Sarah Maclay






Night Text

Let’s imagine I’m translating something to you—

you, asleep, or sleepless or naming

that third place—between—


with the tips of your tapering fingers—


I don’t know the language.

It bends.


In the mind—in that strangely shared chamber—

that is, I mean, in your hands,


where you show me those scenes of confusion and flight

with such intimacy, and don’t know it—


even sans color, sans liquor, sans shape,

we are twins. Fraternal. Unknown.


The moon, invasive, huge,

lunging in through the windows,

makes no exceptions—


It’s true: it will never happen / you’d be surprised.



First published in FIELD and anthologized in Poetry Daily and Angle of Reflection




In the Late Gabardine of the Trees


It is as though the bed is floating


On a river        at dawn

And the water is singing


As the air sang


When their bodies finally united

And a strand of ribbon coiled around their feet—


Wrapping them together in a silken bobbin—


As the multitude of voices hummed around them

Like a choir of women, rapt in chant,


And as the fire of their kissing

Rose in languid curls of gold,


The mist rises off the water


In the slow amber light

Of a lantern.




For You Who Are Not With Me Who Are With Me


Because you are such a cloth man, I must start with the cloth report—in this case

with our friend in gauzy white on black, those famous black grapes dripping from her earlobes, dangling in strands, as she assembles the seating, checking out the room,

while our thin and vibrant friend, in a green frock-that-could-be-called-a-frock, jokes about her reading glasses as she reads to us—all smoke and leaves and wood and sex and shining and the Seine and dusk and our friend/her friend whose mother died and father died and husband left and son is leaving for college and who is sparkling now in the awkward embrace of a life she does not know, in green, in jeans, more fully alive, and our friend all reds and oranges and peach and freckle-diaphanous-lit on her two martinis and cackling, eyes jade olives, penetrating, vividly, the air, and her friend/my friend with the pulled-back hair and the dozen brothers or so and tonight her friend in specs and our friend whose husband also left four years ago, her  graying hair now shoulder-length as though she’s been allowed to become a girl again as she smiles with her new and bearded, twinkling friend and his grown son, and our other friend who loves our (not here) other friend but it was over a year ago or two and she’s pulled together in a chic-er lace brigade (if not brocade) and her hair, all auburn-toned, allows her to wear her body differently, somehow, with a kind of now-found stateliness and her friend (who I’ve only recently met) is champagne, all joy and frazz—and now, as I turn to the back, our blond friend who I’d imagined sitting next to tonight while gazing at you in a mini-skirt, no stockings—only instead I’m wearing something I didn’t need to iron—a blousy film of longish dress with flecks of fallish flowers, all brown and longer and black and under it the stockings covered from bottom to top with flowers, brown and orange, gold, that some have mistaken in the past, in airports, for tattoos—but you see I can take them off and wash them—and so (this is where we went tonight) our red-haired friend is making me walk across the room while lifting my dress and it’s only at the end of the evening that our blond-haired friend moves closer, breaking into tears because of a migraine so I


manage to cadge a couple of Advil from our friend with the grapes and after sausage and  a beer our blond-haired friend is nearly glamorous again—a word I shouldn’t use, you

know, but will—tossing back her head with the friendly guy in the leather jacket and glasses who’s always smiling, and also with my tall and sylvan friend (she slips two folded paper sonnets into my drawstring bag but later, when I tease the black silk open there are only a couple of pieces of antique lace) and her husband—while below, a crowd of hundreds jams into the outdoor brick café, twirling scarves and almost dancing, every age, to hear a young guitarist twanging out her evening chords and beginning to sing and of course—to go back to the room for a second—our friend who is playing the saxophone (though it’s been nearly confiscated as a weapon and someone says it was because of the case—it looked like a gun—but no, our black grape friend says, no, it was the instrument itself that set off rumors)—and his forehead, tonight, just beginning to bead with sweat, his wrists embraced, encircled with, on one, a sleek tres Western watch, on the other a necklace of brown and wooden beads, from Africa, I think, but do not know, and tonight he is the firmest of brown mountains blowing into the lacquered sax—its brass keys set on top of a horn so silvery it’s almost black and the sound that pours from it is gold and silver and black and black gold and it hits my neck now, which is where you come in—as my head begins to drop on its hinge and I close my eyes and my hair, already frowsy, dangles like limp cloth and it’s all a river now, of our accidents and multiple and singular desires and words and leaves and smoke and dusk and the Seine, all shining, and then the way your hand, right now, descent under water, would have given itself to my  neck and the way I would, descent, go under, anywhere with, under flame, with you, even as the high brick walls in back of the terrace, where I’d imagined leaving the crowd with you and leaning into—even as these walls, this turf is guarded by security, in white—and all the secluded benches are taken and even the long, oval pond that is really a fountain reflects the night like a slippery stretch of patent leather, like the most alluring couch, so that I have to dip my hand in now, so that I have to break the surface with my finger—ok, the merest trespass—and actually—and let me slide that word around in my mouth and taste it—let me fondle it, if I must live with it—the way it starts with an opening and gets


complex in the middle and leaves my tongue with another kind of opening and even though this is not the night we’d hoped for, it is all of this and actually this—this is what we’ve made.



From The White Bride (U of Tampa Press, 2008)




A loose translation, not yet quite a gallop, more than a walk: to be literal is to be a little jerky, rider and horse not unified into that smooth flight of sweet aching below the saddle, all feet off the ground at once. Well, another hour goes by. You’ll need it. But it gives you the idea—lap slapping against leather or, bareback, the soft hair below the mane, yet it’s not a place you can stay for long, breath beginning to move in response to the horse’s footsteps—even more involuntary, a quick exhalation, a little fear of being thrown; appetite, the beginning of wind, a canter, a leaning down toward the horse’s neck until the motion overtakes us, the scenery unimportant—yet even this is nothing, as the pale summer light retreats: nothing but another loose translation.



From The White Bride (U of Tampa Press, 2008). First published in Washington Square.



The Night Cloth

There is always the path back to the place you began, but this time, take another. You have been given the colors of a Vermeer, made in muted light. They are what twilight does to wheat and shadow. And then the man below you, in his apartment, does a kind of singing—as though he is making song with his fingers as they drum a tabletop. As soon as you name this color gold, it looks like ultramarine or even distant knapweed or even a part of the ocean. The dripping rain on the rooftop is now as random as the click of the second hand heard between the shhh-shhh of passing cars. But really, anyway, there’s no where were we. The cars interrupt the darkness with their splashes of sudden, repeated white. There’s a kind of rhythmic humming now from below, as though the voice, or several voices, run, again and again, into a wall, insistent, and the walls themselves are ticking—or is it the heater, or is it the rain. Something apparently wants to chant—will use anything to chant. And you—where do you think you’re going.



From The White Bride (U of Tampa Press, 2008). First appeared in Ninth Letter.












Sarah Maclay’s most recent collection is The “She” Series: A Venice Correspondence, a braided collaboration with Holaday Mason (What Books Press, 2016).  A 2016 City of LA Master Artist Fellow, 2015 Yaddo resident, and Pushcart Special Mention awardee, her earlier books include Music for the Black Room (2011), The White Bride (2008) and Whore (2004, Tampa Review Prize for Poetry), all from University of Tampa Press. Her poems and essays have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Blackbird, FIELD, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, and The Writers Chronicle, among other spots, and she has long served as Book Review Editor of Poetry International. Her work has also been anthologized in The Best American Erotic Poetry: From 1800 to the Present (Scribner, 2008) and Poems Dead and Undead (Knopf, 2014) and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing and literature at Loyola Marymount University.


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