Lise Goett

Blood Atonement
[first published in Waiting for the Paraclete]

Swimming With Eels
[first published in The Paris Review]

[first published in The Sonora Review]

Space Age
[first published in The Sonora Review]

  Blood Atonement

For Gary Gilmore

     A ghost came to kiss
     the boy in his bed.

     Ghosts, his grandmother tells him,
     never surrender. On her nightstand,

     a Ouija's heart-shaped planchette spells out
     bad omen, family histories written in charlatan ink.

     A brick in a graveyard marks a plot
     with no name: Our Baby.

     The boy wears a cowboy shirt.
     Behind him, a burning

     smudges the sky with October.
     Into the eye of a camera, he takes aim

     at a spectator visible only to him,
     his gun's deadly wick

     razing his opponent
     with two shots to the heart's chambers.

     Years later, he shows the world his last trick of escaping,
     a bull's-eye target pinned to his chest

     as the five of his firing squad take aim,
     the world calling down his erasure.

     There will always be a father,
     he says, the murdered pale as garments

     the Mormons wear for the Rapture:
     a clatter of bone,

     all the dead rising together.
     Night folds its black napkin,

     each star a torn suture.
     The boy's bones sing from a jar.

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   Swimming With Eels

     All summer, I watched them
     make their ghostly caduceus through water—

     fleeting, heraldic—
     on their way to their own kingdom.

     Seeing them rise out of the clouds of decay,
     from the lake's silk bottom

     gold with an afterlife lit from within,
     I thought: Even the dead lift their heads to collect sun.

     Even the body carries its lantern of distances.
     All my life, I have gone through this world,

     a solitaria
     waiting to be shown a wet road

     galvanized by the body's own lightning,
     clairvoyant as stone.

     What flayed thing stared at me
     from its button of blood,

     its lidless socket,
     greaved in its chain mail of lead?

     I don't know what I expected to happen.
     Perhaps for some god, the color of nothing,

     to come rest its head on my thigh.
     Long before this, I'd made my covenant.

     To be left with their glistening,
     I would learn to live within their circle of dread.

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     The amphitheater holds them like a chalice:
     fair-haired, blue-eyed boys
     bused in from all four corners of the state
     to hear the coroner's lecture on alcohol-related death.

     His address could be the farm report:
     his dry recital of quantities consumed,
     absorption rates classed by weight,
     his description of the slow, almost exquisite

     paralysis of the brain followed by slides
     of sundry decapitations. Then there it is, a corpse
     spread-eagled across the screen, its eyes upraised like Christ's—
     twinned cornflowers afloat in a milk-filled glass—

     and everywhere a sea of the cheapest cans of beer,
     not even the dying wish of a connoisseur in evidence.
     But not a word is said about what makes a man
     want to kill himself, that alpine lake that glimmers

     in the reptile brain, or how he goes from room to room,
     dousing the lights on each compartment of his life:
     the kitchen with its garbage pail and rack of spoons;
     the living room, its fold-out couch the marriage-bed

     where he took his wife, a burning town inside her,
     the sounds of small animals scaring out as she fit
     over him like a silo. The sensible boys will go no further;
     but there are a few, transfixed perhaps by the music of a voice

     that stings them in the dark copses of their blood,
     who would have followed Orpheus
     to a lake as mysterious as the face of any stranger.
     They want to touch its bottom, rub a bit of it

     between their fingers. They step into the little heart-sac
     of water that swells around them and feel first chill
     then stupor
. The evening lusters as they enter,
     translucent as they leave themselves behind.

     And in accordance with that psychoanalytic school,
     they don't believe in death, or to put it in another way,
     each one remains convinced of his own immortality
     and, as on a dare, wants to see what survives the wreckage.

     Their bodies ghost beneath the surface then disappear;
     and then the good god Thanatos enters them
     like grain force-fed through a funnel.
     Their faces peaceful and sublime,

     they feel nothing but the body's slight loosening;
     and as they pass the point where others' lives have faltered,
     they hear their mother calling:
     You love life more than you know.

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   Space Age

     My father,
     his life held to Earth by thin umbilicals,
     waves from his oxygen tent, his white space suit,
     as monitors track the death-defying swan-dives of his blood,
     calculate his odds of reentry.

     Schooled in the human physics of roll and yaw,
     I remembered it then,
     the day my father came to explain starflight,
     the auditorium curtains made of the same heavy velvet
     as Scarlett's at Tara.
     Paper models of airplanes reeled in air currents
     like pterodactyls or mobiles by Calder.
     Astronauts held by thin tethers floated in space
     above ice-blue mountains eroded thin as wavers.
     Houseled on stories of astrophysics and starflight—
     Tiros, Nimbus—names of satellites in geosynchronous orbit,
     the orchestra set sail to Mozart's tribute,
     the pock-marked face of the lone band teacher rising above us
     as we tongued our bright payload toward heaven.

     There was never this question of reaching it then:
     The moon, still uncaptured, rose
     in its nightly appearance
     over the manicured lawns of suburbia,
     beckoned each night to its moon-girl.
     No one talked of the war then.
     No talk of misplaced O-rings or rocket failure,
     life lessons in stability and control,
     the heat of reentry. That would come later—
     the future then only a question of striving.

     My father,
     a speck now in the mind's eye,
     waves from his spit of starlight,
     points to my life's center, it's gravity,
     the balloons of my wishes for flight held to Earth
     by unforeseeable forces,
     and says Lise, go ahead, be grandiose in life.
     You're lovable even when no one else loves you.

     The pock-faced moon of the band teacher rises above us,
     as we make our double helix back to the classroom.
     We lift bright bones from our coffins to make music,
     play to the laggard tempo of uneasy transcendence:
     Apollo, Telstar,
     the screen of the one black-and-white television silvering
     as the rocket lumbers at liftoff;
     and we count backwards,
     10, 9, 8, 7,
     toward a future we cannot know.

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Lise Goett's work has garnered numerous prizes, including the 2001 Barnard New Women Poets Prize for her first collection, Waiting for the Paraclete (Beacon 2002), which won the Pen Southwest Book Award in Poetry in 2005. Her other awards include The Paris Review Discovery Award (1995) and postgraduate fellowships from the Milton Center and the University of Wisconsin Creative Writing Institute. Her poems have appeared in such journals as The Paris Review, Ploughshares and The Antioch Review. She currently resides in Taos, NM, where she is working on a second manuscript of poetry entitled Leprosarium.

content Copyright 2007, Lise Goett—All Rights Reserved