoming light.

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Traci Brimhall

Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins and Rookery. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship and is an assistant professor of creative writing at Kansas State University. Her forthcoming collection, Saudade, will be published by Copper Canyon in November 2017.