Ellen McGrath Smith

I need a smaller garden,
          not these overbearing orchards;
I need to stop the blossoms,
          but a single speck of water
humiliates the paper.

Father's leather purse contains
          the bullock's grunting still.
The cow's compliance fogs the glass
of her immense, unhappy eyes.

The silver coins that used to be
          the chatter of my sisters
—spent. No clatter sparks
          the lint of ancient air
that keeps them pure and ageless
                       in the convent.
Take me there.

The cook prepares the hen
          I'll watch my father eat today:
the carnal smacks
          the bullock makes
against the heifer's ruched behind.
          One pea on one tine
of my fork
is enough.

To make
          myself thinner, I pray
down the slates of our roof
          one by one. I summon another
delirium, swim the thin vein
to my room,
          where the garden begins,

where I'm shuttered away
          from sweat-marbled milk.
I will twist on the stem
of my spine
to meet some other sun
          than the one that splashes
the hay near the hooves.

Somebody stretch me in every direction
          until I am holy
and flat as a tray, as the bluet I found
          in my family's bible,
its whispering pages my sisters at dawn
          on their way to the chapel.

Nowhere in the book
          does it say I must eat.
I will sleep in cold midnight,
          inviting God's fever,
the stem of me wending.
          My eyes will not die.
The corolla is monstrance: Believe me.

Ellen McGrath Smith teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. Her poetry has appeared in The New York Times, The American Poetry Review, Talking Writing, Los Angeles Review, and other journals and anthologies. Books include Scatter, Feed (Seven Kitchens 2014) and Nobody's Jackknife (West End Press 2015).

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