Throat Ember

Shiny valve by valve the woman shakes
saliva from her French horn. I must have
seen this. I put her in the movie.

In my throat. A ready ember.
She is the red cloth they use
on stage to mean blood
after the body receives the wooden sword.

How can that stalk hold a bird?

The eight-year-old that was me looks to the ocean.
Her toes are dusty with dander of sand,
tough and bare as any part of me
will ever be. Awake, she floats with ease
and touches snakes. Asleep, she is terror
running from a man who has no face,
blank pink skin. I am six times her age
and he looks to me like a big penis
wearing a hat.

Father looked as sure of himself
as ever. None of us knew of the part of him
that was wondering which part of him
would out-shout the rest tomorrow,
and would he fly the plane alone?

A reef is a hurting and a way not to drown.
The brass of the horn is its own gleaming.

The mother I have made for myself
says: apply yourself aslant.
When the nun walks out
of your body, hold her by the shoulders,
say: many are our paths. Mother’s face
gives me to understand this.
Tells me I can open as easily as walk.

When I was twice the age of the barefoot girl,
I dreamed every month of standing
on the median, rattled by the whir of traffic.
Always from behind came a knife
for no reason
and a burning that was I knew
the way it would feel.

In the delicious dark of the movies, I have
no body. Sometimes I forget
my elbows for weeks at a time.
The day I felt the knife from behind in Catch-22
right there awake in my seat I knew
the dream would not be back.

A man on the radio says the world
wears irregularity
in an unexpectedly orderly fashion
(lightning, earthquakes). The man
says fractals, says weeds and synapses.
I am asleep. His breath stirs
the hair on my arm.

It’s the bird’s song that lightens
the stalk’s load.
The worst things that have happened
I didn’t know to fear.



From Ladder Music (Alice James Books, 2001)
© 2001 Ellen Watson

Ellen Doré Watson was hailed by Library Journal as one of "24 Poets for the 21st Century." Director of the Poetry Center at Smith College since 1999, Watson is author of three collections of poems, including Ladder Music, winner of the New York/New England award from Alice James Books. Other honors include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists Grant and a Rona Jaffe Writers Award. She also teaches private writing workshops and serves as an editor of The Massachusetts Review.
E-mail: EWATSON[at]
(replace [AT] with @).

For more of her work in TheScreamOnline, visit the Talent Index.