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5 Poems || Matt Bell



The heart trembles before what the heart wants

and what the heart wants is answers. To be

loved is not enough. The temporariness of surfaces.

A gross familiarity of shapes. They crave assurances

of hidden worth. Are promises kept in an apron

or in the fur of his paws. It is never enough

to be only beautiful because some beauty is cruel

or masked or imagined. A tale to tell yourself.

The flesh of the lover is covered in fur. Clawed

and horned. Riven with lice. She seeks

the changeable man, pledges to bring him

into the light. As if a bath undoes the beast.

The scrub brush of the lover putting a shine

on a dull stone. Dress me in a suit, take me

in a long car to your father’s ball. See

if you can stop me even once from feasting

with dirt on my hands. Convince yourself

that this is love, if you need love so much.




Every tale embarked with a sketch or else

a scrawl. A mark of the pen across the page,

ascending black ink revealing a red hood

or else a poison apple or else golden hair

tumbling from a tower. The pen leaves

blotches of ink in the corner of words,

makes too permanent a period. Stop.

Often it is enough to merely suggest.

When the teller of tales lifts the pen

from off the page, the world disappears.

A wolf cut off in mid-howl, a prince

who will never penetrate the bower

of briars. Everything is fragmentary.

You draw the pages so close you can smell

the ink. Inside every blotch is another story,

inside every whorl is a world, but not

for you. The tale refuses your invitation

to leave the page. All the rest of your life

remaining to be lived within the residual,

whatever lingers after the woodsman.





Beauty matters, despite or in spite the blood

and the knives. In a fairy tale it helps to be fair.

It helps to be lovely. A girl in a tale wins

not by good works alone, not only the forever

present of the domestic. There are flowers

in the forest. They speak in glamours

and warnings. There are wolves in the woods.

It is easy to be blinded by warm sunlight

dappling in the groves. The frogs are princes,

the princes ogres and trolls. What difference

does it make. It is only slightly more difficult

to discriminate between a heel made of glass

and a shackle.





When she wants meat,

meat. When she wants blood,

blood. When she craves to taste

the yellow curd of marrow,

she snaps a rib in half, licks

amidst the splinters. No more delay

between the wanting and the having,

the being given.


At last an end to abjection

in the belly of a wolf.


And isn’t this also love.





A woman who never touches a spindle

might live forever. But Frigg and Freya,

Artemis and Athena, they could not escape.

Distaffs and bobbins, threads spun and measured

and cut and cast down. In Greece some break

the arms of their statues. Shatter the elbows

and the throat. Disfigure the genitals.

In another land folk carve no statues

for sleeping beauties, nothing lasts

except the girls themselves: see Briar Rose,

a body caught in the static. Then a bent knee,

the sour breath of an unprompted kiss. Time

begins again. Her death awakens. Its slumber

ended with hers. Everything and the world

now lit into passing splendor. No beauty thrills

without the knowledge of its end. We clutch

what we will not keep. In her sleeping century

she had such extraordinary dreams. A field

of flowers, all thorns, surrounding a tower

or else a tunnel. An infinity of blooming upon

blooming, wild colors calling out to a stilled sun.

Once she believed each rose was a world.

Now her prince speaks his devotion into the

waking sameness. Somewhere her new children

are crying for her breast. Hunger everywhere,

disease everywhere else. She hears the whirr

of thread, slowing. She hears a thousand

thousand blossoms falling from the stem,

petals rasping into the hibernal dirt.

Her only world layered in grief. She waits

to wake, to wake again, wake further.



Matt Bell is the author of the novel In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods. He teaches creative writing at Northern Michigan University.