Poetry

Praise for One Thousand Pieces:

 Alexis Lathem’s splendid and stately elegy, One Thousand Pieces, reveals the surprising workings of emotion inside a sister’s mourning for a brother. The poem evokes a palpable sense of a loved man’s final days in stunning repeated images ­ ­– and without a shred of sentiment – a heron, a brilliant soccer player – to bring the vicissitudes of emotion forward to us. One Thousand Pieces is a work of remarkable craft and unabashed, unforgettable intensity.

– Molly Peacock, author of Paradise, Piece by Piece; Raw Heaven; and How to Read a Poem.

“There is no place in this world for the bereaved,” Alexis Lathem says in her beautiful spare poems mourning her brother’s death. But she has made a place in language that is eloquent and restrained, as she traces “the sounds of his diminishment,” as disease blurs the boundaries between body and mind, and the world loses solidity. These are poems about love. And what greater love than to not turn away, but to accompany the dying on that perilous journey? In this exquisite work, Lathem plumbs the depth of our humanity.

-Betsy Sholl, author of Otherwise Unseeable, Appalachian Winter, and Rooms Overhead.

In the Garden

After eating a bowl of yogurt

for breakfast, I go to see the cat

who is always in her little spot

beneath the ferns; she has softened

the grass there into a cushion

fitted perfectly to her shape.

Then I go out to the garden

where the tomatoes are planted

to see if the groundhog has visited.

He has not. The scarecrow

lords over the squashes, which are

demonically growing enormous.

Big yellow squash blossoms.

The pasture is speckled with purple

chicory flowers the chickens like to eat.

I catch a glimpse of the scarecrow

and look up, thinking someone is there.

It fools me every time. I should know better,

because I made it myself out of a broken

broom handle and pieces of molding

still holding their nails, draped

in old clothes dug out of the basement,

damp and slightly smelling of cats.

I keep turning my head, thinking

my brother is there. He is not.

I walk a little further, turn the corner,

following the disturbance in the air

that precedes the sound of a voice,

his voice, until the smell of tomatoes,

the burst of squash blossoms,

call me back, reminding me

of where I am, of everywhere

he isn’t.

 

[In memory of my brother Niles, 1955-2007]

—From the chapbook, One Thousand Pieces (Finishing Line 2009)

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The Animals

Drifting out of our bodies soaked through with rain,

paddling beneath the heavy sinking of things,

and coming to earth to search for the giant spruces,

where we crack the tender bones of their wings

and pile them each by each to start a fire,

and the flames rise out of the smoking wet mosses

before collapsing back, like tired children,

weepy, shaking in their unhappiness,

and we retreat into our selves and the woolly wet darkness,

knowing nothing of stars or planets or galaxies

 

and so after the rain,

drifting, the mist on the water,

seeing a shape in the distance

moving across the water,

across the eyes, and thinking at first

it is all within, as Rilke wished,

the river’s ache in our silver bones,

the stream of water down the panes of eyes,

the softness in the ears in the absence of music,

 

we come closer to see the great racks of caribou

and we slow to admire their drift

sure as the prows of ships

and then reaching the far shore they climb out of the water,

tossing their heads in a spray of silver water beads,

their castanets clacking in the river stones,

a music softened by the distance of mist between us

 

and because they do not even

acknowledge us, even when they look at us

through their big brown naked

eyes, we are not here,

our bones have melted and drifted downstream,

the world holds them at its center,

the sky balanced in the arc of their racks,

the trees standing up for them,

and the stars look down on their nakedness

as they dry themselves off in the open air,

the river quietly rejoicing

because the animals

have reclaimed the world

 

–from Alphabet of Bones

 

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