Mudlark Poster No. 106 (2012)

Self-Portrait: A Gallery
Poems by Rebecca Dunham

Self-Portrait as Convulsion | Fragment
Monologue and Aside | Gorgon
Precipice | Ancient Light | Cannibal

Self-Portrait as Convulsion

             — as Lavinia Dickinson and her Daisy
Hands out, she flails, blind
to fall’s chloral leaves as they flurry
a silver snow. My mind’s stutter

a galaxy caught mid-spin and cast
carelessly back. Unfaced, I am
moon-black and still, pillow in hand,

culpable as night’s skirt enfolds
my sister’s form. I want
to lay down with her, immobile,

and let heaven flay me, field
of loosestrife threshed to a fine flame.
Sweat’s purled scent washes

my brow as I throw my spirit
supine through the library’s half-
open door. Skull seized

and portioned orange bright, I braid
her fingers and mine. We leap
as one, into morning’s nacred light.

Self-Portrait as Fragment

             — as “Dora” to Sigmund Freud
I am the good stenographer.
My fingers tap out
thoughts upon my thighs
before they cross my lips’ lush
seam. You say the first
account is an unnavigable
river. I say, stream choked
by mass of rock. Say,
do Herr K. yourself. Divided,
then lost. Come beautiful
as a wind-whipped and blooded
white sheet. Amid shallow
and bank, become overcome.
Volt of hysteria jag me,
zig-zagged and holy — I
will not unravel: O, pinking
shears. O sawtoothed one.

Self-Portrait as Monologue and Aside

             — as Ramon Guthrie to an Intern
I am unbinned and I am not. No?
Fluency unbending, I am endless rigor of soul,
a soundless zero. Slow down.
I yet forget my unborn child: untitled and unselving,
a cell dividing, painstaking.
            I confess a love of the garden slug.
All, but most especially the small pink commas
that curl beneath the flagstones.
No, write this: it will never come to pass.
My lips I pinch. Will say no more.
(Comrade in gown, release your lung-ash breath.
If she wakes, scrape her throat with feeding hose
and scorch her papered locks of hair.)
I am immune
to your plague of death-in-life, your diseased
and feathered angel’s wings.
            (Soothe her with the gentle rope,
            yes wind her in a long gauze mask of tape.)

Self-Portrait as Gorgon

             — as Lou Andreas-Salomé to Sigmund Freud
It is not me but curiosity
that kills in the sea’s green
field: its victims like the sirens’
heap of bones, flesh still

half-bound by them —
                                the heart
blood always trails up, unwinding
like a long, red snake:
to be a hybrid is to be
a horror —

rapacious, unrelenting, all
tracks may lead to me but none
come back out —

Self-Portrait as Precipice

             — as John Tyndall, on his deathbed, to his Wife
If insomnia be switch-
yard, I am its ticketed
passenger. Sleep,
be my final ascent:
let me notch you glacier-
like, pickax to peak,
nail-stung, silver
tooth in your stilled neck,
pale as a lady’s skin.
This is the verge —
sleep, mountain, death —
dancing eardrops
that chime with a lover’s
every breath. Heat is
a science. Is the unseen
curtain drawn round
the marriage bed.
Let not my love be
unrequited, loose not
my fever into space
untrammeled. Dam me.
Or suffer our verdancy
poured out, the sun
that rises upon us all
a cold, mineraled
mass to be palmed in
a giant’s frost-iron fist.

My poor darling,
you have killed your John —

Self-Portrait as Ancient Light

             — as Rainer Maria Rilke to Lou Andreas-Salomé
I cannot be what you expect of me:
You named me R. —
                              named me pure —
but my hands are stained
as any man’s, my most ecstatic cries,
black notes scored on a stave’s
white page,
                  my every breath
a storm. Starlings thunder overhead —
it is a sick swarm,
this voice of mine that I must lift
                              like a pack of dirty birds
to wheel amid the flint-flat sky.

Self-Portrait as Cannibal

             — as Poet and Her Self
Feed me to myself.

Pleat and riddle the channels
of my mind, meal of bone and brain
               before me.

I will be as a God, bovine-mad
and felled in a wild rage.

The autoclave cannot break me.

I will speak in my own tongues,
will survive the culling,
               will persist here in pieces,

in patient soil and await the spade
that splits the humus dark —

I will rise, tasseled grain, in waves
of sunlight like sunlight
               folded in upon itself.

The soul is a sponge.

It can take so much, so boiling
and bright, it makes the eye ache.

Rebecca Dunham is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, The Flight Cage (Tupelo Press, 2010) and The Miniature Room (Truman State University Press, 2006). Her chapbook Fascicle is just out from dancing girl press, 2012. She received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry and her poetry has been appeared in AGNI, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, Colorado Review, and Triquarterly Online among others. She is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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