Three poems by Ann Eleven • Empty Mirror

ancient glass afternoonglass afternoon / credit: de

If Wishes

I’ve never walked in so much woods
I didn’t come to somewhere roads ran
towards. If I missed a train another train
would follow, my ticket prove good
for that journey or some arrangement
made to make it good. If I lost my bag,
it later but none-the-less would find me,
or I discover I could go lighter and still
suffice me. I’ve been lucky, I’ve been
traveling, never so gone I didn’t turn up
on my way back or around again to you.
Luck isn’t matter of fact or matter
of practice. Everyone knows this;
our todays, our comings and goings
our wake and our sleep are no promise
of next times. I don’t count on these
things, I count clock ticks, tickets,
trains, numbers on buses. I weigh
the heft of my bag on my shoulder
or stand, a little straighter, without it.
I remember how it went every time
it went well, I imagine it going. I’ll be
all this. You’ll be streets and then
windows away. I’ll be coming home
in the dark. We’ll be all right.

Never Asks the Beech

For Olga Tokarczuk

We’re just coming down
in the balloons
when the trouble starts.
This is the population.
If we’re wrong, it’s over now.
The descent catches us
in a fog, all hope turned trepid.
I see my feet dangling as I hang
in the harness. Beyond them
only blank, only soft, eddying drifts
in darkness. We cannot assume,
the men of the committee say
somberly, that the surface waits for us
as surveyed by the mapmakers.
We sent them ahead
with instructions and cameras
and they returned to us
with visions, with promises.
I put all of it in the proposal
and we got the funding.
This was mine in a way
nothing has ever been mine.
I believed in the pictures they took,
I dreamed of the surface.
At night and while we were riding
over the water, trusting,
with the wind steering,
slow, ponderous, roving,
companions of birds,
we counted sunsets
and rises and high bright stars.
We knotted ropes, thinking
of anchors and ladders.
Now everyone doubts
and everyone wonders
do we never chance it?
Do we never go down?
Do we build a floating city,
cultivate vine crops?
We could anchor ourselves
to each other, cast nets
in the cloud.

We wait three days
for the fog to lift,
we wait seven more.
Enough inhibition,
the men are assured,
can become innovation.
Well lock me up.
I find myself lugubrious.
This isn’t bad but it isn’t
what I had planned.
I meant to be an old woman
with a new horizon,
to have here, for the first time,
an earth-rooted garden
I did all this to end somewhere,
not in this limbo. I will not pass
my last breath into clouds
and rot in a basket,
my wind-dry bones
frame for webs, spiders
hatched in my mouth.
I’m saying this
to the men
as I’m reaching behind me
for my bag, for my tools.
I’m slipping into the parachute.
I jump and I count, pull the cord.
I wait for the ground
to embrace me.

The Simulation

I have written some of these sentences
before so this part is familiar. I’ve been saving
exclamation marks to use in the end. I meant
to write letters but by now they read like elegies.
Would you want to know now what I couldn’t say
to you while you were living? Next time I’ll post them.
As a girl in church I got nosebleeds, beautiful!
inconvenient, liquid ruby drips splashing my dress.
I do not remember specific instances of anyone
hurting me, yet in those years I was always aching.
And bleeding. What kind of person waits until now
to begin living? I thought I would make a really good
plan before I got started. Someone came up to me
at a party and said, “You’re already living.” I was
horrified but it was true. These days I’m not
always hiding. You can catch me flitting between
the trees. I mean you can see me. I don’t mean
you can catch me. Before the power went out
we were all up to something. Having our penultimate
days the way we like them. Personal, like what you put
on toast in the middle of the night. In the grocery aisle I place
items in a wire basket. Under lights, under lights, under lights
so bright, so overhead they grant no shadow. I’m always looking
for shadow, out my eye’s corner. I am always looking for corners.
At home I make mustard-baked eggs and avocado, I fix salad
with oil and wine, with salt and black pepper. I want to get
away from people. I eat alone by candlelight. I reflect
on what’s coming. I keep signing up to survive the apocalypse,
shoulder aloneness and man the radio, just in case anyone else
is this ridiculous. I’m not concerned I’ll descend into madness.
It will be wonderful to miss people. About this time in the program
I’m always here. I remember myself on a fire-watchers platform,
the marvelous sunsets, eating what meals were left to me,
dreaming the sound of voices instead of running. Trading
privation for privation. It’s like I never white-knuckled
my way through a party. Do you know, has anyone asked,
if they keep restarting because those of us left do come,
in spite of ourselves to shudder with loneliness, feel our hands
clench at nothing, touch nothing? I’m not leaving mine out of this.
Like an infant’s, they try all day. Grab. Explore. What is this?
My fingertips on a stone. I think your face was smooth like this.
Moss. Between your legs. Foxtail. Water. Your tears were. You
had fingernails. And teeth. Remarkable! I know. Stop laughing
at me. I will remark on them yet. I keep. An exact number of pebbles.
In my pocket. I do well for a while. I imagine. I think everything is you.
What if I braided your hair against the soft skin of your neck. What then.
Those dry grasses in the south field, their rustle and whisper, the husk
of them, is what late autumn sun made, what the days took.
I had a mouthful of heart that is now a memory. I make sense of this
bitter stretch without you. I make up a story. I tell myself about how
we met. About what I have left. I watch the sky go dark this time around.

About Ann Eleven

Ann Eleven is a queer nonbinary writer and librarian living in Chicago. They have one cat. Tweets @junkyardattic.

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