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tearing the rag off the bush again
Poems by Elizabeth Raby PDF E-mail

There was a time, an ancient time, when books

were made mostly by monks.



 A Unity



When Mother taught me

to keep my knees together,

my dress down,

she only remembered

it was the way things were done.

She had forgotten a woman’s

best hope is to keep herself



When the hurt hawk was shot

in his poem, Mr. Jeffers

pretended the great male spirit

soared unsheathed

after an appropriate fall

of feminine feathers.


I’m the woman Kazantzakis

wrote out of his novels.

He cut off my head, or slit

my throat.  Nevertheless

I believe in this body, all bodies,

and in the disintegration

of the body, even the bodies

of men. Oh men, love my flesh

and yours.  The desire to fly away

from it does not make it possible.


Poem Found on the Bus                                                                                


The woman speaks

to her window

(or is it to her husband

who sits

in red-capped silence

on the aisle?)


          It’s a white birch—

          that’s what it is—

          the more I look at it—

          it’s a white birch tree.


          I’m going to shoot him—

          I’m going to borrow a gun—

          I’m going to borrow a shotgun and shoot him.


          I don’t blame her. I knew what it was—

          I can tell—

          it’s not fair to me.


          That’s my weakness—

           I know it is—

           I know—


           members only—

           they didn’t let me in,  I still want to join—

           thirty years, I want to go there and have lunch—

           I still want to join, go there for lunch—


I draw a parallel, think about the joke we share:

I/she finite and conscious.  The struggle to find

a fit with time in our time.


There’s a cemetery, My Lord—

             big mausoleum things—

            I wonder who pays for it—

 it’s any price you can afford—

             that’s a church—


             Shop, she’s going shopping—

             that’s what she is, spend all she makes—

             she’s going shopping—

             these trees are doing real good.


            I haven’t been to Leh’s either, not yet—

            it’s a furniture store, that’s what it is—

            shop, there’re certain things I’m interested in


Did she drive him to silence?

Did he drive her to speech?


            What do you call it?—

              what do you call it, I’m asking?

              what do you call it, I’m asking you?

             What do you call it?



Short Term Residency


I stand up here in front of you

wearing reassuring granny glasses,

my knife-pleated flannel skirt.


Behind me someone struggles

to peer over my right shoulder

from her smoky mound of old skins,

lifetime of beads and skulls.


She considers her blackened pot,

the broth your bones would make.

She whispers in my ear.

I feel winds, the pull of endless blue.


A sudden cackle unnerves me.

I step back.  Her teeth, worn

to sharp points, bite the meaty part

of my neck.  I am used to this,

am able to smile.  Perhaps

you haven’t noticed.


“Shall we write some poems?”

At the Museum


See those, my darling?  They’re called books.

See the one that’s open? A reader had to turn

the paper pages one by one.  Words were printed

on both the front and back of each. We still

had some books when I was a little girl like you. 

I remember their faint scent, perhaps

from the printer’s ink, perhaps from the paper itself. 

I miss them sometimes.


There was a time, an ancient time, when books

were made mostly by monks. They wrote in ink

on stretched animal skin called parchment,

one perfect page after another. They drew

tiny pictures, colored them and the big letter

that began each section, filled them in with twirls,

specks of gold. Not many people ever got to see them,

fewer still held them in their hands.  I suppose

when books began to be printed on a press, those

people thought something good was gone.   



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