Nancy Kuhl outside the Beinecke Library

Open-Mouthed Irises

August is Summer Reading Month in Daily Nutmeg. Please enjoy these excerpted poems from Nancy Kuhlโ€™s The Wife of the Left Hand (2007).

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Panels: The Dinner Party (1. Still Life with Spilled Red)

Silver, precisely set, catches gold
firelight; crystal cuts shadow. This
table holds everything that keeps her
rooted here: open-mouthed irises, blinking
sugar bowl, finger-thin flutes. This room,
she knows, rests atop a gash in the earthโ€™s
surface where hot mud bubbles nightly from below.

Wine scrolls across
the table like calligraphy:
What more could they want?

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Advice for the Bride

Be keen-eyed.
Be as alluring as ever.
Forget what you wanted

to say. The impossibility
of explaining will settle
on the room like dust.

The rumor it turns
out is true. Or almost.
The key is a care-

ful design, day by day,
the way it all adds up
to a fishbowl full

of ticket stubs and match-
books. Day by day. This,
all the evidence there is.

Flirt into then what,
sweetdark and nearly
soundless, this.

Flutter of hands. Hips.
Downcast eyes. A bride
can fit her whole breath

inside a crystal vase. Be
so unforgettable. Because
one wants the marvel, the full,

the faultless lips. One wants
a glance backward over
bare shoulder, a yellow jewel

at the throat. See, the dancerโ€™s
waist, how it anticipates the hand
that will guide it into the nextโ€”

next spin (skirt lifting
to a scalloped edge)
the next perfect turn.

Ghost Town

I am the square of light that falls
on the pears in the basket.

I am the white sphere of the plate.

I am the honeysuckle held to your flat tongue, the
sugary drop.

I am the far away sound
of cars crossing a joint in the blacktop.

I am the subtle nick of a needle and I am
the bottleโ€™s stout neck.

I am the splinter beneath your skin (hushed
voice repeating throb and ache).

I am the miniature peacock feather pinned to
the silk band of the brideโ€™s blue hat.

I am the leaves twisted to braid the flowers, and I am
the unexpected weight of the boughs.

I am the waves past the high dunes, crash and
pull, the salt air; and I am the waterโ€™s
surface, gray-green and still out of sight.

I am the crack and snap of wind in a shipโ€™s halyards or
a flag at half mast.

I am the doctorโ€™s cold hands, pressed to
your belly, your ribs, your spine.

I am the body you reach for at midnight, the body
you reach for in the gray hour before day.

Who were you the night the pavement split and slid?

The night fire cracked the earth open and I
fell into its mouth?

Who were you when uneven air shook the wings?

Who were you when first frost broke the branches?

And who are you now, as the last of the birds
cranes his neck to look?

And now, turning a flawless plum in your hands;
and after (lips and teeth and tongue)
the sweet red bite?

Who will you be when the rooms are empty?

When wind swings the door wide?

* * *

The Wife of the Left Hand by Nancy Kuhl
Where to buy: Shearsman Books | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Small Press Distribution

Image, photographed by Dan Mims, depicts Nancy Kuhl outside her workplace, the Beinecke Library.

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