Where Are They Now, Unwilling Friends

           What visions do they see in Siberian snow-storms?
           What hallucinations in the circle of the moon?
         —Anna Akhmatova, from Requiem, Dedication

The swans are angry, their beating wingtips studded in ice

                                     for rust leaks from the heart, bleeds
                                     outward from the skin,
                                     the putrid ring opening
                                     like a mouth in the sky—

The last dandelion seeds blow from heaven, a dead field of stalks

                                     pock mark where the sky
                                     was immunized
                                     against the earth

Scales fall from the blind white eye of the sun—what can it see
through the frenzy of its own scales falling?

                                     a moth-eaten hole in the wool
                                     blanket we stretch to
                                     cover our shivering

The innards torn loose and thrown to the wind, skins
not sent to be burned, but resold, sewn for a new
body, animal with black glass eyes

                                     I will trade you this quarter
                                     for that quarter

Or nail clippings of the dead, yellowed and blunt
against our up-turned faces

                                     for the scars on her face
                                     told a far different story, the scars
                                     on her scalp, concealed beneath hair

Who dares scratch the porcelain face, its rashed skin
flaking off in bit, white chips, a downpour of scab

                                     her face veiled in a lace
                                     embroidered with black dragonflies

So cold, so cold, they arrive with white teeth shining
“I remember you from the ocean,” I cry out, which makes them laugh
I was only a child then, and the white birds wheeled over the icy sea

                                     occluded mother-of-pearl
                                     button, unfastened
                                     thing languishing
                                     in dark pleats

No room, no room. Shout into the sky and your voice
taken by its static grid, pulled like a coarse wool from your throat

                                     The color in a glass marble
                                     ribbons from the core—
                                     as the iris of an eye rises too
                                     in folds, ruffle of charged blue
                                     that cloaks a pinpoint aperture

(the color inside unreachable except some long glass needle
draw out, extract the fascination—)

                                     within the head, a crank to be
                                     wound, for the regimented music
                                     must play, for the teeth in the cylinder
                                     grate against the metal tines
                                     and a melody, memory, emerges

What collision spilled the dust of you, unhinged your mahogany urn?
White ash, as if clean; gray ash, as if old

                                     An apprentice drew the contour map
                                     with charcoal

When he stopped asking for me, my name became syllables
of uncharged sound that fell from each other unattracted and cold,
scales of butterfly wings napkined from a spider’s lips

                                     for his smudged thumbprint
                                     makes him anyone, makes him
                                     me, botched
                                     record of indivisibility turned

Sublimation Attempt

—though in the swathe
of black magnolia we had drifted
up, up, away from the sod, up
the silken whip of scent,
the labyrinth of gardens
receding below, corroded
etching—and climbed
and rose—oh, even past
the honeysuckle drench,
a balm, a drowsy
soporific for the earthly,
but for the waking,
a buoyancy, the medium
for floating up with
flutter-kick, with wings—

And then the inaudible song
begins again, below,
(munch, an underbreath
of grass-eaters)—
Like the finest probe,
it arrives, an invisible
line of metal, asking
where the black frame of sky
tilts askew,
where inchlings of day
leak through: the fume
of too many molecules.
The visible rot,
a harvest of organs—

So dawn interrupts,
for the light returns us
abrupt to dust, leaves us
embers for the ground:
to settle back
to ashen, our core
cooled, shedding inevitable
degrees, for the dirt
bleeds from us
our feverish heat, our
capacity to pass
through matter, call it the
sublime—to evaporate
in wisps, or limb out into
bark, or fester to a hiss, no,
co-conspirator of disappear, I
missed again. I missed.


Oni Buchanan is the author of What Animal and is on the piano faculty at the New School of Music in Cambridge. She maintains a private teaching studio, and serves as an online poetry mentor for the Anna Akhmatova Foundation.

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