Two Poems by Shelley Puhak
Guinevere, Dissecting Lancelot
Still wet from our dip in the river,
you stripped off your shirt and so
I found the freckle that straddles
your third vertebrae and from it traced
the length of your spine. Then sawed
through bone archways, stem to
sacrum, to get to the cord and its tortuous
membranes. Tested my forceps against
your most tubular bundle. Tugged
your palest tether. And carved out cross
sections to sample your nerve.
To think that I have the stomach
for this! —your slop in my stainless. Or the eyes.
To read between your lines, reckon
between vein and slimmest filament.
Lancelot, Alone at Fort McHenry
Oh say, can you see!— from 95 North, the swath of city
from stadium to incinerator smokestack jutting up
like teeth too-crowded in the bay’s small mouth.
I’ve seen and Ginny, darling, I can no longer breathe. I got off
the interstate, cut through an industrial park, throbbing.
Then I saw an alley named Excalibur Drive. How could I not
pull over and sob? My heart is, apparently, impure, clotted up
with more than cholesterol. In the afternoon meeting, I was
pulled off the Grail, the account given to someone who isn’t
so jaded—my own bastard. Damned Galahad, kicked out
of Oberlin, thrice, standing in the rain every weekend,
protesting, waterproof in his Patagonia and linked up with
his iPhone. There’s ignorance and then there’s innocence.
If you don’t want me, Ginny, I don’t know what will weigh
me down. There’s gravity and then there’s me being grave.
I rode the rim of highway like the crease of your lips, searching
by the twilight’s last gleaming. This fort offered succor. Here
the sky is spangled with spiral galaxies and the bay refracts
the dream of their strange light, a luminescence almost-liquid,
past-solid. Ginny, when you speak there’s light glinting
off your fillings. There’s a city stuffed in your mouth.
Shelley Puhak is the author of two poetry collections, the more recent of which, Guinevere in Baltimore, was selected by Charles Simic for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. Her poems have most recently appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, and North American Review.