Sarah Fox: From 'COMMA'

[The entire poem appears in The First Flag, forthcoming from Coffee House Press]

I Slid Out of My Mother’s Body
Of being numinous. Of drift and syringe.
Of metal atonement. Of a tube-fed
melancholy. Of post-terror karmic.
Of a certain amount of ear. Of the smog
smear around the blood hollow. Of the
ossified berry like a cave cataract. Of
my mind branched out through the fontanel,
antlering, leaves letting go of me.

I entered air a poisonous object subtracted
from a poisoned mother. Her radiance
scathes me. I'm a pharmaceutical interpolator.
My mother and I have the same (m)Other, 
man-made (m)Om. I came astride the butcher's
alchemical homologue. The butcher said,
we'll grow up on this street. We'll wear masks
to conceal our monstrous mutual disease.
He said, look at my throbbing moneybags.
I roam over a burial site, my cosmovisage, 
some myness that is not quite dead yet. 
A birth plan spilling cosmovergence.

Doll Box
Questioning began to break circuitry into the air 
between myself and the listening surround. 
At first my mouth formed only a zero
and I was mistaken by some for a doll. 
This air shielded the world from my sound, 
which was clotted and seizing, a stirring interior. 
I only want to feel myself the mother of something. 
I want, and want to redeem my fire. But a menacing 
voice perseveres, blacks out my no more logos!

 Brain Letter
One day I woke up rearranged like a sleepwalker 
misplaced upon a terrain of erotic grenades. 
Am I a manifesto? Am I cloudless, now? 
Little fuses sizzled and unfurled smoke signals
targeting thoughtpods in outerspace. 
Each grenade was a tiny twin of my own brain, 
a memory vessel: my buried fetal cunt, its plastic crust.

I began to notice the quality of song glass 
makes metabolizing. I began to fuse what was left 
of my body to this noise whose shape resembled what I knew 
of jaguars. My jaguar was a hypnotist who insinuated a paradise 
where the scalpel king remained tied-down in the wellhole. 
My jaguar opened his mouth and produced a horse for my climb. 
He pointed one way, then another. He said, Do not try 
to force your horse up slopes like this one. 
It is bad for you and For your horse. 
My jaguar, my sound, my saddle, my trance, my transgressive ascent.

Born in Prison
While everyone else goes off to war, I am confined
to a ward. Ursula — repulsive nurse — locks me in.
I'm a comma on the cot. Some soul scraps
catch air from the vent and abandon me
like strands of hair. It's January and there's snow.
The lounge TV features our Patriarch lauding
noble attacks on small, foreign targets.
He places his hand on his heart as instructed
by God. On the ward below, my daughters
in nightgowns circle the citadel, they swallow
their meds. Outside the E.R. a school bus catches
ice, then plows through the hospital windows.
Nurses toss fire back and forth. I pretend to regurgitate
their pills, but I like drugs. If only I had a fever.
My daughters engrave the names of future
children on their inner arms with slivers
of bulletproof glass; they drizzle their red
syrup, circling circling, burning foxholes
into the floor with their footpads.
Those dear girls source their own arteries
for jumping rope, and chant: “Say say oh enemy,
come disappear with me, and bring
your pharmacy, climb up my torture tree,
slide down my cutter blade, into my Seroquel,
and fade away we will, forevermoreshut the door."
"Your father runs this hospital,” said the chaplain, disrobing.

I Don't Want
what I haven't got. I don't want leprosy or seasickness
or a parasitic twin. No less flesh, no fetish, no ghostdad. 
I never wanted a penis. No subzero minddrift.
Not a pyrrhic foot. No harness. “No more babies."
No sandman or awful apple, no blue stirring 
in the dosage. I don't want a horse. “I don't want
your despicable money.” I do not want aural cathexis. 
No dragon, no morphine drip, “No more love, okay?”
I do not want: feminine rhyme. The moths. Monastic 
silence. Nurses' corners. No more masks! Or nouns.

Side Effects
We can invent language every time, one syllable after another. “Reports of pain will be believed. Controlling your pain may 
speed your recovery.” Patient K shrieks in his pen. “Not everyone's a good candidate for treatment.” He screams 
himself a new body, rough flesh disgorging from its animal stone. 
My dreams are white and in lockdown, the medicine’s lumbering 
upset. I now recall the last time I felt lithium tour my brain — 
at the speed of trees. “The only way to get an accurate 
diagnosis is to have a complete mental breakdown.”
The brain’s metallic synaesthesia whips my eyeballs. 
Patient K, verb-headed, pursues new horizons of noise. 
Consciousness is nothing special it just happens to be. 
I wake up talking in my sleep: Tears are liquefied brain.

Poetry as Magic
Offspring of my absolute desires shrivel on the lake’s 
hide while the Great Blue Heron orates windily 
from a moss cove. The cold is not absolute or abetting. 
The scarlet branchtrap's latch is merely aesthetic. 
At Flame School, they taught me how to reach into the mercury 
for more death. Or else to wade through want waves pretending 
the blades on my thighs are grass and won’t scorch me.

Raccoon midwifes the baby from the eye of the firepit, 
headfirst blooming through white ash into flame. 
Raccoon reaches in with trowel-handed forceps. 
This baby is an ambassador for all the dead babies. 
He’s char-dusted, the birth muck melded to him. Surgically,
raccoon sets the baby to cool on a pit 
rock, steals off to pick and teethe the placenta. 
I look at my baby boy on the rock.
He had been immaterial to me,
like a god, like a disease.

Little Boy Lost
St. Blake baby projects a dream onto the atmosphere
as evidence that life once flickered within him. 
The dream is a film I enter as a second mother 
through forest to clearing where I find a boy 
pulling an object from a lake. The boy uses our secret 
language to communicate that object is a postcard 
on which a morphing mouth screams. I believe the boy
is frightened, as I am frightened of the boy
and his prophetic debris. But I am his mother. 
Let us peer into the mouth together, but the mouth
is now a vase — vaguely a human face — and we understand
that in it lingers the essence of a child. The vase 
keeps changing and makes the boy laugh, now.

Im walking under some noisy trees.
The trees have panther breath and teeth
at my back. My hair seems to be on fire.
The trees hunger. They are flame-eating
panthers. I’m walking under a green cloud 
shaped like the mother of all insects. 
The cloud bulges with the sentient residue 
of history. She refuses any longer to contain it. 
The mother of all insects will soon release 
newly gestated monsters into the atmosphere. 
The panthers hiss. I’m nervous. I wonder 
what the trees will do, if it will hurt.

Poison Path
I conjure sulfur and snakespit for sacred somatic
circumnavigation: pores & orifices & dream lymph. 
My inner chambers convert poison to tonic. 
Like an egg, when pierced with milk. Or a womb —
its crimson coastline, its lunar fuss. “The earth's condition 
is receptive devotion.” I grew tired of being an ode. 
The path of medicine is a poison path. Your bitters 
are my nectar, I've grown tired of being a bruise. 
All the smitten birds call me out of my body, I'm so tired 
of being observed. “Poison” is a lie, from sea to shining sea. 
“Dominion over all things.” Censored psalters, even. 
Woman and Poison share an ancient alliance.

Skull Collector
I deliver the egg to the top of the tower.
I had disguised the egg as a skull
thrown in like all other skulls
in my cart. I'd been a skull collector;
my cart rattled with skull requiem.
The stars and the snow contrive a rhyme,

it sparkles my hair. I toss the skulls and coil
up the stairs to the top of my tower, cradling
the egg in my blouse. I reel the pain in
and the pail. I reel in a blazing fire.
My egg, its incandescence!

A deer awakens within the blue eye of the blessing.
She awakens on the pretty hills, amid flowers.
We are together and refrain from weeping.
“There is no one who regrets what we are.”
The deer presents herself to the flaming
wreck of our worst-remembered days.
She is the daughter of our transformation,
and fire releases her from the seal
of ordinary matter. Her wounds boil into eyes
watching us witness her vanishing: her meat
and movement shaved off the face of the earth.
Elsewhere her life reassembles, while we are full of her.

Inside the Deer
Inside the deer our wish for sanctification gestates.
She sleeps on the scrap side of the desert, 
and her dreams fly from her mind
as seeds that supplant and swell 
into ancestral faces peering up through the dirt.
These ancient ones multiply and flower. 

We eat them.

[NOTE &  COMMENTARY. The foregoing poem marks the arrival of a strong new voice for our continuing poetry project, concerning which Clayton Eshleman has written: “The masterpiece of this extraordinary collection (The First Flag) is a hexagonal 36 poem cycle, Comma. Sarah Fox envisions herself as a separation daemon in a birth theater. By exorcising the hordes and weevil casts of her uteral spectres and conceiving of the ‘family romance’ as mantic veins to be pumped, she achieves the denouement of becoming fully (not just physically) born. Birth as apocalyptic breakdown; the work? Imaginal punctuality.” Or Sarah Fox selbst in clarification of the vision here & in her earlier work Because Why: “The poems in the book do side with a more elliptical expression of time, in opposition to Western instincts. I think of this nonlinear approach as an organic articulation that poetry, in particular, is able to facilitate. Paul Celan: ‘I try to reproduce cuttings from the spectral analysis of things, to show them in several aspects and permeations at once.’ As I was putting the manuscript together, I wanted to focus, however ambiguously, on this idea of a journey — a subtle narrative arc — launching from the imperative form in the first poem (‘Guidebook For a Pleasant Stay’) into a territory of questioning. Questions are infinite. Edmond Jabés, in his poem The Book of Questions, writes ‘knowledge means questioning,’ and further, ‘God is a question.’ Questioning allows for negative capability. The Field Notes poems hope to ground the journey through the gestures of awak- ening they transcribe. They are sequential, but that’s mostly by coincidence. The first poem finds the speaker in a state of bewilderment, on a kind of threshold, as in a Grimm character who says 'I would like to learn shuddering. That is something I do not comprehend at all.' From there, the poems follow a course devoted to disempowering certainty and temporal concerns, permitting the 'spectral analysis' as memory, image, idea, and utterance cross-pollinate. I obviously pay homage to María Sabina (and others such as Anne Waldman), out of a sense of apprenticeship to a poetic lineage, which for me finds its roots in a words-as-medicine approach to poetry. María Sabina chanted 'I am a woman who looks into the insides of things and investigates.' The 'advance scout' could be seen as one investigating the rim of consciousness. Celan again: 'Instrange yourself, / deeper.'” The complete interview from which this is taken can be found at (J.R.)]