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The Stars


By Mary Simmons



When a goddess loved her, when a goddess knew her name, 

knew the curve of her wrist and her collarbone and her nose, 


knew the breath that left her lips by its kissed syllables, she cried

oak trees, chrysanthemums, small flat stones, pears and the bees inside them.


When a goddess taught her how to fish, she took up her hands

and together they reached into a stream, together they tugged


salmon onto the banks, and the goddess pressed memories

into the nape of her neck, memories of what it meant


to be fish, to be gilled, to writhe on the banks, to die 

and be devoured. Memories of scales not unlike petals,


of eyes not unlike illumination and water enough to never thirst.

When a goddess taught her creation, she took up clay, took up breath,


took up charcoal and began to sketch worlds, some like the one

her goddess gave her, some in the image of herself. She took up memory. 


She took up drawing water from every unnamed

flowing. She took up the naming of flightless things.


When her goddess departed, she drew herself in dirt, selected names 

from the ashes of every fire she made and abandoned, chose meaning


from the memory of her goddess, waited for many days without knowing

it was her own heart beating inside her, and could never be another.



In the first winter, she prayed with skyward palms.

Out of wet clay, she martyred her loneliness. 


She smoothed figures with her palms, with the flat of her wrist, 

piped out the extra water until only a bakeable body remained. 


Sculpting is born from somewhere in the chest. 

Sculpting is atonement. She flattened a clay mound, started over.


She pressed space for eyes with her thumbs, gave noses

and not gills, grayed her fingers gathering clay from the stream.


She prayed with soundless lips. She prayed for something like faith,

something foldable and effortlessly small, something to hunger.


She shaped hands the way her goddess had traced the lines on her palm,

had rubbed a thumb back and forth over her wrist.


In every shadow against the kiln, she could almost trace the silhouette

of her goddess, could almost feel that slight pressure against her lips.


She kissed each of her clay women and they lived, knowing only of her 

and each other, knowing nothing of winter.




Her clay people grew into daughters, into daughter’s daughters. 

Her daughter’s daughters and their lovers—women drawn from salt,


women created from bone and from wing—planted irises. They burrowed

homes into mountains thick with fog, learned the fish in every stream


and named the rocks for goddesses that never knew them. They learned

clay, and breath, and how to untangle memory, 


how to knead it and press it into each other’s palms

and fill their stomachs with knowing, and what it is to be known.


In the last winter, she prayed to be named, to be seen and collected

and etched into some lasting place. She let her gardens sprawl unplanned, 


let her clay daughters shore up that which she had planted

for a goddess. She let a universe populate itself with growing, 


let the snow find purchase on something made by hands.

On the shortest day of the year, she went fishing for memory, 


molded it against wet clay, formed figure after faceless figure

of a goddess who knew her longing and had done nothing to weed it.


She cried and cried, and for all of this, only iris petals.



Let me begin again. Let me gather all this mud and mold

my own sagging people, let me breathe into them and bless them

living things, bless them winged, bless them with all this breathing

and let them name themselves, free from my hands.

Let me peel the iris petals from my skin, ground them 

into powder, a sweetness to feed us through the winter. 

Let me flood this hollowness with the voices

of mud women, let me reinvent clay, reinvent this baking.

Let me kiss them all to life, a kiss on each eyelid.

Let me be fish in the memory of a goddess’s love.


By Mary Simmons

To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. -Hail Holy Queen


White bells weep against my lips. Night scatters

seedlings in the pit of my stomach, and mornings 

I weed self from self. The mirror waters


at the sight of me. I am falling in love. I am falling

in love because there is no other way. Again 

I rip lilies-of-the-valley from my nostrils,


tug ropes of them from out my throat, one hand

after the other. I know this petaling only

by pressing two fingers along the back


of the shoulders, each softness a grief inherited.

This tenderness, I have grown into. I am become fields

wind-swept, as purple as roots can ever be.


The body is not a body unless each lost thing begets another.

Pruning is prayer in the dawn. My collarbone—impressions

in damp earth. Blooming, a strange carillon. 

Mary Simmons is a queer poet from Cleveland, Ohio. She is an MFA candidate at Bowling Green State University, where she also serves as an assistant editor for Mid-American Review. She has work in or forthcoming from The Santa Clara Review, The Shore, One Art, tiny wren lit, Phantom Kangaroo, and others.

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