Jehanne Dubrow

Minor Planets

or Four Friendships

I read somewhere the fault resides in us.
A scholar tells me we are cracked or flawed—
we're each a Brutus or a Cassius
destined for disloyalty. There is no god
that regulates our movement through the sky,
our fate to drift, how easily we're swayed.
There is a tide that pulls us toward the lie
we tell ourselves—we're not in retrograde.
Even the scholar who loves to cite the plays
of Shakespeare will hurt me in the end.
A year from now, I'll watch when she betrays
our firmament. It's hard to be friend,
constant no matter how inopportune.
It's not our stars. We're each a faithless moon.

It's not our stars—we're each a faithless moon.
We go through phases of devotion.
At times we show our faces. They are strewn
with loss, our cratered eyes, the deep ocean
of our mouths. At other times we turn away.
It seems impossible that someone could
adore us for our rifts, that shadows play
across our darker plains. If there's a good,
it's that we change each month. We entertain,
displaying slivers of ourselves, derange
our friends, beguile them. We wax or wane.
If there's a bad in us, it's that we change.
We're old or new. We're full or gibbous,
our paths elliptical, circuitous.

Our paths elliptical, circuitous,
we move against the currents of the crowd.
She holds my wrist. Her words are nebulous
although I knew where she is leading—loud
men who lean in groups against the bar,
their gravitational pull, their pressure, heat.
Each light above a blinking woozy star,
the sticky floor below. I feel the beat
of electronic thumping in the air.
With her it's always this—a field of guys
she drags us through, their bodies everywhere,
their hands on us, the impact of their eyes.
I whisper then, we better leave. And soon
no music of the spheres, no clair de lune.

No music of the spheres. No "Clair de lune"
by Debussy. We're in another bar—
she takes a shot of something called Neptune.
We're sucking down Big Bangs, a Neutron Star.
When I'm with her, it's life on Mars, the red
of bad decisions, bad resolve. We drink
a UFO, a Nuclear Warhead,
a Bailey's Comet. The light is turning pink,
the spinningspinning room. I can't control
the atmosphere, and everything moves slow.
Somewhere between a Moonwalk and Black Hole,
I tell her that we're leaving, time to go,
the light now red as Mars, incarnadined.
I say goodbye to friends and never mind.

I say goodbye to friends and never mind
if I'll return again, forgetting years
of orbiting. Am I perhaps the kind
of comet that escapes then reappears
with periodic certainty? Who knows.
Or else, am I an unexpected flare,
a brief and brilliant meteor that glows
on entering the atmosphere, a rare
collision? Maybe it's easiest to say
that I burn out, I stray, I drift apart.
I have a time and place, that old cliché.
I'm streaking by. My missile heart
is made of rock—I love my wanderings,
the sudden darkness that my absence brings.

The sudden darkness that my absence brings
is comforting—I want her to feel lost,
alone, to wonder why I ended things.
Let her have her Shakespeare, her star-crossed
lovers, her book of sonnets to analyze.
Let poetry explain the abrupt night
of my kindness, why a constellation dies,
friendship the dust of long-extinguished light.
I'll quote the bard: not from the stars do I
my judgment pluck. And yet I know this much
astronomy. I understand the sky
we occupied together, the glistening touch
of stars. Who cares about the way we shined,
the lonely satellites I leave behind.

The lonely satellites I leave behind
don't notice my departure. I still recall
a woman I once knew—not quite unkind
but lost in a galaxy, its molten thrall.
I see the marbles she collected, each sphere
a tiny world of glass that she would hold,
dichroic universe. I watched her peer
into the haze of Mars, how she controlled
Jupiter by lifting it from its stand
to catch the light, or spinning Neptune on
the floor. She darkened Earth inside her hand.
Of course, she didn't see when I was gone,
too focused on Saturn's crystal rings.
Inevitable, these planetary swings.

Inevitable. These planetary swings
are laws of gravity. We used to lie
beneath a solar system held by strings
and watch the worlds, not one of them awry,
all circling. The central air would twist
the mobile in a lazy loop, those days
when we discussed the boys we'd kissed
or planned light-years ahead, that we would blaze
the future. We slept beneath a ceiling bright
with plastic stars. For months we loved to look
at this small sky, this phosphorescent night,
until I pulled the mobile from its hook,
took down the glowing planets one by one.
A friendship ended is like a vanished sun.

A friendship ended is like a vanished sun.
Eclipsed. Imagine how that terrified,
how people must have thought the world was done—
the birds gone voiceless in the trees, the tide
held back so that the shore became too great
an openness, the shift from heat to cold.
Imagine all those fears birthed inchoate
and twisting in the dark. What unforetold
catastrophe. What splitting of the ground.
How people didn't know they loved the light
until it hid, not wanting to be found.
They asked, is this a temporary night?
Imagine when the silence came, the din
extinguished, the galaxy collapsing in.

"Extinguished, the galaxy collapsing in"
—how easily I could be writing about
the ways that love and friendship are akin,
how both are stars that flare then flicker out.
Some stars take years to die. They shrink and cool
to nothingness, so dense they cannot thrive.
Some stars take weeks. Expending all their fuel,
they swell to supergiants, stay alive
on feeling, the bright varieties of heat,
outshining everything. And when they fade,
a hole is left, the cosmos incomplete
or filled with emptiness to be surveyed,
explored, a new deficiency begun.
No radiance, and gravity undone.

No radiance and gravity undone—
the last time that we meet, it's in a city
neither of us knows, streets overrun
with strangers swirling in our paths. Pity
our misalignment. Out of sync, we strain
to find our longitude. It seems we can't.
No longer orbiting a common plane,
we barely share the same side walk. I slant
away from her or she from me, the curve
we used to make now broken into two.
We barely speak that weekend, every swerve
from small talk dangerous, another clue
we're spiraling. And much to my chagrin,
somehow the universe goes on. I spin.

Somehow the universe goes on. I spin
into another year. A water sign,
I'm ruled by Mars. I'm fixed and feminine,
a creature with a sting, an armored spine.
My horoscope explains I like the scale
that Libra holds, the loyal Capricorn
who will not leave me, Pisces's gleaming tail.
It all make sense—that cornered, I will warn
before I strike, my poison sinking deep.
I'm written in the stars, the bite which brought
Orion down, my destiny to keep
these pincers sharp. The evening sky is fraught
with menace and earth a place of jagged stone.
I find a way to orbit on my own.

I find a way to orbit on my own,
although I hear her voice reciting lines
from Hamlet or King Lear. She would intone
something about the dragon's tail, bright signs
of things to come—to know those words and yet
to know so little of the sky inside
the self. To be so blind to every comet.
She always played the lead. She versified,
as if the bad revolting stars belonged
to her, her heavens hung with black, her day
surrendering to night. When she was wronged,
she called it tragedy, a five-act play.
I was an extra standing the near her throne,
beneath the dimming lights, a world alone.

Beneath the dimming lights, a world alone,
more than a decade since our paths traversed.
I wonder if she's at a bar, still prone
to getting lost, to searching out the worst
of men. I remember once, drunk and dizzy,
she asked two guys to trail us to the room
upstairs. She was downing something fizzy,
her laughter like a small explosion. Boom,
I thought, there goes the universe. No way
that I could ever stop the next disaster,
our planets crashing, orbital decay.
And she was always spinning farther, faster,
and both of us, our flaws too numerous.
I read somewhere the fault resides in us.

I read somewhere the fault resides in us.
It's not our stars. We're each a faithless moon,
our paths elliptical, circuitous.
No music of the spheres. No clair de lune.
I say goodbye to friends and never mind
the sudden darkness that my absence brings,
the lonely satellites I leave behind.
Inevitable—these planetary swings.
A friendship ended is like a vanished sun,
extinguished, the galaxy collapsing in,
no radiance, and gravity undone.
Somehow the universe goes on. I spin.
I find a way to orbit on my own,
beneath the dimming lights, a world alone.

The Bracelet

I love an ornament. But as I kneel—
the simple bracelet wrapped around my wrist,
a thick and heavy gauge, a gleaming twist
—to find my keys dropped in the car, I feel
my hand get stuck, wedged in as if by steel,
the metal gripping skin. I can't resist
the thought that I'll be trapped like this, my fist
gone numb, my only view the steering wheel,
a sad and dusty stretch of parking lot,
that I could lose a limb to vanity.
I pull. I wrestle with my seat. It's true
a thing is beautiful until it's not.
I yank myself from near-calamity.
For weeks my arm is bangled black-and-blue.

In a Tiny College Town

Our only consolation is to drink
ourselves to laughter, laughing at the slosh
and glug the bottle makes, the world gone pink
as maraschino cherries which we wash
down with soda, a sting of orange peel
around the rim of every glass, a dash
of bitters, a toast to bitterness, what's real:
our laughter in the kitchen and the splash
of ice, sometimes the good crystal and some
the plastic cup, always the slug of rye
or bourbon's caramel, until we're numb—
sleep pretty, you say as a goodbye
and hug me in the porch's amber light,
laughing through the warm fellowship of night.


Jehanne Dubrow is the author of six books of poetry, including most recently Dots & Dashes (SIUP, 2017). Her first book of creative nonfiction, throughsmoke: an essay in notes, is forthcoming from New Rivers Press in 2019. Her work has appeared in Southern Review, Pleiades, Copper Nickel, and Crazyhorse. She is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of North Texas.


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The most recent addition to The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline is Phillis Wheatley by Kathryn Voorhees.

Kathleen McClung is the recipient of the 2019 Mezzo Cammin Scholarship to the Poetry by the Sea conference.

Megan Marlatt:Looking like large puppet heads, it was "anima", the root of "animation", that led me to the making of the big heads, (or "capgrossos" as they are called in Catalonia where I learned the craft.) Anima is the soul or what breathes life into a being and to animate an inanimate object, an artist must insert a little soul into it. However to bring attention to what is invisible, (the soul), I chose to mold its opposite in solid form: the persona, the ego, the big head, the mask. Nearly every culture across the globe has masks. They allow performers to climb into the skin of another being and witness the other's world from behind their eyes. While doing so, the mask erases all clues of the performer's age, gender, species or race. In this regard, I find them to be the most transformative and empathic of all human artifacts.

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