August 2010

Maudelle Driskell


This marks an author's first online publication Maudelle Driskell, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, holds an M.F.A. in poetry from Warren Wilson College. She is the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Fellowship, awarded by Poetry magazine and the Modern Language Association. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Kenyon Review, CAIRN, New Orleans Review, All Shook Up, and The Made Thing.

Fourteen Days    

1.  Knot

When I raise my right arm, tension—
something connected where it should not be—
gum between sole and sidewalk.
It does not ease with stretches.
When I probe with my fingers and find the node,
it sounds an internal bass note. I hear it
and the house hums in the background
and the neighbor is blowing leaves in the yard
and the clink of the poorly loaded dishwasher
stutters before finding its cadence once more.

2.  Wish

And so the little wooden dog came to life. It chased sticks through the verge,
quick and smooth on its wooden wheels. But when the boy pulled it home

with the knotted cotton string, the little wooden dog would not eat.
It would not drink. It only rolled around and around

the braided oval kitchen rug with two wheels on the rug
and two wheels on the tile. Soon the wheels began to squeak

and the wood turned rough and gray and the little wooden dog trembled
as if rolling through the tumult of a great storm. So the boy returned

to his knot of wishes and rubbed the smooth head until it was warm.
He wanted to fix this, to clarify his wish to bring contentment

to the little wooden dog so it could roll once more on the verge.
But still the little wooden dog worried the braided rug.

Then it tipped over, rattled once, and was still.

3.  Depth

What can you tell about a bruise just looking at it,
at the darkening blood stopped in its rotation?  
For depth or severity, you need to know
when it happened, how it happened,
how long the color deepened,
how long blood spread beneath the skin,
how long the tissue absorbed the blow.  

4.  The Day Possum Died

The day possum died, we did nothing.
We did nothing because possum had died this way before.
Twice before. This is where the waiting comes in.
Old pos could snap into a coma over anything.
Once, the theme song from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,
its crescendo did possum in. I imagine it was the whistling,
the mother of all hawks descending upon him. And once,
my father, clapping his hands sharply over a Gator fumble.
When he actually died, he died in the Browning box that was his bedroom.
My mother made us wait three days to bury him.

5.  The Things I Can Do

At 44 and fat I can walk into a field alone and clear it.
If I dropped half-way from heat stroke, I would wake
and continue until it was finished. I have a talent
for ignoring pain; bleeding blisters, torn muscles,
broken bones in my foot. I can push through the hedgerows.

But these things are different. How did these matters of the body
move inside to wake my chest and enter imagination? And what
of it, what of the moth-dusting of wings, the things
the mind tends for the heart. How have they been enlivened?

If you took a bat to me, or hammer, I would not cry
for the bruises or the stitches. What hurts is your will,
your will to swing away.

6.  Cutting the Hay

As I move down the field, the hawks ride my right shoulder,
then dive and feed when the tractor
flushes the rabbits from their warrens, the rats from their runs.
A few dash through the uncut field into the woods.
Some freeze, at the thundering, the tremble, the roar:
these the blades mist into the drying piles.
Others dart into the open; into the eyes of the hawks.  
So the ones that brave the clearing, that choose
sun over shade, are taken quickly.

7.  Imagination

After my Grandmother died, I broke a little.
I broke the swivel that shifts your eyes from inside to out.
I know because I was stuck looking inside.

I saw the people punch the time clock at Kimbrell-Stern.
The people who drain and wash the dead, not the nice ones,
the ones who do hair and make-up. The ones I saw wore plastic aprons

and went home to their wives smelling of chemicals and rot.
They drink coffee and laughed. They left my Grandmother on the table
five minutes longer than she needed to be. They left the sheet off of her.

They were rough and shoved the big hollow needle hard into her thigh
into the artery there. They turned on the pump. And I could not look away.
I could not turn outside, not even at the wake, not even for my Mother's tears.

8.  On Just Holding Steady

Just think of this moment of this one
breath, of its declension. Try snapping
a rubber band on your wrist repeatedly.
Try to raise a welt, a bruise, a blood blister. Try counting
to ten, then back down to zero, an octave
plus two, a child's slide whistle, the sound
of a carton fall. Pull out your eyebrows, eyelashes,
pubic hair, whatever is long enough for you to grasp.
Then try to think again without imagining the venom
of the box jellyfish, the only toxin
that stops your heart clenched.

9.  Flaws of the Giant Clam

The clam is large enough to hold me like a lover.

It is bright blue inside. The color of its shell, sand.

Looking down at it is like looking through a torn curtain

into the sky. The shell stays open unless light is blocked.

A fish can eat it alive as long as no shadows are cast on its heart.

10.  Closet Monster

The closet monster came first to the hospital.
I fell asleep during The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.
When I woke, someone had turned off the lights
and it was easing its way out into the room.
It was walnut-headed and clicking and swimming
free in the shadows. The clicks I can only imagine
are chitenous jaws slick as hard candy. It's always hungry.
It's impatient. It keens and rocks when others approach.
It should disappear when the lights are turned on, but it doesn't.
It becomes a wastrel thing of strings and sticks,
a secret, a fixture.

11.  How We Know Things

Digestion remained a mystery
until a duck hunting accident in 1652.
Alexis, Canadian, was blasted in the stomach by a shot-gun,
leaving part of a lung and most of his digestive tract exposed.
It took a year for the wound to heal: a fistula—
it closed, but not entirely, like a well-used ice-fishing hole.
At Fort Ticonderoga Dr. Beaumont dipped in food on a string
and documented what happened in the stomach. Zealously he recorded
his findings, even making note of the effects of temperature.
Not much was said of Alexis.  

12.  The Light the Eyes Make

On my father's sailboat in the San Blas Archipelago,
caught beneath the black bowl of a clouded sky,
I sleep on a hammock suspended between bow line
and mast. If I think slowly enough, or large enough,
I can track the Kestyll's movement on the anchor, the swaying
that will put her bow to the wind. If I try to see, try to resolve
any object on the darkness, my eyes hurt as if I have been reading
for hours. My mind is all alone in the dark.

This is where the werewolf comes from, trickster gods, tumors,
betrayals, all the rot-breathed leviathans I can raise.
I can see it crouched above me, my monster,
sea wind blowing its slaver into silver loops.
But I can't see the deck, or the cleat with its troubled figure eight.

Then, coming toward me in the sea: a dotted line of light,
light like a burning yak-butter candle, the skittery light of animal fat
on fire in a cave. Over instant coffee in broken Spanish I ask the mate.

It's either a squid or the light your eyes make.

13.  Believing

For seven years I have walked this park
and I have looked for the beavers.
My mother walked here twice and saw them.
I think of them, lodge close to the city
four blocks from the Waffle House,
surrounded by subdivisions, beavers under siege.
The park maintenance people put ten-gauge wire
around the trunks of the dogwoods.

At Easter, I walked my friend through.
Showed her the lodge, the hatched stick roof,
the one tree worked on by a woodpecker,
the place where the geese nest. "They're gone,"
she said. And so I looked, I touched the trees
where they had been, the symmetrical
grooves, the flayed wood waists: gray.
All gray. But I still look for them.

14.  Prayer

Make me stone. Fill my lungs
with earth, my stomach with water.
Make me the pit of the fruit that breaks
teeth. God, grant me not peace. Let me be
a vessel of rage, claw and fang.



Maudelle Driskell: Poetry
Copyright ©2010 The Cortland Review Issue 48The Cortland Review