All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by J.R. Toriseva

Visitation Pyre

No need to bore a hole,
set up a candle and peer through

Only minnows—
No need to dig in snow banks

for words, for worms.
Somewhere else this pond

would be ocean
and I would be cloud

The ice is that way, a shard
pushed into my center

Dark pond and I this far inland,
have only ourselves, each the other;

to remind ourselves where we are in
there, other than here.

This pond, frozen, has me
And I have chosen it,

for my lover, for my necklace, for my hand.
Dream the clamped podium.

Tear the collage of victims.
This pond my tarot card,

my altar, my ammunition. This pond my singing bowl,
sequestered from me, cornered by triple rows

of barbed wire, triple lines of corn, the intestines
of a silent fight looped around

the post. This pond across the property
line, a reverie, in a double time of rage.

The one who taught me that war is a strange sort
of laughter that can come at you years later in a corn crib,

who taught me how to place the stick perpendicular
to stop the wolf jaw from snapping down; who taught me to cut boughs

on place them on my back, to circle the pond, not walk straight across the ice
to prevent the wolves from attacking from behind at night,

for the first time his white china cup is cold. He’s not slapping black flies,
or whittling at the long dining table. My limburger eating, gray wolf quick

grandfather lies supine as if floating. Is it him? I’ve only seen him in motion,
watching orioles and song sparrows, sugar cube between his teeth, sucking

coffee, full of bracted honeysuckle and yarrow. Now, on the stretched water
surface of the pond, the blurred weave of the wool

shirt the polished sarsaparilla skin pulled tight over cheek bones away
from lips, his whole body larger in death, than life. The water buoying up the brown

shoulders, the leanness of his size. Reaching out to touch him,
I smile as his last words enter my palm. He sheds his skin, his scratchy shirt.

He rises, mist moving off the pond, a dragonfly splitting
its carcass. He rises where I can watch him. Eye on wing,

rough humming in the ear, the constant smooth, smooth, smoothing
of his palms available to me now. Here in the water is the chair where he sat.

Now only smooth wood. Is that you? Wearing your wool scratchy long johns?
Where are your rag weed pulling hands, your quack grass pulling thumbs?

Where are your straight lines of two-speared corn? Your high climbing
pole beans? Oh, here it is. Right here. I see my toes. It is. It is me.


Exodus: Amend 

Spring was here, then plunged: 

1. I know this road by heart 
2. even on a night broken brighter than day due to moon

3. Minnows 
4. my foot on iced gravel 

5. sound ricocheting across the crystal folds of fields 
6. 3. I came to listen to the water—foam 

7. the wind the rain came in on 
8. the wind on the frozen drum of the pond 

9. The form of the pond 
10. changes. Not in my mind 

11. But in front of my eyes 
12. My ice and slush expand 

13. to include arrival of bird, 
14. To the awakening of the fish 

15. To the invoice of cat tails. 
16. My mind holds all the cards 

17. My pictures of January holding 
18. the pond in white from the fierce 

19. sleep of February to the yawns 
20. of March. April’s shredding, the 

21. surface of the pond is unraveling 
22. It is cracking into a puzzle. Bordered 

23. by mud. The howl of the 
24. center, framed by dead grass

Unknown Things About Rain

Fresh from the gravel parking lot ritual in town, I brought death to the pond.
Slowly, holding the funereal cake. I left the white dissolving on the bank.

There is a window in my pond, the right pane shattered,
the glass shot through my de-iced voice, my knees mud-high in chore boots.

The cows come slowly forward, lowering
their heads to draw snow slush, nudging the cake to get to

the water streaming up their broad nostrils.
These walking mud puddles

sides matted with spring, the groaning of
the lilac crocus emerging, heads up

through the snow—much too early
and then turning translucent in the freeze

with their broad noses
they nudge in Spring,

with their wide hooves,
they skirmish through the pasture.

Wide enough for me to follow
winging oats, rolling ragweed, spreading rye

for bedding. Feeding the grey squirrels, lowering the light
Layering the darkness, adding to the roundness of the land. Death, now crumbs.


Water Mechanics

Here I am osprey and eagle
Here I am ladywalker and pikebug
Here I am amplified, a sound wave touching the far grass
Water, heal the split in my eye.

Let me be the water
away from the steel sink,
away from the certain mail box,
far from the rows of leeks.

Outlawed from the radish
this is the subway stop;
this is how I get home
where the mica shines.

Through the chalk and the small crushed
bones of squirrels
and snail shells;
this line cuts through the clay.

Leaving the gemmed skulls
and the footprints of foxes,
left unscarred by the plagues, the famine or the flu,
this is the stop

that signals my return home
this loop of water, a handgrip that my fingers have
sleeping out the cold
reached for, but never touched.


Case of Water

Memory skates below the surface
transport here, there, beyond & back. Aquifer.
Years forward. Years spilled. States of matter.

Hint of remembered. Far beyond the Ramblas in Barcelona,
she laughs the frontier and I step to
the round smooth pond of her face

her eyes, fish jumping, her mouth
the water lily, her nose a minnow
hooking round the bend, to look, to see,

where she smiles, I swim. Adherence. From the bottom
of the pond I looked up and saw an upside down
cathedral in Madrid. I saw the Alhambra

inside out. This fountain was fourteen paintings
from the Prado, a light bulb waiting to be screwed
in at the 14th step of a stone staircase on 21st calle,

this pond a faucet in the Call; periphery drawn by
others and ice. The boundary visible only to despair. This pond
glides underneath me everywhere. Meniscus. This pond calls me home


Awarded a waiter scholarship to Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Mary Merritt Henry Prize in Poetry from Mills College, J.R. Toriseva has taught for Mills College, California Poets in the Schools, San Francisco WritersCorps, and Literary Arts of Portland, Oregon. 
'Strip Uno' was published in Close Calls: New Lesbian Fiction, Susan Fox Rogers, Editor, St. Martin's Press. 'Encyclopedia of Grass' was selected for Best Canadian Poetry in English.