from The Next World
by Christien Gholson

Dragonfly in the Palm

The Eros of reality begins with touch. There is no life without contact.
Without touch, there is no desire, no fulfillment — and no mind.

                — Andreas Weber, Matter & Desire: An Erotic Ecology


It’s cool. The chitinous exoskeleton guards a soft 
middle: heart and nerve cord that connect thoracic 
muscles to wing, wing to water, water-shadow to 
the sun’s reflection on water, sun’s reflection on 
water to the center of my palm.


My skin is azure, my hand floats inside the sky. I 
am a sudden peasant child in 12th century Iceland, 
just stumbled upon a North African Vagrant 
Emperor blown off-course. An insect never seen 
before on this island, emissary of some distant 
voracious god, maybe the god itself. Its greenish-
yellow compound eyes rove across my face, divine
thirty different pigments, dowse for the secrets 
those colors possess, secrets no other human has 
ever seen, will ever see.


Listen: I lived old age first, breathed through gills 
in my rectum, ate bloodworms, mosquito larvae; 
then, after one of earth’s eons, climbed a stalk, 
split my skin into wings. The final stage I lived 
as a child, shimmering; water’s prophet to 
the world of air; fire’s excited prophet to earth. 
When it was time to die, I flew into the sun, ate 
sunlight, returned as light on water. 


The god in my palm sees the blue vapor of 
sorrow rise from a scorched ponderosa pine; 
sees the magenta particles of hunger cling to 
a line of ants dismantling a rabbit corpse; sees 
the shimmering clouds of cerulean blue and 
celadon green from that holy and desperate 
desire to live escaping from an abandoned 
truck trailer; sees the earth-yellow aura of 
loneliness around a girl waiting for a mother 
who will never arrive; sees the amethyst violet
of gravity, endlessly drawing everything 


It lifts off, circles me, moves backwards, 
forwards, an intricately complicated diagram 
where sky, mandible, palm, joy, death, tarsus 
and hunger meet. I feel a hole in the center of 
my palm, as if my hand had been formed from 
this dragonfly’s need for a landing space 
three hundred million years ago, and its 
purpose is suddenly gone — leaving a prophecy 
of mosquito clouds, the size of small cities, 
feasting on the sun.


I am the architect of air, architect of sun, arch-
itect of sun on water, of water-shadows eating 
water-shades beneath your hand dangling in 
dark pond water; architect of the water’s 
surface continually breaking the sun into its 
elemental colors, colors beyond your abilities
to see, but know are there, ghosts moving
close, just out of reach, a question that never
quite forms in the brain; breaking you into 
your elemental parts: one part mosquito in 
the beak of a cedar waxwing, one part green 
wave foam slipping across wet sand, one part 
charcoal, and one part sunlight burrowing into
leaf veins in the space between waves of rain; 
a recipe I coded into the genes. 


I could hear it, hear it but not see it, hear
several other dragonflies out there, spinning 
around each other. Listen: somewhere inside 
that sound, a hydrogen moon moves through
the chambers of my heart. Listen: somewhere 
inside the sound, the source of the spiral
shaped snail shell inside my inner ear. Listen: 
wind and a lemon balm stem have joined
together, formed the solidity beneath my 
feet. Listen: this is how my body sounds in 
the aftermath. Listen: the dragonflies are 
still out there, moving in and out of 

The Rest of the Body


The swash moves fast, out of shoaling waves, chases 
us toward cedar cliffs, drowning fresh-water rivulets, 

like a foam-headed creature ignorant of its power, 
playing tag. It rushes down worm holes, flushing 

plankton and fish scraps into ravenous open mouths, 
linking the worms back to the sea, to the rest of their

body. A part of me wants to stop, turn, let myself be 
absorbed, worm-grateful, while the rest of me keeps 

running up the beach until the wave finds the limits 
of its reach.


You find an empty mussel shell. The inside reveals 
light pulled inside out, iridescent, the glee of a 

spectrum change with each new angle; the place 
where light was trapped (or made?) inside the shell, 

folded in by tidal rhythm, frayed particles of marine-
snow drift, and the motion of a thousand tail fins. 

Small bits of flesh still cling to the shell’s hinge, 
right below that dazzling color-shift. We laugh, 

suddenly linked back to the rest of the body, parts 
we didn’t know we’d missed. 

Two Turkey Vultures: Early Spring


Light rain through new leaves. Two red lizard 
heads turned, scanned us. Their spectral eyes 

revealed the movement of my own blood to me, 
all the minute threads that connect thigh to heart 

to throat; revealed the sensation of my bones 
exposed to wind, rain; revealed that I have been 

waiting for her death for years and now that it is 
finally near, the knowledge that I’m not ready, 

have never been ready, because being ready is 
not death’s concern.


They opened black wings, flew across the river, 
over pink bloom, purple petals, mud-tinted foam 

folding around the branches of submerged trees, 
fertilizing the vortex of ecstatic colors and motion 

with the shiver of death. And those bodies revealed 
to me that she also possessed black wings, a hooked 

beak, a taste for carrion, but had never known, and 
that because this was her inheritance, it was mine, 

too; and that there is no origin, no beginning place 
for how this came to be.  


After she dies, the seas will begin their slow boil,
under burnt-orange skies, sun filtered through 

smoke, a sick-light illuminating our faces, and her 
death will remind me what her broken body and

mind passed on to me: that I have these wings, 
this hooked beak, stomach acid that burns disease- 

carrying bacteria clean. Walking back to the car, 
there was a long black vulture feather someone 

had stuck into an empty rivet hole in a steel street 
light pole. It pointed the way. 

Christien Gholson is the author of several books of poetry, including Absence: Presence (Shanti Arts Publishing), The No One Poems (Thirty West Publishing), All the Beautiful Dead (Bitter Oleander Press), and On the Side of the Crow (Hanging Loose Press, re-issued by Parthian Books in the UK); along with a novel, A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind (Parthian Books)
     Other work at Mudlark includes the long poems AllHallowTide, Four Chthonic Praise-Chants & One Lament, Kill-Floor, from All the Beautiful Dead, The Black Edge, The Sixth Sense, and the eco-catastrophe-ceremony poem, Tidal Flats.
     Gholson himself can infrequently be found on his blog: noise & silence. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.

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