Popular culture would have us believe that poems of love are poems of yearning. Specifically, that urgent, fierce ache for a person that stings us from within, causing us to climb mountains or win wars or develop ulcers. Then along comes a poem whose desire spreads ‘slowly, / the way a fern unfolds / beneath another fern.’ To read Ana Reisens’ work is to regulate your heartbeat. To feel the world revolving — not quickly, not sluggishly — but simply, naturally, as it is meant to be. And that is plenty exhilarating. It is no accident that Reisens’ metaphors come from the rootedness — and giddiness — of gravity and tidal waves.
It is not all flowers and moonlight either. The poems are deeply political, and do not shy away from the collision of different worlds. ‘A prayer for the body’ addresses the inherent contradictions of feminisms in practice, in theory, in speech. The poem deliberately begins with the trite pageant-declaration of I want world peace, to map a long and fascinating journey towards a very different kind of ‘piece’ — the body as world. Ana Reisens’ invests her varying themes with a constancy of voice, making this selection as surprising as it is hypnotic.
— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine
I want you slowly,
the way a fern unfolds
beneath another fern.
Yesterday we spoke of tides,
of moonlight and the supple
gravity of chalices,
the body and the bread. Today
we speak of clay and the way
it holds water like the waves
hold light, how the well
behind your grandmother’s farm
never went dry. I want
to be the vase that holds
the stems we gather in the meadow,
the wild lace and bluebells
that grow around the well.
Tomorrow your hands
will brush against my skin
as the swallows perch on the fence
or dip between the currents of sky.
And we will speak of willows,
the soft stones beneath the river
or laid out along the shore,
the stones beneath the stones,
how they hold the ocean in place
and are molded by it at once,
how all this is my body.
I tell them I’m a pigeon since
they’ve never seen a minnow,
because sometimes the eye is
too narrow to witness the river.
Our vision likes to trick us by cast-
ing memories into the sea.
Beware of the serpent, the wrinkled
mapmaker warns. Never trust a creature
with no hands. So I move
from stone to stone like a child
who’s been told not dirty her skirt,
skipping between the ripples of worlds.
There’s a shimmer beneath the sand
that whispers of gold, that holds
a memory of morning. Perhaps my skin
is more wind than ripple, invisible
unless you know beginnings. They
say there are birds that swim beneath
the waves, and rivers hidden in the sky.
There are islands of fire and mountains
of sand that have never known
the thin language of lines.
What is your name? The mapmakers asks,
but I’ll wait for the river to answer.
Tell me what you can see
and I’ll tell you who I am.
A Prayer for the Body
I want world peace, they say
after the national anthem plays and they’ve
strapped on their nude heels.
Or maybe they save it
for a stained-glass prayer,
a litany for a world in pieces.
I don’t oppose this longing.
May the string of your rosary hold together
every fragment of your femininity.
May the red of your blistered feet
help you forget the colour
of your unfulfilled longing.
But for the rest of us,
the women whose voices have been plucked
like feathers from a hen,
the women whose fires
shake against the reined
volcanos of our hips,
may we be spared
from anyone who claims God
never meant us to be more than this.
May they just stay silent
and step aside as we take back
the whirled pieces of our wild
and maybe even grant us the title
to a small patch of land – say, our bodies,
our one piece of the world.
Emily, they tell me you’ve been measuring the gossamer threads of grief –
that you’ve retreated to the spaces where the dim holds its breath.
In the evenings I seek you in the meadow, but the gazing grains have faded.
Winter has enfolded the lilies. Someone must bear witness
to this stillness, but Emily – how easy it would be to weave
an identity from frost, to grieve what has not been lost.
The leaves drape heavy with dusk and they tell me that you have left us –
that every feather is eventually drawn into the setting sun.
How are we to know what lies beyond the west – where the carriage will lead us?
Emily, if only you could teach us to see how unceasingly the dawn
holds open its arms to the night and how the white lily returns
to meet the morning – a golden resurrection with no end.
Ana Reisens is an emerging poet and writer. She was the recipient of the 2020 Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award, and you can find her poetry in The Belmont Story Review, The Sunlight Press, and the Fresher Press anthology Winding Roads, among other places. She lives in Spain and is currently working on her first collection.