Speaking of the Octopus
A swirl of pickled silk,
stronger than she seems,
adept at attach- and detachment.
Apparently aimless bouquet of boneless limbs,
she does not have a shape,
forty thousand three hundred twenty,
with a tendency
when not in pursuit
to gesture in several directions at once,
expert in self-contradiction, adept
at obscuring her wits
with a talent for drifting,
propensity to hold still, stay still,
her thin skin taking the color of what she dwells on—
she does excellent impressions of water and stone.
Her face a pair of voracious eyes
and a fierce mouth hid
in the single pit of her arms. She can fit
through keyholes, open the lids
of glass boxes and climb in or out, but prefers
the amniotic wrap of the sea;
daily she reads its endless blue page, or
down where there’s darkness, thoroughly
fingers the Braille of a coral reef.
Quieter than eight snakes, her unfurled
anemone of flesh
trails her sack of a head until
she finds something desirable, chases it,
clasps it in arms
that give it a hundred cold kisses—or, if
she is too deeply moved,
makes a decoy self of ink
and dissolves behind it.
Three darknesses are my menagerie:
the hole at the base of this stone wall, the shade
lying deep in that thicket yonder, the earth
hereabouts that a gray fox goes to.
The porcupine draws his needles out
of the shade, sometimes, if I leave him salt;
the fox shies out on her weightless feet,
sometimes, if I clear the lawn and play music;
the badger I have not seen. The grass,
between quick dances, accumulates
my futile offerings: bits of roast beef,
carrots, glowworms, marzipan.
I’ve brought out my easel and paints for another
portrait of a stony opening,
empty of the animal I await
while either pretending indifference
or bowing before where I think it is,
the decisive beast who will come to me someday, surely,
if I stay ready always, will come
the moment I am not ready.
The Whiteness of the Breastbone of a Goose
The whiteness of the breastbone of a goose
infallibly tells how thick the snow will lie
while there is yet time to prepare.
The goose is killed for its secret. No matter,
its down and flesh will cover the children’s ribs.
Of course for the heavy hand of winter
the farmers assess as well the behavior of squirrels,
the timing of birds of passage, the thickness
of onion skins. Anything to shake loose
a hint of what comes next, what to do,
though Jakob with his yellow eyes
and Fred with his rosy spectacles
will come to different conclusions,
and Karl, rubbing his face with filthy hands,
can never agree with his brothers.
White that conforms to ground and seals it like sleep.
White hummocked over wagons and fences.
White that blinds a man to the way home
six freezing steps from his door.
They bend to read the feathered wreck,
their heart’s blood chanting My roof, my fields,
my cow, my wandering son; they wield a blade
to gouge out mere foreknowledge,
splitting a seaworthy sky-gray vessel
that might have sailed on,
appearing on the dark river white itself,
if not for snow.
We slogged in a sea of wind, sponge divers
free to pick up pennies but never
to shed our brick-foot boots and rise
above the thrashing trees.
The dog was either otter-smooth,
if she faced north,
or fluffed open from behind
like a dandelion.
Litter and leaves scurried sideways near the ground,
or leaped up, yet the sun beamed straight down,
so our legs and arms
could be bare and warm,
though so many molecules streamed stripped from our skin
that dogs statewide caught our scent.
We were diminished by the time we got home
and lurched into the sheltering front room,
whose quiet felt welcome against the ear, yet porous,
once the door was slammed for us.
Sarah Lindsay, a copy editor in Greensboro and a recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, is the author of Primate Behavior, Mount Clutter, and Twigs and Knucklebones. Among other places, her work has worked its way into The Georgia Review, The Paris Review, Parnassus, Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, and a friend's very exclusive cigar box.
“'Menagerie' goes back to the sad little city-park zoo we visited sometimes when I was little. Gradually I realized that the most fascinating animal was one that stayed out of sight behind the smelly concrete space with its name on display.
"I read the phrase 'the whiteness of the breastbone of a goose' in a list of ways to foretell winter weather. The list didn’t say how anyone knew what degrees of whiteness to watch for."
Q&A with Sarah Lindsay
What direction do you face when you are at work on your writing?
Lindsay: When I'm writing the poem, I'm almost always at my desk, which faces east right down the street that dead-ends into our yard. Before the sitting-down part, I tend to work things out at the kitchen sink while washing dishes, facing north.
Opening move: Rock, paper, or scissors?
Lindsay: I'm partial to paper. And once it's used I can write on the back.