Two poems from Megan Grumbling’s Dwelling
followed by a note on the author
Somebody’s made off with the neighbors’ stairs
outside my kitchen window, disappeared
them sometime in the dark between my gin
and bergamot: Beyond these same gold tongues
of tulips on my sill, no one arrives
at higher floors, each door a stranded I
in clapboard rows. For fortnights over bread
or figs I’d watched the late-shift men erect
right-angled stringers, risers, treads, each one
to bear a sole; gazed on as they’d become
themselves, the thing I know. But fast as thought,
irrevocably, now the stairs are not
there, are not any thing – and all at once
a whole array of structures is at risk
of going: Bottom step and middle shelf,
a scarlet wall between study and gulls,
the brick that girds warm windows every dusk.
A whole gestalt remains precarious
even once I’ve eavesdropped, heard the mystery
revealed in other neighbors’ midnight glee:
There’d been a skinflint landlady, her funds
withheld from surly builders, their revenge
done after hours. And strange delight: Relieved
of certain certainties, I love these thieves,
how they’ve not left a plank or screw of proof,
how that dame’s got to hire a whole new crew,
and how this time when I peer through the pane
at stairs appearing, nothing will be safe
from spiriting, the other side or this
of tulips: All we’ve built by mind and fist
is ravishingly stealable, in wait
of liberation. In these stairless days,
bewitched and open-mouthed, I dream things gone
at any slip or whim, and soon my own
larcenous gaze conspires to lift this flight
or that, street names, a certain phrase; to heist
even the sterling surety of does
or is, to leave those vowels vertiginous.
Her flesh finds fissures in the ocher, mask
and mantle, lures – a flushed cheek through the eye
hole, tapered chin in wide glazed ruse of mouth.
The girl she wears is headed for the low
world, other shadows; here, takes two cloaked men
to swagger that three-headed dog, four bluejeaned
legs to stomp and fume the master’s lust.
Big figures, epic craft. And yet enshrined
in plaster, gesso, pulp, each glimpse of skin
bares elder mysteries – that slack male arm
up roan Demeter’s sleeve, an elbow’s crook
askew in indigo. Huge armatures,
tall tell. But through those gods, small hands charm far
within, far stranger source: a girl, the dark.
Megan Grumbling’s collection Booker’s Point was awarded the Vassar Miller Prize for Poetry and released by the University of North Texas Press in 2016. Her work has been awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Fellowship, the Robert Frost Foundation Award, a Hawthornden Fellowship at Hawthornden Castle, Scotland, and a St. Boltoph Emerging Artist Award, and has appeared in Poetry, Crazyhorse, The Iowa Review,Memorious, Best of the Net, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She is librettist of the spoken opera Persephone in the Late Anthropocene, co-created with the late composer Denis Nye, which premiered this May in Portland, Maine. She reviews theater for the Portland Phoenix, serves as reviews editor for The Café Review, and teaches at Southern Maine Community College and the University of New England.
The Heist first appeared in Crazyhorse.
Tall Puppets first appeared in Memorious.