Magnolia bloom can sex the air
until one thinks for long blanknesses
only magnolia, magnolia.
The tree shakes with the climbing of two girls.
The taller, stretched among four branches
looks up, carrying a knife.
The other settles at a lesser place
and thinks of falling. Magnolia
withers if touched. The petals
spot where the fingers were, then darken,
spoiling the smell. A girl raised
to be her daddy's boy knows to reach,
slowing and slowing the hand until
it wavers with the flower.
She cuts the slight wood at the stem,
tips to her a color of things hidden
skin at the lifted clothes, or the shining
averted face of a woman undressing.
The younger girl will run alongside with the news.
She presses her dark lips
in a pleased way, as if she has said
the word whiskey again, or tucked
into a corner of her mouth a grass blade
which she briefly squatted and chose
before standing, and with a slap
to her back pockets, slouched
into the length of herself.
It's the hook-thinness of her smile
that draws something like the beaded
metallic chain of a lamp
down my spine and stomach, toward the pucker
her smile has pushed to its corner
the flutter of that cheek
working down on itself, working spit,
and finding its own taste sweet.
The flower floats all night in a glass,
the kitchen lit in other places by the moon.
For love of her, he exaggerated.
And for love of her, forgot that he did.
And for love, permitted himself to attend her,
to smooth her brow and fan the hair spilling on the rich pale robe
toward her long hands that always lay restfully.
And for her pleasure selected
the headband beaded with five-pearl flowers,
brocading across the chest shallow as a girl's,
a gold trinket box, the Holy Book. an apple small as a plum.
And for love of her had her look at none of it.
And put no one near her but the child
who would say, as she knew, Woman what have I to do with thee?
Working before her daily
he shaped the eyes that were turned down, the narrow upper lip
she sealed in her composure on the lower full one,
and when he could do no more
as the executioner lifted the elegant jointed spear
he turned her away
and drew the shawl over her head.
And, perhaps against his own desire, disclosed
the profile hardened in the constriction of grief
then gave the tears a milky light, like pearls.
Of constant things, they .are most constant,
inciting memory, never the thing remembered
but the attendant, bordering the way into memory,
girls strewing petals the day of the wedding
within veils of wings. Hear the pattern to the confusion:
something fumbled for, and dropped, and fumbled for,
the right bead slipped on a string. A thread apparent,
a limb. The summer night is always dimmed
by the woman in her slip at the window,
car headlights on the dark stain of the river
that extinguish, and other light scattered on the river
the way memory obstructs a certain dark
The ring of children has scattered, They hide
and glitter, small lungs spreading, folding.
Already the first call back safe! home!
Now you can bear to remember what you
could bear to do once, carried by breathing
so like this music, in which what you lose, recurs.
The scale of the night slowly fills with petals,
leaves edged in weak light, the laboring wings.
grew up in East Tennessee. She has studied at the University of Tennessee, New York
University, and the University of Bonn. Coffman has received fellowships from the Pew
Charitable Trust and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and has been Resident Poet at
Bucknell University. She lives in Atascadero, California. Her work has appeared in The
Beloit Poetry Journal, The Southern Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, The Cincinnati Review
to read Brad Bostian's review of LIKELY.