M.K. Foster’s poetry won the 2013 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, has been recognized with an Academy of American Poets Prize, and has appeared or is forthcoming in The Account: A Journal of Poetry, Prose, and Thought; H.O.W. Journal; B O D Y; The Journal; Ninth Letter; Radar Poetry;and elsewhere. She is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she teaches academic and creative writing.
September Requiem: In Which Sköll Swallows the Sun
around the earth, mouth open, lantern jaws sprung wide to consume, finally
snap down around the glowing orb: how the people of that land once described
solar eclipses to one another, believing that, breaking the neck of their only light,
the wolf-god had damned them to darkness—the kind that only burial understands,
I tell myself when I find you asleep in our empty bathtub and wake you from
another dream about drowning. Reaching up, you hold onto my ribcage as though
holding onto a stone in the middle of whatever river threatens to erase you in sleep.
You’re grave-making, again. Through the soap, I can still smell the soil soaked into
your shoulders, feel the weight of the dirt straining across the nape of your neck as
your shape curls like a fist into my chest cavity, pulling me in with you and down—
so this is how light must feel, I think: exhausted, knowing that, once broken open,
it will never stop running, trying to escape itself. Mother, you are your mother’s
daughter. People say this when they meet you. And it’s not an answer, it’s an
apology. I’m sorry. Sorry she’s not here, they say. Or sorry about her, she couldn’t help
being herself. Sorry she didn’t get to see how you turned out. And you turn away. Here’s
a riddle that keeps you up at night: a man dies in a locked room with a hole in his head,
there’s water on the floor, blood in his hair, what happened? Not unlike, a man falls asleep
and wakes to find that he’s killed 200 people, how is this possible? But more like if your
mother is X and your dreams Z, solve for Y—which could either be your father’s memory
or a bottle or everything else you didn’t want to inherit. Something is always missing. It’s
noon: every window of our house is a mirror reflecting her silhouette from yours,
carving your form out of sky, and leaving a plague’s worth of grackles scattered
beneath the wall-length glass outside, a constellation of wet, iridescent torsos
shivering into stillness, a cosmos you rake into piles and burn like damp leaves—
why is that? That we bury what won’t stay up or go down? We were raised
to think more of our dead than as something to bury, raised to believe there’s no
way forward but down, no way out but through. We pray for what destroys us.
I haven’t lived enough to explain this kind of sacrifice to you with anything
that isn’t my body lifting yours from the porcelain to move you to your bedroom.
The cause of death is always an icicle. The murderer is always a sleeping lightkeeper:
I’m sorry to be the one who has to tell you. I’m sorry how it’s supposed to be noon,
how the days are shorter now, how the woods beyond us have become an orchestra
of abandoned trees, wild and hungry for wind, for anything that would move them
without being seen, bodies aching for touch without contact, how you shudder
in your sleep by night and shout, howl into cloud by day for anything, something
to obey you or come back to earth. Mother, the sycamores grieve for you like cellos:
how else can I convince you that this kind of safety is love? Come out—, they say.
You must come outside to scare the wolf away: an entire nation gathered beneath
the sky, screaming to bring back the star that sooner or later blinds us all.
“ ‘September Requiem: In Which Sköll Swallows the Sun’ has roots in Stephen Hawking’s reading of Norse mythology in his 2010 book The Grand Design. As a creator, I could not find it within myself to leave unturned the idea of thousands of people shouting together into the sky for the duration of a solar eclipse, believing, somehow, that not meeting the elements animal-for-animal could mean their desolation; it is a poem that follows also my interest in striking alignments between the sublime and the domestic, the macro- and the microcosmic. ”
A is for aperture, an opening with no guarantee of closure, a broken window dark with damp smoke. B is for your bones, exposed or otherwise. C is a crematorium, a way to leave by entering. D is for doorway, a way to enter, but not necessarily leave. E: exposure. I tried to fall asleep in the snow on the day they burned you. F is ninety-four degrees Fahrenheit, the beginning of hypothermia. G is glass, the condition of my skin as it froze. H is hypothermia, the outcome of trying to sleep in the snow. I is the ice in my water glass splitting the silence over our kitchen table. J: just— K: know I— L: left an empty plate in the M: microwave if you’re hungry, in case you come back from the dead in the middle of the N: night, a nerve, exposed or otherwise. O: your oranges, forgotten gutted exposed on our kitchen table.P: the panic of cardinals collapsing on our snow-bleached yard. Q: the queries I left for God in the votive beside the cathedral reliquary. R: the roof lifting away from our house, landing like a broken bird in the yew tree across the street. S: the skin on the roof of your mouth, the shape of your body in sleep, the sleep you lost through the floorboards the season you spent wanting a way to fix things before they could break from weather or wear, the sleep you lost through yourself and you scarred with night like the sky scarred with cloud from the storm that carried you, the storm that carried you into the river, the silence your body spoke when they pulled you from the river, your body swollen into the soft slick shape of sleep— T is for noli me tangere, do not touch me. U is for ego postulo ut sepeliam, I need to bury. V: my vena cava, exposed or otherwise. W is a crematorium window filling with black smoke. X is the dark window of an x-ray of your chest cavity filled with water. Y: the lost yellow teeth collected into a cereal bowl on our kitchen table below Z: a zero, a hollow black frame hammered and hammered and nailed white-hard into the only wall that faces the sun in December.
“ ‘Nox Manualis’ began as an experiment with abecedarian form and quickly swelled and heaved to become a meditation on the violence with which grief lashes out when one tries to order, contain, and tame it; additionally, it is a poem that flows into my larger curiosity with the action-reaction presence of Latin in my poetry, following the query what can a root language enact that a descendent language cannot perform? ”