Poetry: Danielle Shuster

Psychic Reading

No crystal ball or other prop
just a table, two chairs, and the steady patience

of her waiting, here, in this city built on its dead.
I sought her out, yet I suspect her—

a debunker bent on catching the sleight of hand, the trick,
even if it spoils the wonder, makes me a monster

of details. But also, I want desperately to believe,
for her to flush out a question to answer—


like summers spent at my grandmother’s pool,
not swimming, but patrolling—emptying out

the plastic basket of the skimmer
or splashing water into the overflow pipe,

luring out frogs to return to the creek.
In the pruned bowl of my joined hands,

their cold, slick amphibious bodies magic.


I want her to conjure an appetite for risk,
like in the early hours after I had waited

all night for his shift to end, after we trespassed
in the neon glow of the sleeping city

into that church yard, the sky dawning and
the coffee shop twinkling open, that first kiss

tasted like cardamom, the kind of kiss
that convinces a woman to begin an affair,

could convince her again, and again, and will.


I want her to cast something inside of me
I know how to use—a bell to set ringing,

a ringing to measure time against. Each longing
turns the body a little more into a museum, a natural history,

like the passenger pigeon arranged behind glass
to mimic the nesting season or laid flat on its back,

the last of its kind, my looking in a gleaming.



Collection of Fragments

    after Virgin and Child with Bird

Where her right hand should be
a hollow pretends

at missing bone. Blunt absence
at her wrist the texture

of pressure and time, of skeletal
debris, sea creatures lithifying—

hard casings collect, fragments
compound into limestone.

One can imagine her hand,
how it might have gracefully pointed,

like Bristlecone gesturing
in all directions at once. Ancient

pines braced against limestone
in achingly dry places. One,

felled by researchers,
they named Prometheus.

4,847 years of keeping record
reduced to stump. Prometheus,

who in pursuit of knowledge,
overreached, tethered to the crag,

his liver flowering in the basin
of his gut each night, succulent—

but what of the blacksmith
who forged chains that could withstand

such struggle? The sculptor, bound
by the body, cannot communicate

all that the mind can conceive, and yet
picks up chisel and mallet, continues—



Record Keepers with Rings Inside

     after Larry Levis


It's flowering season in the Great Basin. This sink
protected by mountains holding a history of the sea
that once covered this area with shallow inlands
before the rocks buckled and ranged, preserving
the worn-down shells of small creatures. Up here,
the soil is alkaline, challenges the flora:
shadescale, saltbrush—practitioners of succulence
& Alchemy. The architecture of Bristlecone
is sectored. If a root doesn’t survive,
just the segment of the tree above it dies
while the rest goes on living. Scientists at the tree line
run their fingers across the rings, each imprint
a stack in the library of record keeping.


He comes by nights he’s supposed to be out with the boys.
Ice quickens to water, runes cast each time we drink.
We wait for night. A large fan whirrs, turning the hot air.
The occasional siren, a truck taking its leave
from the station across the street. Lines deepen
around his eyes in the diminishing light &
wick away the sweat dirtied from felling trees—
the forestry service hedging its bets, wildfires
already record-breaking this season. I love him
in segments, separate the part that believes
he’ll marry me as soon as the divorce is final.
I wake alone. Walk the glasses to the sink.
Run a cold bath. Drag a finger through
the residue of sap & soil ringing the tub.


At the pool hall, the wooden rapping of billiards.
The sound of my youth, he says, sinking stripes
relentlessly, all of them neatly rolled back
into the table before I take a first shot.
Inside, emptied tumblers leave water rings
on the tabletop. The collection of poems
split face-down to “My Story in a Late Style
of Fire.” Outside, I push into him,
a mile marker along the roadside
of his leaving, as though I could foresee
his moving away from me under the missing
& innumerable stars. His absence
happening by degrees, mist rising
from the wet asphalt in the night-brightness.