voices from the cascadia bioregion

requiem for no hands

by alexandra teague


Because she was angry; did not have a piano
in their small, North Side apartment; did not know the music
to the first big fight after the wedding dress
was bagged in plastic like a body, its infinite beads
unprismed on a shelf. Because of the plywood-
and-carpet silence the door left as it swung closed

behind her husband, the way it stayed closed
in false expectation: like my mother’s (her piano
teacher’s) eyes on her hands: the keys’ wood
waiting for more thunderous, perfect music
than she could ever play. All those dark beads
strung across the staff of one great Baroque dress

she could not unravel, like her wedding-dress
vow of love, the hope chest she’d closed
with God as her witness—the hard abacus beads
tallying up to forever. She had no piano
to practice; no other life to learn the music
she’d been given. Maybe she hoped she would

scare him; maybe she imagined he would
save her: passed out in the kitchen, her dress
soft as gas fumes—her body distant as chamber music
from some far-off concert. Maybe she closed
the windows, imagining applause—a piano
she alone could play—the light in sharp beads

across its Black Sea gleam—the air beaded
with anticipation as she found each note the wood
held in it. Maybe she never thought of pianos
as she turned the gas on. Maybe she told her dress
goodbye in the closet, prayed, bolted the still-closed
door so her husband would find her music

already played. I remember little of the music
my mother taught, patient as rosary beads,
at that piano. Not that woman’s name, closed
in some lost book of concertos. Only the wooden
bench where she didn’t sit practicing, dressed
in young, grown-up laughter; the spinet piano

she was saving to buy after her wedding dress.
My mother playing—sweat-beaded, crying—music
she’d never teach; how the piano folded closed.

 

    orphans, fire, blindness, gold

    by alexandra teague

    
    

    — for Kristin
     

    The days we played Orphans, everyone cried:
    our grief like giftwrap crumpled under ornaments,

    shining, disposable and perfect as toys never were—
    our parents plunging wind-swept over railings

    of cruise ships and skyscrapers, our best gone pair
    of mittens in a blizzard, and us cobbling heartsick fire

    out of sticks and loss until it blazed whole countrysides
    of flames across our tear-streaked faces—burned

    the newsprint headlines of our lives: our names
    escaping first into the firemen’s arms: lovely, doomed

    syllables of Annabelle and Esmeralda dangling from rope
    ladders in the new blind darkness—all ash and amazement

    as stumbled at each corner of the unfamiliar
    world—how we wanted now to touch and taste

    its sadness, crustless as an elegant sandwich—
    palace lunches we swooned for, tired of, longing

    not for gold tiaras, but the narrow band of golden
    light below a doorway of a room where people

    whispered How could it happen? Oh, those poor girls.

     

      sketch: charcoal and body on paper

      by alexandra teague

      
      

      The girls who posed for Beginning Drawing,
      insecurity slipped off their shoulders
      and draped over chairs, knew how to turn themselves

      into specimens—naked and safe
      as feathers or bones or the amphibrachs of antlers;
      how to suggest, like that, wildness and bodies in excess

      of the bodies we could see. Their faces
      when I’d pass them later in the hall, out of place,
      too intimate to look at. Afterthoughts of neck

      and breasts and hips. What I feared of my skin—
      its proportion, perspective; the way I was always
      and never really posing. How I wanted that beauty

      that knew how not to care: let people
      stare. Let them mismeasure,
      smudge pages with charcoal, erase me.

       

        the louvre saloon, san jose: hatchetation (1903)

        by alexandra teague

        
        

        Truly does a saloon make a woman bare of all things.
        — Carry A. Nation
         

        Somewhere inside, we are all cheap painted
        velvet: sprawled nude with a choker of diamonds:
        Jane Stanford’s jewels—meticulous, accurate—painted by spite
        by an artist she insulted on a hooker, nailed up in this old saloon
        so any drunkard could leer the pearled globes

        of her pendants. Those light-drizzled lobes like Vermeer
        mixed with “Like a Virgin” years before it played in a Texas pizzeria
        and I first thought—pepper flakes flaring my raw child tongue—
        what it meant: something like souvenir fans unfolding firmaments
        of blossoms, bridges, from their tight-clasped spines—oil-tanker waves

        on the Gulf’s brown water: iridescent as unspooled tapes by the highways,
        men muscling crates of light onto the docks. Ripeness always verging
        into rot. The yard-sale, take-me-please temptations of our hearts
        like tawdry bullfight scenes or sweet Delilah’s sheers on Samson’s curls
        (her haremed by girls—in oil-painted corsets—on the Louvre’s dark walls).

        Is it any wonder Carry Nation came to call? To try to cut the crushing
        velvet of desire down to size? Your loving home crusader come
        to hatchet loose the whiskey spilling gold like rococo frames. The glasses
        held to hide the fear of hands; the rickety bar-stool spinning
        of this life. This bulldog running at the feet of Jesus—baring her teeth. Save us

        from us. The nails, the shattering light; the beautiful, weakening knees.

         

          driving after rain

          by alexandra teague

          
          

          The self like silverware laid out finally for a feast. Bright
          lanes of light along the gorge this morning, that watery rush

          like the waterwheel I used to love to go see at the mill:
          the War Eagle gushing brown Southern babble

          over sunspots of stone, dark flecks of childhood
          lifted into swinging buckets, rain pockmarks of failure

          or giver or grief churning not in transubstantiation but in water
          rising up as water: holy in the hands of old oak;

          Oh God, make them like a wheel not a curse, but a way
          to ride the whole way around our bodies

          and back—like once in the front seat by an L.A. highway,
          I’d pull over with a man, a storm

          so blinding rain blinding no one saw my skirt lifting
          against steering wheel; we were always driving nowhere

          and it didn’t matter then, suspended
          like water I don’t quite understand, how it falls fast enough

          to carry itself up and over and still be whole
          the way I pretend I wasn’t—though I knew he was lying

          that he’d ever love me, threw myself anyway
          like this river was everything. As stubble before the wind.

          Inside that mill, flour dusting every skin. So what
          if I’m dammed and damned and driven; some days

          I’m also shining like spoons milled by water, bread
          my mother kneaded as I set knife beside fork—hunger

          taught to be orderly as wheels at fairs, that sky-swinging danger
          with its sturdy spokes like psalms splitting the word of God

          from the water of every other word.

           

            statement of place: alexandra teague

            When people ask where I’m from, and I say “all over,” they always laugh, until I start my catalog of places I’ve lived. I was born in Texas, grew up in Eureka Springs, in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, went to college in Missouri (and briefly Montana), grad school in Florida, moved briefly to Hawaii, then spent a decade in California, and now live in a small university town in northern Idaho. Of these places, the Ozark Mountains and the West—both California and Idaho—are most deeply home. After three years in Moscow, Idaho, I’m still only beginning to directly write about experiences here—but the broader landscapes and history of the West and Westward expansion are integral to my forthcoming book, The Wise and Foolish Builders—which centers on the story of Sarah Winchester, Victorian heiress to the rifle fortune, and the large, strange house she built in San Jose, California. In that book and these newer poems, I’m particularly interested in how history layers with current experiences of place—whether it’s imagining the Louvre Saloon, which used to exist in San Jose, or thinking about how driving along the Columbia Gorge layers with personal history from Arkansas and California.