Dark Room I
Here, waiting for images to rise
in trays of fixative. Under the dim red light
appear angles of sun and shadow,
the structure of bone and muscle,
motion of willows. After hours in the garden,
along the shore, on shabby city streets, trying
to fix the faint pulse of blood and unease,
I come to the dark room again, again, hoping
to find a photograph that stuns me, an image
that reveals a complete autopsy of language.
Alice In Mourning
My head is a lead bell
The muffled tongue
And strikes and strikes
A bell vibrating
My hands gnarled clapper claws
O my poor child:
Soon they'll take him away
In his best blanket
I can't leave the parlor
I stroke and stroke your cold face
My feet rooted in floor boards
My head an empty chamber
My heart a dry well pulsing with briars
O my boy
My teeth notched and broken
A bleeding lead bar
Welded to my jaw
From "Photographing the Dead"
Still Life: Sophie
Small alabaster hands
clutch violets that are just beginning
to wilt. I smooth the lace dress
over small still feet. Her lips,
slightly ajar after the last soft breath.
We plump the pillows,
cradling her between
clock tick and peach bruise.
This morning I heard
the passing of rabbits--
rabbits on the lawn. One sat
alert, like a statue with brilliant glass eyes.
Someone is stripping her room
of bedding and toys,
then Tom will whitewash.
In the barn, a saw rasps.
We had no cards to scatter their warning,
no potion to win her return.
Tomorrow, we will gather to bless her.
Tomorrow, beyond dreaming,
she will fall into the earth.
Alice’s Daughter Watches:
What The Dying Dream
Rising and sinking in a morphine wash
sometimes she’s startled back by desire or pain
to the room I wait in. Her astonished eyes
stare beyond my vigil.
Early this week her hands frantically tore her chest
snatching away insects. Beetles, she cried,
Rabbits. Hallucinations, the nurse says--
she’ll settle soon. Just drug dreams.
What do the dying dream?
Is it all a delirium screen
then brief escape, a small waking between dreams
and burning at the gut or brain?
She’s dreaming of the smell of chemicals and
the darkroom, of negatives rising to light
or of the green stone of a filigreed ring,
or the faded scar across her throat.
The white line reverses, brightens,
livid and ridged, the stitches burning
clear down to the fire in her chest.
My arm, my arm, she mutters.
I rub her arm, her back:
touch helps, or the morphine.
Her cries fall to a low word: rabbits.
She dreams of touch,
arms lifting her to a lit candle,
the pat of an infant on her breast,
the tug of strong arms loosening her skin.
Now only skin and the pressure
of one body on another enter her dreams.
A nine month fetus
she’s straining and thrumming against the skin of time.
My hands are midwives.
Darcy Cummings's poems have been published in journals in the United States and England. Her book, The Artist As Alice: From A Photographer's Life (2006), where the four poems above first appeared, won the Bright Hills Press Award. She has received fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation., Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Currently she is teaching creative writing at Rutgers University in Camden, where she is also studying non-fiction writing, memoirs and essays, in the M.F.A. program.