April to May


From the Archive


Camille Pissarro, Gelée blanche, 1873.

Joyce E. Peseroff’s poem “April to May” appeared in our Spring 1979 issue. Her latest collection is Know Thyself

It is cold enough for rain
to coagulate & fall in heavy drops.
Tonight a skin of ice will grow
over the bones of the smallest bush,

making it droop like the wrist
of someone carrying a heavy suitcase. This moving on,
from season to season, is exhausting
& violent, the break from the Berlin Wall

of winter especially. Like a frostbitten
hand coming to life, I color
first with warmth,
then with pain. Thawing, letting

the great powers go
their own way, in rivers & in flesh,
frightens me, as this day
warns me of an icy night.

Each year I am astonished
at the havoc we have wrought
on other lives: fathers
made tiny by cancer, a mother

swollen around a bad heart
“brought on by aggravation.”
To suffer is to do something new
yet always the same—

a change of life
from the sexual dread. Some women
wish they were men, some men
wish they were dead; still,

there is coin in suffering.
Suffering makes us
rich as Croesus in his golden tears,
& we are rarely hated for it.

This coin I store in a purse
made of mother’s milk
& flesh, which God says I must not mix.
I use it to seek pleasure.

Walking around with this thing in me
all day, this loving cup
full of jelly, waiting for you
to come home—seven o’clock,

eight o’clock, eighty-thirty.
What could be more important
than love? I can’t imagine; you can.
Not a good day, not about to get better.

The bird comes complete
with heart, liver, & neck-bone
wrapped chastely in white paper.
Still half-frozen,

the legs are hard to separate.
Inside, wax paper sticks to ribs.
I reach like a vet delivering pigs
Or a boy finger-fucking a virgin.

Air the same sweet
temperature inside the house
as outside the house.
Stepping up from the cellar

with an armful of sheets
I listen for the dirge of flies
Under the chittering birds, both
Painfully loud. There is a stridency

that’s stubborn in a life
grown by inches: the fat
little fingers of buds bursting,
ugly ducklings, the slow war

of day against night.
As I pin the swelling sheets
with clothespins damp & too
narrow at the mouth, I wonder how

flies know to come out
to feed the birds, & feast themselves
on the new stillborn, this stubborn
great chain of being …