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Poems

hännah a. ettinger

for the swan babies

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Order
“this is the past”
Los Angeles
The Fool
Nine of Swords

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5
6
7

“this is below you”
The High Priestess (an enchantment for granting a wish if you are lost)

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9

“this crosses you”
The Moon
The Mage

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11
12

“this is the heart of the matter”
The Devil

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14

“this is before you”
Light
The Tower

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16
17

“this is your house”
King of Pentacles
King of Wands
The Star

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20
21
22

“this is your hopes and fears”
The World
Death

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24
25

“this crowns you”
Queen of Swords
Queen of Cups

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27
28

“this is the root”
The Last Judgment
Strength

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30
32

“this is the final outcome”
November
The Sun

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34
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“this is the past”

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Los Angeles
The rows of beetle autos shudder and click
And the streets are rows of hollow bricks
Squares in squares on squares.
If I kissed the moon for you,
Her face melting the blank sky
If I catch her before she putters
Into the next cloudbank
Would she bear it to you over the mist?
Or would the drone of embryonic machinery
Devour it first?

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The Fool
I sit on the edge of my hip
Words stashed in my cheek pocket
So I can chew my lunch while you
Hurricane on the other side of the tabletop sea
Whirl and tussle your head of trees.
They always give storms girls’ names.
Evoking less fear – we are slower to buy extra candles,
Water, bread, unlatching the back door for a visitor,
Letting in her mewling noise, just an extra mouth to feed.
Her name paralyzes me, setting my bones in ice
And my teeth plane the sandwich edges, around and around
I will not match your windy song—
I suck in my coffee and my stomach
And swallow three words, one at a time
Dry-mouthing these pills of light to defuse the bomb.

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Nine of Swords
Today I am simmering, a makeshift double boiler
Melting these essentials,
Skipping with the steam hissing under my edge
A metal bowl ill-fitted for the pot below.
The heat is steady and the roiling water does not stop.
My edges tap tap tap against the brim.
Make this be an even heat.
Do not let me scald.

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“this is below you”

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The High Priestess
(an enchantment for granting a wish if you are lost)
Weave lanes under spotlights after work.
Catch sight in a red light second, sever the eyes, click.
Pace your burdens uphill, march three times around the corner.
Toss gift horses in the dumpster out back, by the stand of trees.
Break new pottery under the light of the bloody new moon.
Swig back a beer, hum a radio song four times,
Wipe down the edges of a silver sink, leave the floor unswept.
Pray in the doorways and walk the halls of a sleeping house.
Pour a libation and pray your deepest wish,
Dance barefoot in a circle, but do not touch the earth.
Burn incense and blink if you see your face in a mirror.
Crawl under covers, watch the sky turn scarlet,
Taste but do not breathe the wisps of a cigarette.
Lie with your head to the north and watch for sunrise.
Fold hands and do not touch your eyes if tears do come.
This is the way home again. This is the spell for return

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“this crosses you”

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The Moon
Now I wonder how many more nights
I can shoulder and shove into the dark,
Walking until my legs burn more than
The soft dissolution in the beaker of my chest
Melting, foaming out the holes in my face,
Burning my skin.
The compass of the sky ducks, spins, as
I stumble toward Orion, arms spilling nightmares.
While the house burns down, heat at my back
He stands still, raising his club
Against firefly ash.
Brace me with a kiss
Buttress my arms with stars—
If I stand too long, with my hands empty
My skin will tear itself off and walk away
The lines of my muscles will disenchant,
And fade like a glamour at sunrise.

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The Mage
What does your sacred gut say?
He pierces me through the smoke.
My teeth are thick with earth,
And my ears are full of starsong.
I light a candle behind his back,
He pours the wine into the saucepan.
You must stir it very slowly, he says
Patience tempers fear of charring.
He dares my fears until I cannot sleep
And I wake; rested, alive.
When he leaves
I want to kiss his hands.  

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“this is the heart of the matter”

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The Devil
I cannot be good anymore
I do not want to crawl on my knees
Asking for peace with my back to the door,
Stringing up my prayers in rows,
Knotting my parts to the rafters.
I want to tear the sky out of your heart,
I want to crack open the cage of your ribs with my teeth
Suck out the sweetness from deep in your bones
Gulp down the darkness
Until you pray to me for more.
I am tired of being staid,
Hearty and nice to talk to over breakfast,
Shrinking in the wake of your gruff.
My feet are cold in the dirt and
I know I can run all night.
Why would I sit still when the stars are on fire?

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“this is before you”

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Light
I will crush the sun with a pestle
Drink the rose down in decondensed sky;
Hold it in my belly and curl up around the orb inside
Until it sears through my skin and
Burns out my bones.

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The Tower
The leaves curl into the branches now.
I step in the slick left by last night’s tantrum
And the woods around me are aloof,
Gun-shy and cool to my songs after the thunder,
Untouching and breathless as I pilgrimage up for news.
I came here clutching shards in my fist
Like a child hiding the evidence of the teacup she broke,
The one she heard you say you loved
Brought to you in the quiet of the morning
A first gesture of surprise
With a little too much milk and soggy toast.
The postal worker slammed the mailbox next door each afternoon
And I walked to the border there too, the warm world to my back
Glowing lights and screams coming through the storm-door glass.
If I looked up the road, the beech leaves would stare back,
Their clinging endurance a dare:
Can you stay, can you walk back in?
Can you breathe when the sky is grey?
Do you know the words of the promise?
Have you sung that song?
Can you hear the screams behind the storm door?
When their backs are turned, I dance for the sky
Returning the familiar dare
Can you bear to stay, can you walk back in?
Can you breathe when the sky is grey?
Tonight I returned down the long hill
Passing out of the woods to
The thrum of the generator chuntering in the back
And you are laughing.
The propane hisses in the stove and
Her eyes are so bright that
The ribs of the walls wheeze, sore from too much mirth.
I break a mug, you pass me a new one.
Your skin is warm on mine and

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I can feel your fingers sing.
We fall together in a lump
Blankets thrown down, tightly woven with threads of gratitude
I open my hand up and the fragments are gone.
You kiss the red-lined places where they bit my palm.

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“this is your house”

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King of Pentacles
I smell the benediction of salt and garlic
Rearing up over the iron bulwark
Where flamelight licks his skin clean
And under his shadow’s soft shape
The onions hop and dance.
Here in the cabin dawn,
He is Vulcan over the fires,
Coaxing heat into the morning air,
Peppers kissed by the knife sear
An incense to this altar of flesh.
He salts our day with luck,
Beneficence beaten into eggs and vinegar.
It’s a simple case of chemistry, he says
And I watch him casting spells at daybreak
Holding his breath for the cracking open of each fat yolk,
Singing into the bright music of steel on wood,
Passing out barrel-chested promises on august plates.
Cup this in your mouth,
Hold it very still.
Sound out each ingredient,
Remember the notes.

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King of Wands
We are pruning in the garden at sunset
Light sticks to my eyelashes
Your edges shift inside the music
Syncopation dissonant in space.
When I am not looking
You kiss me blind;
Laughter snaps the world open.
The stars girdle the sky.
Where I span you—
Fierce joy burns us out.
*
She dances in the morning,
Cigarette and coffee on the back of a truck—
Her hair turns to flame,
And I watch you burn down.
You put yourself out at the end of the day,
Where turquoise pillars of water throb into the earth
You swim as if to hold them up,
Arms so open, shoulders bearing every particle of cold.
I have never seen anything more lovely
I sit in the emerald moss and let the mist teach me
How breathing works.
*
The first time you looked at me, I told you I was sorry.
And I saw that your eyes see the stars as well as mine.
When they flame out for you each night, I wonder
If it is a prayer, a violet-aired promise,
Or simply, the end.
The dog crashes down the slope, carrying the sun on his back.
I watch him follow you, mouths wide open,
Guzzling down primal air.
*
If this world closed in on itself,
I’d still find you
Throwing a hatchet at daybreak,
Blessing the universe
Over and over under each breath.

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The Star

Here, I am the veil,
My face is night.
Now the water is my lover.
We are lush, naked.
This is my libation,
The dew I collected when
You did not know to be watching.
Between us is this page
My forever protector when
I empty my head into my bones.
Once, I will tell you stories,
When my face has turned old,
When this moment is still mine.
I will tell you of the velvet night
The promises she made to me—
You will taste it on my lips.

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“this is your hopes and fears”

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The World

In this junction, where the wood forgets our borders in its vivacity,
The air passes through the trees like blood through veins and
I stand in its heart, a muscled knot of wood and blackberry bramble,
Watching the light change, the metabolic processes of this forest body
Absorbing and breaking the light fragments, fractaling sky in oak branches
Tearing apart the sunbeams, scattering the pieces on the pine-paven floor.
Here, I think, I should absorb and observe,
Eating and breathing with the motion of this place.
Here, I think, I should put my mind in order
Orbiting the light with my eyes,
Rotating in a dance with the form of this space.
In the kitchen, the trees peer in through the windows, watching us with interest
We sit and touch each other’s scars, tracing the edges of the blood and fire

That birthed us into this dark, carried here in our suitcases, hidden from the stars.
On the front porch I feel my organs move in time; I try tasting my own blood,
Sampling my breath on a cigarette exhale sitting on the breeze
While I hand over a patchwork of my days, pieced together on the back porch floor.
I came to the woods to be buried.
I came to the woods to let you die.
I came to play house with the three day’s trope.
And you did not follow me here
This time
I came, burning the air behind me.
In a gravel-paven tunnel of morning light, the trees turn their backs politely when
A kiss burns my mouth clean of my own bile and I watch you ease yourself into a new soul.
The nave of trees make a fairy grotto, and I remember what you said to me last
When we talked about the fairies and heard their song, and I wish I had taken your hand
As I told you about the light in this place, trying to carry the breath of these trees to your ears.
But you did not watch my lungs fill and fall with me or feel my pulse in the dark,
And I’ll sip this sunrise without you, craving this light to splash on your shadow.
I came to the woods to be buried.
I sat and the trees were my confessors.
I walked into the woods alone
And the brightness burned me until I was alive.

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Death
You are the oldest kind of addict.
And I can taste her on your mouth.
How do you sing when all your bones are gone?
Does the calcium edge of her voice give you light?
She moves in the dark, cigarette burning a hole
In the pocket of the sky until all the stars come falling out.
I can push you over the edge to bask in that sunrise.
We drive north together, robbing daylight and laughing.
Under the stars one night, you told me your name
And we danced until my skin throbbed with the sound.
We were weighing out our days and passing the buck
Playing out our games in the woods
Hoping our mothers wouldn’t care.
When you left, the sky sang another name
The stars vibrated under her song
I clung to the trees and quizzed them about caring.
The creek ambled past, and I hoped you wouldn’t notice.
I heard the moon slip me your name
And my skin sings the words at night
When you are alone, I heard you scream it—
Hiding under the blankets, sinking in your room
Praying you might forget.
But I am casting a spell in the grass,
Binding the trees and the stars to witness
In hopes you’ll wear it on your chest
And stand to shake hands with the morning.

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“this crowns you”

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Queen of Swords
Flintfaced, I scatter the bones
Left in my backpack
When the ravens came
Last year.
On the table I spread out yellow, blue
Gris, rouge.
Words kaleidoscope behind my eyes;
I have never loved so much
and said so little.
You gave me fresh bones.
Under the moonlight, over the sand
I hurl them
Again and again and
Again.
My fingerprints wear your blood now.
The stillbirth sticks to my skin.
The bones have divided.
I have spoken.

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Queen of Cups
Her mane is a fire, snapping under the single light
White teeth cut the air and clamp
The rose of her cigarette, her breath
Shading the air between us with a veil.
She cocks her spine against the door
Her hips taut, her feet shooting forward.
The shadows stretching from her slippers
Mark out the paces between us.
We will not return from here.
When that coal withers,
Perish the unspoken,
Smoke fading on air.
I ask her for the whiskey bottle,
Its neck strangling under her hand.
This is our last communion, our only peace to share.
She hands it in, a scab crusting over behind her eyes.
Our fingers do not touch on the glass.
She blows a last breath out the door
And on the bottle I taste her this last time.
She grinds out the cigarette on the linoleum
Where I sit, splayed out on the floor
Kicking the ashes, her bitter vow at my feet.
She is the queen on her final throne,
Blazing out into the sea
A furious pyre drifting on lunar tide,
While I raise Cassandra’s lament to the night.

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“this is the root”

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The Last Judgment
In the spare white room I stand on the scale,
The stiff cotton gown grazes my hips
Touching me only again at my shoulders.
My feet chill at the metal surface
The needle shivers and I am weighed out for today—
Less than enough, less than yesterday.
I am shrinking into my bones,
Transparency heavier than flesh,
Weighing less than nothing.
Here I wait for the man with the nameless eyes
Scuffing the lintel when he returns, clipboard covering his feet
Attentive and divided, so fixed on his list
That he never knows his patients’ eye color
Except from reading it in the charts.
I lift my gown to scandalize the mirror,
My bones heated with the possible torment—
Permission denied to cease breathing.
I trace the lines of my ribs, measuring out in my mind
The cost of the scar slicing out this foreign object
In the cage of my chest, the quick mewling bird on my liver,
Singing at my heart to do it again, compress and expand,
Inhale the air and push it through my veins,
A gift to make the hands move, the feet stay warm.
It will hurt tomorrow, but not today.
I am determined to anesthetize;
I know the man with the clipboard will comply.
In the mirror I see him return, and I will not look him in the eye.
I will breathe if I only see him through the glass
And he knows he must not touch me, too.
I know he will say that I am right, it cannot go on—
He will take back this hopping, cheering little life,
Tucking it under his arm for safekeeping.
I point to the scale: Look, I am less than before.
But his skin burns mine as he brushes past and slides the metal clean.
The bird must live; there will be no cauterizing the flesh
No severing of self from self for self’s sake—

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I will play the martyr’s part for the long con
And see if I can trick myself into wheezing my ribs open,
Prising a laughter crowbar exit if I can just look away.
The closing door gust ushers in my alone self
I’ll pick up my pants from the chair when
My fingers remember to operate their machinery
Despite the adrenaline intoxication.
I close the doors of my chest with
Little buttons running along the bone,
And I hold my breath and pray the bird to hush
So I can run down the hall
Without feeling its wings flapping.

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Strength
Telling you no is like telling
the moon she cannot pull my blood
each month;
like telling the sea when
and how
it may kiss the earth.
It is asking the sunset
to stop burying its heart
in my veins.
This is mine.
No.

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“this is the final outcome”

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November
The woods are my quire;
I stand in the hollow between trees, suspended
In the air that strokes their branches
The mist runs her hair along the veins between us
Catching my eyelashes with her kisses
Pricking my neck with her needle caresses.
You ate a whole world of voices, holding them in your chest-I can hear them thrashing against your breath.
The trees pull my air taut, absorbing the breath into themselves,
Pressing it back into the damp, secrets pawned off into promises.
I am thick with stillness.
I want to pry open your mouth and
Pour it into your lungs until you stop this trembling;
Pull the mist around your neck and press
The coolness into your twitching muscle strings,
Mute the drone buzzing in your skin.
Can you feel
the mushrooms growing?
Can you taste the decibel descent
Their silken souls hibernating in the death of motion,
The potent darkness of soil at rest?
Listen to the rain chanting on the leaves—
I will not kiss you; you might be inhaled into me.
The rain knows your name,
It strikes out the syllables in softest elucidation
We cut up the earth when we leave,
Aerating our ignorance underfoot
Crushing the tiny breaths of green along our way.
I am saturated.
And your waters settle into stillness.
I returned here before.
I will not again.

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The Sun
If you came running down the hillside in at the close of the year
Stopping under the yellow of the wild plum
Stretching over the chortle of the spring,
You might glimpse, kneeling over the water’s skin,
A sky shot through with a star
Fresh slung out of Orion’s bow.
This is a place where time is a word that other people use
To satisfy endings and openings.
This is a place where time runs thick,
Congealing around shifting lights
Around hollow spaces in the back of your soul.
I journeyed here in penitential state,
Black armband fresh and hands naked.
I came to flirt with the cave, greeting sunrise on my knees.
But I was instead required to suffer delight
Stung by a mass force
Joy barreling over the trees at sunset.
Here in the whirlwind,
Here in the rain:
My matins is belonging,
My vespers libation.
If you came running down the hillside in November,
Sopping up branches on your coat sleeves,
Tumbling the mushrooms in the loam,
You would be struck at autumn’s paraphrase,
Dumb in the laughing of the light.

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