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Sappho’s Sparrows
a series of messages,
exchanges & encounters

 
“beautiful swift sparrows
whirring fast beating wings”

“from the dark earth through the mid-air”


—Sappho, fragment 1


 

Sappho, though the technology has changed  
  
I am walking straight toward you, listening.  
Dry grass and American words are all I have  
to reach you. And this small clay figure of a boy  
whose belly is warm with dust, the thumbprint  
warm on the boy who makes us lie down  
and we lie down so that even flies love  
our skin & a woman speaks dark in each ear.  
While in this bright air, a man is hammering  
against marble that flares everything white  
in the sound of cicadas & wind. The invisible  
is not hiding. Appearance is not hollow  
clothing. Not a shell. The doves are your doves.  
Not emblems. Not hidden. They are close as  
the water’s clear salt and where my heart dives no less.





inhabited by your absence
 

“only one complete poem survives Sappho’s nine books of lyrics”
  

plowed field just at sunset
 

stones, black sea urchins, sand
 

the wash of salt
 

candles, soap, white cup
from the trellised marketplace
 

bells, counting aloud
 

everywhere your words have been torn away
 

scant shelter of thistles, thin rain, shadow puppets, the moon
yellow over blue Asia Minor
 

each fragment—a lacuna of perception—shadows the unseen
 

clear glass of water,
the sound of waves
 

just as transparent as olive groves
drawing light into their leaves & fruit
 

there are so many places to find you
 

in the endless
 

white spaces you have left us





 

a telegram from S
hastily    translated

BELIEVE THIS

LUCENT MOUTH FLOWERING

SHRINES—EVERYTHING SEEN

(no exclusion)

a later footnote appeared on green paper
wrapped around a stone near the porch steps

 

EROS—“TRANSFORMATIONAL ACTIVITY”—THE POEM 

A LONG FALL INTO
INTELLIGENCE

in love with
 

WHITE SEA CLIFF EDGE,
PATH THROUGH CYPRESS, WHERE WE’RE HEADED

 

eyes open





maps to the cliff edge

. . . . . . . .what is visible. . . . . . . . . .   
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   
carries us inside. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   
. . . . . . . [what is visible]. . . . . . . .takes us close  
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . as the moon . . . . . .   
increases. . . . . . . . what is visible increases  
. . . . . . . . recovers. . . . . . . . . [is shining]  
. . . . . . . . & clear, cicadas. . . . . . . .the actual  
grows larger. . . . . . . . takes us far. . . . . . .  
[is not hiding]. . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . .Ochre wax. . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . . [white] . . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . . washed rock. . . . . . . .  
oregano. . . . . . . .a gate. . . . . . . . .[Young mother]  
. . . . . . . . blue swallow. . . . . . . . .It is not a trick. . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . .this gravel path. . . . . . . .  
laurel leaves. . . . . . . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . . . . . climbing roses  
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  
we are. . . . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . . not  
turned away. . .  
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   






  





the quality of mercy  

holds out her hand. . . . . . I go walking in the dark  
. . . . . . . . . . .porcelain face in the grass. . . . . . . . . . . .  
worn, milky blue, a charm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . . . . . . Her face is sepia and gentle. . . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . . . . . . come to me beyond all roses and praise  
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  
My heart is a grammar lesson lark  
  
who sings as the grain beats green on our legs, a field  
  
that flame does not burn, it must be light, it must be secret  
  
our walking there. . . . . . hollows in the turf. . . . . . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . white stones in a line. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  
the machines can’t mow water down . . . . . . . . . . . .  
  
she raises the light in her hand  
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  
  
. . . . . . . . . . . . across the night field  
  
all that is lost. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 






the orchard

 

“as the sweet-apple reddens on the bough-top”
—Sappho, fragment 105


mutsu, keepsake, russet   
irregular, fertile treasury   
of names in the mouth  

eating the imagined,  

we lie in   
late fall grasses   
deep green moving  

inside  

caves of happiness  

the creek shines nearby   
for coyotes, foxes & deer   
invisible in this wild  

garden, temporary   
peace between the cultivated  

& what lives outside our naming





dear reader

You wanted to see a picture of me.

Here’s one way.

and 2 seconds later:

yours,

S





shopping list
 

“… robe … saffron … purple robe … cloak … garlands …”
—Sappho, fragment 92


purple & russet silk
gold flame pattern
birdwing throat

scent of sunflower pollen
myrrh & pale jasmine
iridescent water weave
grass green rose dust
falls loosely over shoulders
plum leaf: haze, light
spilling water bowl, a morning
of skin skimming freshly woven





to speak in smells, as one animal to another


I.


ravens calling at sunrise                                     how poplar stems smell, slightly

           & sunset                                          bitter where they join red & green   
                                                                               sun on granite    
                          the heat inside  


                                                                                 what matters most   
 

dirt close to the shovel, grease on axle bearings, red cloth smeared with

                        pine pollen & resin, fresh morning air:   
                                                  a catch at the throat  


         very cold & bright                          locked aluminum casing, titanium

                                wire, sparks across electrodes   


refrigerated egg, an idea held

                                                        tight & clear in the mind   






an idea held






II.


                                                              Orion grows brighter,  

       smell of inches & leaves, the dust

of armchairs & books, copper   
                                                                                a way out & into  

anything hammered

                                               mended & torn again

   first sun in weeks                                        falling & falling inside yourself  
 

                                         how wonderful:           bright flicker of quartz  

                                                               & numerous birds 
 

                                          at the heart:         filament & arc, seam of  skin 

                                                           the catch, the locket,

         the edge:                   net full of water

                       & equally empty

 
what to give up & what to hold onto:


the interior of hair, the way he parts his hair to prove it’s not a pelt, the respectable man with his arms frantically upraised:  “I am not an animal,” he cries, all evidence to the contrary, “I am not an animal.”  Betrayed by breath & bone, every pore, every follicle reveals, every smell, every scrap of body betrays & saves us

                               moving where?   

that paradise of upheaval,
                                                                the exact place
                                                                you find yourself

 

now 





 
net full of water






III. 
 

                                        what you used to think was weak   

             smell of newly opened iris & lilacs

                         & now find is alive and incredibly strong   

   oak leaves under fresh snow,

     the story moving backward  

                                                            sliding into thaw  

                                                    rust & metal shavings
 

     excess of melting, joyous 

                                                ripe mulberries overhang

         summer lake, floating

                                                                    like a swan, a freefall

                                             return to the world
 

                   read this book of rainwater 

                                 book made entirely of smells & silence





“blue: the sea, the sky, the unknown”

  
  
a stone to pound open green
almond husks—white inside

the seed inside the seed

finding the moon reflected in waves
  


another mystery:  the deep blue
sea made of clear water

how our eyes create love





lumen: light, eye, opening
 

and the whole place shadowed by roses
—Sappho, fragment 2


shadow cast by the moving shade  
of plane trees 

voluntary blindness, acquired patiently   
with great & hopeless effort  

                                         a place so deep
light can only enter as an   
idea                  plummeting more deeply into
 

this unclothed                abundance
                    “empty space or

missing part”:                             hollowed  :  lumened

luein   < luein >   a loosening  

   

lyre of × × × × × × × × unbound light


Meredith Stricker is an artist and poet working in cross-genre media. Her most recent book is the poem/novel Our Animal (Omnidawn). She is also the author of Mistake (Caketrain); Alphabet Theater, mixed-media performance poetry (Wesleyan); and Tenderness Shore (National Poetry Series Award). She codirects visual poetry collaborative, an interarts architecture studio.