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“Domesticated Interior”
and Other Poems
by James Midgley:
Recipient of the Promising Poet Grant

 

James Midgley

Art by Clare Grill

 
 

Domesticated Interior

The words she’s placing on the kitchen table before him are window-
glass at night, the kind that confuses flying creatures looking for a way
to escape. All words are containers: wet velveteen with a silver latch,
for instance, or a bowl of particularly guilty-looking lemons.
Sometimes, domesticated and furred in reprimands, they emit noises
bespeaking their interiors. Together, the two of them are trying to prise
open a word like “embittered,” but find now it’s been constructed
without a hinge. She tips out a matchbox and lights up. When she cracks
the door to release the smoke, the tail end of a bird’s cry rushes in,
briefly fills the room. If the bird itself had entered, under the glare of
fluorescence, maybe drawn by the bowl of waxy fruit, it would have
become a confused name to itself. Something like “egress” or “halfinch.”

 
 

Jellyfish

Crumpeting idly amid the surf or stranded on the beachfront,
a pained and paining incredulity. These celluloids: our faces
washed, distorted, made a meal of under the sun, fluorescing.
As if each one of them had fallen through a pair of hands
at some crucial moment, left to percolate in silent-movie water.
They roil within themselves within the waves. Why, then, knowing
the danger, knowing the sting, did you reach to touch my cheek?

 
 

Oyster

Unhinged, revealed as not really itself.
It lets out its waters like a speculumed eye.
The question hangs within it
like a moon over the fields of the drowned:
is it dead, yet, and what did it mean really
for it to live? Its tears come
lemon-sour but celebrated, a salt-mass of tinsel.
No thought irritates or gleams. Nothing
sticks, there's nothing it doesn't let go.

 
 

Player Piano

No one, as far as I know, is touching the owl
when it comes on in the middle of the day.
The trees spool through it making a jagged noise.
I look from the window as if I had any chance
of glimpsing it and when the music ends
I feel I've tweezered out a stubborn hair.
We aren't one breath, and that isn't my body
or anybody, out there. The owl is opening
its face amid the trees, as if it had a choice,
gets stuck in the machinery, snags in my hearing,
makes a melodious grinding sound. I think of you
again, as if I had any choice, in that paneled
shithole hotel room, your breath an odd-angled
scritching like something trapped in the walls.

 
 

Water / Water

There's a moment, on the phone to you, my silence
and your silence turn away from each other, separate.

I think of reflective water, one face over another,

the surface tension—and imagine an exotic single word
meaning both “leaf soon to fall” and “leaf that has fallen.”