THE ALPHABET CONSPIRACY: Rita Mae Reese
Three poems from The Alphabet Conspiracy follow. Enjoy.
A History of Glass
When God closes a door, we break a window.
Sorry I say to the landlord who replaces it. Sorry
I say the next morning to the neighbor who
complains about the noise. An accident. She
waits for more of an explanation. So I
start at the beginning. The history of glass is a history
of accidents. Long ago and far away: a woman, a pot, a fire.
Her lover surprises her from behind, kisses her
until the pot glows, smoke rising like a choir.
She snatches it from the hearth
& drops it on the floor covered in sand
& ash. (She is a good cook but not tidy.) Her lover
throws water on the whole mess: the sand hisses, her hand
burns. She can hardly see the hard new miracle
forming for the tears in her eyes, at her feet a new obsidian
spreads, clear & eddied. It will be 2000 years until
a tradesman molds by hand the small green & blue
glass animals (housed today on the second floor of a local
museum), & nearly 4000 before sheet glass in 1902.
(Many accidents happen during this period.) One hundred years
later the glass animals in the museum are visited by two
women: one marvels at their wholeness, except for an ear
or a nose or a paw; one does not marvel. She says, "They
survived because they're small." They stop for dinner,
mostly wine. They stumble home. Were there
eyewitnesses at that late hour when they embraced & fell?
Once inside there is a window of sheet glass & a bare
bulb burning out. In the darkness of the stairwell
they sink, dark coats spreading around them. The wind
rushes in. Remember the glass animals? They tell
a history of accidents too—of accidents waiting to happen.
My dictionary lists fourteen entries
for the verb quit, enough for a sonnet
on unrequited love. Most are rare, e.g.,
"to use one's hands effectively" or "to let
go (something held)." Whatever else they meant
(to put in quiet, set free, absolve), quit,
quite & requite all carried this sentiment:
To pay back, to return the favor. Smit-
ten, I would strike you back, if I
could. Each night in my bed we fuck & fuck.
It doesn't make you mine, or make it right.
But I won't quit. I open my hands & shut
my mouth, my stuttered houses. I'm in your debt
and can't get out. At least, not yet. Not quite.
a headword in Webster's Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary for which there is no entry
Like God, like Adam at first:
Dull, until they brought their looking-glass
Into the strange arena of the Garden
And took turns in front of her.
And then God could feel the fruit
Hitting the ground and rotting
Even as he felt it ripen. It was only
Her mouth, her teeth, which could sever
The awful link. What had He done?
And what about me? When I look in a mirror,
I see the parts of a woman; but if womanless
Can include me, then womanless like me too,
For a few months here—not in paradise of course,
But close enough—until you. Then nothing was close
Enough. With you I unearth myself and find
Not some wholesome first being latching names
Onto things nor even his supporting actress,
But a long smooth case for a reptilian heart
And an unapologetic forked tongue
Licking at the disappearing line between
What I won't do and what I will.