Two Poems

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: