Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

The Poetry of Sasha West: Distinguished Entry, 2003



Orpheus and Eurydice


The rust I saw always behind me
pushed my image away in the perfect metal
the cool suspension of my mirror---Still I looked

Life is a paring away of anything that is not pure light
How often this appeared in the form of an angel
              how often it burned

I knew already the beloved would be wasted on the field
the first time I took his hand     Every time I touched his body
I felt the hole in the ground where he would go

The same as it is for me---
              I see my shadow on the earth, but also
sun going through me to where
my shadow disappears

When I was little it came to me suddenly
like an illness     I was walking through a room
on the cool tile but also in the ashes it would become

Then for years---nothing

When I began to touch strangers, I could tell
time by their bodies. For a while I was popular
under the trees, telling fortunes, then
              because what I said was true
and happened
I was shunned

Just the way the archer and the target are one
What would happen and I were one

I envy the way others forget in the wrapping of limbs on limbs
the cry that pulls them from their bodies
the sun that rises every day to burn their hands and shoulders

Even in his arms, I feel in me the way the stars
have been scattered into the sky by force
the infinite coldness of the Gods---shining

I am my body against him
              but also my bones
the pattern of infinite fire
I will be broken into


To you is left the start on the bone-laden sea.

Burying your sailors, you tie memory to their ankles,
leave them by the side of the whale road for fish or birds.

At night the dead rise to meet you from the waves;
By day the dead rise to meet you in the air.

I forgot it was a long boat on a long sea. Penelope
and I imagine you in the large room of water, dancing.

To you is left the bench beside her cold door.

Inside she weaves and unweaves breath from the shroud
of her body while the suitors are at home in their last wooden houses.

The sea's worn your friends to rocks--chalk you could pocket
or skip over the skin of the water. I find you walking

along an edge of the room, calling the bodies back to you
in their fervor and their blood. Your figure keeps being

written-the tendrils of your laugh, your sly flanks and eyes.
You wait on the curb, hands around a battered cup, singing

with change. You wait in your apartment for the faces
on the 10 o'clock news. No-one you know.

To you is left between the land and land, the wife and wife, time.

You watch the arrow arc into the air and fall as a bottle
to the pavement. Everyone you know has gone to war.

They crash into one another on the shore. You pace the last
journey: sound of feet on tiles, planks, the dirt floor.

In bed either your dog howls with its head pressed
against your ear or you drive a spear straight through

a metal plate. Either the snouts of the pigs rooting at your genitals
or the sound of the dragging body in the road. I know a man

caught in the belly of his plane with a moaning head
in his lap. I know a man who lives in a city, stuck

every afternoon back into the burning buildings, alive
only when the sun ignites the skyscrapers. But Odysseus,

to you is left the chair at table or at hearth. My mistake:
You eat well and sleep beside her. To you, I grant

the sentry on the walls and you within. To you is left
the silence of coming back to the place, welcomed,

the days of drowning the war in the wine-dark cup.

Orpheus and Eurydice


Could you picture her {radiance, now earth body, clods of light falling from her}

at the breakfast table with peeled oranges and scrambled eggs after pomegranates

or plain dirt? How could I take her again to the family gatherings {drunken games

at Xmas?, picture heavy weddings in which she'd be a glimmer?, overcooked dinners?}

where they'd ask over a glass of wine about the fashions in Hades or what it was like

to be dead so long-did she miss it? Had she seen the heroes? {In her a silence

dehisces, the cat still yowls, I could have told you things that} She was so

changed {god how ugly, a brilliant loneliness, someone else's bride in an unmade}

I wasn't even sure it was her. Of course the pain throbbed behind me of the great

Otherness {the rush of the field lifting in the force of wings, a sudden opening in dirt,

the words pooling} which the glance pushed against {don't stare at the crippled in the

grocery store, close your eyes when you kiss, look away from dogs mating}. But how

could I bring her {rotting, luminous, brittle} back with me? I took only what I knew {the

plucked string dying on the lyre, the coat of my body to wear holes in, my infinite


II. Her Thoughts

The people there knew things {eating a mother's heart = to understand birds, emptying the body = to live forever, how desire was the only leash he had to hold us on}

They were more real than {the book I was reading in the grass before, the love he tried to show in his face for my beauty, our silent dinner table}

humans in the earth {faces from dirt and shadow, those huge bonfires, low fierce voices that echoed}

When he came to fetch me back {stray dog of a wife, child wandering through the aisles, misplaced wallet}

I stayed silent {stones in my mouth, I was praying for myself, how he looked at me}

hoping Hades would live up to his stinginess {all those trees with uneaten fruit, the large stone, the birds his brother owned and sent against the belly of fire}

I had always been {alive only in my mind, a husk, unknown}

a bargain between men. Hades flickered {eyebrow raised, he called the river around him into his heart each night, how he stroked that dog against the grain of its fur}

and agreed as long as {I was breaking, I was burning with the thought of sun, I was at the endless parties stretching out over the years and the chat}

my husband had no desire {a blow-up doll, the way he appraised my outfits, how the man behind this door had touched me and it burned into}

to look back {at our wedding I wore orange blossoms, he was so handsome, when he kissed me he watched himself in the mirror}

I called up in me {anger, cold rides through the stars that etched night, his long discursions on perfect tone}

the afterlife and looked at him {piercing into, radiance, seeing the soul arise unbodied}

I saw him flinch then {calculate the profits, how many songs could it yield, the local press coverage}

decide: I knew he would {release into being, something larger, I was born to die to myself}

turn and leave me.


Still, the difficulty in living with her {skin derives from the verb to skin, I am both the thing inside and the thing out, my Beloved}

ghost always in the house {leaning on the mud wall, throwing shells rinds grounds on the refuse pile, bent over my torso in the bed}

She said the idea of Beloved {the miles on the highway before dawn, how many motels did I visit, waitress named Lulu with a plastic badge}

infects everything {she had blond hair, she was sinewy, her lips were slices of pears}.

I thought she was {a bit dull, we were drinking, our cafe with the tea lights}

cute, being dramatic {she flirted with waiters, she wore tight dresses, when I fucked her the heels clattered on the wall}

but now when I speak

it is a type of possession {my arm behind me, her mouth on my neck or ear, I heard voices as a child from the cold sky}

I am singing to you so she goes {useless soap won't wash away her body or my thought, three days of rain, the cat sits in the window always waiting}

I am trying to force her out {lithe naked on the couch, I loved her like a good husband loves a good wife, her gilded jewelry on the dresser}

I am hacking her into pieces {iambs, strophes, in the garden the flowers bloom with a type of fury}

with my words If you see her {spitting olive stones onto the earth, swimming naked in cold Lethe, leaning towards a hero in that damn field}

tell her to come home {her glow could illuminate the pages, she could cool me in summer, I could close all the shutters}

and bed down {in the heat of, forgiving, my heart again}

in her body {a woman's glamour is in a man, I will sing you into the stars, you are the most beautiful painting I have}

IV. Re: Your Letter {your love was a type of death}

Which came yesterday {slightly stained, I was drinking tea, later the singing}

and which I believe {the silence erupts into, caught like a seed in a throat, the flowers open too slowly here}

to be a lie --- I am {slowly turning bone, my voice as clear as, men give me money just for walking by}

happy here. It is too hot but {we sweat more when we fuck, I open all the shutters, he has a body run by muscles}

cicadas vortex around the heat {the maid walked in on us in Mexico with the mirror down, you made love to my reflection, you corrected my sentences}

At night there are lanterns {in the trees, around my bed, his torso narrows into hips}

floating down the river Lethe {onyx reflection, prayers set loose to Hades, my soul as his hands do}

Remember darling, you put {words into my mouth, my books on the awkward shelves, my dresses in drawers}

coins on my eyes. I have forgotten you {The draw of the oars was infinite, I watched the shore receding, What came after was}