A clasp opens. Mother’s pearls
click on a concrete floor,
held in a seahorse curve by silk string.
One pearl, least of the descension,
has cracked into jagged halves,
small fruit split by a fall. It opens
off the strand, interior tinted
as if by a spot of pink blood
that sometimes is released
from an infant’s vagina.
Where is the grain that began it,
irritant the pearl has grown to enclose?
In a washroom’s half-steamed mirror,
a girl on the verge, her childish smile
a renunciation of the aureoles
blushing under a camisole of nylon.
She bends above a washbasin,
leg raised, foot on the faucet,
torso stretched over it, shaving.
Her flanks are ivory bathed
in the pink of water in which
strawberries have been rinsed.
She shines as though glazed
by her own wet breath.
Rousing in shadows, a boy
whose upper arms and chest
burgeon with the bulk of
early manhood, whose T-shirt
is brilliant milk against jet skin,
its undertone of bitten plum.
Slowly his palms come to rest
on the crest of the girl’s pelvic ridges,
bony grab bars of sex; his curls,
dense as club moss, rest
in her hair’s pale waver — cornsilk
drifting from a split husk
Into the harsh white of the washroom —
uninhabitable — a scent erupts,
heady and damp, the acidic musk
of forest floor, coppery with needles
cast from conifer, soil
that laurels root in, that feeds
their wild and fragile blooms.
Soon after candletime, when pines
push new tips sunward, late in June,
just as summer shifts from promise
to performance, on the second day
of ruby-throats and laurel bloom,
while camping on a wooded northern face
near the crest of Pinchot Ridge, I woke
to what has become last blood,
a stain like rust on a leafstalk.
Is this how worlds change,
one element transforming another?
How what is rooted, earth-bound
takes to air, borne by spore.
Between my legs a new scent —
chapatti, kavli, bread without yeast,
yet sporish, as if the vigorous mold
of physical decline
had cultivated new growth,
as if something young
had sprung from decay,
like the foxfire, bloodroot,
the shy monkshood
that thrive in the mulch of fallen laurel,
fragrant flourishes of shade.
the thigh leads to and from,
sanctum whose gate
the undergrowth conceals,
that drop into the sanctum
the cell that settles and feeds
and the cell that is expelled,
these and the mind are one,
joined in a biosphere
of memory and fission
whose permeable boundary
is two yards square of skin.
Oh, wild and fleeting
laurel that blossoms and falls,
body that flowers and fades,
Section IV appeared as “After Candle Time“ in Runes, A Review of Poetry, 2005.
J. C. Todd, winner of the 2016 International Literary Award’s Rita Dove Poetry Prize and a Pew Fellow in the Arts, is author of three collections of poetry, What Space This Body, Nightshade, and Entering Pisces, as well as FUBAR, a limited edition artist book created in collaboration with visual artist MaryAnn L. Miller (Lucia Press, 2016). Other awards include finalist for the Robert H. Winner Award and for the Lucille Medwick Lyric Poetry Award, both from the Poetry Society of America.
Todd is the 2016 Pew Fellow at the Ucross Foundation, a Fellow of the Ragdale Foundation, and has been a Virginia Center for Creative Arts international exchange artist at Schloss Wiepersdorf in Germany. Other residencies include those at VCCA, the Hambidge Center, and the Baltic Center for Artists and Translators in Sweden. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Big Bridge, and elsewhere. She is a faculty member of the Creative Writing Program at Bryn Mawr College and the MFA Program at Rosemont, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
JC Todd in this Edition
Full and Empty: The Contradiction of Translation
Instant of Turbulence
Mock Orange on Wash Day
Morning After the Bombing
Necklace of Silence
The Suitcase was Stuffed
When the Envelope Opens, Open