Like a flock of confused birds,
Thigh finds herself running head
long into the dark, the sky a shawl
of witches, caught in this spell
of minutes repeating, corners
without edges or names,
street lights blown out, the wind
like an unnamed thought.
Even the bright seeds of stars
are planted deep tonight;
this is how it feels to be planted
deep, buried alive.
The path once seemed so clear
the shuffle of her feet, shift of hip
clutch brake shift clutch
to get a grip, to remember this
is only a temporary loss in the suburbs,
this is not the detour of her life.
by Karla Huston and Cathryn Cofell
This poem was inspired literally by getting lost in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a city with which we were unfamiliar. Trying to drive home after a late-night poetry reading, we were hopelessly turned around and not for the first time. One of us made a joke about writing a poem in which our Thigh character was also lost, when we arrived home (finally), one of us took up the charge by writing the first couple of lines. Since we’d often used Exquisite Corpse to collaborate, we wrote two lines each back and forth by email (with the first line xxx’d out) until we agreed upon a line count and an ending. This one came out with few changes — pretty amazing!
For general notes on their collaborative process, see Miracle Fish. —Eds.
Place the cellophane fish in your palm
and wait. Let him warm to you,
find your cradle, the curve of your inner
nature. His actions will tell your fortune.
A moving head means jealousy,
a finicky tail means indifference.
And so you unfold through all his stirrings.
He bucks and twists in my hand,
nearly falling over himself to get me right.
But every time I open either palm
to this red minnow, he turns a different story.
Today, I am tail over mouth: fickle.
Yesterday, his fin-flick called me passion.
Sometimes late at night, he flips
all the way and claims that I am false.
I want to know how seven seconds
and a sliver of head-shop plastic
know me so well when my own
husband holds me all night, his whole body
cloaked over mine, his whole body absolutely
still? According to the key, his silence says
I am the dead one.
So tell me, Miracle Fish,
how much of me is approximately true,
which scarlet fortune do I believe?
by Karla Huston and Cathryn Cofell
Cofell and Huston have written collaboratively off and on since 2000. They have worked mostly in Exquisite Corpse by email as well as in person but have also experimented with assignments controlled around a theme. Perhaps most successful has been allowing each other to write within abandoned poems and allowing this process to create something new. Because they value friendship and respect each other as writers, they’ve established some working rules that seem to eliminate potential problems. For example, they agree to revise only their own lines and abandon a poem that doesn’t seem to be working. Rather than feeling that their own voices have been muted by writing together, they feel as if they’ve created a third voice that is quite freeing and fun.
Inspired by one of those trinket-shop, cellophane fish, this poem is the result of Karla writing a poem that was stuck. She wasn’t sure where to go with it and had more or less given up. So she “gave it away” to Cathryn who wrote inside the poem and around it, adding her own flourishes and took it somewhere new. Then we looked at it together, tweaking line by line, but only making changes to which we both agreed. We think the finished piece is greater than the sum of its parts.