Mary Austin Speaker is Co-Curator of the Reading Between A and B poetry series in New York City,
which pairs emerging and established writers. She has been Poetry Editor of the Indiana Review at Indiana University
where she also taught creative writing. Her work has received recognition from Seattle Review, Diner, Lumina, Black Warrior Review
and the Academy of American Poets, and appears or is forthcoming in 9th Letter, Bat City Review, Spork, International Feminist
Journal of Politics and Failbetter, among others. She has received fellowships from Indiana University and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers,
and she currently works as a book designer and illustrator. She lives in Brooklyn.
Three Poems by Mary Austin Speaker
CEREMONY WITH MEDICAL EXPERIMENT
When I was four I was a fire brigade, a tree trunk, and a lamp.
When I was five I was a station wagon, a pogo-stick, an ice-cream truck.
When I was six, ants covered my legs and I wore them like trousers.
When I was seven, it began to rain. When I was eight, it stopped.
When I was nine, I became a witness. My hair was long. A ribbon-snake
unhinged its jaw to swallow a fat toad. When I was ten, we blind-folded
each other, and you were there, but we couldnít see a thing.
When I was eleven, we moved again. When I was twelve, you saw me
folded in a blanket on my roof. No one else knew I was there.
When I was thirteen, the house next door burned down. In the wreckage,
I found a photograph of you, a yearbook, a broken cup. You fled the state.
I followed at fifteen (fourteen was a bad year) and found you
in a crumbling seaside hotel. You didnít see me, lost in thought,
considering time signatures on the beach. When I was sixteen I spent
all the money
I had. When I was seventeen I passed you in the street and I looked
like everyone. You followed me a few times, then grew distracted.
When I was eighteen I walked by the riverside and replicated the shapes
When I was nineteen I left again. When I was twenty I was a
a storehouse, a few states away. When I was twenty-one I sold you a
as you left the store I saw that look on your face. When I was twenty-two
you sat a few rows behind me on someoneís roof. A movie flared on a
When I was twenty-three we met on the subway, but I was sleeping
and you only stayed a few stops. When I was twenty-four you left and so
but I saw you around the neighborhood. When I was twenty-five
we frequented the parks. When I was twenty-six I took a long nap
and when I woke you told me Iíd been dreaming. When I was
you took this and folded it into a book. When I was twenty-eight
we demanded everything. When I was twenty-nine we gladly accepted.
When I was thirty our delight came out and we could not put it back.
When I was thirty-one our hunger went away and then returned.
When I was thirty-two my bad knee wept. When I was thirty-three
your flashlight failed. When I was thirty-four you opened tin cans
with a fork, even though there was a lightning storm. When I was
you told me it wouldnít be too long, just wait. When I was thirty-six our
returned and with it, fever. When I was thirty-seven our instincts
were right. When I was thirty-eight we gained another set.
When I was thirty-nine my plans for April were ruined, but May
was a success. When I was forty this residual laughter, rain, a residue.
When I was fifty this resplendent cage of ribs, heart knocking itself
against its walls, still going. When I was sixty your multiple decisions,
replies. When I was seventy my overstated yes. When I was eighty our
well, of course. We agreed and disagreed. We never fought.
[Originally published in Diner ]
OUR AVOIDANCE MECHANISMS HAVE BURNT OUT
The aging astronaut suspects his body
of allergies and pales after he eats.
His muscles fret beneath his skin,
you never take me anywhere anymore.
Heís only following the signage: Do Not Walk
On the Lawn, Keep Out, Private Drive,
but meanwhile, the lawn has taken over the deck,
offering its blue shade to the marigolds.
The aging astronaut cannot discern
which side of the moon presents itself
and feels sheepish, a false expert. ďIíve been there,Ē
he says, knowing how little one can say
about anyplace one has been.
One cannot be nostalgic for what hasnít left
except for the regret inherent
in losing memory.
The aging astronaut understands this
to be his body retreating into itself, his spine
collapsing at a speed which might be considered
the opposite of the speed of light. But then,
light has two speeds: the time
it takes to arrive, and the time it takes each sun
in the universe to collapse its carbon
into a rough, unbearable diamond.
[Originally published in Lumina ]
THE LORD GIVETH AND THE LORD TAKETH AWAY
When the taxidermist was born,
his mother felt mammalian,
when the infant emerged
unscathed in a rush of blood.
She would tell him later
that she had to train herself
to look away from him,
only able to take her eyes from
him once she admitted
she was pure voyeur. Even as she
dressed and washed him, a love
settled in, and drew its strength
from the secrecy of her gaze.
The taxidermist is empathetic,
instead, projective, sure
of the oneness of all things.
The living confound him something
awful, the way they shy away,
to say nothing of his fellow man,
with all his trappings and rehearsals.
Behind the taxidermistís house
the burnpile leans against an old brick wall.
He holds the match until the offal
catches fire. Rabbits scatter
into the nightís darker corners.