Poetry by Pattiann Rogers


I entered the sea on the way
to early morning mass, walked
down deep along the rims of rock
coral caverns where my misstep
and consequent falling was most
slow and careful flying. I passed
over fields of slender, swaying
tubes of cuttlefish nests, supple
sheaves white and iridescent as pearl,
moved among the swift metal precision
of barracuda passion and shears.
A scatter of rain on the ceiling
of the sea above me appeared a sky-wide
scatter of stars struck to light
and snuffed in the same moment.

I rose from the sea on the way
to early morning mass, walked along
the wet stones of the path, through
the sunken-blue-eyed grasses and cat
peas of the pasture gauzed with drizzled
webs, shrouds and shells of beeflies
and seeds clinging to my feet,
along the two-rutted road, its frost-
fringed skims of water in shallow
delves, the fence ragged and tipsy
with wild rose, stripped blossoms,
crusty yellow leaves black-spotted.

On the way to early morning mass,
I entered the soft-spun skull inside
the curlew’s egg, heard the echo
of chimes in that electric cellar
of sun, entered the knot of the witch’s
pit, the sweet pulp pit of the lover’s
intention, the knot of felicity,
the pit of vagary. Nothing was blacker
fire than the government of summer
collapsed in the knot of the coal.

I passed once a fragrance
of strawberries and orange simmering
for jam, once lavender and cedar
as from a spinster’s trunk long
locked and suddenly opened, once
a sage wind down from the tops
of the pines. A door blew shut,
and a mongrel bitch on her chain
yipped to an empty window, circled
twice on her measured length.

On the way to early morning mass,
I followed the invisible corridor
of sky forged by swallows from riverbank
to bluff, followed the way
of my hand along the bones of his sleep
in the bed beside me, followed the way
of my eye following the way of winter
rain down the icy runnels of budded
oak, and every remembered motion
of succeeding motion was providential,
the way of making the way sanctum,
the proceeding the arrival,
the service continuing on
the continuing.


Out among the wet grasses and wild barley-covered
Meadows, backside, frontside, through the white clover
And feather peabush, over spongy tussocks
And shaggy-mane mushrooms, the abandoned nests
Of larks and bobolinks, face to face
With vole trails, snail niches, jelly
Slug eggs; or in a stone-walled garden, level
With the stemmed bulbs of orange and scarlet tulips,
Cricket carcasses, the bent blossoms of sweet william,
Shoulder over shoulder, leg over leg, clear
To the ferny edge of the goldfish pond – some people
Believe in the rejuvenating powers of this act – naked
As a toad in the forest, belly and hips, thighs
And ankles drenched in the dew-filled gulches
Of oak leaves, in the soft fall beneath yellow birches,
All of the skin exposed directly to the killy cry
Of the king bird, the buzzing of grasshopper sparrows.
Those calls merging with the dawn-red mists
Of crimson steeplebush, entering the bare body then
Not merely through the ears but through the skin
Of every naked person willing every event and potentiality
Of a damp transforming dawn to enter.

Lillie Langtry practiced it, when weather permitted,
Lying down naked every morning in the dew,
With all of her beauty believing the single petal
Of her white skin could absorb and assume
That radiating purity of liquid and light.
And I admit to believing myself, without question,
In the magical powers of dew on the cheeks
And breasts of Lillie Langtry believing devotedly
In the magical powers of early morning dew on the skin
Of her body lolling in purple beds of bird’s-foot violets,
Pink prairie mimosa. And I believe, without doubt,
In the mystery of the healing energy coming
From that wholehearted belief in the beneficent results
Of the good delights of the naked body rolling
And rolling through all the silked and sun-filled,
Dusky-winged, sheathed and sparkled, looped
And dizzied effluences of each dawn
Of the rolling earth.

Just consider how the mere idea of it alone
Has already caused me to sing and sing
This whole morning long.


Of the unhindered motion in the million
swirled and twisted grooves of the juniper
driftwood lying in the sand; taking leave
of each sapphire and amber thread
and each iridescent bead of the swallowtail’s
wing and of the quick and clever needle
of the seamstress in the dark cocoon
that accomplished the stitching.

Goodbye to the long pale hairs
of the swaying grass flowers, so like, in grace
the color and bearing, the nodding
antennae of the green valley grasshopper
clinging to its blade; and to the staircase
shell of the butter-colored wentletrap
and to the branches of the sourwood
making their own staircase with each step
upward they take and to the spiraling
of the cobweb weaver twirling
as it descends on its silk
out of the shadows of the pitch pine.

Taking leave of the sea
Of spring, that grey-green swell
slowly rising, spreading, its heavy
wisteria-scented surf filled
with darting, gliding, whistling
fish, a current of cries, an undertow
of moans and buzzes, so pervasive
and penetrating and alluring
that the lungs adapt
to the density.

Determined not to slight the knotted
rockweed or the beach plum or the white
blue-tipped petals of the five spot;
determined not to overlook the pursed
orange mouth of each maple leaf
just appearing or the entire chorus
of those open leaves in full summer forte.

My whole life, a parting
from the brazen coyote thistle and the reticent,
tooth-ridged toad crab and the proud,
preposterous sage grouse.

And you mustn’t believe that the cessation
which occurs here now is more
than illusory. The ritual
of this leave-taking continues
beyond these lines, in a whisper
beside the window, below my breath
by the river, without noise
through the clearing at midnight,
even in the dark, even in sleep
continues, out-of-notice,
private, incessant.