Lee Upton’s sixth collection of poetry, Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles, recipient of the Open Book Award, out this month from the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Her collection of short stories, The Tao of Humiliation, was selected as one of the best books of 2014 by Kirkus Reviews and received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Library Journal. She is the author of fourteen books, including the novella The Guide to the Flying Island; the essay collection Swallowing the Sea: On Writing & Ambition Boredom Purity & Secrecy; and four books of literary criticism. Her awards include the Pushcart Prize, the BOA Short Fiction Award, the Miami University Press Award for the Novella, the National Poetry Series Award, and awards from the Poetry Society of America.
Excerpt from Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles
Cleveland State University Poetry Center
© Lee Upton 2015
The Age of Beauty
I hope we can rescue Beauty from the mountain pass before parts of him are to be sewn shut, for he is beautiful on the mountain pass. They say even the soap he washes with dirties his hands. He’s so beautiful there are those who want him to walk inside a shroud and never leave the mountain pass. And now that Beauty is tied up on the mountain pass we ought to put on our backpacks and rescue him so that he can walk down the mountain by himself on his tiny twice bound feet. Oh, Beauty, let us rescue you from your beautiful self in the name of your body. (Poor body, everybody has ideas about you.) Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles I never thought I’d lie down. Now I’m a ship in a bottle getting nowhere fast. My first mate: a fly with a bucket of gear. Bottles in and bottles out. A bottle fly dies with his pack crumbled on his chest. Dust loves a bottle anywhere. By firelight a bottle looks full of fish. Bottle the bottles the bottles. If my ship sails out of the bottle and onto the shore will the day glitter, a breakable souvenir? I doubt the one I love can be pleased anyhow. That man would criticize Vermeer for the way the milk pours. Drunk at a Party He couldn’t imagine it now, kicking back, wandering around with a glass, weirdly morose or——what’s the word?—— jolly. His voice sounding vaguely Swiss or Peruvian or Dutch. Could he pick up the rhythm of the lush he once was, get lugubrious with that woman from the controller’s office? Break down, regret everything or—— the opposite—— boast? What latch keeps a brain from spinning like a prawn dropped on a stranger’s parquet? Ages ago in a land far away lucky people got three martinis for lunch. Whole lifetimes hung on a ledge disgorging the slippery feelers of sloe gin. Who would he be if he passed out again? Or if love plucked his eyes and made any throat glisten? This descendant of men who broke their necks in buckets of hard cider? Why am I speaking at this moment as if I were a man? What am I guilty of? What keeps a lobster out of a tank? The Mermaids Sang to Me And I was inside their song. Until at last I began to think: they’re a bunch of bores. I must send them packing, them and their aureoles. Their eyes, shark dead, their hides like stamp pads and arrowheads. Odysseus should have tied them to the mast first for the crime of singing so much about their own lives. Just then, the moon came out in clouds shaped like Annabel Lee, and the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe bobbed in the mirror above my buffet. If you want the truth, the ghost said, don’t look in the mirror. The mermaids are shrinking, turning transparent, setting up their grottos in daiquiris. You must prefer the window to the mirror. The window, dappled with liver spots. (To which the mirror replied: No one is fair to me.) Dewiest “...dew, dew dresses, stones and chains of dew, heads Of the floweriest flowers dewed with the dewiest dew.” ——Wallace Stevens “One misty moisty morning....” ——nursery rhyme Our dew was the dewiest. We were posted against flooding and drenched in the drenchiest frocks. We were strolling, standing, strapping dew, dew beyond the grass slip, dew to dip under the lips of seraphim, like a near-cliché that never gets rooted in common parlance. Our dew dresses, our slips of dew, our dew that in its depths lodges the glacier’s aspirations, the wettest opal to rival reason, the dewiest dresses, the dew of dresses, the dew that drew the misty morning when the men were forsaking leather. The dues of yesteryear. Dewy and dewier and dewiest. Yet another mermaid who kept bad company on one of our high level mornings right when we were beading up. The Liar, Emily Dickinson Who will answer her question? The liar, Emily Dickinson. The frogs call nobody’s name—— although they live in a loud republic. I unpeeled myself from my own name——and now what? There’s a pair of me. Don’t tell? I’ll tell everybody. Ode on “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Party-goers, foster children of Xanax, around and around and around they go, breathing for us, breathing and thirsty on their way out of town. It’s never not spring. It’s a festival where nothing amounts to kissing. No one drinks from anyone’s lips. No one drinks. Blood flecks a pillowcase, and the pillow is turned over. Then the head stays. Truth loves Beauty and Beauty hides his face.