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Susan Grimm

Ghost Sonnets


Bottom Shelf Special: the Brick Cottage


My Spine was Tapped Like a Maple in Spring

At the Lecture on Adornment and Suspect Democracy

Ghost Sonnets

I. The Ghost of My Good Intentions Bears Fruit

The long lawns disappear. The shadows of the trees
fall away. Not sleeping at night but hovering above

my bed like a swami editing dreams. There’s a danger
in the house. Stems lace the foundations. In a secret

corner, a purple flower appears. Cut it before the berry
blurts its poison. For forty years the roots keep

growing. In a secret corner of my body something
prepares. If I should sleep now. If I should sleep.

Open me like a jar. Don’t give a rap,
a tap, my knees can’t take it. Discover me

match-struck, gas flame blue, lit like a shrine.

II. Minor Saints Are Written in Black

Not steam because nothing is hot now—a vapor,
a transiency. The last sweat we produced

in the shades of our bed. That mist a mystery. The page
we wrote on never turned but stripped. I was an iron

filing inexorable. Mute piece of steel pressing,
pressing, released. The first time entering

like a rajah, me tossing my head. Let me recount
your love (the story). Let me recount your love

(the ways). All my life I’d been writing in lemon
juice, one flat seed pressed into the page.

Breath. Haze. Fog of longing. The heart like
a nimbus. The heart like a gathering swarm.


III. An Impulse that Travels

Bearing down on my life, unceasing, like wind rushing
over the fetch of the yard,
                                          things tipped my way.

I could build a wall or catapult. I could measure
the world with my stride.
                                          Now, hamstrung. Scraping

the leavings as if from an old squash. Shower
curtain. Frosted glass. Don’t look at me.       

                                                                        I want

to call out don’t be afraid.
                                          Scuffed up, left in the yard.
You’d expect to notice like a bear’s entrance—

ceremony of the rank smell, crashing in the wood.
But I’m smoothing the grass. The shins of the wind

are invisible, scaly.
                                   The trouble with thinking of Rilke is
he had God leaning back to balance the pushing away.

IV. Dead to Me

I want the stagecoach of want, incense
cedars, the pale green moment of change

as the wave turns over. No more wisps
and whispers. The fire of cold water along

my arms. Am I dead or like unto it. This feeling
free like gravity. Am I invisible. Can I fly. No

interest when you drop your pants. You come to me
in dreams, my skin firefly and moss. Is there

any state large enough to contain what we were.

V. Carrier of Astonishment

Cloud caldera. Forest of invisible trees. I am
somewhere within, the sun loving me to red.

The water is so clear I take it as instruction.
The real self impervious as a wetsuit. Egged on,

lavished by chemical messages, I am not
what I expect. If it’s a moment, it’s as deep as a core

sample. As if a meteor blasted through to land
among the chickens. No wonder they’re scared.

And then I get my legs beneath us. No wonder
they call the farmer out as I score the skin of his cow.

How is that I must return again and again. How
am I lost. How does the blue tell me or the water.

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It’s an old coat that you can’t take off. Patchy patchy rag pants. Your mole 
is so colorful! My skin slumps around me in an agreeable manner, but 

underneath . . .  All the windows rolled down is my preference, the lake 
at my right because I am going home, and the wind makes with its slap 

and grab. Nothing gets in. I might bend a little as in the winter of ‘78 
to keep moving through as if this were a race car, me wearing a helmet

against the crash, my foot out of control, the whole car lifting into the air, but
it’s a sedan, sedate as a couch. The wind feels me. Every edge. And

we are just two things standing against each other. I’m suddenly flashing
on that Marianne Moore poem even though I’m not really crazy about her

and her hat. But I’m fine with me standing in for the cliff and the wind 
for the sea in this metaphor for balance or impossibility because if you factor 

in time one of those things will be down on its knees. The wind pushing.

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Bottom Shelf Special: the Brick Cottage

Brain wobble. The empty place where my anxiety had been.
I believed I moved differently—less slouch, more preen. But

still the bald honesties covered with a patchy, swirling
confusion of loose talk. Obfuscated.  The troubling

tunnels of possibility shut down to now. This room. 3.2 beer.
Something is about to happen no longer an instance

of dread. Everyone smoked then. Lighting up in classrooms,
cars, theaters, finally on the couch in front of your mother.

Drinks flamed—the bottom shelf special threatening
the too many moustaches. Did you blow the fire out or drink

it down like kerosene. No need to heat things up, but still
they throw the match in. My hair tossed back, draped. All the bits

of sun caught in it ready to glitter up into someone particular’s eyes.

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What would Jack do. You think he’s torn but he’s not.
He’s hot only for Chrissy. How would he posture

without the couch—diving behind to disguise
that we are what we are. There’s only one room

and a door. People swim in from the ether. Janet.
I’m surprised I remember her name. Why did Don Knotts

not escape while he could. Imagine you’re a blonde
wearing shorts. Lean days in sunny California. You fit

your hand to the handle to make everything start. Do you
have to choose—Chrissy or Jack. You, a young body

on the edge of a continent. Your hair butters down.
If you go off script. If you go outside, gravity

holds you walking right block or left. The years
ahead like the grid on a waffle. The sun pours down

like syrup, each moment spun out like a sugary thread.

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My Spine was Tapped Like a Maple in Spring

I can lift my right foot. No more fevers. I don’t have to rest
my head on the wall. My wrong thinking didn’t end

until rehab. My skewed, slushy thinking didn’t end until home.
The feathers, the colors, the absolute black. It’s been 47 days.

I huddle under the rhododendron waiting for spring. Wavering
like daffodil leaves, those green uprights. Nerves sit with their legs

crossed, their arms folded. We’ve done enough/she should take
better care/icy sidewalks/loose rocks/ why doorways should be wide

First the right leg would not lift or move or slide. It was stuck to the floor
like a dance diagram. Believe in yourself someone said although that

was about climbing stairs. Stapled. Gravity crushing my foot to a disc.
My spine laid out like a reptile. The hospital bed’s frame a kind of scream.

To stand like a whittled tree which can fall in any direction. Me and my pal
aspirin. Me and my pal wait-it-out. Which is what I suppose was happening

when R found me—eyes open, brain disengaged. On the floor, panting.
It relieves me that it wasn’t ugly, scary panting. It relieves me that I came back.

Something has been in my brain pressing. Illness/condition. Drawn
into blackness. No possibility of living forms. Earlier that week shutting

my eyes made feathers whirr into black like the sound in a bird’s throat. Gray
feathers. Carroty ones like Bobby Adam’s hair. Their whirlpool grinding.

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At the Lecture on Adornment and Suspect Democracy

Hungry to make things stop, the cat sat on the materiality.
The bird floating like chaff, the rat on the invisible trail

of his daily diagram. The cat satirizes the mat. Smug
consumer of our culture’s milk. The rat attending the dim

cathedral inside the wall. The cat would like to sate,
deflate the bird-balloon on a string. Leave only

the limp digestive sweater of feathers. The cat sat
on the mattock. Ay me. Unexplained patterns

of breath. The catacomb to the rat sat, containing
his own cold collation. Still hungry for air.

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Susan Grimm’s poems have been published in Field, The Cincinnati Review, Phoebe, and Sugar House Review. Her chapbook, Almost Home, was published in 1997. In 2004, BkMk Press published Lake Erie Blue, a full-length collection of her poems. In 2010, she won the inaugural Copper Nickel Poetry Prize. In 2011, she won the Hayden Carruth Poetry Prize and her chapbook, Roughed Up by the Sun’s Mothering Tongue, was published. In 2022, she received her third Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Grant. 

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