The Cortland Review


Stellasue Lee
An interview and poetry. J.M. Spalding talks with the poet and editor.

Bruce Canwell
Writers on Writing 1: Four Authors You Should be Reading

Stellasue Lee

Interview | Poetry





The Key, My Breast, The Moon

Here is the key to my house.
Think of it as afternoon light
poured liquid over our bodies.
What remains is a willingness
for communion
mingled with hunger,
ignited by fire,
and pounded into the shape
of a rugged trail
that leads to my door.

Until now,
there has been nothing of value kept here.
Think of this key
as the uncharted pathway to me,
then study the multifaceted leaves
of the Arroyo Willow from my bed.
See how the beveled glass allows the leaves
to spirals in the wind?
Imagine then, the leaf hairless—
without intention.

The door of my house is concave,
hollowed inward,
like the curve between my breast
and my stomach,
which allows light to pass through,
and the moon to rise from the sea
to that point just above this house.
We will relandscape—that rugged trail
leading to the door
will no longer be needed.

Let it return to its original woodland
of Interior Live Oaks,
shrubs of monkeyflowers and manzanitas—
the Great Horned owls might return.
I tell you this—
after two days and two nights
the world outside will no longer exist.
This key I hand to you
will become a band of gold.
Let it encircle your finger.

Let it weigh light on your tongue
as a communion wafer.
Here is the key—
take it.
It has always belonged to you.
Now that it has found its way back,
see how it shines,
as if new again.
Watch and it expands.
Watch, it encircles us both.




I am fifty-seven
and have not been loved until now.
The man's heart that loves me
through the wars and beatings of his dreams,
through the nightly vision of his wife
aiming an old rusted gun at her temple,
then pulling the trigger,
smiles upon waking.
We read poetry at 5 a.m.
He touches me in such a way
that every woman he's been with
I find myself indebted to.
My heart has become wide open.

My days had been used in such a way
that tomorrow held no future.
I am not supposed to be a bride
or a smokey tongued vamp,
proud of my nakedness and no regrets.
I am the mortal eyes of a small winged firefly,
aglow in the body of time.
I am the famished woman
near the center of a fine collapse
breaking myself into small defeats,
bound by gaiety of the present-day Saints.
Vulnerability is my mark in reality.
My heart has become wide open.

Sometimes the world seems so large,
I want to touch him while I can
when he turns his face to drink clear water.
Here, on this rim leading into the sea,
I've learned to understand nothing.
I've come to believe in nothing
but the purple night and his arms
holding me in sleep.
He knows the painful loudness of a tethered mind,
yet provides the beauty that can only come
from an ugly past.
That's why I want to say something astonishing
like: My heart has become wide open.




3 A.M., time alone,
an oxymoron—living alone
here in the canyon as I am,
working from here as well.
Even now I'm not entirely alone;
a truck has passed the front gate four times.
It moves slowly, with emergency lights blinking.
There is a manuscript that wants to be read,
the cats want to be feed,
the bills need to be paid,
so I get out of bed as the chimes announces 3 A.M.
and put coffee on to perk.
There are 48 books in my office
waiting for their chance to shine.
When the light goes on,
I imagine them ruffling their pages,
creating a stir.
The telephone comes to life—someone looking for Jose,
but when I say that Jose isn't here,
they call me a liar and hang up.
The phone again;
screaming this time, liar—liar—liar—liar.
The cries seem to startle the 4 o'clock chimes.
The cats go back to sleep,
the coffee has all been drunk,
the books seem to have given up,
as has the manuscript and the bills.
The street is quiet again,
however the truck I see, is now parked across the street.
I can just make out writing on the truck's side panel—
Jose, housepainter.
What amazes me is that yesterday was Easter Sunday
and I didn't know until late in the afternoon
when a neighbor called to invite me to dinner.
Maybe if I just turn out the lights
and pull the covers up under my chin,
maybe I can sleep a little—
not the deep restful sleep of the innocent,
but a few minutes here and there.
It all adds up I think,
it has to all add up to something.


more of Stellasue's work appears in Issues Three and Six


2002 The Cortland Review