Lisa Dordal

Lisa Dordal, author of Commemoration, teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt University. A Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize, her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals including Best New Poets, CALYX, Cave Wall, Nimrod,Vinyl, and The Greensboro Review. Her first full-length collection of poetry, Mosaic of the Dark, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press (2018).

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To Say Something Is Alive Is Not Enough

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Because everything is in motion:

bone, ivory, shell. And blood

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doesn’t hold on to anything

but itself. Because there are worlds

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within worlds – geometries

of ant and whale, girl and boy.

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And some infinities are larger

than other infinities. Because iron filings

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can reveal invisible lines of force.

And my mother’s last words were:

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help me. Because my father loved

Lincoln’s general — the one who drinks

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and still wins the War — and the past

is a fine skin that does not protect.

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And I did not know that loss could be

so ordinary: my mother reaching

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into a cupboard for a glass, saying

take something, anything.

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And I don’t know if memory

is a place or a map of the place.

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Only that I did not come this time

to find her. And I never did ask

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what war.

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Another Attempt at Praying

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I’ve learned to love

the feel of stone

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and to quiet my breath

when mourners come.

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I dream of ancient paths

lined with trees

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and the singing of gods;

the girl made of beads;

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the deer in reds and blacks.

Footprints hardened

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on a bank of sand say:

walk, pause, run.

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I imagine their bodies

transformed into fish.

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Into swallows. Fox lung

or beetle’s blood.

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A snake traveling through

dirt. Sometimes rain.

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Who doesn’t notice

the rain?

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Elevator Ride with Philip Levine

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After my sudden confession of love,

he extends his arm, patting the sleeve of my coat –

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Is it raining? he asks. Is it raining? –

like a hungry ant tapping on the abdomen

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of the one carrying in its mandibles

a soft globe of dew

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because doesn’t the poet need the world

as much as the world needs

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the poet? As a child, I watched my father

lean his body over our Chevy’s

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black complexity of metal. Watched him

draw out the looped end of the rod,

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commanding an entire constellation of knowledge

in a single luminous pull – a language

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I was never expected to master, only

to practice over that dense geography

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the one small phrase taught

to my tourist body, my tourist mind.

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It is raining. It has rained. It will have been

raining. And in the Coral Sea, just east of Australia,

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the island that was thought to be,

drawn as it was onto maps, the new

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following the old — this repetition of inclusion —

until no one believed it wasn’t really there.

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It wasn’t really there at all. Even a whale

falling to the ocean floor

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will be consumed, the tiny organisms feasting,

as if the water itself has teeth. Hungry ant

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tapping on the abdomen

of the one carrying a soft globe of dew.

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It is raining. It has rained. It will have been

raining.

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