November 2000

Leilani Hall


Leilani Hall is a third year doctoral student in creative writing at the University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Writers. Her work has most recently appeared in The Ohio Review, The New Orleans Review, and The Hawaii Review. More is forthcoming in Spillway and The Journal.
Utility    Click to hear in real audio

What draws me to the painting is the woman without hands 
kneeling in church, a blue dress wrapped about her,
her stunted arms drawn out in prayer, 
or in a task that couldn’t be done—
so many blackberries to be picked.  

The title reads Repose, but I imagine she must be asking 
for forgiveness, having dreamt of her hands somewhere else: 
perhaps not among the stems heavy with fruit
but on the body of another woman, that blue dress shed,
wrinkled on the floor like the wasted skin of berries, her hands
maybe slick in the woman’s hair, the braids undone.

I have her pray A woman visited me after the butterfly left,
and I imagine the wives’ tale true, the lover arriving in butterfly yellow, 
the sky a dark platter pressed over them, the kitchen fire out, 
sugar spilled on the floor and scattered. Jars are turned over, 
left unwashed in the sink. 

But in Repose she is confined to that church, 
the blue painted folds of her dress, and that position 
under the window, the stained glass filtering in 
all her red lament, telling her there are days 
when the body is as useless as the mind, 
when even a minister’s wife is restless,
the fruit cellar filled with berries, 
the cow’s milk gone dry.



Before Learning the Imperial    Click to hear in real audio
War Museum Was Once Bedlam

I know her for the day. Joined
through a friend, we spend silence
over coffee near the train,
watch each other not eat breakfast,
not use milk in our day’s blend,
not become part of the throng
around us. If we each open
our mouths, I imagine a thread
passing through, the sting at the nape, 
shell beans strung on a line to dry.
We rush seamed through the rain,
struggling toward the war museum,
no umbrella, our map soaked,
our summer dress bound to us
as thin shrouds, fine straight jackets
for the hysterical, bound.



Random Communication   Click to hear in real audio
     for Joyce Inman

Hay mucha muerte, muchos acontecimientos funerarios
en mis desamparadas pasiones y desolados besos,
hay el agua que cae en mi cabeza,
oigo que alguien me sigue llamandome a sollozos
con una triste voz podrida por el tiempo.

—Pablo Neruda, “Oda Con un Lamento”

After Joyce leaves a note on my desk,
Make sure you smile today,
I write back, tell her Things tend to awaken 
even through random communication

Her cursive is a scattering of broken choke vines,
my letters, tight wasps, curled into themselves,
each word, a day’s dying on the window sill.

When she asks Where does energy come from
if we can’t get it from caffeine
? I scribble back, Poetry—
Can’t you see your own arms as thin stalks,
your hands, red tulips
? (How she might lean 
out the window, lift to the light.) 
There. That saucer of light.

Friday, these directions on my desk: 
Leilani, the word ‘bikini’ comes from a Pacific island 
where they tested the hydrogen bomb.
Look up ‘hydrogen bomb;’ read instead ‘bikini

I take the bait, look up hydrogen bomb, read:
A bikini is a weapon deriving a large portion
of its energy from the fusion of lighter elements
to form heavier elements. The bikini’s success 
lies not only in the differences in the body’s mass 
which converts to energy, but the extremely high 
temperatures required to initiate bikini reactions.  
These explosions are remarkably more volatile 
depending on the thickness of the bikini’s outer layer.
Theorists continue to argue the ethical use of the bikini

Monday. Dear Joyce, I swim nude, 
(avoid bikini politics)

Tuesday. The word Don’t glares from a post-it on my desk.

Later, I stand in the rain, watch the ground swell with water, 
a tree absorb so much that it cannot bear its own body—
listen to the deep groan of the roots as it falls, the heaviest sigh 
in the world. To survive we must make ourselves bone dry—
No derrumbarnos desde la piel al alma, avoid our own collapse
from skin to soul. 

There is a pause in our note passing (nothing to put in italic),
and we never speak, slip like water on opposites sides of pine.

Then this from her: This morning I considered a mystifying
disappearance, carnivalesque, pulling the blankets over my head. 
Leilani, I wanted to be gone, but I could not fool myself. 
You know that even the dead return to the earth

All weekend I’ve been thinking of this—
random disappearing acts, slow as they are between us,
as if the shower water or the rain over the trees or either of us 
melts us down to bare topiaries.

I write back: Joyce, a friend called me, told me ‘God is stupid,’ 
told me 'he throws one dying woman on another’s dying lap

I haven’t heard from Joyce in days, but it’s okay. I will suddenly 
     proclaim spring
to save her. I will give her one of my ribs, welcome her back. 

Footnote: italics in lines 3-4 and line 49 denote lines from “The Conspiracy,” by Robert Creeley. Italics in line 13 denote lines from "Deepstep Come Shining," by C.D. Wright. Information on the word bikini and the hydrogen bomb has been referenced and adopted in variant form from The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia. The Spanish and following translation refer loosely to "Solo la Muerte (Death Alone)," by Pablo Neruda.




Leilani Hall: Poetry
Copyright 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 14The Cortland Review