Empty and Full

by Lauren Camp

Art by Ekaterina Gaidaeva

Art by Ekaterina Gaidaeva

A woman I hardly know spoons me panocha,
a bland slurry of blue sprouted wheat. I swallow
it whole. On the way home, I see
an ambulance perched at the edge of the interstate,
then a mile later, a Jesus Revival van
and four mules in the hypnotic dredging of heat.

Amen for what doesn’t evaporate,
what we don’t lose. I ride through the view
as trees muddle together.
I’m looking for clarity, believe it is possible
to find, but hard to discern
on this long road of old eyes.

This morning, my husband’s lips voyaged
the back of my neck
like thread dropped to velvet.
I’ve held to that time without doubt, thirsting again.

On the free electronic day at the dump,
we drove the middle of the road,
past eight vodka bottles, a squat tiny sneaker
and faithfully spherical clouds (all empty,
but once filled in some way),
and placed our tired pressure cooker
and Mac monitor beside metal receptacles.
Someone might want them, we reasoned –
even broken, outdated. Everything we never look for
was piled on top of each other, bins bulging.

Two days later, Boston shattered with pressure-
cooked shrapnel. Two men picked an inarticulate impulse
and walked off, getting just what they wanted:
empty and full. The city was airtight.

In Madagascar, 63 percent of all adult males eat
rock salt, chalk and charcoal to settle a craving.
What is it we want? What need will we till
to feel full? During Holy Week, penitent brothers
in windowless rooms lash and withdraw,
but keep singing. Blue porridge, sprouted and baked
into glue, binds them to God. The thick absolute.

Back in the 80s, I did penance in Watertown, Mass.
I’d been drinking shots of some spirit, looking for saints
at one bar or another, and was no longer aware
of my eyelids. The moon landed like a steeple
in my liquor-slashed head. I lost track
of the immediate past and woke in a suburb,
wrapped in two blankets to my own scrambled image.

Strange men offered toast, but established no presence
or name. An hour later, I watched tight-knotted towns
cede to circle of city in the back seat of a Fiat,
in the squint of Boston’s low-pressured light.

It was okay to be empty, to be full of the morning,
to be a mix, an imbalance. Those ordinary men drove
to my rented room. They followed my direction:
straight up the hill, guided me safely
like a cup to an altar. I let a spoonful of thank yous
leave my tongue, let the nothing remembered
move to my throat. Made myself swallow.

Lauren Camp is the author of two volumes of poetry, most recently The Dailiness (Edwin E. Smith, 2013), selected by World Literature Today as an “Editor’s Pick.” Her poems have appeared in various journals including Brilliant Corners, Beloit Poetry Journal, Linebreak, Nimrod and J Journal. She hosts “Audio Saucepan,” a global music/poetry program on Santa Fe Public Radio, and writes the blog Which Silk Shirt. http://www.laurencamp.com