Poetry / M. K. Foster
:: Aubade with Dolly Parton on Vinyl ::
—if I build a house of you in spring, if I want to watch you flood with light wood ash smoke, if we’ve been in bed long enough to open, if I open, if I let you open me, if I open myself opening you, if I break a part of you open, if I nail my bones to yours, if I should stay, if I kiss knee elbow wrist, if your head against my ribs, if my arms collapsed around you, if it costs me to keep you (what costs a body), if you are my last prayer, my favorite prayer, my only prayer, my one phone call with the worst words in the worst order, if you are the beautiful cracks in the windshield only I can see (even if you aren’t), if we’ve been in bed too long, my dearest, if you are my darling, if I’m your deer, if you hit me with your car, if I’m caught in your windshield, if it’s all my fault, if it’s Tuesday and you love Tuesdays, if I should stay, if I want you in the worst way, if I am weighed and found wanting, if I’m full of shit (so are you), if I burn for this, if I am burning, if my heart could burn a house down, if I’m always burning down the wrong house (you), if your face like glass apples, if your skin like a rosy room packed with sleeping pickled animals, if your eyes like fire-poker holes, like small idiot stars blistering the black-out curtains this morning, if freckles of light like toxic petals of ivory mold speckling the sagging ceiling, if we’ve been in bed too long (how long is too long), if we fucked, if we’re fucked, if we fucked up, if we couldn’t help ourselves, if we’re helpless, if I suck (so do you), if you’re useless as a glass axe or wet matches (even if you aren’t), if I’m a goner without you, O my darling (and I am), sweetheart, if I’m the punchline of every country western song, if I should stay, if I would only be in your way, if I Will Always Love You is always playing somehow, somewhere always crooning the same tune on-loop, if this is hell (this feels like hell), if I’d follow you to hell, if you holding on to me for dear life, my dear, is hell, if I feel like hell for what’s happened, if this is hell (this bed), if hell is a bed (this bed), if we’ve been in bed too long (too long is too long), if it kills us dead in the end (what costs a body in the end), if I pay in light wood ash smoke like this is the last time, if this is the last time, even if we know what comes next (we know what comes next), if the cherry tree like a chest x-ray breaking up the window white with dark bones, if your face like a grubby water glass waiting for rain, if your eyes like dug-up graves, if your eyes in this light eaten out by light, sockets hollow as moon craters hollow as us (if us), if us, if heavy husks of marbled dust
:: Poem in Which We’re Finally Cowboys ::
—or, how when we climbed to the top of the extinct volcano, then over the guard rail, walking to where rock dropped off to city and water below, waiting for the storm we could feel traveling towards us to challenge our bodies, I wanted to be the bird that could take you close enough to become the point where blue crushed blue, to become horizon: we knew we could die at that moment, so we knew we could never die. This is what I always want to say, but never can when we telephone, and every time, I hear your heart in your mouth like a bird in the mouth of a volcano. All I want is for you to know that a way out is just a matter of falling towards wherever the light is coming from, or going. Darling friend, for the year we lived together, I wanted enough sunflowers to flood your days, enough moondust to cover your nights. These are all the things we sing to lovers, but never say enough, or at all, for friend like brother, broken smoke wreath my father’s mouth makes when he speaks of a man who, he tells himself again, is long-gone away from this life. You’re so lucky, he said to me when my body left yours behind in our city. You don’t know how lucky you are. I didn’t then, and I still don’t now. I thought I would shatter when I thought I would lose you the spring they removed part of your body. You are the bluest part of the sky, the most electric part of the sun cracking clouds like egg shells after rain, you are the greenest vein of field when everyone is looking and the glittering river from which no one can look away. If you were made of wood, you would be a cello, if you were made of light, you would be, not the star, but its reflection in the sea, at once, the brightest point in heaven and on earth, and always moving, carving your way out of dark: prayer I say for you when I remember how my father holds the one photo that never leaves his wallet for a frame, two cowboys with their arms around each other, the kind of holding-on they teach you for someday saving someone from drowning. Dying is a young man’s game, I’ll tell you one day, when we’re old the way beach glass is old— every bit the same color-bite, only softer at the edges. And I’ll tell you my best dream about you again: once before we were ever born, our bodies not then our bodies rode west in cars like caballos over crests of hills like waves in darkness like deep ocean, wearing woven Stetson hats and grinning under black mustaches, the sky like campfire light bleeding through the windshield: we’re traveling like lightning, like bricks through our own reflections in windows, galloping hard, heavy as waterfalls, you and I— riding how anything that knows it can fly and does because it never looked down, lives.
From the writer
:: Account ::
“Aubade with Dolly Parton on Vinyl” began as a minimalist experiment to explore love as hell, but didn’t remain so for obvious reasons. Instead, it blossomed and caught fire as a massive elegy loosely based on the story of Paolo & Francesca from Canto 5 of Dante’s Inferno. Dante encounters the lovers in the circle of hell for condemned adulterers, but when he hears Francesca tell her story, it breaks his heart. They fell in love, as Francesca tells it. They resisted their feelings until they couldn’t, and then, their passion kills them when Paolo’s cruel brother/ Francesca’s husband discovers and murders them. On the one hand, these lovers die for and with one another, and they live together eternally—which is the dream of love, isn’t it? But on the other hand, these lovers are bound together for all time in a horrifying vortex of pain in the afterlife. It is a poem obsessed with its own narrative of longing, but the conditional language of the ifs bite back against the romance. It’s also important to note here that in this version of hell, Paolo & Francesca wake up every morning to the exact same Tuesday morning in the same dirty bed of the same grimy room of a cheap love motel, and in this hellscape of a cheap love motel, a scratchy, skipping vinyl recording of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” is always playing softly, painfully, and faithfully on-loop in the distance.
“Poem in Which We’re Finally Cowboys” is a love poem for my best friend, Sarah. She is infinitely dear to me, and in the spirit of 17th century poet Katherine Phillips and her best-friend love poem “To My Excellent Lucasia, On our Friendship,” I wanted to write a poem to honor my beloved friend who is “all that I can prize, / My joy, my life, my rest.” This poem is also inspired by my father’s loss of his best friend, Jeff, who passed very suddenly just before I was born. I grew up hearing stories about them (“Gary & Jeff knocking open car doors off their hinges in a truck with a railroad tie for a bumper;” “Gary & Jeff get a car airborne over the crests of the hills of San Francisco,” “Gary & Jeff….”), and I always see the softness that fills in at the corners of my father’s eyes when I talk about Sarah. In this sense, I wanted to write the love poem for my best friend that my father never could for his. This is my celebration of the beauty of platonic love between friends who came from the same innocent design and immortal soul.
M. K. Foster’s poetry appeared or is forthcoming in The Boston Review, Crazyhorse, The Columbia Review, Rattle, The Adroit Journal, Sixth Finch, B O D Y, Nashville Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere; and her work has been recognized with a Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets Prize, two Pushcart Prize nominations, and most recently, inclusion in Best New Poets 2017. She holds an MFA from the University of Maryland and currently pursues a PhD in Renaissance Literature at the University of Alabama. Additional notes and links can be found through her website: www.marykatherinefoster.com.