Barbara J. Orton's poems have recently appeared in The Yale Review and The New Young American Poets: An Anthology (Southern Illinois University Press, 2000). Her Web chapbook, published by The Literary Review in conjunction with Web Del Sol, can be found here. She lives in Washington, DC.





Lyric

When I look at you
I look at loss; and I don't mind.
What's past is a wild spill of misery,
salt water and sharp sand.
My body wants you as an apple wants the ground.

Tell me there's no need
this foolish, or this absolute,
but it must color all the world
in its perplexity,
like a quilt thrown over sticks
thrown broken on the ground.

My body wants you as an apple wants the ground.





Renunciation

The mules chew sugar by the dry canal.
My sister's eyes are nothing like the sun.
This is my body, this is not my blood.

My sister's eyes are nothing like the sun.
She taught me madrigals and fingerspelling.
The mules chew sugar by the dry canal.

She taught me madrigals and fingerspelling,
Latin insults, vulgar schoolyard rhymes.
My sister's eyes are nothing like the sun

which alters when it alteration finds.
- I swear I'll cuff you, if you strike again.
The mules chew sugar by the dry canal.

Admit impediments. Love is not love.
She taught me madrigals and fingerspelling.
This is my body, this is not my blood

which alters when it alteration finds.
My sister's eyes are nothing like the sun.
The mules chew sugar by the dry canal.





Undoing

Like you, if I could undo
what happened between us, I would -

but slowly, lingering
on the details of my undoing:

swallowing words like plum stones
and then like plums, despair

ripening to rage and tenderness
to peak at the fresh heat of first meeting.

Say I walk into your house
swallowing salt, offering you my back,

take off my coat, strip
and scatter my clothes on the floor

while you tell me about the man you love.
I spit your coffee back into the cup.


*     *     *


After sleep I'll offer you my back,
and this time you'll take it. I'll come

staggering to the cuffs, breathing an Šther
of childhood fetish, bodily need

and sheer, astonished, voluntary pain.
Each stroke of the cane will erase

a brilliant line, forcing
the blood back under the skin.

My head starts to clear. Before each blow
I'll count backwards, swallow my thanks.


*     *     *


I know the bar where we'll end up meeting:
the plastic couch in the back room

where you'll bend me over your knee
and beat me until I feel no pain.

The last thing I'll notice, face against thigh,
is that your leathers have the smell and feel

of plastic, too - and not long after that
I'll walk away, keeping my eye on you

until you vanish from sight, and suddenly -
wholly, and forever - I forget.