Sunday, November 04, 2007

Eve Rosenbaum, "Before Sleep"

Eve Rosenbaum
University of Iowa

Before Sleep

This moment before sleep—counting backwards and conscious and feel the heat from the marsh and can you smooth the hair from my eyes before it becomes free and

I dyed my hair to match yours, I dyed my hair red.

Daisy and you called yourself Daisy and I call myself something without letters.

I call her Lilac because she inhabits Lilac nature she is clustered and purple and really I barely know what lilac looks like, I am not familiar with its nature, I do not know what daisies look like—surely you must know, I don’t—it’s a flower, right? I think it’s a flower.

Footsteps on the trail behind me but I am hidden on the wood deck.

Something to do for love of it—

Hidden and stretched sideways almost in the water but not. Hidden.

Take scissors and drop the stems into envelopes already addressed—I lose more hair that way—

Smooth my hair and

A love so big it scares her, rushing among her small heart—pushing aside the blood and leaving her faint and white in the gust’s arm—

Whisper words and call them flowers, I will count stems single in rows. Lilacs grow clustered, you say and shake branches in sly witness.

The tour guide says we know the color of your hair—this red like fire—because you sent a lock to your friend a lock for your friend to keep when you are old and it is still kept—I dyed my hair.

You are near and she is far and I can hold you both in my satin tremor of eye.

There was a boy and I will call him Ben and he was a boy.

Small flies can walk on water the trick is to jump from petal to floating petal.

She says a rose is a rose but what happens when a rose is a tulip and you try with all your might to convince yourself it truly is a rose, but you are not as persuasive as you once were.

This is the curse. There will be no other.

I will call him Ben. It’s true, he was a boy. I can convince myself of that.

Sand my back down never mind the rough edges, parts of me will fly into the river and will float out to sea.

Ben is a boy and Lilac is a girl and Daisy is dead and buried but facts get in the way most of the time, don’t you think?

Oh do I offend, does Daisy offend

Watch me sleep and count it backwards and I will

A walkway wide enough for two in love

I will

Lift up your arm and I will catch your falling blood in mine.

I will count stems single in rows.

Smell it drying on skin—the summer of Daisy starting clean in May and dying sometime next fall, but there will not be death yet there will not be forgiveness, now there is only possibility.

Read the cards and tell me my future—the queen of cups, Venus—full to bursting with love and she knows not how to empty it. This will be the curse, there will be no other.

You send the water over the Dam in my brown eyes—

Oh does Daisy offend do I offend Daisy I will not dishonor you, I will not take your words for granted. I will chase your shadow with my fractured lexicon.

Are there words enough for her—

Words that bring purple and green stems and the salt of blood or water—there are no words are there letters then that form nothing but themselves? Teach me letters and do not believe their harmony.

He is shy and smiling I am neither but we can make a go of it.

Water makes me tired and this water is still and I am still and there could be a breeze if I concentrate enough but really the air is not moving and my eyes are closing and is there something so wrong about sleeping in the spider’s path.

I dyed my hair to Daisy’s color and Lilac notices nothing but silence.

Fiction is true but also false—like my words. Do I speak in fiction—

a love so big it scares her—

Even when I don’t mean to?

I will


I will

Keep your secrets strapped to my forearm

Footstones leap across pond and she follows your footfalls from one side to the other. She grabs your arm when toes slip careless into blue green engagement, steadies herself before leaping again. You shake at her fingers, their grasp not tight but binding.

The queen of cups. Venus. There will be no other.

You have the same fingers as

This red like fire.

I could dance but only if no one watched.
If I was invisible then I could dance.
If I was invisible I wouldn’t have to worry about falling in love
it would be one-sided of course, but when is it not.
It wouldn’t hurt so much because I would be invisible
it wouldn’t be tragic it would just be common sense.

It’s hard to be in love with an invisible person.
You never know when they’re around.

That’s what you get for holding eggs to your ears.

A boy. I’m convinced of.

I’ve got a cough as big as a thimble—but I don’t care for that—

You play in scarlet

Swim it sideways until the fire you breathe becomes the site of your weakness.

Ripple against cause and affect the way I do never mind the awkward spelling—can you live in frozen frankness of meaning when meaning is lost and loss is the only thing real enough to bleed yellow.

The stairs the stairs, Daisy the stairs.

I can feel madness in the air up here.

I will catch your blood in mine.

Queen of cups.

Church bells ring here on the hour but they’ve always got the count wrong. I don’t mind—see how far metal will go before it becomes something else.

Madness in spades, not that kind of cards.

I’ve got a tomahawk in my side

Something to do for love of it

Count it backwards and I will

I looked out your bedroom window and touched the wood sill I could feel your fingers in the paint even though the paint is new and you have been gone almost twelve decades. I could feel your fingerprints in the wood and can you feel mine there is nothing like a locked embrace and I’ll stop crying when I can turn back around but the tour guide is still talking and she’s telling people not to touch anything and my back is to her oh Daisy do I offend? Let me write poetry through the tracing of your fingers.

Write poetry through my hands and

She is purple and green-stemmed and she grows in cluster.

There is no love outside of wishful desire.

She must have my letter already, has held it in her lilac hands.

Open your life wide and take me in forever, I will never be tired.

Force of habit, the stumbling between steps neither up nor down—the point not the arrival but the process, the stairs themselves—the fraying carpet and wood maybe oak, who can say anymore it’s been so long since the house was new, no one’s alive who was there for the building and that should mean something should change things.

What have I done? There are none would love me now.

Spring is a most troubling time—the ducks are back.

That don’t hurt me much

Walkway two love

I will

But what if language is the only thing and it’s not enough—what if I could dissolve into the shape of letters and never miss the corporeal. I wouldn’t miss it.

If I was invisible I could dance.

Red I dyed my hair and lilac Lilac let me braid your stems in two let me

What if a rose is not really a rose at all. What if it’s a telephone.

What if it’s a typewriter the kind in old movies and second-hand stores.

He was a boy, I’m sure of that he was a boy named Ben and his name was something I’m sure of—Ben with long eyelashes and a secret passion for the ocean.

I’m an earth sign myself. Together we make mud

Spread thick and porous on skin, catch me as I fall sleeping in blankets of earth and water and count me backwards and

I never took her picture.

I’ve got a tomahawk in my side but that don’t hurt me much.

You are the site of my weakness.

Is that the church bell or the sound of you crying.

Create words to stop the silence—pray silence to stop the words.

I held a daisy once, plucked from a bouquet at midnight when no one was watching. I wound the stem through my fingers and left her there in sheets.

Red like fire like

I will close my eyes if you will count me backwards into sleep.

Hidden—almost in water

A boy named Ben and he hugs me soft under willow branches and leans into my hair dyed daisy can you feel the soft of lips and lockets under sunset he whispers and I turn my head I turn and see lilacs and daisies growing elsewhere. I whisper back careful hidden sonnets.

A girl called Lilac frantic in spring planting—petals I’m not sure what they’re called can you tell me how you sing their names? Let me see the dirt between your fingers let me taste the dirt

Whisper words and call them flowers, I will count stems single in rows.

I can see your teeth when you laugh your laughter like a flower’s blush—

Across the room is too far and next to you is too far and

When you take my hand take it like you mean it don’t be shy because I’m crying.

Daisy oh Daisy did I tell you how she sings in restaurants? I would write her love songs


I don’t speak her language. My words are harmful to her ears and I can find none to translate.

I will

Someone left a cluster of lilac on your grave a cluster of lilac turning brown underneath and wilting but they are beautiful still and I leave you an envelope with these words:

Lift up your arm and I will catch your falling blood in mine.

I will leave you these words.

I will catch your blood.

Tomahawk in my side but that.

Will you leave me your words—write poems through my fingers—

Venus, Queen of Cups.

a love so big it scares her, rushing among her small heart—pushing aside the blood and leaving her faint and white in the gust’s arm.

From petal to floating petal


I will.


Madness in the air.

The tour guide says your stairs were torn out about 1915 and moved and replaced and she doesn’t know where the original stairs would have been.

The stairs the stairs, Daisy the stairs

At least they have your bed.

At least they have your garden.

Your copy of Aurora Leigh your name written in pencil on the front page behind glass in the room that would have been the living room I traced my finger on the glass above your name and smiled as the tour guide hurried us through. Aurora Leigh and they moved your stairs.

I can feel your fingers on the windowsill beneath my fingers on the windowsill.

Twelve decades—is that all?

Teach me letters—do not believe their harmony.

Whisper words and call them

Tell me what these letters mean:

What if a rose is a

What if it’s a book with ten pages torn out.

Could you sing the story in circles?

Faint and white in the gust’s arm.

He was a boy and I will call him Ben and he was a boy and he smoothed my hair beneath willow branches at sunset and he did not mind the cliché but

I’m sorry my words are too fragile and can you point out a lilac branch no there are no clusters and it is orange.

Let me count you back from awkward—

I will give your words to Lilac during summer when it is hot an she is close by and she will say, I know these words and I will say, listen closely to their fragrance can they haunt you

do I.

It will be summer and she will be close and languid and I will twine her stems in braids of two

Across the room too far and next to you too far and

a love so big it scares her—

The earth between your fingers let me taste the earth let me sit by you whisper words and call them flowers—let me watch you sing in restaurants let me translate without breaking words back into letters.

Red like fire like hair like Daisy like fire



I will


I will catch your blood in mine

Daisy let me run through your house with no tour guide let me run from room to room to stairs to porch to garden the way you did when a child and locked in prose let me run my fingers on the walls and have you touch me back—will you touch me back or am I silly—and let me be silly and witty and let me speak your words and have them come from my mouth like I mean them will you write poetry through my fingers they’re yours if you want them just let me run like you let me run.

I’ve got a cough as big as a thimble

I’ve got a tomahawk in my side and I’m bleeding salt and fire

I’ve got your words and they’re spilling from my skin they’re breaking my skin like a tomahawk and I can’t breathe I can’t—

Touch me here never mind the awkward spelling.

I’ll sit on your bedroom floor and watch the poems spill from my fingers like blood and
I’ll sit on your bedroom floor and crawl beneath your bed and turn the color of floor panels and hide there until you come to find me will you come to find me a game of hide-and-seek twelve decades too late and even I can see the tragic ending to this because you will never come to find me but if I hide in prose will you know to look for me there?

Look for me there

Never mind the awkward

Kiss me while I kiss your headstone

Kiss me while I kiss your

If I was invisible I could dance.

I could

This moment before sleep—counting backwards and conscious and feel the heat

This is the curse. There will be no other.

Eve Rosenbaum is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Iowa where she is the managing editor of the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. Eve can be reached at

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