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H.L. Hix

As If We Were, As If We Were

I create lozenges compacted from listenings-in.
I illuminate familiar dreams and fables,
fit their formal structures to unique objects.
I badger abstractions into relevance,
assign names to otherwise anonymous sufferings.
I make things to question, though I make them from, selfishness.
Each passing train shifts keepsakes on my walls and shelves.
Though I myself don’t want, I do want others to want,
more dialogue, more complex argumentation, less
imagery and narrative. Artifacts of process

are artifacts, but there they are: the handles
of the china teacups out of parallel,
the sepia photos askew. Photos of whom?
I buy whole boxes of them at flea markets,
frame them, enshrine them together on one wall,
pretend them my ancestors, as everyone pretends,
no matter how their photos came to them.
The photographed whisper to one another. I listen in.
I obey what my body, not my conscience, commands,
act only on what is happening under my hands

and to them. What grounds have you to distrust fidgeting,
deny it wisdom and design? I might look better
corseted, but loosen those stays — look out!
I’m pink and wild. I have hair where you’ve never seen,
and won’t until you lie to me, give me beads
and baubles, paisley scarves and velvet wall hangings.
I love (and thus demand) that you give; I don’t care what.
And you, my animal, my pet, do I love more
your party-colored artificial fur, or your stuffings?
We are no longer young but still sprout wings

as if we were. As if we were, too, of a species
adapted to flight, drawn by the thousand generations
that preceded us to fly before the snow
to a place of flowers, and after it to return
to meadows and marshes and perpetual sun.
Is it my memory or imagination that teems
with associations my old life put into place?
My hairbrush and my thicketed reclusiveness,
my tablecloth and my ever-failing, snowblown schemes,
my apartment and my unsettling lavender dreams.

Better Over Than Across

Quilts and rugs pieced together from scraps of cloth.
For my grandmother, it wasn’t a hobby:
she wanted her children warm at night, she wanted
to be warm. They couldn’t afford to buy what they could make,
or to buy two of anything. Grandfather with his one
good arm had one good suit, on which Grandmother would sew
patches when it had holes. Same for her one good dress,
and for each child’s one school outfit for the year.
This wasn’t just her; it was her whole generation. Although
they didn’t call themselves artists, they did what artists do:

scavenge and transform, recontextualize
and reconfigure, effervesce and incandesce.
All the meaning we intend and plan and design
is derivative meaning, but that makes it also
historied, charged by and full of what preceded it.
To understand any work, look for the indications
of those quilts. But look, too, outside. Pattern
records movement, movement activates pattern.
They are one another’s reiterations:
seasonal change, tidal flow and migrations

of birds and butterflies, caribou and elephant.
All those quilted acres across North Dakota
and Nebraska, all those children of Germans and Swedes
migrated generations back. But now what?
Absent transitivity and completeness,
absent subtractive processes, what inducements
remain to follow the flyways, winter otherwhere?
Do any still migrate — flocks, herds, exiles — except
through my sleep? Dream butterflies, dream elephants:
without demarcation, these ghost-shaped whites with their translucence

are, instead of leaving, letters to lost relatives,
letters to fallen trees and places left behind,
letters scrawled as fossil skeletons stacked
page upon page in sedimentary stone,
not written to be read, but still written.
The world we live in need not be the one we mimic,
nor the one we migrate through the one we map.
I say better to go over than across.
The less we have, the less our urge to take.
How much we make, how much we need to make.

But Nothing Visible

I’ve stopped trying to secure my beliefs:
let them drift, let them teeter precariously.
Instead of having, and participating in, structure,
let them be emanations, essences
susceptible to representation but not
corporeal, not susceptible to breach
or dissolution, essences given to color
rather than to figure and outline as their proxy.
Let me imagine, intuit, research,
and interpret an actual aura for each.

Let those auras be real as memories, vivid
as dreams. Why shouldn’t I see better in sleep?
What obliges reality to present itself
only to my waking mind, in material form,
and in the same way it shows itself to others?
If the subject glows, let the portraitist

paint hue and saturation. Let figure follow
as it will. If identity may be layered
and composite, it likely will be best expressed
through color, an emotional presence surfaced

without structure, in defiance of edges.
It’s true we’ve gotten good at measuring,
but measuring can’t salve our ache for the measureless.
Work how hard we will to claim the dry and bright,
hold out our arms against what landscape we choose:
neither relieves dependence on, neither absents us from, dream,
in which one end of the landscape touches the other.
Nothing outside the law but nothing visible to it.
No childhood impatiences and loneliness but became
noses against the window, no steam

except the steam of human breath, which does not record —
too fugitive for that — but does remark absence,
loss, anticipation, wistfulness, absurd hope.
It wasn’t bedtime stories that put me to sleep,
but my parents’ conversation in the kitchen.
To this day it’s not aria that soothes me but séance:
words whose implications I need not understand,
from voices I recognize, absent but nearby.
Watered by trust or assembled by coincidence,
things form above the definite evidence.

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