It told the story of a runaway rose
that fled trellises, hedges, and the safety
of the master's shack for a life of abandon
in a town down the mountain, till the repressed
one-armed giantess packed her shears
and went to hunt. You recall the rest
only in shreds--the long travails of the giantess,
dark windy nights, a loud tavern where soldiers
bounced the blithe rose on their knees
and called it Betty. The inevitably violent end.
But what happened to that clarity of detail
you once knew? The thin book sported toothmarks
and a child's hieroglyphics, pages frayed
and smudged at the edge from too much turning.
You think the vanished facts of the story
must take their place in the continuing
erasures of your life: forgotten knowledge
and grammars, lost love, sensations and responses,
all heaped democratic in some dank
chaotic attic, with the occasional tantalizing
reminders to bait you, the way you remember,
years later, forgotten dreams at stoplights.
Or how as a child, carried drowsing from the car
by your father, you felt the prickly, solemn
pressure of a father's chest, and for the first time
felt yourself feeling, as if from a distance, and knew
you were somehow more than what was held.
Now you wonder that all you've forgotten
is already greater than what you contain,
a life conducted under skies
blunt and inexpressive as a giant's wrist.
Songs rise from the tavern to the valley
where vengeance waits, a fate shown
by the simple absence of a rowdy rose,
who at this moment carves initials in a table,
laughing, careless, as you struggle to picture
the specific, lurid end. Did the giantess
use the shears? Which arm was missing?
* * * * *
Karen Volkman is Associate Professor of poetry at the University of Montana -- Missoula. Her first book, Crash's Law, in which the above poem appears, was selected for the National Poetry Series.
Her second book, Spar, received the Iowa Poetry Prize and the 2002 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Her most recent collection, Nomina, was published by BOA Editions in Spring 2008. She has received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Society of America, the Akademie Schloss Solitude, and the Bogliasco Foundation.