Four Poems

by Marly Youmans

In Extremis

Is this mine? The child of stone
Or iron, the unmoving one?
Did I bear him in my body?
And has he been changed for good?
Seven days without a stir.

A nun appears to hold my hand—
I am listening to the words,
But I am also with the boy,
And I am removed, gazing up
At a shoal of golden light.

It has been gathering all day,
And I perceive that it is made
From thousands of my unshed tears,
A cloud of small gleam-catchers
That rise and float in the bleak day.

The gold grows heavy, and the freight
Of teardrops slides and spills as rain.
My heart’s torn between grief and joy.
The nun is speaking without stop.
I know in my bones, This child will live.

Southern To the Bone


To explain—as if she could!—
She says: When I was young
And passing fair and strong
Like a girl in a fairy tale,
I ran from God and angels.
I flew to the dark powers

—Though they aren’t dark but seeming-light,
With glamour on them like the fey—

And I frisked with the demons on the hills,
Then curled to sleep against their thighs,
A wing along my bow-bent spine.

I woke, dappled with dew.
And found that they had picked
Me clean of clothes and more,
Treasures dear to me.

I was bereft.
I was: weakness.

The rains


She says:

Rain is rain is rain.
This was no rain but light,
Or not light but arrowy
Fine peltings of a fire
Shot slantwise through the skin
Until I could not tell
What was me from rain
Or light, and river waves
Swamped me until I drowned
And washed into the sea,
To drift with sailor boys
Past luminous weeds and fish
To the roots of the world.


Don’t ask her any more
What Southern means,
Or why we just can’t quit
Mulling over a tale
Of rum and slaves and gold.

She married powers of dark.
She burned in bright rivers.

That’s why.

The Exile’s Track

At midnight I went down to the lake, and there
I saw the northern lights as seven swords
Of long-dead kings that glimmered in the sky.
They were as thin and cold as icicles,
Set evenly above a shoal of cloud—
The winter’s glittering eyes drew low to see,
Its glories made into one burning look.

I stepped onto the marble arrowhead
That points the way to North forevermore,
And though I stood below a canopy
Close-crowded with the bright burrs of the stars,
And though I held my love, and though our children
Were safe and sleeping at my back, I met
And knew a loneliness beyond all heal.

A silvery voice arose out of the spires,
Out of the dark’s offhanded elegance:
You gave your heart away, oh, long ago,
So there’s no help--now you must bide in frost,
And when you die, the reaper’s men will scar
The ground for your grave, or else will burn your limbs
And bury the ash in a wall of stone.

The Black Flower
Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking, died on November 11, 2004.


Sick to Death

At dead of night she woke, unmoved
   By the crickets, moon, and stars;
From old they sang or shone above
   The fire and rape of wars.

Then pity was a crumpled child,
   Kindness a battered womb,
And all the world one genocide,
   The grave her living room.



The iris by my walk is bold,
   Its purples almost black,
And stems and petals always bleed
   Before the sheathings crack.

She took her life to lift the veil
   Of grief--and still, I’ll bet
That most will never remember
   What Iris could not forget.