Sigh Like Twig the Wonder Kid


A party tonight with real boys—who needs trouble? 
Better the problems of representing shadow. 
Snap of static when fingers meet vinyl, then 
the amplified hush as needle meets its groove. 
Better to ponder freakishness, whether 
the green eye wants what the brown foresees. His tenor 
founders on the bridge and she can’t breathe, 
as if she’s in love, or gazing in the mirror. 

Meanwhile she fixes Bowie’s sheen in oils, 
learning his rouged mouth’s quirks. Not the glam 
rock waif who streaked a lightning bolt across 
his face, not the corn-pale padded suit of cynical 
1983, but Changes Two, 
the wet look. Nothing set. Nothing dry. 
Ruffled bedspread; sting of turpentine. 
Plaid uniform skirt; her paint-swirled smock. 
She mixes a bruised hue to smudge around 
his eye as cadmium washes from the sky. 

She applies so little pigment the fibers 
of the canvas show. A famished child, 
a reckless thing, she knows how costumes sink 
into the skin. That voice is forever. Yet she claws 
up fishnets, finds her cobalt ankle-boots. 
An ink-and-mustard mini, some Dippity-Doo. 
Ground Control could learn a thing or two. 


The End of Talk


Drinking tempranillo at her laptop, a woman pretends to talk 
by jabbing keys. The wind does nothing but talk 
at branches or rippling metal roof, whose backtalk 
is not like the shrug of a teenager who refuses to talk 
about whatever texted squabble chilled her to the root. Tock 
of starlings in the aural foreground, bark 
of a neighbor’s frantic lab for a bass line, all talk 
no bite upon the dental consonant beginning “talk,” 
that’s amateur linguistics talk 
for the tongue’s assault to the rear of the teeth. The maple talks 
with restless green hands. The woman thinks she should have used “green” 
    instead of “talk” 
for the ringing bell of this epistrophe, calling her to a temple where only an 
    unaffiliated priest strolling by will talk 
about endings. She’s here to avoid a conversation 
with a certain widow who has decided not to grieve until caught up with the 
    ironing. Some women choose smalltalk 
or diaries, blogging, Facebook chat 
instead of thinking about the dead. This woman in particular, talk 
about repression—if she really wanted to talk 
she could at least use the first person. Instead there’s no one. Just pines in 
    the temple garden, laughing privately, talking 
with their backs to her, resinous needles muffling the ground, which longs for 
though its mouth is choked with decay. 


Côte Sauvage


Although the borderland is stony 
    and slicked by vivid seaweed, 
        the old man walks again without a cane— 
his silhouette disrupts the glare. 
    No use shouting. Parents and children 
        never hear each other. Or 
they pick up the faintest 
    impatient huff. Blackout 
        yields to voice as randomly 
as suns broadcast their flares. 

    This terrain’s all surf and precipice. 
        Mirror pools bristle with mussels. 
Generations break into foam around 
    boulders. Ahead, an absolute Atlantic. 

        But a limestone cliff at our backs 
reflects the roar, as if we stand 
    within a shell whose whorls affirm 
        each listener’s inner ocean. Touch 
the wall and feel a bass-line throb. 

    And there’s my son, leaning into 
        this green noise. Locked mollusk. 
My daughter’s magnetic waves assail me. 
    Gods and fathers rarely signal, 
        but rock vibrates 
sympathetically. What else 
    could it say? Echo 
        a kind of love, of 



Lesley Wheeler’s poetry collections are The Receptionist and Other TalesHeterotopia, and Heathen. These poems will appear in her forthcoming book, Radioland, which draws partly on her experience as a Fulbright scholar at Victoria University in 2011. She has a sonnet sequence about that year in Valparaiso Poetry Review and a poem in Unsplendid about first hearing Bill Manhire read (although she owes that poem’s tuatara quote to Harry Ricketts). Lesley teaches at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, in the U.S., and lives virtually at lesleywheeler.org.

Lesley says, “Autumn is blowing in hard this afternoon in Lexington, and the maples are turning red.”