Christine Marshall


I spit their names from my tongue, ticking seeds.

Each leaves her own taste: honeyed treacle; tart sap; rancid meat.


My husband kneels. Her thighs vise his head, his hands catch her hips. Her breath turns creature all its own.

In my dreams, I paste my face over his. I kneel, catch, feel the blood tiding
my bones.


Finally the iris bloomed. All week, I’ve watched the lean stalks inch, yearn
through the soil. Now the buds fatten and crack. Burst of yellow
along the edges, and the blossom’s sun fills my day with light.
A song so high and bright it pricks the clouds.


If I am yellow, he is gold: burning, lit.


The last minute of childhood: rain and a river and the two of us racing the banks.
Hair tumbling across his brow, lips the color of fresh blood. I said, How wild

the water looks today – surface opaque as steel, no way to know what rocks or fish
or angry gods roiled beneath its skin. He said, but not as wild as you, and picked me up and threw me in.


For a time we moved like tandem acrobats: bodies matching, limb for limb.
He liked to line his fingers up between my ribs. These came from me, he’d say,
and lean to kiss each one.


Each time he strays, flesh of my flesh, I know. I feel his restless cells in my veins, children kicking walls and storming off until they lose steam, patter home.

Before they launch, I see where his besotted arrows will glance.
Mine glance there too.

* *

There’s been another; I can taste her on his breath. An acrid swill.

Yet when I see him it’s as if the bottom of the world has buckled
and the darkness fallen out.

His eyes are mirrors flecked with golden song.
He bends towards me and I’m born

back to the self I’ve wanted all along.


The Origin of Sleeplessness


Trees trace their unfamiliar shadows on the siding, floorboards ask and answer
their own questions. Twelve years old, I’ve never slept alone

before. The twin beds have been split: two rooms, two doors, too far
to hear the metronomic breath I didn’t realize helped me sleep.

Out the window of my unpacked room, the full moon bores the sky, solitary
horn extending from a unicorn’s forehead. A taste of future

nights, my twin is through the wall, beyond my reach, and sound asleep.

There are two versions

of the Sandman. One is Ole-Luk-Oie, the Dream God,
soft-cheeked with a full pink mouth that exhales sand

on childrens’ lids. He tells them milquetoast tales
that pad their dreams and ease them through
a downy sleep.

The other version
is familiar but a stranger to the work of dreams.
Each day he kips across the hours of light

until his world begins at dark. This Sandman’s hands are thin as twigs,
his cheekbones crushed by birth.

His dust-storms burrow into children’s brains. Their sleep
is filled with flapping wings, a crescendo of hooves.

(μετωνυμία: a change of name)

Trees trace their shadows on the old red brick, floorboards ask and answer
their own questions.
Out my window staring at the city, the moon’s indifferent eye

coolly cores the sky. I tell myself the moon can sleep alone
and so can I. I count sheep, count my friends.
I count ex-lovers, count the years

of counting sheep. I calculate the hours and minutes of those years.

Beyond my reach, through countless city walls, the man I want
to trace his shadows on my face
is sleeping soundly.

* *
There are two versions of the story

of the Sandman. In the one I heard as a child,
the Sandman sprinkles petals on the road to dreams.

The one I learned myself begins as childhood ends. This Sandman stands
inside the fortress of the moon. He wears its shifting masks.

His mark is visceral as birth:

a growing pressure – then a flood –

then a sound you can’t block out again:

it might be ocean, might be heartbeat, might be wind.


Christine Marshall’s poems, essays, and reviews have been published in Best American Poetry, Agni, Beloit Poetry Journal, the Indiana Review, Memorious, Western Humanities Review, and other journals. She teaches creative writing and literature courses at Davidson College.