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Elizabeth Kate Switaj

January 2009


Listening (To)
for Ravi Shankar

because I am a woman
trained to crunch my abs until
all those ugly jiggly parts
tear off my side( pour out my mouth
                 in porcelain privacy )

raised to scrape my skin with blades
         & expensive lotion
in case someone wants to touch
to floralize my skin—lavender, rose absolute
if anyone comes close enough to scent me

     told I should already know
that shams stay on pillows only by day
    keeping dust away from layers
     will accommodate stubble by night

drilled in cleaning, cooking fractions
no grades but table praise
because of more than this 

                             when a man
                            (who happens this time to be you,
                             forgive me                      )
claims he can hear the Sound    Puget Sound
                       I leapt & swam through shivering summers
                       gray reflecting marble sky

from a market it wouldn't be (mere) cliché
to say I traipsed a thousand times
I go to those bricks at seven
(earliest bus will arrive
 forgive me—I don't drive)
myself I hear tide hissing
along sand, along itself
only to find it's a car
wake & storm waves throw
metal & drift
wood into piers
                only to find a seller unloading
                has dropped a crate of animals
                molded from St. Helens ash 
                              unable even to pretend
coins in Starbucks siren cup
held by a woman whose face is covered
with a green fleece blanket
are waves crashing into each other
                               I begin to make excuses for that man
                           (who happens to be you)
Sounds meant foghorns
                           (you didn't say)
  or gulls                 (who fly & cry across Lake Washington anyway
I even begin to ask the farmers
white & Hmong, ask everyone in town  (if I weren't so shy
                                       but ask my coworkers at least
& when I find that I am right believe
nobody will read this
for you (a man)
have dismissed everything I write
  as holding nothing

You  can remember (man)

Chapel Hill

 every thing you baked me fell
apart before dust could frost
callus burned over honeycomb soft
turning brittle
                until the center can't hold

                 I tried to save everything
   against blood-dimmed tide
& you with your belief  in revelation
hated it

         we didn't sleep together
                               until Tokyo
                     & knew the gyre widened
                         we wouldn't touch again

 & our only choice is always crumbs or cobwebs
The decision was in everything you added
I thought so sweet
              surviving the oven
               where I had yet to be born

Under His Tree

Merry Christmas—saffron sweater
woven inner flame
                   like your skin would be
if you kept drinking
                     as much as night of my black eye

but you've cleaned up
more than I can get
these sties & needles out
                      of bruises I can only speak
                    (don't speak so much)
                    (don't bleed outside
                      of biohazard bin)
                    (now in every airport toilet)
                    (where your girlfriend changes
                     your daughter & appeases
                     your nose I knew as red)

I have to wear this sweater
to show what I forget
to show that I love him


Under Weather

if a mobile destructive vortex could wear shoes
  leather would print my face
                          until my bones turned powder
  and everyone would praise
  a victimless tornado

                        chewed up anyway I let myself
                        become used gum & stick
  for that irritated lift into sight

and if I can arrange my cell
s spell
         follow me
                              judge him
                   in dust

whoever he may be


Blood that didn't spit bullets & daisy
cutters out pores  can trickle out eyes
when lost arms burn & costly
towers tear them down
Don't call my blood lukewarm
           with its blue green layers
           cold currents under heat
           would eat away my bones
but that my muscles stop

on strict flashing orders from the mind
this lead would come off my ankles
come off memory that it binds
                         in lead-painted room
                       that never made TV
& shove it personally
through male bones
random on the street
                      a rising flesh
                       smell  burnt
from which you all are saved
haunts imagination
                   of blood that will not steam

Elizabeth Kate Switaj (www.elizabethkateswitaj.net) has two full-length collections of poetry forthcoming: Magdalene & the Mermaids from Paper Kite Press and How to Drink a Floral Moon from Blue Lion Books. Her chapbook, The Broken Sanctuary: Nature Poems, is currently available from Ypolita Press and her echap, Shanghai (has more capital), from Gold Wake Press. She edits Crossing Rivers Into Twilight (www.critjournal.com) and serves as assistant editor for Inertia Magazine. Her professional experience includes teaching in cities throughout Japan, China, and the US as well as writing online copy for a kimono import company and conducting media research.

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