Vancouver, British Columbia

30 May 2007

Five Poems

Don't Call it Sanctuary
If We Are Able   
The Elephant Lady's Drawings
Walking the Ox
A Student and the Breath that Holds Her

About Jen Currin



Don’t Call It Sanctuary

A brightness of birds
drawn slowly on my back
in watercolor.

Take this kiss
from the end
of my mouth
before your zodiac
steals our writhing.
I will write it
listlessly and throw
it in the river.
Over your shoulder
you are saying never
to everything.

You played the piano
right through your mother’s death,
shuddering like candles.
Just a hint of honey
in the eyes that kept you
from becoming a pilot.
Just the scent
of it in your hair.



If We Are Able

All night and again
in the morning.
The shorter     the shortest     breath.
I will listen
with my whole body
while we are still alive.

A flesh and bone house.
A muscle house.
Some still, selfish door.
The snow country of your shirt.
A candle burning invisibly
at mid-day.

It is raining in the heart again.
A momentary twilight.
Our understanding lies
in our feet
where we each create
a road
of paper ache.
One snake, an eye
in the back of your head.
Three trees, a forest
where the offspring are divided
young from old.

They bring in a cousin
or an aunt to cry,
but no torture.
They deprive us of sleep,
but no torture.
Only a shower
of rice. And we must
say something now
about how hard it is.



The Elephant Lady’s Drawings

We came out of the garden
and there were brides in the trees.
You faked a birdsong.
I had something to say to your mother
but the ancestors are as inconsiderate
as they are deaf.

To the house of sliding panels
we rode optimistically
side by side, downing
the vinegary local wine.
Our anxious friends
had become famous.
Some favored men; others, women.
They set our places at the table.

It was like a dream of masturbation:
you dipping the artichoke in melted butter.
I wanted to drool
if that was what it meant
to be wild,
but I could only comfort you
as you comforted the wall.

Don’t close my eyes when I die.
I want my body rubbed
with white sand, the strongest teas
imbibed at my grave.
I can settle for little:
a calmness after crying,
honey for the throat.
Because my list is endless—



Walking the Ox

It refers to the small hill
behind our heart.
There is never an end
to the dancing and guitaring—
Everyone must write
a book called House.
Everyone must sleep
in the cannibal’s mouth
and tell what his silence is,
how he never cowers
in the smell
the room belongs to.
We do not want
his orchestra. His fish
habitual as rice wine.
If we turn around
we forget four words,
three of them hallucinations,
the last another kind
of happiness, uncomfortable
but we look warmly
upon it.



A Student and the Breath that Holds Her

We have a trouble.
A village of seeds.
Our nervous therapist in silk scarves,
a necklace of nine hundred fingers.

Sight of a man sleeping
in the mountains.
We run up the stairs.
Nobody questions our hair.
Our scarcity.
Face: shadow. Feet: clouds.

She is a student she knows lemon balm.
Why do we weep.
Brick bread. Soup of salt rock.
She shares her leaf.

At the table of zebra wood
the man naps.
He is a mountain
nothing like you’d imagine.

Not to hold the bruise
is the student’s promise.
Ask her how she matches the time
in the monk’s house.
How she steals the man’s laughter
and hands it to us like a bowl.



Jen Currin has been chasing poetry since her undergrad years at Emerson and Bard. Later, her thirst took her to the desert, where she received an MFA in Poetry from Arizona State. She’s worked as a poetry editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review and an associate editor for Nightboat Books. Jen currently teaches creative writing at Langara College and Vancouver Film School. Quite a few journals—including VERSE, Goodfoot, The Fiddlehead, Washington Square, River City and Cream City Review—have been kind enough to print her poems. Jen has published one book, The Sleep of Four Cities. She hopes her second book, Hagiography, will be out soon.