Her Soil Is Her Fortune


By Sarah Marshall

What you remember of him, and will remember of the one
who comes next
is what you remember of them all: not what they did, not what
you heard later, but the way they came
into your room.

You prop yourself up on pillows for visitors—one at the head and two
at the neck, one under each arm, to stop the noise of body on
body, for it is too much for them, these real
people, sisters and preachers, and other men of
industry, mostly sugar, mostly law—
but you stay flat for them.

Flat is what you are good at
doing, what you were always good at
being. They must walk around
to see you, and they cannot stop
at your neck. They must see it all:
the collapse of springs beneath you, how you make
metal useless, the thin spread
of your nightgown, for industry cannot clothe
you. They must see the marmoreal slump
of your breasts, the strange soft animals of your nipples
burrowing into your arms, virginal in their own way, for they have known
no child’s lips, have given no milk, no, never
and if they did you would drink it.

Looking through the caul of your nightdress, they cannot help but see
how you have been folded up, and how even now you know more of touch
than they ever will again. Oh, how your flesh hungers for itself, and more of itself
for sisters licked free out of smooth, for snake-banded wrists femurs floating, useless
borne out and on and homeward by all your gentle flesh.
All day, all night, you hold yourself dear
here, and here, and here: elbow laps at forearm, neck
collapses in joy, on greeting
the sweetness of shoulders.

If they could move an inch of you, they would turn you over, face hidden—
but what is face?—kiss your child-fine cup-cut hair, close their eyes and find
somewhere within you a tunnel they can imagine new-cut, blasted, brainless-young.
Then let them loose themselves, plunge deep and pitiless, and force their way into one
of your old embraces, to the middle of thigh’s love for pelvis, or
buttock’s for back. Let their search continue, and let them come back
every day, doing their best to scratch open, to fill, to frighten, to freight
away. Let them learn
what flesh will do beneath them, what the crack of water on water
means, and how the grain of even the coarsest leather
can be read.

There is no end to you, no edge, and no center. 
Gritless pearl, you shine in the afternoon light, tarp-sapphired
and in another year, if your syrup spread continues
you will overtake the box of the bed—flesh flummoxing the springs’ singing, sweat
soaking these civilized sheets—and when they come to see you,
they will stand in the doorway,
watching you float.


Sarah Marshall lives in Oregon. Her writing has most recently appeared in The Believer, Saw Palm, Harpur Palate, and Hobart, and she is currently at work on a series of poems set in Belle Glade, Florida, from which "Her Soil is Her Fortune" is excerpted.