Marthe Reed: Three poems from 'Nights Reading'

[Scheduled for publication September 1 by Lavender Ink in New Orleans: a major coming forth]




Though the reasonable man does not have doubts, the condition of woman is
perhaps less certain. A question of where


A box of pens, a wooden bowl, desk littered in open books: the uncertain truth of


Light penetrates the shadow of night jade. A hawk rending the black-flecked back
of a bear. Can we rely on our senses?


A prescription of dialogue. Such talk gets it’s meaning from the correspondence
between doubt and longing


Explanations signal: a book of fables, illustrated herbals. The interchangeable
nature of service and servitude demands precision, the roots, red and potent as
the flowers 


Scheherazade’s inventions. She prepares a tisane of chamomile, dried quince
flowers. Though it is not a matter of seeing


An open field, a page of writing. To confirm an hypothesis, again and again  


Does she have a body? Married to interrogation, herself predicated on the
firmness of flesh, her teeth tearing through it, the sweetness of its juice


A place she enters into



At the feet of the king, her body “less and worse than nothing”


She incites the space around her


Blue walls of the bedchamber border the chronicle she narrates


Fragment and calyx: he takes her to bed




In response to such bluntness, we must enter by force of imagination. The heart
of the rose opens


Like wine poured from a silver ewer


Dizzy with delight, we wonder, what was she saying?


Threaded texts of the loom lining a room, master and slave abandon their
accustomed roles. In a certain sense invisible


Her finger traces the circumference of his eyes, his lips, curve of an ear


Whispers, like a muezzin’s blessings. He will not


Woman and scheming inseparable


Narratives bend upon themselves, refusing source and closure




No teleology, “A cup of wine, oh beloved?”  He cannot answer, his grief
manufactured and reproducible


She dips her fingers into the cup. “I shall tell you a story”


The immodest splendor in which she subsists. Beneath such petals he does not,
or cannot, speak


A tailor, a hunchback, a bite of fish, a cunning wife. Displacing the traumatic
thing, night jasmine enters through an open window. He can no longer control
the foci of his attention


Still he is caught, neither inscribed nor spoken. Yet




Dawn rescinds night’s license. Another code, another bed, proposing temporary


If he must have her, what will she do with him?


A jew, a muslim, a christian, a king, the possibilities apparently endless. The
thirteen versions, each verse more fantastic than the last


Language nourishes a lack for which it is the only recourse 


What will happen this time? You never can tell. Let’s see how it begins.
‒ Italo Calvino

a disclosure, silk’s transparency

how can he contain himself


though the invitation into the text is conditional

curiously preemptive


the king and his bride in the dark

manipulating continuity


more elaborate and more ornamented

inducing a state of disequilibrium


her leitmotif

she reappears


tarot cards: Calvino unable to begin

she unable to stop


her jeweled bodice

her flowing trousers


Ars combinatoria

or thematic rubrics


her laughter adduces a lyric analog

four notes of a descending scale


coherence a matter of repetition

waves growing and retreating


then Allegro molto

no obvious point of arrival

her true genius


deftly tying everything together

will you write this down?


a jest

yet in the pas de deux, he ravishes her


calligraphy haunting the text

the delicacy of her limbs


the probability of his embrace

a woman in possession of her head



plays upon your memory


“eager to know”

she swoons expectantly


“what comes next”

an arbitrary convenience


that much we were certain of

absent from both the frame and the framed


not a narrative

an occasion :: gravitas and ego 


what music, what frame?

her Shariyar


subdued and tormented, into the interstices

“you turn the book over in your hand”


gesturing at certainty

themes and variation


beyond doubt an oriental narrative

her stern husband
:: an ordered repetition

[NOTE.  Of the preceding poems & of the work as a whole, by way of a poetics: “Engagements with the Thousand and One Nights, gender, narration, and Sir Richard Burton, as well as other writers’ takes on the story-cycle, the collection is marriage of several impulses, coalescing upon the nature of narrative and Scheherazade as narrator.  The original story cycle posits Scheherazade as redeemer of not only herself and her sister virgins of the kingdom, but of just rule and King Shariyar’s humanity; the poems explore tropes of gender and of the seemingly powerless (women, slaves, blacks) to erode and challenge the status quo.”  Scheduled for publication later this year by Lavender Ink.]