I went to see what people are really like / in a thousand human ways.
For Poetry Tuesday we bring you work by Sandra Lim and Aimee Nezhukumatathil. These poems are invitations, unlocked doors. Each poem is a room where we feel intimate and close to the poet’s voice. The poem cracks open to reveal a kind of light, its heart, to confess secrets and love—for “you,” “for something about the world,” for “something awfully beautiful.”
RITE OF SPRING
by Sandra Lim
Dimmed summer. The fortune-teller reads
my palm in the humid dark.
That spring I could not be whole.
Feeling atonal and unconciliatory,
I went to see The Rite of Spring.
I went to see what art in general is about
and what people are really like.
I wanted to watch the shape
of a movement,
the trajectory of a body as it makes
the shapes that it will in a limited ambit,
revolving around an implied center.
The young virgin dances herself to death
to bring forth
the flowering of spring.
ritualized, vivid decisions of actions.
I went to see what people are really like
in a thousand human ways.
All these gestures from life, deformed
to suit a more open, imagined music.
She won’t make an affirmation
or a negation of my destiny,
but it’s good for business, the way she eats
through the score of a life and keeps me
hypnotized by the future destination.
I watch the fortune-teller as I watch
an absorbing movie:
I just want to know what happens.
by Sandra Lim
From the last stars to sunrise the world is dark and enduring
and emptiness has its place.
Then, to wake each day to the world’s unwavering
limits, you have to think about passion differently, again
Don’t we forgive everything of a lover
if we are the motive,
if love promises to take us to many places, to even larger themes?
Faithlessness is a heart glancing down
a plumed avenue
in which one is serenaded by myriad, scattering birds.
Thunder in the air begins opening appetites;
everyone is being true to themselves, they think—
And then it is having your right arm sheared off
and the whole world gets to touch you, chime your losses.
I turn to my imagination, but its eyes are still
green, as if from
too much looking on at equatorial gardens.
Still, if I were you I would linger here,
deepen in the rottenness,
learn something about the world, about the desire for safety.
Then, I’d make an instrument from the ruins,
something awfully beautiful.
I would sit down to eat as if I were reading a poem.
I would observe how the night
went into the day with a special grandeur.
It could be like swallowing a sword and growing surprised
by how good it is, how it opens.
And then maybe to sing out with a throat like that—
look how the world has touched me.
SELF-PORTRAIT AS NIAGARA FALLS IN WINTER
by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
I’ve only frozen over six times. First was in high school
with cornfields on either side. The fever frothed before
I even met you. Another time, birds were on my body.
I have no other explanation for all the snow-stiffened wings
kids would find and tuck into their pockets to thaw
in their mouthy-warm cars. I sometimes catch a whiff
of cinnamon bread baking and the smell hovers before
it falls. I did that too. Hover, I mean. Too cold for a sari,
sorry: I won’t wear one unless I’m at a wedding. And weddings
here offer more brightness than a whole week’s worth of stars.
“Rite of Spring” and “Aubade” reprinted from The Wilderness: Poems by Sandra Lim. Copyright © 2014 by Sandra Lim. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.