Tuesday 16 February 2021

Three Poems by Patricia Nelson


First Sailor 


With oars and flying cloths  

he darkens, like a mindless dye,  

the ocean’s size and meaning.  


He speaks the swerve of newness.  

The squeak of wheel and wood, 

the loud and crooked water. 


His round eye, like the circling stars,  

touches every dark. His mark  

moves on the water like a tiger. 


He blunders on the windy sea god  

who rattles the sky with glowing rain 

and the little black leaf of his eye. 


One future pauses like an animal  

and passes by, twists the dark and light  

on a roar and a triangular horn.


The Three Weird Sisters Speak to MacBeth 


Moon strews shadow on the field,  

and a silver stillness. And we sisters,   

casting light. Light that falls unequally  

and makes the spaces flower differently. 


Light is near us like a skin of heat or insects.  

We move the shadows like a lifted lamp.  

We are mirror, we are bright, we wield  

the color of winter. And we are always right. 


What we prophesy must fasten to a place. 

So show us your burning unsaid thoughts.  

Show us with your writhing eye  

the hole where you hide your wishes. 


Even now they rustle, quicken 

beside your words like a little wind.  

We want to touch them with our fingers.  

Then we’ll go, like the shifting of a shadow. 


Walk on our icy voweling  

like the white stones in a garden. 

Follow the cold if all the light is gone.  

Your wishes strengthen the illusion. 


We will take you  

where you want to go. 

Mark the sky like a moon.  

with your radiant, damning act.  






The women opened the silver mirror:  

A seeming stillness filled with moon  

and a pulse of light. A little sea that rose  

to touch me with floating things. 


It fingered my thoughts with images,  

the riddle of what I might do. Violence  

glowed in the seams of it. A slyness  

of witches, part gleam, part murder.  



I glided into the dark as if in a sleep, 

drifting among the floes of light, the awful subtleties.  

Dream and wakefulness repeated the wishes  

they brought me, wringing me like a mutable cloth. 


It seemed to question me, as women do, to prod. 

I knew that the words for yes were “advance”  

and “kill.” That the path was weeping  

a light I didn’t understand. 



I grew bold on the water that holds all blessings  

The water went faster, deeper,  

like a kind of forgiveness,  

a fever of high-sounding words.  


I think I rode the fire-colored river  

as a soldier might, holding its dangers to me  

with the motions of my hands. I killed quietly,  

quickly, apart from the jabber of witches. 



I was made for a soldier’s death—a thing of the body 

made with rules and loud, simple words. 

The women made me want those other things,  

they who seem to own the change from light to dark. 


A glowing moon that will sink and rise  

and sink again and show you your soul.  

Oh, if the light of bravery ever loved me,  

why did it send me here? 



Patricia Nelson is a former attorney who writes in the "Activist" tradition, a movement started by Lawrence Hart in the 1930s. Not a political movement, but an effort to fully occupy the poetic territory opened up by the Modernists. 


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