Today I woke Up… | “A Defect in the Dreamer’s Understanding…


poems by Elizabeth Cantwell


Today I Woke Up Beneath the Index Finger

of a lot of people, anticipating
fever. When I put my head against the

warm of my breakfast table’s stomach
the baby kicked. It did not want a name

or anything like that. Today I felt myself
up in the shower, today I threw away

my second-best bed. Today I told no one
to stop. The baby kicked because it was ugly.

The baby kicked because it had no other way
to say let’s spit up on the walls

and eat Chinese food. Let’s balk
at lists, at the way you climb into

and out of subway stops. Bury
these bulbs, take my temperature. Light me up

like Vegas. When the baby is born
it will have your parting teeth.


A Defect in the Dreamer’s Understanding of Her Life

The thing is, I’ve been fresh out of fly swatters
for a while now. You can’t use them more than once
on the flies we get around here.

Around 3 a.m. this morning
I tried to focus my eyes but the black shape in the living
room wouldn’t get any sharper. Stop me

if you’ve heard this one before—I’m relatively sure the things that
should connect me to the world keep growing weaker,
more attenuated. I think their fibers are too elastic, too

willing to yield. What else could explain this constant
slippage, this black shape now rising and making
its way towards me? And that night, your fingers

were thin, dead clouds moving steadily west with
the Sun. And the fly pinching me has hands. And his hands have
sunspots. And I fear that if I wake I will be

just one more iteration of some former self, one step farther
from the original. Or perhaps everything
will be dimmed: the wall dim opposite the bed, the idea

of a periphery or boundary dim, the dim
doorway, outside it a dim figure in the hall. And your fingers
were thin, dead clouds with no rain inside, no

hope of opening onto dry fields or into
wounds that could stimulate a buried nerve. Of which
I have far too many, no markers, not even the tell-tale plots

of broken earth above them. Perhaps
it’s not a lawn at all, that stretch of green outside
my window. Perhaps it’s a tiny football field. Stop me

if you’ve heard this one before: the moral of this story
is that I’m not even strong enough to pry open
my own eyelids. What kind of a promise is that,

to this whole crowd of people waiting just inside my
skull for nothing more than a fighting chance?



Elizabeth Cantwell