July Westhale was born in Arizona but raised in California. She is the author of the chapbook, The Cavalcade (Finishing Line Press), and the children’s book Occasionally Accurate Science (Nomadic Press). She has been awarded grants and residencies from the Vermont Studio Center, the Lambda Literary Foundation, Sewanee and Bread Loaf, among others. She is a regular contributor at The Establishment, and her work has also appeared in The Huffington Post. Her most recent poetry can be found in burntdistrict, Eleven Eleven, 580 Split,Quarterly West and PRISM International.
Existential Crisis at 3 AM
There ought to be a word
a word for recognizing
how memory is tidal,
how memory comes back,
back into cycle. If I lay me
down at night, night open
as a black peony, I am preparing
to be salted, and preserved.
At night, I preserve the terrible
dark. I prepare myself to lie down.
If I die, I die in a dead man’s float,
and dream of nothing.
Just as likely, I fight, I pull
in ways that stab through waves.
Nights like these are called rip tide.
I remember to surrender,
and move shoreward to waking.
You’d call this restlessness—
you’d be mistaken. There are shaky moments
of calm, the sea steadying and gently heaving stars
to shore—a touch of moon, a slant
at cockshut. Speak low, low tide.
I wish I spoke moon. I wish my body
was many fish.
I wish I could find the other side of anything.
You’d call this enough—you’d be mistaken.
Night is worry enough, but dawn is worse.
I am helpless when the men come,
men who have spent years mapping waves
enough to know how best to enter them.
When did you last see rain,
and where did it go, bladder clouds full?
The heat will always be irrational, always
with slight relief at darkness, when the heavens open
a spectacular velvet dress and show us
their stars, or show nothing
their stars. Eagle Mountain is a ghost town, now.
Daylight on Route 60, apricot and lovely,
goes undiscussed, but for the crickets
and the terrible songs they sing.
They sing: come home,
they sing, never be ashamed.
All night they sing, and if we could, we’d feel
that good, hymnal feeling of nothing new—
Conversation Among Dirt Before Rain
Let us begin.
Our bargain pews, the chaplain’s prayer
(though broken easels of valiant faith)
in the chapel’s ark:
the hapless prayer, the anxious prayer,
irregularities of love and praise
that draw the unfailingly faithful forth.
Praise sun, praise roof, praise angles of light
in solemn passing, that penetrate our church.
We smudge the foreheads of rogue tenants
both helplessly bereft and dangerously faithful,
the judgment house, the callow fold,
a ministry calling all further missionaries
to stagnant dark, where all mishaps turn
appalling and sinful—
is the singular crux, an impotent bluff, a starving
hut that draws its wayward from a hand-pollenated
wasteland, and forces open serpentine people,
coruscating as diamonds, sharp and bloody.
Before the Father opens
the stilted light at every dawn,
we wish for the coronation of water, the farthest
servants, anointed for him:
the weeds, the barbs,
the crass, the rakes, the raff—
we wish to be
the christened brethren and faithful soldiers,
dependent on aerial miracles.
All hovels must have their saints
and their Christly visions. And hell,
languishing hell, makes rapturously ugly
its own plagued virtues.
Sinners are a little hardier than they were.
But we extol infinite supplications and psalms:
virtuous are those
who beneficently chart
the uncharted, the moment the masses were most damned,
fragile, faithless with nonsense,
and so alone,
they accepted and welcome their own redemption.
We had visions in this barren field,
we wished it changed,
worshipped that change, took incremental offerings
of rain in mornings tempestuous and sallow,
the shift from farm to forgotten. We had a Lord
who propelled us to seek water. We were that Lord,
we were that soil, that farm, the forgotten.
To call a Calvary “salvation reincarnate” is hopeful:
souls who have faithfully restored the chapel of crops.
Be unquestioning of what the Father bestows—