Madison, Wisconsin

31 May 2008

Five Poems

In a Past Life, You Were Nicola Tesla
American Cowboy
When Pandora opened her box she found

About Danielle Cadena Deulen



In a Past Life, You Were Nicola Tesla

You dream of being struck
by lighting,
again and again, the wet field,
the split pines and your feet

still smoking, or the desert road’s dry, black skin
and the sky a schema
of nerves over it, as if it were thinking

of where you are, a magnetic pull
deep in your marrow, something up there

wants you back. You are sick of war, sick
with sorrow and sickles
the moons of your dreams
calling down to you, sharply

you are sick of the pale flesh of them
their large round eyes waiting for return
the lick of their light on your blackened
soles. Feel the electric arc.

Feel the terrible pattern unraveling
like suspicion over your name. You wanted to invent
the Twentieth Century—but radio, radio

who is speaking
to whom

and from where?




signifying a place opposite the Arctic.

A name of negation—as in, this place is called
not that place. This is the place that is not a place,

which must be why, in dreams, this is where I die,
and why I can’t hear the glaciers crash into ocean,

feel the bitter wake in the marrow of my shins—
Why don’t I hear the wind? Why don’t I feel the wind

splitting my exposed skin open? And my throat so dry—
ice drifts freezing against my stone hips,

the long horizon haunted by light that won’t
rise—I’ve arrived and this is where I die—

not arktos, but antarktikos—not the Great Bear,
but the bear who opposed her—a fight named

by Aristotle, who never had reason to believe
it might be true—a fight that formed the earth—

two bears the color of stars rolling around in
darkness, one head North, the other South,

revolving so slowly they forgot their strife,
gripped for the sake of gripping, their growls

becoming one deep, continuous sound—
a sound we are born hearing, and so don’t hear.



American Cowboy

The world is flat, and you’ve arrived
in the far west corner, where the plateau
you’ve been discovering drops into
the lovely dark of space. Your gods
form the delicate chain of constellation
you are guided by and here they are
close enough to touch. A powerful
musk has sunk between your fingers
from tangling your hands in the hair
of the beast that brought you here—
a bison cow, kneeling now, in her
weariness and knowing, as in winter
when one is separated from the herd
by wolves, and knows to lay down.
You never thought you’d see the end,
or that the end would be so stunning:
small, bright meteors falling almost
into your hands, near your rough cheek,
past your ears like fireflies on the plains
of your childhood. You wish you had
a jar to capture them in—some way
to keep them falling, infinitely toward you
without burning out. You feel a song
whelming in your throat before you realize
it’s not your throat, before the sky turns
crucible, before the cow’s skin withers,
her flesh falling away from her bones.
You are in it thigh-deep now—your hands
not your hands, your eyes not your eyes,
a flood reversing through the plain. It will
leave only what you left—leave you
standing in your borrowed body, alone,
the way you said you wanted your whole life,
you heartless bastard—you sad, sorry
sonofabitch. Tell me now you don’t cry,
you wouldn’t turn back for anything.




In my snapshot of Fidel Castro,
he is erect in fatigues, which is to say,
he is standing, though his penis—
which I’d rather not think about,
thank you very much—is not.

Or maybe it is standing while he talks.
Maybe it has a mind of its own, as we like
to say of men of voracious appetite,
and believes it too is addressing
this assembly of Americans,

though the translator can’t hear it,
muffled, as it is beneath all of that
camouflage: Te amo it says with tender
passion, Los amo a todos, but the Cubans
and Americans, made deaf as they are

in their determination to fight, can’t
just uncoil into the streets, lay their
hot cheeks on the rails of the wrought iron
verandas, sip a dacquiri, contemplate
the bright feathers of the vagrant peacocks

strutting in courtyards, or the rumbas
rising all over Havana, carried by dream
into the countryside where the women rolling
tobacco into Romeo y Juliettas suddenly
stand and begin dancing, enamored

by the liquid dusk, the way the tidal
sugarcane shifts in the wind, and the boy
whose hands circle the neck of a rooster
stops mid-twist to sing a victory song
to the gathering flock that clucks

their worried tongues inside their beaks,
their rooster soft-eyed and confused,
dropping his heavy crown of feathers
toward the earth, his heart beating
erratically, as if half-dead, half-in-love.



When Pandora opened her box she found

An empty box. The moon, just a sharp hook of light above her—
lacuna in the flesh of the sky.

Sometimes the idea of the thing
is more dangerous than the thing itself.

And after, of course, the gods had someone to blame.



Danielle Cadena Deulen is currently a Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow through the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  She is a graduate of George Mason University's MFA program in Poetry, the recipient of two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry prizes, and a former fellow at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts.  Her work has appeared in journals such as Cimarron Review, The Cream City Review, The Louisville Review, West Branch, Sou'wester, and others.