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If you what

If you what POEMS BY

Melissa Goodrich FOURTH & VERSE BOOKS

© Melissa Goodrich 2012 All rights reserved Fourth and Verse Books 312 North Geneva Street Ithaca, New York, 14850 Printed in the United States of America Designed by Matthew Ritger Grateful acknowledgement is made to the Academy of American Poets Prize, awarded for the poems “Rattles,” “Two Directions,” and “Watch Stopped Sort of Prophetically on a Plane” in May of 2012. In addition,“On Lonely & Letting it” received the University of Arizona Foundation Award in 2012. Fourth and Verse Books would like to thank the support of Cornell University and the Cornell Council for the Arts. The text of this chapbook is set in Garamond.


If you what

BELOW He topples off the swing and sees the sky through the split back his back in a melodrama of seeing is splitting. The trees repel with bronze, late evening and a rumor of red leaves pedaling through the yard. Frost making fists around the fence and fuck it, this hurts, the back on the real cold ground. He is feeling rounded like dark soft lead, vivid as silhouettes, he will lie here awhile. He will not be dead. He hooks his heart into an ‘r’ and hangs it on a rack, it means it means nothing! the yard is salt grass and what is the point. He will carry his footprints over a grave of old loves dead as an iron seized with heat. Welcome to your body! a free thing set in a window the stressed glass holds, a mark over a vowel when we were buried mouth first as though tugged neck and throat by love into the ground.


VERSUS things I am against include shaving sex worn thin nude nylons I am against interruption against twenty or more days of rain feeling ordinary a winter flat and snowless and beauty marking only certain trees the plane circling the airport I’m against floors so high the elevator pops your ears against snatches being snatched I am for the same song for washcloths on faces cutting red peppers I am for red winter collections ordinary hips the slender wand of beauty revolving and revolving doors full of ghosts


RATTLES It’s not a gun in the mouth but a doorknob, try turning it. The boot cares. The booze, the bricks, each coin of autumn flipping over cares. Hey electric fence, hey wire and stumpy calf stuck in it. And the other calf stomping by. It is a sad, stalled parade and already the wire is unalarmed, already unconscious. The rocker doesn’t click; it cocks. The colonnade doesn’t tip and you don’t turn. I am revising this dream your lids depressed like cheesecloth. It goes: every grate you fall through every grateful fall


black as space drops a boy

& dogs under the deck down howling : paw in the mouth, hard pack

thin & froze on the clatter of the deck

as a wet dream a bird black as space drops : a boy

of glue, god cinching, uncinching the universe : worm from shell & sleek

in the thin froze telescope & the stars dots

the hand you get your scent (like a bird) on : a boy


wailing a trumpet a bullet


as sketching a van gogh in snow

bogus as blinking out your tears, as god

in the blacktop when the road’s repaired

bogus as snowing sideways as the madonna

of snow, hard melting a kiss-cold collarbone : a boy

When coyotes almost die crawl across the river (empty as a bed but why). She says

Her mind a cursive ‘l,’ her mouth a cursive.

Her mind is an unlocked.

She says what are we doing under this tree, where are the feathers.

Birds legs electricity jolts through easy as rivers. She says when coyotes.

She tells me that birds perched black roses, birds perched on powerlines,

The slots in the sky are birdcages, or


I nod. If you what.

The land, it’s short. She says If I.


Land is uncertain because sometimes the ocean it gobbles and sometimes

And I lean. I am not sure where she’ll land or

Dress the windows in. She says it is very.

IN THE CHAPEL MADE OF HANDS in our car, in our hair, unharolded in the first place : we’re trip-wire feeling & the leg is a peacock feather & the heart a peacock, pumping large & clear through the dress, tripped red-alarm as the bird bails all its feathers, burst-red, red as feet tripped over the landing – glass shattered pitcher, the handle held. & you lower-lip red, & you reclined & sheer as— wine-stained & dream of as— chapeled as— somehow autumn under the snow as—


TWO DIRECTIONS To me ache’s a weather, not the dream of clouds swimming but the weather itself—high, mobile, full of rain. The stretched sky and, almost reliant on it, the bent neck, the cramp of contagion, the cracking dream. A monsoon in the meridian. I was a glad girl in a dream on her kayak in the mountains. Always the first question is How far down? Nepal probably along the Himalayas themselves where the bus takes one to see the snow and then there’s a place to eat it at the end of the tour where the bus turns around at a squeezed space between two mountains. A dream of what?


on our stomachs & stitches

from them to us, rolled

those are owls, those are ours, feathers god takes & glues

cones, that’s the ditch & the damaged car, the ovals our insistent heads—

in plastic & laid in ice, those are helicopters, headlights, orange

those are our guts, rolled

down the hill all everlasting, into the road where the cars run us down.


rolled white-blond in the snow

strapped to rockets & god


through a city he didn’t even know, fast as rockets & god

like the green necks of peacocks, rolled

like sex & ta-da, here i am, rolled

subsided, after he settled his weigh-nothing heart in my sled, rolled

to death down white hills, glory & glory & i

white-blond, rolled

god stitches with onion-white thread, rolled

(As though there were a time we weren’t shot to pieces)

—it was almost chased, it was almost killed)

(are you alive?)

(As though I were a coyote hungry for a tiny deer because—

(I’m the coyote)

(As though you were a tiny deer lost in the desert & about to be eaten by a coyote)

(As though you were a tiny deer bent over a pool filled with hail, your tongue getting cold, your hooves wet & glued)

Dear hart (as though you were a tiny deer),


(As though there were rungs)

(As though there were a ladder)

(As though clearheaded & loving, I eat you, you climb)


(As though there were a real howl thrown up for decoration)

YELLOW A girl in yellow scales the mountain and reaches the rim, flat and flowerless. Her dress billows weather and boots and errorless opening while below it’s barkless, there are no dogs, and below bunkers stones under snow like lips sheathing teeth. She throws her arms apart, back bending prayer, affixed as a signature to a document. I mean asphyxiation, the world choking white. There is that series of circles, theatre of animals and pain and the rose -touched sun. She looks up and sees for the first time the glass. It has been all her life a cube of ice in the oatmeal bowl, trained on what is essence, oxygen, what it means to melt. She presses her hands against


the edge of the orb. It is concave. I mean a cave, bare or a bird blossoming eggs. There is enough uncertainty. Is the human heart located, and what is so special.


THE GIFT HORSE How do you know its nonperishable? Maybe the point is to perish. Then I can skin it. And divorced from the body make mittens from the bones make pistils, even flowers needing and needling the pistols loaded as a body is loaded with bones. All the kings horses gone clear over the call of the cliff braying like ellipsis like the breadth between each pedal of the piano like the peeled petal of your mouth strained with fruit I may or may not pick. I’ve gone away. I’m going to leave behind the birds and crumbs together and you can watch the fairy of my feet steeped in the disappearing. I’m going anywhere out, anywhere not romped in white, not sterilized and glittering, I’ll abandon the car on the edge of the road because what I need are the headlights staring straight blind. Here 16

are my things all allocated, a portion of me trotting off, and the horse pawing the prepubescence out of the hay, for the barn holds the horse in its mouth as the horse holds in his what is not snow, nor any arranged bouquet.


ON LONELY & LETTING IT Is he dead? Is she dead? The horse carries the mule in a cart to get from there to there, a hard thing to undo, not just dying dying but the little deaths one suffers, to put your heart in a blender and push purée, push Paris. The horse and mule are sort of cooperating. Inch past the cut of brush reaching for the root or the neck or the illusion of the land falling altogether away. These are some metaphors: the land for a body, the land for a man buried in it. Or, I think of him as dead because there are no more telephone calls and no more answering them, when he’s somewhere in Virginia probably being miserable inside some coat which stinks, which he hangs on a hook at night and removes from the hook in the morning. The land beneath him is mostly concrete, sidewalks ruined by the shouldering up of trees he walks right over they stand right there. If she is dead than I am in a great deal of trouble, because the ‘she’ in this sequence is ‘I,’ and the ‘I’ in this sequence lives. Why do people waste away? On the way to death, place telephone calls. Drop a call like off cliffs, die twice, from this or that place. Go away. Become bones in leather loungers. Lock your eyes in their lids like air in bread. Process unsoftening. Go ‘away’ in the way of geese ticking away winter. ‘Go away’ by a long distance or interval, be far, be Virginia, snatch a celery stalk from the fridge before it goes limp, chew loudly from the door, still be hungry. What’s the point of forgetting if it’s followed by dying? I mean, what’s the point of remembering? What’s the point of breakfast? The boyfriend handed her a list of things to change about herself and one of them was her memory – weak like weak tea – and here’s a PDF about memory, and here’s a pen and pad for when we have telephone calls and I do not feel like repeating myself. Here is what I am saying and I am saying it once. I want you to write it down so that we 18

don’t have to deal with how you sometimes don’t remember. Being tired is not an excuse. This is love. This is the most important job you have. What the hell do you think you were doing? I am thinking of you as the tomatoes come on, ripe and blind to boot. I am thinking of everyone pressing the earth with their little bodies swoll and tired. I am doing hope, forty degrees, finding roads that will carry you down to where the temperature makes mud ground. I think I was quietly whole. I think the trick is still some feather, this life having fallen, this dander off some ghost. Have I ever vomited love or coughed up blame? Is anything wrong with my mind? So the horse gets loose and goes running – a stampede of one, and the fence is looking frightened, open, unlocked it’s mouth and swinging the gate like a tongue. There goes the horse. What is wrong with it, that it could be so still inside it, trot itself a square, and loose and lose and lose it are all so close together.


THERE’S THE HAPPY SEX PART AND THEN THERE’S THE WAITING FOR IT TO END I. I cross some bridge and Robert Lowell dies there alabaster. Gleaming, his mouth a leaping dove. And I don’t know where to stand. The grass is all bickered, Lowell’s face-down in it (lols). We are three, me and both feet, hiked in the mothermint. Which is a kind of plant, a kind of receding into do-this-or-no-I-meandon’t, a kind of scolding flower with crossed roots and a winced face twisted up in a bun. There are like thousands. The word I would use for this hill is ‘accrue.’ Here are many collected things. Certain white weeds puffing telegraphs : a message for here and here and blown. Once I tried to write a word in dandelion seed on a hill, I thought, next spring we’d see my name in yellow blossom. II. Not at all what my family was like since my family was like blackbirds squatting unhappily in twos. Powerlines and inching and crimped feet. Staring. Sitting stared at. Waiting to be braided, to be in an orange chair, to not knock over things with one’s foot, the beer so hoping to stain the carpet and the smell as we hurry to sop, taking the socks from our feet. To sit an awfully long time together. To change like a genius does twice.


WATCH STOPPED SORT OF PROPHETICALLY ON THE PLANE that’s what happens when they feed you a lot of wine. and one shrimp. myth, as it starts to stir, the low-ceiling sky you can’t fly through, nor the fog snuffing the wheels, the wings, the engines resetting to 0 like a rotary phone. very animal the way it’s crouched beside us, very animal the way water sobs to boil the lobster, the sob of the shell coming off. the shell of us is still on the tarmac so long it could be Christmas, even the airport is a dove disappearing into the silk sleeve, kiss into the cuff. and you’re sore. you’re wounded for feathers, you’re wildflowers in the chest, each wrinkled winter you bow into the bill of your cap,


collecting your thoughts. practicing this politer version of yourself, each arrow sheathed, even the bouquet of flowers you carry blooms down.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR An MFA candidate at the University of Arizona, Melissa Goodrich writes, teaches, and sips lemonade in the heady heart of Tucson. Her poems have received the Academy of American Poets Prize, the University of Arizona Foundation Award, and the Juliet Gibson Memorial Award. She also writes fiction. Go figure.



Established in 2012 by four students in the poetry MFA program at Cornell University, 4th & Verse Books is a publishing collaborative that prioritizes the creative process. For more information about our project and our annual Chapbook Prize, please visit

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A poetry chapbook by Melissa Goodrich


A poetry chapbook by Melissa Goodrich