Complete focus can resemble utter distraction, just like
there’s a point where my lover begins to look like a stranger
and large things begin to look small. When the squirrel
twitching in the dirt becomes, upon closer examination,
fleshless, animated by feasting yellowjackets, I’m reminded
of the summer evening I stood on a porch in Vermont
as a veil of insects caught the last light and dove over a golden field
before me, bearing it on their backs. Behind me, friends
played music from a small, portable speaker.
A relative had recently died. I was imagining her funeral.
I was wondering, as the gentle music swelled around me,
if she’d ever been to Vermont, if she’d ever left
the small corner of the United States where she was now
ashes in a vase, when I crossed my arms around my belly
and held my own waist. I swayed like this, facing the field
and overheard: Gabrielle really knows how to love herself.
Today I am on an island made by glaciers advancing south.
I step over the squirrel whose body is being
replaced, advance, stepping over driftwood trunks
bleached like mastodon bones and piled
at the tide’s furthest reach. Over and over, unevolving:
the lathering of sea, where same meets sameness
roughly, spittle sparked in long and snaking seams
where those on the shore can see it. This is vanity
interrupted by the depths. My phone’s face lights,
buzzing with text, but I don’t recognize the number.
Is one ever alone? UNKNOWN wants photos, no face,
they will pay, they are hoping I am cute without clothes,
without my face. I consider sending a full-body shot
of the squirrel with an invoice, captioned:
How much more nude can you get?
There are squirrel fossils here from the Eocene,
and the women in my family are dying. I face
the clean, midday air. Their funerals are so, so small.
Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Gabrielle Bates currently lives in Seattle, where she works for Open Books: A Poem Emporium and co-hosts the podcast The Poet Salon. The recipient of support from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and the Princeton Poetry Festival, her poems have appeared or will soon in The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, and Buzz Words: Poems About Insects (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series), among other journals and anthologies. You can connect with her at www.gabriellebat.es or on Twitter (@GabrielleBates).
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