Five poems by Gillian Devereux
Exercise to Practice Present and Future Time
Write past, present, and future in your notebook. Think about all
each word represents. Each of these forms has multiple meanings.
Begin with the simple present. Divide it into three parts: 1) general truth,
2) habitual action, and 3) the state of being. Find examples for each
category. Label your examples. Move from the present to the present
progressive. It encompasses both now and later. It helps you reach
into the future. Can you explain how? Now pretend you need to narrate
a series of actions. Would you begin in the present or the past? Next
write five narrative sentences in your notebook using the simple past.
Rewrite each verb in the simple present. How has your story changed?
Remember: moving through time is always difficult. It causes headaches,
dizziness, and habitual nosebleeds. You will want to narrate these events
in sequence. Be careful not to use the simple present for actions which
began in the past and are continuing now. That would ruin everything.
Under the Big Top
No one notices the night sky.
They count stars or follow the moon
through all its languid phases, blinded
by the illusion of light. No one sees
the backdrop, the shadow that shapes
and guards each delicate constellation.
Each star spins on invisible wire, falls
effortlessly into its assigned position
and not one person applauds. No one could
expect anything less—from a star,
from the sky. I fall night after night,
netless and alone. I trained for this
my whole life, spent years in the air
learning to dive through the white
blare of spotlight; the physics of flight
swinging me over the bar
and farther, a solitary wheeling circle,
all flash and spiral and silver sparkle.
But nobody ever sees me, my body.
Physics is like that. And math always
works without the story, without the trapeze
or the aerialist who starts from rest, swings
downward, lets go, falls freely. Gravity’s work
can be expressed in the equation
W=mgh, where m is the mass of the person
and h the magnitude of the vertical component.
I begin as pure potential, the mechanical energy
of desire and skill, and conserve this force
no matter which path I take towards the ground,
towards the finale. Anyone may calculate
my velocity, independent of my individual mass,
my individual presence. Anyone may admire
a star, though the sky remains a vast unknown.
The Armless Girl Speaks
I don’t invite pity nor require any
assistance. I have taught myself
how to use all the necessary tools:
the knife and fork, the comb and brush,
the hook and eye, the catch
and release. An extraordinary body
can still live an ordinary life, and I do,
in my way. I exist as exhibition—
just another nameless spectacle,
but even armless, I’m a girl.
I’ve mastered all the womanly arts:
knitting, embroidery, crochet.
The proud, graceful script taught
in finishing schools. The deft touch
required to arouse a lover.
There’s a beauty in my strangeness
that could ruin a man. But still they come
and watch: wide-eyed, tongue-tied by lust
or fear, by the movement of my bare feet,
by my painted toes, exotic as rubies.
You cannot miss what you’ve never known.
And what need have I for arms, for fingers?
What need have you for them, my darling?
I’ve feet as soft as any hand, a mouth
as capable as any woman’s.
Water Is Dangerous
Despite its ordinary appearance,
its omnipresence in the world,
water attacks, kills you
in your own bathtub or in a heavy rain
(if you fall face down or lie, unconscious,
with your mouth open). A person cannot breathe
underwater; the human lung is a device
designed to process air. Water can be a device
of torture. Your enemy uses it to increase the pain
of electrocution, to rouse you after a beating, to scald
your body. He shows you a glass of water
but never lets you drink. He forces a hose
down your throat, pumps your belly full. In a toilet,
he submerges your head until you drown
on dry land. It is possible to die
from over-hydration, to poison your body
with pure water. Stagnant water attracts
mosquitoes who carry disease. Salt
water increases thirst, dries out the body, cracks
the lips, blisters the skin. Frozen water presents
other dangers: hypothermia, avalanche, snowdrift,
blizzard, hail, fog. Your entire body encased
in a block of ice, a snowball aimed at a precise spot,
an icicle in the heart, or through the eye into the brain itself.
Water threatens us in all its forms: swimming pool, tidal
wave, waterfall, maelstrom, hot tub, hurricane, flood
and current, whirlpool and water slide. Monsoon,
tsunami, nor’easter, shower, stream. Swollen rivers,
boiling pots, slow leaks, quick creeks. A puddle can kill.
As can a drink, contaminated from the tap, spoiled
at the source. Water breaks dams, washes away
a year’s crop. It turns grassland to swamp,
abandons the soil and leaves behind desert.
The sheer weight of it could end your life,
its pressure crushing you from the inside out.
The Locus of Desire (Is)
Like a pod of whales, but far heavier.
The shark who is still and thus suffocates.
A siege of cranes. A streak of tigers.
A word we manufacture for convenience,
a compressed way to express the collective,
to fit the many into one specific location.
The space somewhere past lust, the point
that approaches love with the shrewdness
of apes, the exaltation of larks. Without surfeit
the skunk must survive on what’s discarded.
With or without purpose, the heart still beats
100,000 times a day. The heart still battles,
collects its resources into a wedge. A knot.
A fleet. A tower. A raft. Every name useless.
Every label insufficient. We cannot explain
this configuration of desire, how it develops
with the lurid flourish of strumpets. How it slips,
falls just beyond the grasp of millionaires.
Gillian Devereux received her MFA in Poetry from Old Dominion University and is currently a PhD candidate in the Media, Art, and Text program at Virginia Commonwealth University. She teaches Media Culture and English at Bay State College. Her poems have appeared in FOURSQUARE, H_NGM_N, Open Letters, Gargoyle, 32 Poems, Wicked Alice, and other journals.