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
[In memory of my brother Niles, 1955-2007]
—From the chapbook, One Thousand Pieces (Finishing Line 2009)
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