Thursday, February 24, 2011

Let There Be

Let there be darkness so I might sleep
beneath the dead distant stars, their slow light
navigating this leaking wreck
so I might believe in solid ground.

Let there be land at dawn so I might love
the rot and lay upon it.

Let there be.
Let there be.

Let there be some refuge there.

© Ami Mattison

Flickr photo courtesy of Libertinus

Dying Leaves

The dying leaves
                             lie in dense drifts
across the fenced space behind my home.

Summer’s last refuge, the green grass
pokes out from beneath the decomposition.
Soon, the grass blades will die like the leaves,
and winter’s glacial coat will cover
the hibernating ground.

The snow always reminds me of innocence,
while the half-alive leaves, shed from guilty trees,
is evidence of too much living.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lips Lungs Tongue


Lips, lungs, tongue.

Lips, lungs, tongue.

I’m smoking a cigarette outside the airport terminal,
when it raises its head, curls, then snakes
its way to my inner ear, settles there,
sounding soft and sanctimonious:

You make a living
from your lips,
your lungs,
and your tongue.

I hadn’t thought this thought this way before:

my lips
my lungs
my tongue.

Everything hinges on my body parts, moving,
working as involuntary gestures, or at least
the way I will them, and I’m smoking
a cigarette, outside the airport
in white, cold Michigan.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On the church steps in downtown Nashville, 2004

Listen to audio version

We put on a show.

Yelled, real loud, top-of-our-lungs rhyme
for the folks drinking five-dollar coffees
at the Starbucks across the street.

Minton suggested the church steps,
even though they didn’t say we could.
What they gonna do? Arrest us?
She shrugged one shoulder, wagged
her hand, then performed
a little ditty about war.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Bottle slung against my parched lips,
deep-throated swallow, there’s a hollow
space behind my blood-shot vision.

I’m on my knees, worshipping
a toilet where my liquid guts
get flushed like yesterday
or last month. I can’t remember.

In the hallway, I stumble, fall hard
knock my teeth against floorboards.

My naked legs splayed, my naked arms splayed,
my belly wrenches and heaves spit.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Earth Hums

The earth hums,
and scientists can’t explain it--

the high decibel keening,
a planet’s symphonic singing,
unheard by human ears but only
by delicate instruments, measuring
spherical noise.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Solipsistic Regrets for Jennifer

Me, 1990

Today's challenge from One Stop Poetry is to dust off an old poem that celebrates and begins to speak to our origins as poets. Here's my offering with a commentary that follows.


These days
I stomp on pain-staking ground
shifting beneath my feet
crumbling under my sole and you
stumble over my disturbances
and me:

      heel ball toe
I dance alone in darkness
to the beat of remembered tongues
speaking lips words unspoken downcast eyes
for fear of seeing and unseeing
a child hurt and told
not to move because
He says so.

   She sat and sits there still
a dark live thing bone in hand
pressed by a will too big to escape
the press the prod her body's surrender
to a hand feeling and unfeeling
the sun's beat against her back
her squint for turned heads
in fear of remembering hands and un-remembering
hands before they touch
un-being because
she must exist to hurt.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unspoken Word


As a child I spoke when spoken to,
learned my place as children often do

and stayed there,  
a still and silent thing, the picture
of assigned perfection, a portrait
of good-little-girl obedience, painted
by the refined strokes of the bible belt
across my back.

By adolescence, my mouth was a tight fist
where words were folded,
like my fingers to my palms,
an arsenal of unloaded weapons.

I sucked
the intentional hand, seeking to shut up my mouth
or extract words, like teeth.

I chewed my nails ragged,
swallowed the dead remains
and fed on silence to stave the threat of violence
and its dark premonitions.

Fear found fodder and took root
in the damp and toxic dump
of broken meanings, cast off words,
and useless verbs,

a heap
of what wasn’t said,

my funeral bed
of hot and smothered shame,

and every time I failed to claim
the air and muscle to speak my name,

I died another suicide.   

Death was a bad habit.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


What remains is mortared stone and the wood-framed window where I sat sighing at the colored prairie, longing for some glimpse of Elizabeth—her hat’s weathered brim telling hard times she rarely spoke of. The old Chestnut finally arrived. Only now do I dare wander that purple expanse, seeking some evidence of my poor love.

© Ami Mattison

Flash Fiction 55 for One Stop Poetry's Picture Prompt Challenge.

Photo courtesy of Sean McCormick

So Close

Listen to audio version:

Last night you balanced a cigarette between two fingers. 

Smoke wafted from its burning tip, trembled, danced and disappeared
to thin air.  You had your elbow propped on the arm of your chair.

Your wrist was bent, fragile and posed as if it might break
against the slightest force. 
     An incongruent gesture. 

The sculptural permanence of your stilled and quieted hand
with the cigarette smoke, winding, and the rest of you,

falling to pieces.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Insomniac Night

Listen to audio version:

When the insomniac night finally ends,
I am here as I have always been, watching
light break the dark horizon, trying to keep time
with some rhyme and reason.

Should I let go and abandon this dreaming?
Or dare I walk towards the dawning of a new day
measured by the sway of my uncertain movement

towards a vague destination where I might find
some tangible sign for living

like the pulse
of a lover
waiting for me there.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Break the Glass

I read old magazines and wait
thirty minutes for my name to be called
by a receptionist who tells me I’ll have to wait
another ten minutes for the doctor who finally appears
from behind the locked door.

The doctor scribbles on colored paper,
while I answer questions she asks:

What medications have you used in the past?
How long did the crisis last?
Have you ever attempted suicide?

Whether or not I tried to die
depends upon your definition.

Does refusing to bend
and taking it on the chin
amount to a death wish?

Does staying alive
when I should have died
count as a health risk?

The doctor prescribes Wellbutrin and Seroquel.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Poetry’s Lament

For Zardasht Osman


Who has died?

Not from the sharp angles of my succinct metaphors
nor the poisonous shimmering of my images.

But from the brutal blade of silver
slicing through muscle.

A copper-nickel bullet plowing its path,
piercing the pulmonary.

A white-knuckled fist wrenching
fragile flesh.

Violence is not metaphorical or lyrical.

There is no song to it,
no rhyme nor clever meter.

Only the low guttural groan of sudden
grief, then howling a keening loss.

Violence speaks its own language
babbling nonsense to the living.

Monday, February 7, 2011


I do not claim here to be either story-teller or scribe.  On the territory of dispossession, I would that I could sing.

Assia Djebar, An Algerian Calvalcade.

The hothouse orchid hangs its sickly head,
a floating, scent-less garden.
Beneath it, upon newsprint, a ladybug lies dead,
the colorful carapace, hardened and dusty.

The rusty tool in my hand will not repair
the flower or insect’s despair,
while the headline says nothing
of the mother’s howl,
                                 her grief,
for the slain child’s bowels, 
                                         strewn across the street.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Night at the Blue Granary

Flash Fiction 55 version (revised):

Stars light the Iowa canopy with possibility. The granary is blue sadness, but the thriving wildflowers bloom pink. Where else do farm wives go to be alone, except to forgotten and fallen-down places? Kisses, wet and furtive, we ache. Still, we return home to husbands. 

Original version (revised):

Hundreds of stars light up the Iowa canopy with possibility. Surrounded by fallow fields, the dilapidated granary is dark-blue sadness, but the wildflowers, thriving in the late summer heat, bloom in pinks and gold.
Girl’s night out was rowdy at the bar. The two of us danced with local men, who could have been our cousins or our cousins’ cousins, and some were, but no one cares.  Not when the beer is cheap and the men are buying and the band’s playing Cash and King.
We laughed all the way to the parking lot, but as I turned the car to head towards your house, you opened the window and said quietly, “I don’t want to go home.”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Flight Surgeon

Deployed to Afghanistan from the States, she's the only doctor for a U.S. military squadron of two hundred.

When she's not cursing the clinic hours that her squadron ignores—they drop-in at their whim for Ibuprofen and Ambien—she walks to the Egyptian hospital to scrub-in, pouring bottled water over her disinfected hands for surgery.

A boy has lost his foot to a land mine. They must amputate to just below the knee.

The Egyptian surgeon laughs good-naturedly at the way she stands by his side during surgery. She is determined to help, to get her hands bloody.

He says the word “cut” in Arabic, which she understands. She hands him a scalpel. Good, he says. Very good.

Are you more American or Korean? He asks.

Who do they distrust the most? She wonders.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Portrait: Woman


Water drips in the kitchen.

She slow-sips ice tea and inhales
deep on the butt-end of a cigarette.

Two fingertips pressed to her lips,
she sucks on slow suicide, counts
her days, square patterns on wall paper
curling and unglued at the edges.

The laundry’s undone, dishes in the sink,
the stinking trash holds scraps,
leftover from last week.

She seeks redemption from the summer heat
sticking to her skin, the sweat of dreams
melting ice cubes in her half-empty glass.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ties That Bind

two women talk and tie colored strings    knotting     unknotting the ends
bowline loop     short-end sheet bend     for unexpected complications
how to connect     one thin piece    to another secure     yet easy to undo knot?

like skilled fingers     knitting learned movements     answers
are known yet unspoken things     which is why
winding conversation is familar to me

they speak of binds     of family and mixed blood thick    
violent as ocean     continental divide     ancestral drift
and the silence
                                    one woman says
I'm tired of living all the hard stories

her past lies as slithering pieces     cut
and fallen     or hanging still from her wrists

she quits the task making frayed parts fit

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

hard scratch


it begins under your skin
where muscle meets bone

where the elbow attaches to the fist
bone where the fist bone attaches

to the jaw bone it begins under
your skin this itch like a chigger bite

begins so small but burns as you claw-cut
it open you prefer the seeping

wound to the craving that settles
deep and seeps from your veins

infiltrates your brain and burns
your skin your darkness