Kristi Maxwell

Poems of Kristi Maxwell


To nanny ghosts          or just baby them

chill children, subtracted adults           I hold a ghost in the bassinet

of my mouth                a cherry tomato without a crown

Things I’ve learned: an AMBER alert is a bacronym,

created to honor the kidnapped and murdered girl

who inspired it             all-capped and angry    ghost in a letter

behind which is a hidden room            a whole word   a harnessed sound

the bacronym and acronym a kind of camping chair   making cartable

the broader seat of a phrase                 a kind of bacon

that’s an ode to the pig            a fatty filmstrip preserving its narrative

Things I’ve learned:                             if a drop of water hits you

while you’re in a cave  it’s called a cave’s kiss—what else when it hits you

is rewritten as a type of affection? plenty        you expected

a riddle but instead the bull of your expectation is ridden

the whole eight seconds          in the American tradition

we rid, we right            mistakes, high stakes   we take stakes to the garden

and know the dirt has something to do with the harvest

and know the soil must be some part witch and martyr

all whom are returned to it      like a shirt that didn’t quite fit

—for whose bodies     were we each made     beyond

our own           to be made and thus to lose the one you tailed

perhaps each of us is each docked       from the tail of god

and discarded              ostensibly to protect god

though             upon scrutiny               the practice is deemed

barbaric and mostly banned     it’s too late for us

bloody wands  cast off                                    when the cast comes off

we know that signifies healing                         the ghost of pain

griming up the plaster              our hallways webby, but repaired

Things I’ve learned: the webbing is mostly fat                        the body

a tender spider                         a double-yolked egg     plated,

photographed, circulated, devoured



A tarot card wears a gown, which is to say, a gown

is printed on it. The sleeve of the gown bends

in an embodied way though the only body is blue

background, cradling an unfashionable cloud.

And though I do not read Tarot, the card comes out

of my own deck, an Emily Dickinson artist pack

from which it separated itself during a recent move

and came to be propped on the nightstand,

though, only today, six weeks after arriving,

do I look up its meaning (see “The Hermit,” see

her mitt reaching into the oven of her thought—

see also the information page for the new teal

robe on its way to me and which I will wear

to prepare coffee to take to the porch

on which I will, good hermit, introspect,

reconnoitering the rim for specter or scepter,

for a kingly speech to overthrow). In my new home,

fleurs-de-lis appear like conspicuous Waldos,

the city named after King Louis XVI, thus

making it, according to the Unofficial Louisville

Fan Site, “one of the few cities in the world

named for an executed criminal” (I’ll be heading

to a different source soon, away from the season

of sore sons, revolution reduced to a commemorative

red string, thin and pinned tight enough to the neck

to pass as blood rushing to a life’s closing sale

where, yes, all inventory must go, though it is not

prices that are slashed). After Katrina,

enough New Orleans residents tattooed a fleur-de-lis

on their wrist to call it a trend, city annexing

the suburb of a body in which the soul for once

is not priced out. The dualism is outdated

and the binary false, but our fictions are real, in terms

of their effects, which one gathers and turns

into a platform for solidarity. The fake mayonnaise

on my plate has turned into a miniature of a transparent

mountain unexplored by my hunger and now

doomed to encounter an impossible storm—

is it metaphors that are corrupted by the world,

or metaphors that corrupt? I hold my tongue

like a seat someone is coming back for,

but another takes it, and I don’t protest, because,

ultimately, the practice of saving seats annoys me,

and what one claims, one may be forced to keep.

I intuit myself a clumsy shepherd, an inauthentic crab

with a meddling softness, a statue on loan to the state.


Night with Dill, Lemon

By my mattress topper on a borrowed mattress

in a rented frame, a night stand and Stand,

the American Civil Liberties Union

magazine, also not mine

though made mine by mine eyes’

word habits, each word a habit they put on

like good nuns or, at the very least, recognizable


ones. A cutting from a Christmas cactus from my

grandmother’s yard in Florida where I

have not returned since a rented yellow convert-

ible Mustang carted me

from airport to dirt road

for her funeral in a year two airlines

still supplied grievance flight prices to those who could prove their


grief with doctor’s call or obituary thrives

on a yellow table, also not mine,

with hearts cut into the sides of it and a paint

job that suggests craft project

over boutique purchase

and that someone poured their heart into it like

a cold tea brought into the yard in a glass where a tarp


would have been laid to protect the grass from the ex-

cesses of art. My sister, who, when

visiting, once watered the cactus and wrote a

note in its voice urging more

attention and thus bet-

ter care, would be glad to see it, perky as

a pom-pom. Rah-rah. Given my 21st century


marriage, you will not be surprised to learn my hus-

band and I do not own each other

either, though we owe each other a great deal, a

fact we celebrated last

night with dill, lemon,

garlic, salt, and oil dressing a fish dressed in

an aluminum onesie that kept it warm after ex-


iting the oven’s womb into which we together

had inserted it like a type of

euphemistic seed. We are not the first to eat

our young. Still, I am more meat-

less than heartless, the food

I prefer to eat having never had a

heart, with the exception of artichoke and romaine, which


remained last night in the crisper, which is to say

I am among those with choices and new-

ly less in debt, having received my first tenure-

track paycheck and having paid

off two of three credit

cards and having selected a restaurant

to try for brunch and having made a list to aid me in

the grocery store a five-minute walk from “my” house.

I see already how all this having

could lead to hating, self-directed or project-

ed onto me and so I

lift the tv out from

inside hating and having and turn it on

to distract myself while I finish a poem as if it


were a nightcap meant to appease the infant

anxiety determined to spoil the

milk of sleep.



And the Dollars, Too

Among the irreconcilable things: the way pollution

amps up the beauty of a sunset                                   soupy neon

toxic pink        as if the sun were airbrushed onto the sky

waiting to be eclipsed  by a couple’s ornate names

and the symbol for love           which the sun must regret

despite the magic of photosynthesis

of any synthesis

is not itself       or that we might regret we’ve made

internal to ourselves

somewhere                  a sleeve of cloud


rolled up          to compensate for the heat—

the A/C kicks on and kicks the curtain

from the pane              letting light      find its way in


and light sips from the flimsy lid         covering the cup of your eye

it is not light    that is liquid here


in an ocean                  a turtle is lured with indistinguishable meat

we distinguish as meat             because it bleeds         has blood

that loosens into a red jellyfish                        and so              via metaphor

gets a second life         as a second animal       a second before

it’s taken into the turtle’s mouth                                 a guide’s trick


to ensure          one sees what one’s hoping to see

because though one has paid   one has yet to tip

and the dollars too       have a metamorphosis             to fulfill




Hello, Detective

Rename me the quiet execution of a nail

Rename me mouthwork and guesswork

Gethsemane, a Sunday in France

Rename me no widow

Rename me no whited-out error

or whittled branch, no wood debris

No bereavement

Rename me concussion, cocoon, ca-caw,

a series of useless birdsong, bird-sound,

the brain’s own birth-pain, delivering a thought

Rename me coddler or god

witness or withness

an unforgiveable act, an ax or an ask

Rename me afraid

but do not name me without

Do not name me without

not minnow

Do not name me bait or beaten or deterred

Rename me turd, but not porcelain, not flesh

Rename me commotion

Rename me the proximity of salt and sugar

as the distance between assault and assure

Rename me sugar-assured, rename me

ushered, rename me hush

do not rename me hush

do not take us out of the world

Rename me a series of pills

but not swallow

but not even a swallow’s wingspan

or prey

Rename me prayer or drawer into which

one folds her desperation

but do not name me opened

and do not open me

Rename me father, further, pelt,

trade, treason, logic, and lube

Rename me bunny-tail of moon on the wide ass of night

Rename me after accumulation, after the fact

Rename me after after

Rename me then

Rename me any, rename me anon, avast,

a Kevlar vest never needed

Rename me sinew

Rename me insinuation

Rename me remain but not remains

Do not rename me tooth-sized or canine

blasted or blessed

Rename me have, rename me as having

Rename me sleep, but not sleeper, sleep




I’m sorry            I hope you get the pleasure

To be sorry to hope                 To be sorry for

pleasure           a tube of sorrow-cream squeezed dry

my main squeeze a feather fallen

from the lovebird’s wing          into the road and

picked up         like an accent              To use the pillow

of one’s voice              to throw

like a ventriloquist       onto the couch of one’s thought

thus                 “bringing the room together”   like those

of different minds        coming to an unlikely consensus

coming to        after passing out          how the sound comes

into focus                    the brain’s radio dial turned slowly up

but whose fingers        do the turning

whose ears hear the erring                   holding court

courtship’s held hand              handheld          divisiveness

One conjures a god     who can handle the blame

who can be a lake        when swimming’s in order

who can be the hand’s heel     when the vending machine of one’s self

needs a good thwack

who can be a fork        which itself conjures food

who can be an ellipses             allowing an abbreviated passage

to pass as the whole



There was a moment I wanted to remember.

A specific irritation. An impenetrable rind

of an orange. A kind of eyelash in the eye

and the eye is our love

and our love is our saturation.

An archaic Polaroid waved dry. I may commit more

unnecessary acts than necessary.

I may lend my support to a faulty reading.

The window in the pregnancy test

of the mind only dimly responsive

so we make a guess rather than a baby.

A magic stick. A matchstick. A lipstick. A dipshit.

I live in a house that is not my house

surrounded by things that are not my things

though aesthetically they could be

in the sense I would pick them out

and several of them could afford.

The camel saddle has been googled.

The delphinium-blue dishes from France.

A disposable cup not disposed of.

Being adorable is a fine if ephemeral protection,

little goat. My day is made of money

because I am preoccupied by debt.

The purchase of a mood. An unpacking.

The fear a parent will die and the fear a parent will soothe.

The fear I owe an apology I withheld

and that apology was

the soothing water and I have bracketed

a life that was not mine to punctuate

much less close. The fear my hand will be hung in a fence

I touch from the window of a moving car

and detached from the larger part

of my body like a vacuum attachment

one cannot reach a certain crevice without.

My husband is new. A benevolent virus.

There are bodies on the shower curtain,

I remind myself, so I don’t get confused and mistake them

for bodies outside the shower itself. Pulling the curtain back,

I crimp the bodies. I close my eyes and accordion fold

my desires into a manageable fan and cool myself.

There is no space in the recycling bin. There is

no space in the garbage. What’s to be done?

To be simultaneously empty and full.

To be put out or to put out. Turning our girls

into trash with our language. Upsets today

upset tomorrow. O, vacillation. O, metaphorical vaccine.

The ‘o’ is a prick but is this fairytale or slang.



From a mouth in which prayer and error rhyme

Where once was a pool in the backyard          now a green yawn        no

a closed mouth                        what field aspires to be a lawn                                    a cow

a barrette in the field                           holding up       an overgrown hill

a canoe                        a lake’s barrette                       but the water

is burn-slick                 hairless                        so the comparison will not do

no updo           no occasion


a pewter hare is drilled to the wall

the head of a hare                                one imagines its body              behind

the wall                        as if it there were a kink in materialization      the coordinates just off

a jacket off      a jacket rewriting the hare       a jackrabbit

when I try to imagine myself a rabid dog         I am nothing    more

than the patio of a bar in a college town         on foam night              whose suds


easily brush off                        or dissolve                               a novelty

a set of flimsy dentures                        making slack the morning’s jowls

whose desire is not a clumsy eater

the very concept of the crumb             keeps any of us                        from truly finishing

what we started           here we are then                                  undone


da da dum        somewhere      the mechanism            holding closed the wall                        holding back the boulder

is tripped                     this is the part

where we run



We Don’t Understand What Our Lives Look Like Until They Look Like Our Lives

My friends are flakes. They disappear

under the watch of the sun.

Mostly white, my friends

are flakes—I catch

my tongue on them.

I am disappointed by my friends

whom I love like snow

which I love though it rarely comes

and, when it does, fails

if all but staying is failure.

The idea of failure may be useless

to me.  My friends may be useless

to me, my friends. My friends,

I have already rejected

the valorization of usefulness.

Now, to rest, a flake among flakes, cold.



After Paneriai

 I call the forest murderous then think better of displacing the action from the agent.

I have not memorized enough of the Paul Celan

so repeat “Black milk of daybreak we drink you,” “black milk of daybreak we drink you,” “black milk of daybreak we drink you.”


I look into the forest

and it looks like a forest.

I look into the forest

surprised it looks like a forest, alive

and full of living things.

Trees and yellow flowers and purple flowers and white flowers and fuchsia.

A pinecone beside me.

Another pinecone.

Small pinecones. Significant and insignificant pinecones. The sound

of a train. Some people

sitting on benches.

A tour bus wobbles on the uneven path—a tour bus—coming in.

A tissue is passed from hand to hand to eye to nose to eye.

An imperfect system.

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you. Black milk of daybreak, we drink you.

My bowels are apparent. Shit. A bus passing. Flowers.

We circle the pits.

When a bug lands on my finger, I take caution not to kill it.

Now there are several bugs around me. (Black milk of daybreak.)

Some of them noisy, others silent.

I repeat Inger Christensen: “Apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist.”

Bark and pinecones and the serrated green leaves of a plant I can’t name.



Yellow flowers and white flowers and fuchsia.

Flowers in the shape of bells.

Plaques with Yiddish I cannot read.

The forest is warm.

A small bug shines.

A beer can in a ditch.

I am overwhelmed by the live forest.




The pink flowers, the yellow.

The milk of trees.

The soft seat of the forest itself.

The invitingness of forests.

My bowels are disappearing.

Flowers and bark.

Something about—

something suggesting bark is the soul of trees.

A glimpse of a girl on a pink bike—and why not,

it is a beautiful day (beautiful days exist),

the kind of day one bikes on,

one desires to bike on,

the kind of day during which one desires.

The kind of day for desire.


Death and bark.

Flowers of yellow and fuchsia, of purple.

My own yellow sweater, a gross flower.

Imperfect system.

That which refuses naming.

A questionable legibility.

Flowers of yellow, of fuchsia.

The red flowers one imagines

would have bloomed

from the body’s own field.

The betrayal of flowers.

Nausea and bark.




The Epiphany

It’s like the awkwardness of having ‘Jeggings’ stamped on the inside of one’s pants. Do I flinch? Does your husband flinch? Our fingers are turning green, giving in to interactions with quiet metal bands. Suddenly it felt very violent to have a flower in my drink. It felt suddenly very violent to separate liquid from liquid with the insufficient tower of a straw. We hold less than we’d like to hold. Though your question disinterests me, I’ll entertain it, I’ll play host and slide the hosiery of my mind up over its cold thigh. The pot of clouds finally unscrewed. We have less than we owe. The birds of late morning are eating the barfed-up ramen of the early morning.


Don’t judge the slutty buildings on the streets tonight. I’ve only cried 6,008 times! I’ve only cried 4,330,093 times. My crying is nothing. Compared to beautiful girls in dresses on bicycles with tattoos of bicycles on the most strategic parts of them. Homemade girls! Compared to a helmet’s good job. I had forgotten how we used to sit with a chessboard, just one slice of blueberry pie, and wine between us. I have forgotten so much between us. It was obvious when the regular pastry chef was out of town. If we commit to move to Istanbul, let’s move to Istanbul!


My epiphany is neither crocus nor bruise nor bros boiling hotdogs in the parking lot where I expect to find them. I am neither addressed as bro nor bra. What may at first appear gender-inflected is an accident of vowels or vows. Brouhaha. The epiphany is not where I expect to find it. Last night’s clothes—and, in the face of them, in the very seam it seems, last night closes, a non-redundant bloom. I miss the epiphany only because I’ve given it your name and, after, taken your name away from it.


The balcony is an exercise in light, and the light works out my waking—a boot camp of light! I sweat light, which is to say I wake, which is to say the light, as usual, moves me. I sit, moved by light dressing the walls that husband the courtyard. Sweet linen, light clothes. Bring the lighter material toward me. We sit inside a word like it might be light. A mutt of light taken in by a vocabulary of meat. To meat, light is bone. Petrified worms of light bone me.


All the women are trees, & the trees are fashioned into men. It is not disturbing. Disturbing is the autocorrect of flightlessness. A large stock photo of slices of garlic bread looks like an unfortunate snowman. I, myself, snow’s regret, boozy with heat. Perhaps snow is winter at its most bourgeois, entitled in its encompassing whiteness. A light flashes so haphazardly it seems urgent—when I try to imagine a message, I fail.


Reading is not necessarily supported by words. You are my second or third language. My tongue feels good on your topic. I imagine the first water to dress up as boats. I imagine the first water to realize its own murderous impulse. What laps like dogs & seas & athletic bodies lacquered with sweat? I would like you to make a list of my best attributes but please never show it to me. A good enough visitor uses landmarks to condition the hair her movement is on the land-scalp. -Scape. To orient the self in the soul of the city the sign points out—locatable soul, your own essence once pinpointed and to me believable. A triumphant ‘thus’ travels in the last sentence to comfort me. And thus she spake! A dreamy spatula turns our sleep over and serves us.




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