Today in the PEN Poetry Series, guest editor Maggie Nelson features a poem by Kirsty Singer. About Singer’s work, Nelson writes: “Kirsty Singer hasn’t yet published a book of poems (soon, I hope and trust), but hers are among some of the most mature, confident, rich poems I know of in the contemporary field. They contain and shred a host of binaries—they feel based in speech but intensely writerly, even concrete; intricately personal but also historical, in a geological sense; steeped in the natural, but also in the human, the urban, the political. Sometimes they seem all music, then suddenly all meaning. They flicker that way. Singer is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at UC Irvine, and her curiosity and learnedness enliven her poetry, never weigh it down. She feels language on her pulses. Watch out!”


what a good thing it is
you are peddling poems
of furious bonding
naming the disaster
into a hard shape
words are objects
with their own confusions
like trees
the bathymetry we map
this too with words our bodies
stretched and lurching

you talk too much
I carry a switch
for self-flagellation
the part romantics
pouring accelerant
dousing the hillside
or a helicopter spilling
sick red fire retardant

I would drink the kool-aid
I would and you?
delivered it in a poem
I drank it through my ear
a little milk saucer my ear
now there is water
in there I am shaking
like a dog
with my small head
trying to rebuild
our lives recalibrating
a vestibular system
the sky
my head in the sky
dangerously improbable
the tattered flags
a palm tree stupidly
buoyed up

they poured paint
on the church of scientology
they are suing god you said
there was lead in the paint
it was almost the color of sky
more “periwinkle” really
if that is a color in the world
you will find it
on the slender heads
of mourning doves
I made them clay pigeons
in a poem once
they titter instead of cooing

their heads are too slender
I was thinking about a color
I was moving my mouth
in the shape of the color word
I was remembering
a box of crayons
the memory contained
“periwinkle” and “burnt sienna”
and this is a confession:
it was the names I liked

that was before
I knew a girl named Sienna
knew of her really
I wanted to tell her
I know it must feel different
more complicated her relationship
to that crayon the wax of it
on fingers her fingers
it is almost the proper color of memory
I see you that way
there in the memories
and I want to say this to her
or to you
I see your little body
you must cover your face
you must cover your face in tree bark



who—you are my bent heads
beloveds horseblind
                        one forgets
the hot breath
the enormity—up close, impersonified
brute caged by your own feeling
what is that      like
a rubber suit worn too long

but even headless the enemy
            has an excess of face
the enemy vanquished like burnt toast
(I’m not trying to be funny, who can describe this junk?)
history leans on fantasy
                        but fantasy leans on the world
            not exactly casual

oh to be unafraid and stoic as a pocket hunter
oh to sleep among the bighorn
thanks for life and move on, sheep sheepish

truthfully I speak with
            one of you, one—who?
I wanted to give
            last winter’s purpled light and
bare sand        the kind of coldness
stunned stilly—that breath comes out

that moonlight makes shadow doilies
under each creosote bush out here
           most of them dying of nested tumors
that the dirt of rinsed lentils
            oh the muck water of everywhere, unite!
things are that clear and that’s fine
this has nothing to do with mystery

this has nothing to do with vision
but lay me down in the dirtiest urban snow-sludge
          I can’t explain why
          but I take it as a sign of mental health
I’d like to join Hierarchiholics Anonymous
that’s what this anthem really means
this mean reeling
this desire to kneel in the dirt, to be with the dirt

no one speaks for nothing
but we have to try more to shut up
          no more what was it really like
to see the moon move across the sky
knowing it is drawn physically toward us
I have come here to hear myself not think


Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).