The jersey died on a frosty March morning
while my brother and I tried to catch the vapor of each other’s
frozen breath in our mittens. When our father
left the barn, we probed the cow’s ears, tried to pry
her lips apart, thinking somewhere within her
she held the answers to waking and sleeping,
sleeping and death. My brother pressed my hand against
one milky eye. I expected give, softness like new cheese,
but it was smooth beneath the pads of my fingers,
as though a clean sheet of ice held the mystery of sight in place.
From that day on the surface was never
enough. I popped the face from the mantel clock,
followed honey bees to their hollowed trees, slid my body
beneath the scrim of algae sealing the pond—
and yet I never learned what the jersey saw just before death
filled her brain with its black forgetfulness.
Ten years later at the University, I held my breath
as the professor placed a green-tinted orb
before me on a glass tray, a sharp smell rising.
I steadied my hand, gripped the blade, and scored
a clean incision between cornea and sclera. When I pulled the iris
from the eye’s center, that cow’s-eye-view slicked
my fingers, and as I held the lens to the light, the world
blurred without the shimmering blue membrane still hidden
beneath the retina, an iridescent dream exposed only
when the eye is empty and formless and coaxed inside-out.
I Have These Postcards to Teach Me Cerulean
He says I won’t need my dresses. Women here,
he writes, wear trousers. I pattern
my days with small rituals: place the kettle
on the stove where I found it, fit
the coffee tin with its lid. I choose the place
at the table where the wood has worn thin.
One morning I woke to find my life
had become a series of unpunctuated
prairies, rooted to endure the cold. I study
postcards, relearn colors by their relation
to ocean: anemone seaweed beach glass sand.
I ignore the grass, thick with frost,
strain to hear the stream break free
of its ice. He says the forest is so dense
that the ocean, when you reach it, is pure
astonishment. No space between the trees
for tilled field oat grass winter wheat.
A fact confirmed in these pictures, proven
when he writes, it’s nothing like home.
—Kathryn Smith, Spokane, WA