This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 670,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"A Constellation of Scars" by Christopher Fox Graham

"A Constellation of Scars" 
By Christopher Fox Graham

only long-term lovers take the time
to ponder the origins of marks on skin

the first thing I notice are her scars:
she's a wandering tomboy
with more cuts and scrapes
than a hardbody Buick in an action film
but she's never been broken

I chart them as she sleeps so I can write poems later
these fingertips can still recall them
the way surgeons never have nightmares
about patients they save
but they’re haunted by the faces they lost

she says she wears her scars like a constellation

I chart them like Galileo
trying to map her ancestry
circumnavigating her body as if Magellan
hired me as helmsman
and only I can get us safely home

every scar has a story
the way men who ink themselves
on every square inch
from big toe to eyebrow
can name the tattoo artist
and heartbreak behind each symbol

if she let you close enough to nap with an ear on her chest
you could hear the heartbreaking discord
as her mother's violin and father's oboe
played so selfishly
they forgot they had a daughter in the orchestra
trying to make peace between the melodies
that hadn't played the same song in decades

but open wounds grow a thicker skin
and 24 years of a bleeding heart
made her impregnable
the manufacturers of castles,
SWAT team body armor
and 747 black boxes
are negotiation to duplicate her skin as a prototype

but she only answers e-mails from war orphans
and young widowers who bury their first loves
because only they understand
what she teaches:
how to survive after the world ends
and do it with a smile
and the belief that everything is still beautiful

whatever doesn't kill you becomes a cliché
and every time some failed love
broke her in half
her heart phoenixed and doubled in size
so by the time she climbed into my arms
I could climb inside her chest
as if she made herself into a hammock
by taking all the times she whispered “I love you” to a stranger
but never heard back
wove them together
so that when she met a lover
who wanted to study the stories of her scars
he would have a place to sleep between shifts

I studied her scars like a crime scene
trying to figure out which cuts were misdemeanors
and which were alibis for felonies

until I came across the last one
on which she had written in invisible ink,
that only glowed when I kissed her
drunk with love
“there is no mystery to solve, boy,
I just wanted someone to come this far”

by then I learned her scars so well
that if they sang musical notes
I could play her like a symphony in the dark
the strings of her arms hummed work songs
learned alongside peasants in El Salvador
the percussion of her feet
beat bass rhythms of the wandering road
snare-drumming stories to mark the miles
between hitchhiking pickup spots
the brass of her legs intoned harmonies with strangers
like she was rearranging the stars
as if Rigel, Mintaka and the Horsehead Nebula
separated by thousands of light years
had any clue we call them Orion
and that in the bed of a pickup truck
in an empty parking lot
she and I use that unexpected relationship
between irrelevant clumps of hydrogen
to ignore the sheer absurdity
of how strangers become lovers
to kiss for the first time

“you see,” she says
“why I wear these scars like a constellation”
shooting stars scar the face of Sagittarius
or cut Hercules in half
but once they fall to Earth
it's as if they never happened
and no matter how many broken satellites
may scar the sky in your brief lifetime
we are just the dust of stars
condensed into living stories
the burning suns that make up these limbs
have been on fire for eons

shooting stars only last a second
but you can wish on these scars
until we swirl together as stardust
and burn bright as sun


MusicalAlchemy said...

I really like this poem - it has such beautiful imagery, and there's a strong sense of feeling. I can't pin point every reason that I like the poem, but I know how it makes me feel, and I guess that's the important thing. I enjoyed reading it.

deborah said...

I love this... a very powerful piece. I love the language, the power, the imagery, the passion.

skyblueroses said...

This is beautiful, everything free verse should be with a rhythm in reading all its own, and beautiful crescendos and diminuendos of feeling.

Having read it a couple of times now there are a few points where I wonder if you accidentally left out a word, especially as the rest of it would make sense as prose if formatted differently. I know that poetry is often more about the flow and the feeling of the poet, so by all means ignore this, but I find myself either inserting the words or stumbling a bit at those points so I wondered.

8th stanza, last line: "negotiation" -> "in negotiation" or "negotiating"
10th stanza, 10th line: should it start with "and"?
Last stanza, last line: "sun" -> "the sun"

Regardless, this is some of the best free verse I have ever read.
Congratulations on truly mastering the craft. May you continue to receive all due applause for this fantastic piece of work.