A Struggle with Time
the indefinite continued progress of existence . . . Wikipedia
It’s always been this way.
If someone says three o’clock, I think nine.
If they describe the bow of a boat
as twelve, the stern as six
and all the hours in between,
I look in the wrong direction
and miss the breaching whale.
I labor over number-bearing
cards, can’t keep hands straight:
flushes, full houses.
My house is full of missing hearts
like the skipped pulse
when a phone rings too late,
family calling or a stranger
transposing a digit. I could converse
about false moves, answer loss
but usually talk over another voice,
unsure how long to pause
to distinguish clockwise
I’d pay attention to shadows,
the chiaroscuro of Renaissance masters.
But here whole weeks with little sun
and the contrast is obscured,
no telling dawn from dusk.
A twenty-four hour clock helps:
adding twelve to each hour
like disciples of time
distinguishing the treachery of night
from that of daybreak.
Yet minutes still confuse, the shift
of hands at before as opposed to after,
while behind my back,
whales leap from water.
• • •
Five Cosmological Headlines, First Person Accounts
Salmon Leap in the Sky and Floods Begin
What’s mistaken for fast moving clouds
are fish swimming through air
and massed on the horizon like storm.
Daily, small bones pour down
and are caught in throats.
Some swallow them whole. Some choke,
refuse to go outside until the sun brightens.
Either way, arched skeletons
are the only constellations rising
and we imagine natal streams:
sweeping gravel into nests and laying eggs,
depositing milt. The salmon hurdle lunar currents.
Flooding reaches new heights,
offerings made to shadowed noon.
But how much blood will raise light again,
release the blue in sea and sky, the prostrate trees
from weeping. We take comfort in old ways:
build arks, gather animals—
our voices hushed by wild refrain—
fashion fish to worship, their scales burnished
as overlapping stars. Yet salmon orbit
and the deluge continues.
Hills shake their sodden coats like dogs.
A dove appears with ladders of bone in its beak.
Dog Takes Moon into Her Mouth
She drags it to ground with her howl,
pads down hallways, lips the orb softly,
a bird she’s retrieved. We who slumber
begin to stir, observe the sky’s void,
each hour darkening. We wake
to find the moon burning
where the dog dropped it whining for reward.
Though she was christened Luna
and we call for the moon daily,
we insist she put its radiance back
spilling everywhere. She howls
the moon skyward again
as a screech owl chalks night’s blackboard.
We who woke return to dreams.
The dog gums a remnant of light, true to her name.
Stars Refuse to Shine
They’re tired of brightening a world
that clings to darkness.
We’ll leave it to the trees,
the stellae whisper in voices that burn:
Let the rooted rise and fill the sky
with hoarded light.
So ornamental plums bloom pink
to enhance dawn and dusk.
Coconut palms release their seeds into orbit
pulled like satellites toward the rind of Earth.
And among groves of redwoods, trunks explode
into novas, no damping such coals.
What stars linger nod like sages,
stroke their beards of latent flame.
Astronaut Chooses to Remain in Space
A pinprick of light, the comet tail
of her tether floating loose, lure
of severing attachments—
she weightlessly watches the sun rise and set
before oxygen runs out.
Does she seek an infinite silence?
Freedom from voices held fast by gravity?
She drifts close to Venus to understand love,
circles Saturn like one of its rings—
becomes a particle of ice,
small as a salt grain, large as a house.
The message she left quoting Genesis:
and it was evening and it was morning, one day.
Sightings of Extraterrestrials Increase
Aliens with skin so thick it can’t be pierced
and hearts so efficient they don’t break.
With multiple eyes like insects to catch movement
from behind and blood that denotes emotion:
sky blue for calm, orange excitement, grey sorrow.
Hominids who walk upright like us
but speak telepathically,
a ringing in the ears we’ve yet to decipher.
Some insist these beings are angels
though they have no trumpets,
no flaming swords. They simply appear
and allow us to study them.
Or remain invisible, evident only
by what they act upon: a sudden flailing
of trees, while no wind, higher tides.
Some predict the end of times, others the beginning.
• • •
I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.
I’ll wear a red blouse bright as a cardinal
in flight and cradle a bouquet of white lilies
like bandages to an open wound. You can’t miss me,
the platforms vacant but for a three-legged dog
that sleeps curled around absence and the shifting shadows
of pigeons. What will you bring, a suitcase
filled with books instead of clothes? Something to read
out loud but in translation so nuance is lost?
No matter. We won’t have time for subtlety.
Consider my blouse, the lilies and train-less tracks
where I’ll linger among pigeons: their eyes
opaque as beads of blood, their need transparent.
Like a jar you housed infinite tenderness
and the infinite tenderness shattered you like a jar.
I pick through your fractured edges and try not to be cut.
By the mirror, finger bones beckon me
to come closer. In the bathtub, broken ribs reveal your lungs
collapsed beneath the weight of water, your heart
that beats in arrhythmic struggle. And under the faucet
where your spine curls, each vertebrae is bared
like an exoskeleton being shed
and fragments of your skull. Only your jaw remains
hinged: opened wide to express astonishment,
its void exposed. But are you really surprised?
The splintering began long ago, the tender crack
in your voice, and long ago you coughed up shards.
. . . a house so vast that inside you will pass
through its walls and hang pictures on the air.
You’ll call out to hear your own echo,
listen for it down the hall and dream of deserts
like infinite rooms seas once leveled
though water now a mirage as ravens circle
chanting guttural admonitions like prophets.
You’ll wake parched and seek my likeness
hung from the sky, drink darkness from my eyes.
There’s little else to be done for such thirst
but stir from reveries of loss
and hurl your cup against walls of air.
I’ll return balancing a carafe of wine on my head
and throwing handfuls of salt.
Sometimes a piece of sun burned like a coin
in my hand, like I’d never want for heat and light
and all the shining barter of this world.
You squint at my fist, douse it with water
but still it flares, a dormant star,
blaze seeping through my fingers. A beacon
on days when the sky is lost to cloud
and you wear gloves that resist flame
to cradle my palm: blow on it like a coal
to lift the corners of rooms. Then you suggest
we place the sun’s silver among our knives,
unspent. How it gleams like those blades
before they melt and we bury the coin,
buy more knives and sharpen them again.
. . . no one saw in my mouth the moon that was bleeding,
no one saw the blood that was rising into the silence.
You take a white shirt and hold it to my lips
to absorb the stain, wring it into dusk
and blot my chin until your shirt becomes a map
of wounded continents. The moon gushes
freely down starched sleeves as I choke
on its red aura while a prediction
of fair weather: an easterly wind
devoid of storm. A sailor’s hope lifts
in my chest as night begins to hemorrhage
and I open my mouth and the moon pulses
arterial through shadows
with a radiance that can’t be subdued.
Note: Italicized lines in this poem are from Neruda.
You take me where I’ve never been:
asphalt humming into distance,
carved faces of presidents, graves
of soldiers buried where they fell.
We cross wind-shocked plains
where you once hunted rabbits,
their hind legs still kicking as they dropped.
Where tornadoes tore at the horizon
and you hid in cellars among shelves
of preserves, tomatoes suspended like hearts
in glass jars while outside fury threatened
as if winged monkeys filled the sky.
The stillness after, cicadas trilling
among furrows of corn.
Each farmhouse, barn, dog
gnawing at shadows, we reach lakes
that look like seas, sniff the air for salt.
You hold my hand so I remain balanced,
the need for equilibrium, staying upright.
Some days, calls of wolves
like a train whistle growing faint.
Other days, badgers shambling along tracks
as if riding the rails like men my mother called
hobos, who were always on the move.
Those who knocked on back doors.
Whose hands shook when she gave them bread.
What will you give me as we return west:
answers to questions like coyotes ask of night?
Whether morning will bring enough light?
Whether it’s safe to be alive?
• • •
Sally Albiso published three chapbooks: Newsworthy (Camber Press, 2009), The Notion of Wings (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and The Fire Eater and the Bearded Lady (Finishing Line Press, 2016), and a full-length manuscript Moonless Grief (MoonPath Press 2018). Honors include the Jeanne Lohmann Poetry Prize, The Comstock Review’s Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Award, the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Award, the Camber Press Poetry Chapbook Award, and two nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Her poems have appeared numerous journals and anthologies.
She started writing poetry in earnest in 2003 when she and her husband moved to the Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. Sally had a sensitivity to her surroundings and events that was often reflected in her poetry. Sadly, Sally passed away in October 2019 after a fourteen-month battle with pancreatic cancer.