From THE FROTH by Abby Ryder-Huth
You shall still find me...and therefore though this soul could not move when it was a melon, yet it may remember, and now tell me, at what lascivious banquet…
—John Donne, “The Progress of the Soul: Metempsychosis,” 1601
Call back John again or else a glass to see him in darkness, paled as a risen bread. Said John to I you are myself, soft days we woke to milk and sheets. None in these reveries blank enough, none in my reveries leaves itself to me. John, you say to pleat the breast, serrate the neck, be open as a sail. All for vapors! All to eat at the gate of your chimney! For do not doubt I looked, I peered in the folds of your portrait, where shadows were damp to suffocate. How they climbed me as I sought your cheek and curl, brushed me in oils and purples, your appetite ground with coal slathering my blinks. And even your speaking, which was winged too, could not rest its tail on my hand. Why John would you be painted a cough? Pried close I shone. Let myself a pigment suck. Why did I come to your hall, eggwhite of temper? Who will undertake to sift those dusts again, and to pronounce? I crack and slurp, I am alone. How now! most naughty girl. I believe a husband cups his hands to offer me the froth.
A waltz, then the drenching winds. Here too will furl themselves in you. Now John, come in. The house. For I know the smell is of rot but warmly I keep table. We have a dark blue bowl of porcelain, it came to us when we were wed. We danced, then it was night, the fire lit alive. Now I must make fresh smoke for you, cut your tree veined sapped and fresh. Days when you would sit and I would mop, most sudded home. Whereto, whereto. John come in and look how I am spent. Kitchen of insects! The shelves, are they not a blue lividness, not a sweaty faintness? For John I pray to bleed and slide as flies do, dawning. With you I press not into tree fruits. I daresay. To think of unsunned hours we bowed our heads. Our nostrils flared full, unafraid to be in breath.
My sole trembling at twilight is to pinch the sun-warmed worms. The state of the body! John, I am not all there. I bow before the table. A wound gown. I am not so firm tonight, weigh dearly yet on your trodden floor. Pick up! Dust in a heap. Upon it I did sweat and curtsy. I danced in the loose meadows, now we must lock up the house. Over my breast churchyards did vent themselves. Up to a slip of sky. John, I want much! I twisted up my skirt to bid you meet my eye, as when private alleys release a terrible steam. Was it not a splat? I do not know the wobbling so full. My blossoms dunked in jelly that thy body is made of. I carry the bowl to the window. Now I go all in.
Some nights I am the bared one in itchy desire and no ability to be perfectly blank. Flat as rags I take to wash my chest. You cannot turn me, John. I hit the wall. At tables, in velvet, I stood above. A printed man, his cloth almost to sinews. Not the right one I hold rigid. Inside night though it be changed and put into a chain of nights. John, be tighter. I am told you are not. You who leaves himself no room to enter in the tunnel of wetted throat. Brines yellow on my linen, when I’d cleaned it late. I do not hear you in the gully, melted, fat makes a taste more leaden than a skirt cut. I am gathered here to watch my harmless angels perish in the rag gush. A bride might have one wetter. The fabric is perfectly done: I should do my harm. Pardon, you are paler than steam.
Language in italics is taken from the poems, sermons, and Devotions of John Donne.
Abby Ryder-Huth attends the MFA program in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa. She was a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she won the John Logan Poetry Prize and the Pflughaupt Prize.
Thumbnail: Giovanni Strazza, The Veiled Virgin