Today's poem is by Claudia Emerson

from "Girls' School"

The Physical Plant as Prologue

Everything here measures: weight, effort, sin—
and everything costs in this seclusion

of daughters, the place an ark—its hold
all of a kind in an archaic, combed

order: straightened teeth, trained spines, the chapel's
benches in rigid rows before crimson

kneeling pillows, slim beds in dormitories,
the muted ticking of practice rooms, the stalls

just-mucked, the halls humid with breathing.
And in the brushes, their hair—enough to line

the nests of a hundred generations of birds.

Fire Drill

Bells sound them from sleep, and their imaginations
rise, recite all they have been told: the curtains

of fire, the beds, nightgowns, their hair, their hair.
They've practiced this escape before

and know to close the windows last, descend
the darkened flights of stairs in practiced wordlessness

to line up, barefoot, on the dew-wet lawn,
face the building, pretend to watch it burn.

Beginning Sculpture: The Subtractive Method

The girls sit before the assignment—identical
blocks of salt—and from tall, precarious stools,

look down into blank planes of possibility. In the end,
though, the only choice is to carve something

smaller. So they begin. Rough chunks like hail
fall before the rasps and chisels' beveled

edges. Salt permeates this air as it has
for years, the floor gritty, their hands, eyes,

even the skylights made opaque with it—
disappearing not unlike the way it is

subtracted from similar blocks, in the fields,
before the tongues of the horses.

Copyright © 2005 Claudia Emerson All rights reserved
from The Greensboro Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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