Susan Wheeler's first collection of poetry, Bag 'o' Diamonds, published in 1993 by the University of Georgia Press, received the Norma Farber First Book Award of the Poetry Society of America and was short-listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Her second, Smokes, won the Four Way Books Award in 1998, and her third, Source Codes, is due out from SALT Publishing May 1. Her awards include fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts, and her work has appeared in six editions of the Scribner anthology Best American Poetry, as well as in The Paris Review, New American Writing, Talisman, The New Yorker and other journals. On the graduate faculty in creative writing at the New School, she also teaches at Princeton University.

These poems are from Bag 'o' Diamonds. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

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Smokes

Four Poems by Susan Wheeler


The Grace That Is Sleep

There were two children, fuming around through the rooms of their
house that had much bric-a-brac to upset. It wasn't even raining,
although the other houses on the street were unnaturally quiet.
The children were unnerved together and sullen apart. They shut doors,
opened them again on each other with frantic laughing.
The children wanted something that was due the other so that each           might rest.

This could have been the story I told you as you lay,
diving into dread, craving respite. This might have been
the story that unfastened, and lifted up for you,
an azure becoming sleep. But it is this voice that makes you
swoon: this story is one loosening tool listing into another,
each bearing its affects like wands, like tricksters' cups.
Sleep now: it is always in the telling, not the tale.



Peanut Agglutinin

The gore being chili sauce and rice didn't mitigate
the way she died. Done in,
curtain furled at sunset then, the cat arced
and sped off behind the Donut Hut and we
see against the tar curbside one lone foot splayed.
And what a plan it was, though most missed the boat—
this way to the sawmill, inspector!

Nell too fell victim to his terrible design.
Out in the ever woods where the tree trunks stood
the blood seeped from plastic bags
and the crew had to make another ketchup run.
Lissa was tired of peeling grapes for eyeballs,
and Buck of scooping mayonnaise into insulated gloves.

Yeah, well here's what she liked: hair, and lots of it,
peanut brittle—when suddenly, a frost of cicadas,
rising like Lucifer, hums up the clouds—an
evening beside you: Do-right, do right again.



The Hair on Your Chest

What the green shoot becomes in shooting
What the larvae dive in to take
What the defernce I hold from joy
Which has no say in it for you

What courage fails when the dog is licking
What stipples now these mirrors here
What the cheek you bend is corrugating
Where I have found you looking there

What cherished and watched over you
What waffled in the screen door's breeze
What boulevarded horsed upside there
Will reparate divisions where

What dissolves the sirens' voices
What sinuates and harbors love
What you have been and here too will so
I cannot not witness now