Kelle Groom's memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (Simon & Schuster), is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, Library Journal Best Memoir, Oprah O Magazine selection, and Oxford American Editor's Pick. The author of three poetry collections, most recently, Five Kingdoms (Anhinga), her work has appeared in Agni, The New Yorker, New York Times, Ploughshares, and Best American Poetry. A 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow in Prose, Groom is on faculty of the low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe.
When I blew into the violets Laura left at the opera,
cold air came out, a little breath. She'd painted
her mother late or escaping, running in a theater
of coliseum stairs. When her friends stole the seven-
foot statue of a boy from his perch on an abandoned
restaurant, then panicked, she kept him in her back
room with the dogs—a giant fiberglass child, his hair
brushing the ceiling, perpetually happy. We were born
the same year, but I was stupid busy with work, as if
her address was permanent. When she fed me night
after night, she washed the kitchen floor with her feet.
When we were invaded by customers calling us by name,
I found the name gun & gave us new names.
When she gave me a kitchen table, the only unbroken
dishes, an Emily Dickinson coffee cup, she fell into
my blue curlicued mirror. I thought she's either better
in this life or going away, & all her violets bloomed
like crazy. When she did the sound for Far Fallina—
a doll opera—Madama Butterfly performed by Barbies
(Little Butterfly), she wore a black dress with wings
on the front, & the soprano rose up from the floor
in the dark room, a human girl whose song overwhelmed
the space, filling it like water until we were ghosts,
vanished, that nicely cool, violet breathing.
Community Sleep Disorder Clinic
No one in this town can sleep, a city of insomniacs,
the sleep of the entire community disordered, so we lie
prone on wall to wall rollaways, our dreams mapped
through wires, electrodes held with white tape to our heads.
Some say it's the speedway that keeps us up, the roar
inside the mall, our ill-spent office days, the macadam
exchange rate, or the nematodes and separate phyla
worming underground, and now the asceticism
of our single bedded nights. Desire just crystals twinned
in the air between our bodies, dark iron sparking.
Among the ultra-tired, no one has the energy to kiss,
or even roll over on our sides. We all wear our pajamas
from home, and we're tucked in under starchy sheets,
nightlights spaced around the edges of the room like the lights
around a landing strip. Oh, we long to land in lustrous
perennial grass, a meadow, our panic only millet used
as fodder, our out and out hysterical fear stored
in the larder or buttery for the night. Anxiety aspin
in the jacuzzi. Lift us up like paperweights, like kindergartners.
Envelope our brains and spinal cords with pia mater.
The condos are empty, the cottages, our cement block homes.
Even the rich have left their apricot resorts—the ocean's
restlessness has made them sallow. We're all your clientele,
clamoring, Please, tell us a story, so we can sleep.
The Nun Hotel
All the voices rose,
a din as if each word were made
of metal, stars rising and falling
all over our coats.
When he grabbed my hand,
my hand came back.
It's useless to pretend otherwise,
the birds flying out of my mouth.
The room was full—
all the chairs taken,
people standing close,
but in the narrow
space between I met his eyes.
It must be nice being married
always kind and forgiving.
But I wonder about the miles between,
the deficiency of touch,
like the babies in WWII
orphanages who died from lack
of contact, failing to thrive.
The nuns must have a system worked
out—I've seen the way they walk
with linked arms. And maybe faith
overrides the five senses, transcendence
a kind of touch.
I thought there would be more nuns
in the hotel. No one wore a habit.
In the backyard was a party
with tablecloths and crystal.
Every room has two phones,
so the hall is constantly ringing.
Even at night when you'd think the nuns
would be sleeping, though maybe
it's the visitors like me up all night.
Two identical paintings
across from each single bed,
so that one can sit up and contemplate
a hazy landscape all to oneself.
Ode to Time
I'm guilty of improvidence, of trying to pass you,
speeding, wasting—my drumlet of offences
(twelve years in a store! months of Lost in Space,
that Bobby Sherman show I didn't even really like,
tanning, and the miasma of sad, down, blue,
begging to live in a shed with rats in the ceiling—their nails
scuttling over my bed—all for unrequited love because
the loved one had slept there, like Lincoln).
Debt-drunk, I rue the promissory note but even more
my willingness to promise, the certain
sum. Your little Nordic voice asking what did you
do? I believed in the archaic definition: mercy.
Each day was grainy with sun, tar from the roads,
the houses being built. I lived on an island
that remembered tidal waves, tsunamis.
But none came, until the dream in a straw house
at night, water climbing the air.
Even before the wave crashed, I felt the sea
in my lungs—It's time I said, it's time.
Where do you keep it all? The living room
at my great-grandmother's house—not the memory
but the time itself? I barely got to sit on her lap
and poof, she was gone. I don't want to see you
as an enemy invader, pink eraser.
But I'm in love with my loved ones and am
at a loss, the way you make me unclasp
my own childhood like a dream I had of a child.