T/error: A Troika

Sarah Holland-Batt

Joint first prize ($7,500), 2016 Griffith University Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize


1. Delay

Your plane suffers an unforseen delay.
A man with a home bomb in his shoe clears

security, treads gingerly across the tarmac
towards paradise. In your mind you diagram

the mad foxtrot he made pre-flight
as if a pattern of dance steps: black brogues hooping

through the terminal’s eateries, death under
one sole, life the other. Death-life-death, life-death-life.

The line between each stride broken as borders
or a child’s perforated blue cut-outs, those designed

to say here is where things break. How did he choose
which foot is the question that snags you,

how did he lace it using the usual knots, knowing
its wild assignment, that long detonation of sky?

2. Fetch 

And when I was at the end of my breath, and wanted to fetch such, I drew the water all into my body, whereupon I suffered such distress that it would be impossible for me to relate or describe it.
Thieleman J. van Braght, describing waterboarding,
The Martyrs’ Mirror
(1660)

The lake does not think            of water.
The star does not think            of carbon.
No ontologies of scutchgrass, no epistemologies of peat, of coal.

But when I was at the end                       of my breath, and could not fetch,
                      I sucked the dark knot
of cloth, fielded and furrowed it

snatched            the jackknifing stars            in            and out            of my mouth
and still I could not think
                                             my way to air.

Simple nouns are an errancy: water, board.
Wood draws water through its core
and that is called expiration.                       Or aspiration.

There is an error at the core of everything.
                                  There is terror.

My body was the error            of my mind.
My mind was the terror          of my body.
My body could take and take. It was infinite.

My mind could not. It snapped, poor reed.
I thought enough. But thought is a poor rebel.
It cannot make. It can only assay.

The body co-operates. It has always been that way.
Say drown            and it goes down like a cracked cypress,
huge and primal, by the Aeolian sea.

Break the leg. Brace.            The wind gets in            everything.
The whole is disappeared. Disappeared: transitive.

Language should be tortured                     the philosopher says,
to make it know             its cage. The body works the same way.

Snap the instep, tilt the skull into a trough
then pour over the gauzed acorn of the head,
crack the bones in a Spanish boot.

3. Upon viewing a still life by Chardin and Thinking of the Marathon Bombing in Boston

Duck Hanging by One Leg, Pâté, Bowl and Jar of Olives (1764),
Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts

Begin with the hock of a leg, brisk
                       whisk of flight, the flex, the weft
            that batters over lake, stutters into sky
                       and gives the mallard life
                                  or what we think of as life, which is movement

frieze of a duck's leg pointed to the ceiling, red flare,
                       and below, like a snagged handkerchief
            the body drops, forever hurtling
                       towards the mannered Mediterranean
                                  accoutrements: lemon, olives, brown loaf of pâté –

forever hurtling, and think, you have only one morning
                       in which to imagine this – that is,
            many possible lives
                       but one death only,
                                  which we will not admit is the only constancy,

one death, on trajectory – it is so difficult
                       to imagine, driving out of Springfield, Massachusetts
            in a clotted summer morning,
                       so difficult to convince ourselves
                                  these are our bodies, these are our corpses –

In the painting by Chardin we are in the scullery,
                       the piece of linen is too-blanched, too-hushed,
            and the beautiful victim: cloud-white, could-grey
                       the world winnowing into its face, its body
                                  dangling over Capri lemon, fresh air, eighteenth-century

light imbuing everything with gravitas – be still,
                       be still, death is forever but if you are still
            you will master it, you too will
                       be beautiful, then in the radio chatter
                                  suddenly they are talking about the marathon

            in Boston and how they will kill him, the Kyrgyzstani boy 
                                  with the backwards cap who hefted 
                       death in his athletic bag, the one
                       with a dreamer's face like a Titan who blew
                                  apart all those legs, those arms, those bodies

mashing in the unexpected moment – tragedy
                       arriving instead of triumph – but it does that,
            masked, enters unannounced – and often in the canvas
                       we mistake it for beauty, completion masquerading
                                  as perfection, death, the finished artefact –

so dearly the state wants to kill him –
                       lustre of porcelain and sheen of fat –
            as they talk about importing the dose, how they will do it
                       I see that death is an embellishment, that what
                                  is important is the ceremony, the arrangement,

as in the painting – the dead are so obliging, so still –
                       they let everyone in,
            crush of linen, gleam of glass, and above,
                       the game suspended perpetually, as if there is
                                  any artful way to hang a living thing.


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