From LOUDER THAN EVERYTHING YOU LOVE
By Nicole Rollender:
I remember your clavicle pressed like a blade
under your skin, the moon
pooling in your cheeks’ hollows. You wanted
to be buried in the green dress
you always wore with pearls. We’d sit outside your back
door, watching bats swing over the lake.
Once you were like a weather vane twisting
at the edge of a field as you watched tornados spin
toward your house, your mother asleep on the couch.
I suppose you couldn’t tell me you wanted
her dead. But now you’re gone like she is.
I listen for your voice in the church
inside me, where a priest’s hands outline the shape
of a death. Yes, he believes vertebrae have ghosts.
This luminous pew, where a bird can earn a spot
in paradise—but I’m told the earth
can’t perform the miracle of giving you back.
I know the music your bone shards
make in the urn. You could be an old woman
shaking fish skeletons to conjure the dead.
You could be this fish skeleton.
I should know when a body need not be resurrected—
when the ways we said our names between us,
quietly near the azaleas, trying not to startle
robins (now, now they’re singing on your spine),
stop being music I can hear in my mind,
but become something other: how I scatter
the notes, adagio, pianissimo, and what answers
as the wind scatters white feathers into the lake.
PSALM TO BE READ WHILE MY DAUGHTER CONSIDERS MARY
A swaddling, a manger: but what happened before all this, my
daughter says: when Mary was a girl: I said yes: did she feel an
undersea tug on her spirit: did she think she might be able to move
jugs of water with her mind: I said yes: to birth a man who would
walk on water: a man who would tattoo his image in blood and sweat
on a shroud: did she, in the night fields, look for a star that would
lead seven shadows as colors into her life: what is wine: what are
these fishes, these loaves: for, he entered and exited her as light: her
waters stayed intact: yet, she swaddled a baby who would nurse, laid
him in prickly hay next to goats’ stiff fur: I said yes: listen to this: your
great-grandmother saw Mary appear next to my mother’s crib: my
mother caught measles as a baby: your great-grandmother was a seer:
she walked with Mary back to the stable: comets circling as angels in
a flock overhead: Joseph, wondering: I said yes: Mary, whose baby
pierced through her as light: holding a boy who’d be lanced with a
sword: who would bleed, pee, sweat and groan: who contained God:
who contained her blood: who contained everything in the world:
yet, held out his hand and cried for her milk.
THE LIGHT MAKES MY GRANDMOTHER CRY
Her stories still smoke up the kitchen, a dead woman
cooking peasant soup. Pigeons, lightning boiling
for the living. What kind of truth-telling do we expect
to fall off bird bones? Her death was supposed to be
a leaving, except it wasn’t. Her mutterings clack on
the backs of my teeth. She’s learning what dead women
do: swim the blood of their daughters, spread themselves
on ceilings like giant moths radiating light. The solstice
lights the halo-less among us. Her gap-teeth swallow ashes
in the urn. The coffee grounds won’t settle. She pushes
her hands up into mine, slides her ghost bones under
my skin, and watches my fingers dance the shadow-
-woman-waltz-grasping-at-spoons. She remembers
the day Pinky the poodle was nabbed from her front
yard, pretends to pet his wooled head. That’s why you
need fences to keep the dark ones out. She uses her skull
as a pot, hissing up, Give back the life I gave you. The sink
runs red angry water. She tiptoes up my spine in her
old slippers, knocking on every vertebra she sees.
It’s true that the dead get younger. Some nights she’s
a skinny girl waking from a bad dream, calling for
a winged mother, the saint of lost dogs, to come down
from a parapet. It’s this girl I let stay, because she also
cries at the stars, whose light goes right through her,
for the dead woman she will grow up to be. That new
blaze, coming from as far away as blue stars going nova,
the lesson in the death-light: The dead learn
to smell what’s sweetest among all the rotting.
Today’s poems are from Louder Than Everything You Love (ELJ Publications, 2015), copyright © 2015 by Nicole Rollender, and appear here today with permission from the poet.
Louder Than Everything You Love: Nicole Rollender’s poems balance on the uneasy boundary between third eye and communion wafer. Beside an “old woman shaking fish skeletons to conjure the dead,” the poet as body becomes a conduit for the generations in both directions, such that her “body is full of holes the dead / look in and out,” while of her daughter she says, “my ribs / were her scaffolding.” Rollender alternately glories and suffocates in her holy entanglement with her lineage, with her God. And when she comes up for air, she ululates a hauntingly familiar song. —Jessica Goodfellow, author of Mendeleev’s Mandala
Nicole Rollender’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, Memorious, THRUSH Poetry Journal, West Branch, Word Riot and others. Her first full-length collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, was published by ELJ Publications in 2015. She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications, 2007), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio, 2015), Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She has received poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Ruminate Magazine and Princemere Journal.
Editor’s Note: Nicole Rollender’s first full-length collection is haunting and haunted, tender and tendrils, eye of newt and mother’s milk. The poems contemplate generations and generation. Death and little deaths. The ways we go on, the ways we are remembered. How birds alight on our remnants after we are gone. Its pages are rife with the inheritance of seers and magic, wisdom and sight. With what is passed down amongst women through the ages, from mother to daughter again and again and beyond.
The book’s moments of stunning lyric are interwoven with its major themes so that they become “the music… bone shards // make in the urn.” On the theme of death, the poet writes: “I listen for your voice in the church // inside me, where a priest’s hands outline the shape / of a death” and “I’m told the earth // can’t perform the miracle of giving you back.” When contemplating Mary as mother, she notes the real miracle, that Mary birthed a god “who contained her blood: who contained everything in the world: / yet, held out his hand and cried for her milk.”
Want to see more from Nicole Rollender?
Order a signed copy of Louder Than Everything You Love and get a bonus broadside
“How to Stop Drowning” in Muzzle Magazine
“Aperture” in A-Minor Magazine