How Loss Inhabits a Body

Miriam Bird Greenberg

Like your collar is always turned up.
Like the wind twisting in your ears, conch
and cilia. Like the spine of the roof
peering behind other roof-spines, green
with moss. Like waking up as someone
else. Like when you’re having sex, but you’re not
quite you; you’re a German woman
who can strip and clean an automatic weapon,
and reassemble it in the time it takes to fry an egg.
You keep waking up all night, someone softly
touching your face; no, it is your hair
gently brushing its fingers over the tip of your nose.
No, the spines of a cricket’s legs violining
the calendar of your sweaty dreams. No,
the breath of the fan searching the room,
almost touching, but not touching. It is like
running your fingers through your hair.
How the palms of your hands feel
when you’ve spent the afternoon in a government office.
Like the problem of your own jealousy,
which sits slouching in a chair next to you
and tells you what to think. The time
you slept beneath an overpass in the suburbs
for five nights straight and what you kept craving
was bok choi steamed with butter, and the roads
were filled with butterflies streaming south,
gullies filled with mustard flowers, spicy and golden
as a treasure, everything yours
in the sunlight, until even the single lost glove
on the highway’s shoulder was a premonition
of its matching partner a hundred yards up. Even the goat
nibbling grasses down a gravel driveway
tethered to a netless basketball hoop
mounted to the electric pole. Even the houses
gutted of their copper. Even the economy.
All these things, and the broken window
where cold comes in, and the stoop
filled with discarded phone books, and the woman
who gives you a ride to the ferry terminal
but needs to know if you’ll join her new business
selling cosmetics, even the Albanian economy,
its stockbrokers running in the dunes
and the trading floor filled up with sand.
Even here, where bears track their muddy footprints
across the fresh-swept blacktop, cold boat
where their birch branches are kept, their chilly
salmon, their hooks and filament. Everywhere.

Previously appeared in Ninth Letter: 10.1, Spring/Summer 2013 (about)

Miriam Bird Greenberg teaches creative writing and ESL, though she’s also crossed the continent aboard freight trains, as a hitchhiker, and by bicycle. The daughter of a New York Jew and a goat-raising anthropologist involved in the back-to-the-land movement, she grew up on an organic farm in rural Texas. Author of In the Volcano’s Mouth, which won the 2015 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, she’s been recognized with fellowships from the NEA, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Poetry Foundation. She is the author of two previous chapbooks — All night in the new country (Sixteen Rivers) and Pact-Blood, Fevergrass (Ricochet Editions) — and her work has appeared in Poetry, the Missouri Review, and the anthologies Best New Poets 2014 (Samovar) and The Queer South (Sibling Rivalry). A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where for many years she collaboratively developed site-specific performances for very small audiences.

Ninth Letter: 10.1, Spring/Summer 2013