The Poetry Project

Midsummer Day Redux

Elizabeth Willis

Midsummer day,

it’s as if you were Bernadette, great and profligate, a ruthless matching of duration. Curiosity can be almost heartless, that’s why hell has teeth. A poet doesn’t choose the mouths they enter, a word is always more than this one thing even when it’s a shield to defend her open heart. To cut or staunch a wound with a single word, to bring the end into view to taunt and refuse it, a moth so near the hand it’s a kind of breathing, taking nothing but a piece of time and now it’s gone, full stop, full sun. What has not left, how long, anyone. To be animate is not always to have preference. What’s given is hardly ever free. Even ice responds to anger or to love, the window giving up a fern on the coldest day, I don’t know if this is the hottest but it’s getting close. Sentences always thinking in extremes, the beginning and the end, the top ten, it’s almost ministerial to be so obsessed with winning.

This is where it turns, Bernadette, we’re all just trying to make it last between the zero and the one. I strike a match against the safety strip in your old kitchen on E 4th. Diamonds on the stove, the implausible luck of marketing, hunger for actual food only sharpens it. I look up the word for solstice, it’s like a knife but it’s not there and no one’s at the door when I go outside. Invitation is the oldest form of transfer. Feeling powerless doesn’t mean we’re stuck, I wanted to ask you about constraints. The power of rent control and love oh fearless love.

How did Greek become a metaphor when it’s phosphorous politics in the air all the time. Not a lack of understanding but the edge of wordlessness, the unpronounceable lake you swim in they say is bottomless, that’s a myth too. Classification can resemble bondage or a fence that brings your freedom into view. You kissed me at the door, a formal field is not a meadow, Phil was working for the Times which sounded so romantic. When someone asks me what I do I still don’t know what to say. Trees can feel more than anyone expected, skin is the largest part of consciousness. The bees are quiet in the heat, you don’t want music in the end, sometimes it’s almost too much to breathe. I’ll try anything if something in me other than my brain says yes. Don’t mistake vitality for ignorance or discretion for constraint, astonishment in small things, that’s like something you once told me, with the nerves of a prizefighter, which doesn’t make it easier to live.

#272 – Spring 2023