mantra review

Fall 2018


First Ode: The Problem of Setting


Not a flower. Not a smell.
Not a word, although the word helps.

Not a hunch of mountain, an efflorescence
just erupted in the bush, or weather. Not a

music with the voice threaded under
the saxophone so that it surfaces once. Not a

tree. Not the thin spit coming from a beak
puncture in the black maple’s heart. Not a heart,

although it has one. Not a love, although it can.
Not an it, although the word works for others. Not

an other. Not a population, precision, or
generality; four legs in dirt or transfixed vision,

green ash on the pond surface, the heron;
not the ability to know, although it knows to

know. Not an animal. Not a woman.
Not a nudity or fur or texture. Not water

or anything to live by. Not a world,
although it eats world. Not in time,

not clocks or hours, although it
dies, by another name, according to schedule.

Not the ability to stop, to regrow, to return
although it takes and takes. Not a home. Not a way

of saying. Not a real thing. Not mind. Not mind.


These are not your legs, your ways
of saying hello. Insert birdcall, the one

that comes most easily to ear. What will my novel
be about? Turtle dove. Your voice, impossible

to transmit reel to reel, must be symbolized.
Through a window I see your profile opening

and closing in order to talk about abstracted
water, oil, word, word. The problem of color

is a problem of world. I say she was blue.
You are not. The reader makes a picture

out of the love most ready to hand: bed,
window, the morning of this hour and day,

a bird, this real bird. To explain the plot
I will gesture with raised hands when suddenly,

from behind me, an imaginary animal yawns,
learns to speak. The words let go of your hand,

fly to mine: paper-light, immaterial. Have you
reached the scene where nothing happens? She is

on the edge of a field, wearing a yellow dress.
Justice can only ever be done to a part: you,

her version of you, my eye, the field like
crumpled parchment. The scar on the under

of your chin is unusual enough to exist,
and yet now that I look for it, all I find is my nominal,

scar, but no scar. A body fits inside a word,
one word: you. Here, insert character. Insert name.

World, by the time I begin to write,
how far are you from my words?


Did you know future time constitutes this
world? If mankind had died before Newton

named gravity, all the apples would still fall
down. The name time is alien to the material

it implies. Have you ever seen morning happen
for no one? Is there a mustard seed in the house

of a family where no one has died? Riddles
are important; they trick the human

back into cells. The answer
requires a different biology. But don’t despair.

If you cannot, at least the stones will know.
Although the alchemists failed, they did make gold.

Everyday Oracular

My tarot cards never warn against revelation. They slump
their flat bodies into the pentagram of a more ambiguous
future: on my way into a town a dead squirrel painted on
the road, the space heater breaking two weeks before spring,
friends, that when they go to sleep, become things. Perhaps if I
had drawn the cards with my eyes closed, no view
from the porch in mind, no mind at all, the thing shown
would have been a better divination.

I was born under Sagittarius, a bow strung tightly
with its anchors in the right lobe of my gray matter and,
the other, in the tailbone. I am the flexed stick: originally
an oak tree, originally rain-swollen pith, originally the seed
that would become a bow. Every infant is branded redly
with a sign. This is a consequence of getting born.

I can’t trust any prophet, not even my own animal;
a red-tailed hawk appears repeatedly on fences, telephone poles.
I am unready for totems. Can’t even recognize the symbolism
of my own nose reflected every time I turn towards a window.

But tonight, no fear of the oracle, no oracle in mind, I walk
to the bus stop in order to get somewhere. Too many stars
apparent on the horizon to mean anything but clutter; the Queen
of Pentacles card used to mark the page in a book where
the good poetry lives. No need of a future, I stick my hands in
my pocket, lean my neck against the breeze.

In quick succession the streetlamp goes out with a guttural buzz
and a firedrake cuts across the sky. It’s a shock, a revelation, the news
I’ve been waiting for and it means tomorrow will be exactly the same;
the cards pulled will only ever spell my name.

back when god was a smell, I was a dog

There are no wise men, only wise dogs.
They follow trees, bark down

the big gods, turn mountains into scat,
warm leaf mulch. All belief is monochromatic:

pulped into smells, linden in late
June, realization of perpetual

death, chrysanthemum made with the same
symbol for powdered skeleton, in scent

shown as sharp intake of breath,
then regret. The bitch that died

in the kennel next to me
had coal spots in the eyes.

Dreaming in smell, praying in beads
of sweat around the garden

in the armpit. New rosaries
produced hormonally in the holy gland.

Moraine like fennel, like mother.
Same aroma as nakedness.

Ash in the snow bank, I know
the nose is the surest direction

towards the star that tells the odor
of the wet place marked by black

mold, myrrh, blocked air,
afterbirth. Must I practice

bouquet? The banquet
is in the wind. Wag the tail.

Point north. Now, men
pretend they are dogs following

trees, converting smells into sight,
watching the yellow hands of dusk,

calling them a yellow king.
Worse, they call it gold, or god,

never knowing what a color smells
like, what a mother’s skin does

in fresh mud; how the funk of lust
could be painted as a red circle

over a black sky which is the same
as the sign for the stink of a January fire:

wood smoke caught in wool underwear,
unspeakable. Patiently, these translations

utter themselves as a season. For every
god there is a smell. For every man

with his head in the dung heap
a bible is written in particulate mildew

hanging as a halo above the compost.
The dog goes low to the ground,

follows invisible blood, nude undulations
of rot in the earth like the roots

of mushrooms that will lead him
back to the place where the virgin sweated,

stunk, heaved mightily an imprint
of her odor: plump, rose meat, fish salt.

The first sense grows alert
to the entrance of a perfume:

white hand, crushed violet,
the smell of a moving tongue,

god when he was a smell,
dogs when they were wise and began

in earnest to scent the prey
and practice, with moist suctions
of snout and mouth,
the hunting of messiahs.

Sophie Strand is a ghost writer living in the Catskills. She has published poems in Entropy, Persephone's Daughters, Your Impossible Voice, Metambesen, PAPERS, and The Doris. Oread Press published her first chapbook Love Song to a Blue God in the spring of 2017. She is passionate about herbalism, medieval saints, and ecopoetics.

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