Rika Lesser

GROWING BACK: POEMS 1972-1992

Growing Back

       for Judith Hoberman


The overgrown plant, billed as a cactus, but surely
a sedum of sorts: parts of it properly upright,
others, stems, half dead, with persistent tips, clusters
of fleshy leaves trailing the withered pink blooms, effortless,
sessile, removed to a table, since spring will not come
though it’s April 14th, the window-ledge battered
by corn-snow, the jambs dropping melted sleet. The plant I bought
only one of this year, knowing it would be just
one year I might keep it. It could do with a larger pot
and doubtless will when I give it away. It will be
time to give up every thing again; but now I cling
to these surroundings, can scarcely raise myself from bed
regardless of sleep or time.

In a dream I lent out my lexicons, even
the O.E.D. and Webster’s Third New International,
abandoning these for a diction. Some other voice
than Reason’s dictated this. Some other dictator
indited, commanding me leave my stays and enter
a world of forms, spaces, chambers enclosed but roofless,
sands over my head, the sea distant but present.
I never speak in my dreams though I talk in my sleep.
I have never woken screaming. Stifling I’ve tried
to scream and woken; no incubus perched on my sternum.
Voices I have hard: a word or two spoken sagely,
distinctly, irrevocably; or sounds, birds or bells.
I myself have never answered.

In a dream I removed a particolored blouse
and with it all the color of my bruised arms.
Another: I walked out among rocks, sands and seabrush;
each one spun on its own axis. Wrapped in a caftan,
I tried to reach firm ground, touched something
and covered my face with my hands. When I took them off
they were caked with blood and my face completely charred.
This too came off, a black thickness with the mouthprint
still clinging. In another room, girls screamed, women
drew blood from a man’s chest, the police were coming . . .
I could not leave that house.

I have been walking in my sleep again. Where I’ve been
no one knows, but my footsoles smart as if parched
by hot sands. I woke to raining slush, chilled through,
though my feet were burning. I woke and rose only
because something rang, and the ringing disrupted
my hand furiously writing away on the sheet.
What I wrote no one knows. It was a letter
with letters sloping uphill.

Has it been long since I wrote? I can’t keep track, had counted
on you as clock and calendar. You kept track for me.
I have been down in the caked sand at the shore between tides.
Not as the rootless sea palm with its crown of blades,
but as the lug, Arenicola, casting a mound of my form
behind, above me. Found nothing. Turned back. –
Out of context, many things can be bridged, nothing changed.
And the bridges we think we have burned behind
are more secure than any destination.

Write me again of your wedding, the glow that lit
everyone that day; or of married life, tender
distractions, backgrounds submerged. I want to invent
a new dance, a new ritual, with my own tempo,
somewhat out of time. There will be no music,
just the sequence of words: I begin I begin I begin.
And the dance is a ring, but no hands are joined,
just extended, palms half up, fingers curled inward,
one hand before the other . . .

It grows all too clear, what I set out to do without
ambition and beyond reward. I have taken too many
into my keeping, careful to possess none.
To keep my balance: this distance. I am exhausted
not fatigued. When I pass a mirror I haven’t the strength
to look. I am still tempted to believe the heart
does nothing but pump blood, the hand touches nothing
it does not disturb. I want to walk weary, naked
in the night, under clear stars, on a path unfolding
with each step. Nothing more than the mind of the sedum
breathing through its limbs, of the tumbleweed, before autumn.

© 1997 Rika Lesser

Poetry
The Sheep Meadow Press, 2008            
University of South Carolina Press, 1997   
University of North Texas Press, 1995    
Braziller Series of Poetry, 1983; Sheep Meadow Press, 2010
Poetry in Translation
Yale University Press, 2009 Margellos World Republic of Letters
Princeton University Press, 1993     Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation     
Barnes & Noble Classics, 2007     
by Gunnar Ekelöf University of Massachusetts Press, 1980 (out of print)
Princeton University Press, 1986    Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation           (out of print)
Retold with Pictures
First by the Grimms, then by Lesser & Paul O. Zelinksy

Quick Links

Find Authors