Remains of Saints

Let me gnaw on this knucklebone awhile.
Let me kiss this femur.
Let me carry a sliver of wrist
within this necklace, reliquary
dangling on my neck
like a disciple hanging on every word.
These are not the bones
of some enemy rattling in a jar,
midnight teeth
of one who’s been slain.
They told me they will help
a cripple walk again, the blind
to see—here, pass me
the dinner plate where her eyes,
put out, once rolled then rested.
Document the miracle
of the Virgin’s face emerging
on a piece of toast, of her tears
coursing down in rivers
on a painting in black velvet.
There are enough thorns from the crown
to spike a rose garden in every city.
Enough pieces of the cross
to build houses for the homeless
all around the world.

In the Soup with Sexton and Plath

Hey girls, I say, in my best Kathy Bates imitation,
don’t go overboard.
It’s summer now and while my nails are drying
in suburban light I think of them—
you know, all the time in the world for one,
and for the other: feeding pence into a gas fire
while London choked up with ice.
We used to drink warm Cokes there, pub food
roiling in our bellies. Not a place to be
an American Girl, but then, apparently,
neither was Newton, Mass.
Maybe it is better to croak in an airport taxi
between worlds, the liminal
being much in fashion these days.
Here’s to the serene deaths of poets in their beds!
(Raise your glasses, mates.)
Doddering off to oblivion, to “light more light”
whether it be the firefly’s twitching
or a green seam flashing over the Pacific
before the pirates board you—you, stock-still,
or screaming into the wind.

Listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” for the First Time through Headphones

I thought I knew this piece. I’d played it many times to seduce a lover. But now these
lush organ tones in my skull in counterpoint with the piercing violin, no longer
suggest orgasm, but rather the ecstasy of the Bardo state—my father’s. I see him
sitting alone in a darkened room, headphones on. I didn’t know what he was
listening to; he came and went in our lives like shadows. All my life I couldn’t touch
the music lodged in my father. He wouldn’t yield it. There was no singing in that
house, though we had good voices, and not much playing. Our old upright had been
hacked to bits and hauled out on ropes to make room for yet another daughter. No
singing, no dancing. Somehow we knew it wouldn’t please our mother who wanted
to be the solo voice, the only body swaying. And so my father retreated from us to
some music he loved under headphones. And each of us, when we could, fled to the
silence of our desks and beds, and later as far away as we could get. Yet not to
expand and sing, to sustain one note as long as that last tremulous note in Ralph
Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” And not like the twelve
princesses who stole away underground to dance all night with abandon. Instead, to remain in place, to have music only in one’s head. That’s how he could stand it.

Susan Gubernat is a professor of English at California State University, East Bay. She is the author of Flesh, winner of the Marianne Moore Poetry Prize, The Zoo at Night, winner of the Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, and the chapbook Analog House. An opera librettist, her major work, Korczak’s Orphans, in collaboration with composer Adam Silverman, has been performed in a number of venues. She lives in Oakland, California.