Dance defines movement:
this is how fish
flit and dip in blue light
lacing kelp blades,
a quiver of spines.

And this is how starfish
watched by stalk-eyed crabs
consume the slow urchins.
Anemones open and close
like green hearts; sea worms
roll in the waves.

Watch now, the sea
lifts from its shell-bowl.
The galaxies expand.
Even in the egg slime
four-horned chromosomes
leap, then recede like stars.

Lucille Lang Day

From Lucille Lang Day: Greatest Hits,
1975-2000, first published in Contemporary
Women Poets (Merlin Press)

God of the Jellyfish

The god of the jellyfish
must be a luminous, translucent bowl
the size of a big top,
drifting upside down
in an unbounded sea.

Surely this god, hung
with streamers and oral arms,
ruffled and lacy
as thousands of wedding gowns
and Victorian bodices,
created all the jellyfish of Earth.

Male and female, god created them
in god’s own image:
the cross jellies and the crystal jellies,
the sea nettle and the golden lion’s mane,
the sea wasp and the Portuguese man-of-war—

and gave them nerve nets instead of brains
to ensure their humility,
put statoliths like tiny pearls
in their sensory pits
to give them balance,
and placed spines on their nematocysts
so they could capture food
and would sting and burn any
living thing
that would harm them.

And the god of the jellyfish
gave them ocelli
that shine like the eyes on a butterfly wing
when they turn toward the light,
and now their god watches over them
with god’s own great ocellus
as they swirl and dive
in glistening cathedrals, and does not
expect worship or even praise:
the iridescence
of their umbrellas will suffice.

— Lucille Lang Day

From God of the Jellyfish, first published
in The Cloud View Poets (Arctos Press)

Playing “St. Louis Blues” at Auschwitz

Consider all possible universes:
the ones that quickly collapse
into black holes, the ones filled
with double-crested cormorants,
Queen Anne’s lace and quasars,
the ones that glow with blue
and yellow stars that last forever,
the ones with only planets wrapped
in poison atmospheres and deserts.

Picture the planet Earth in one
possible universe, where at first
only a faint sound comes out
of the trumpet at Louis Bannet’s
frozen lips, then a few sputtered notes
as the guards walk toward him.
Frostbitten from head to toe, he lifts
the trumpet, tries again, and the guards
stop when “St. Louis Blues” begins.

They change like water going
from ice to liquid, like the universe
blooming from nothing at the Big Bang.
He plays as people go off to work.
He plays as the trains come in,
“Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea,”
in one possible universe, where moments
are stacked liked cards, the past with no
existence, except in the present.

Moments are shuffled and reshuffled
to give the illusion of time and history.
Everything happens at once and forever.
Somewhere Bannet is still playing
“Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Tiger Rag”
at a party for Dr. Mengele, hidden
from the guests behind some plants,
and in all universes where trumpets blast,
as long as he plays, he lives, they dance.

Lucille Lang Day

From The Curvature of Blue

From Chain Letter

This letter is for good luck.
It has been around the world nine times
in a bottle. The original is buried
in a time capsule underneath
the Tower of London.
You will receive good luck
within four days. This is no joke.
All you need to do is send out
10,000 copies within 24 hours.
The chain comes from the Galápagos.
Charles Darwin brought it back
with him on the H.M.S. Beagle

— Lucille Lang Day

If the Poem Is Broken, How Can the Sunflowers Breathe?

They can’t. The desert sunflower,
the slender sunflower,
Nutall’s sunflower,
the Kansas sunflower
and the California sunflower
will all hang their heads.
Stomata will close
on diamond-shaped,
lancelike, and oval leaves.
You must help me keep
the poem intact
to let the sunflowers breathe.

Lucille Lang Day

From The Book of Answers, first published in Brevities

Describing the Monarchs

“Too bad that ‘bloom’ is overused,” you say
As we stand beneath a eucalyptus tree,
Your arm around me, head bent back to see
The monarchs celebrating New Year’s Day.
“And ‘burn’ is wrong, and ‘rust’ suggests decay,
But I like ‘bless.’” A thousand blessings cling,
Each with white spots on black-and-orange wings,
To branches unaccustomed to such beauty.

But burn they do: each tiny, beating flame
Lights up the tree, a bloom that’s made of fire,
Flickering in winter to proclaim
A leaf gives solace, milkweed sates desire.
They smolder, cool as rust, in spangled air,
Then fly like sparks, illumining the year.

Lucille Lang Day

From The Curvature of Blue, first published in Measure

Beach Walk: Kenai Bluffs

Valence of rock,
fine slipper of sand…
the ocean has retreated.
Long strophes of silence
sheen the moist air;

here, the small fingers
of failings and reprisals

and one can go on into evening
touching the rough bodies of salt
and watching the light
redefine the shore.

How often does it come to this:
living to wait

until pain climbs out
like a heavenly body
then dissolves…

and it is again possible
to return to the shells and the stones,
to lean outward in the wake
of the storm, to discover
what the tide has salvaged.

Anne Coray

From Bone Strings

Color of the Universe

The universe is really beige. Get used to it.

John Noble Wilford
The New York Times

For Richard

I can’t believe the universe is tan,
Not red or green or lavender or blue.
I feel carnelian when you take my hand—

Not beige like lima beans from a can,
But a splendid, electrifying hue.
I can’t believe the universe is tan.

Rose and gold are what I understand
When I think of waking up each day with you.
I feel carnelian when I take your hand,

And like the universe my love expands,
Surrounding us with turquoise and chartreuse.
Can you believe the universe is tan,

A color desolate as lunar sand
And homely as a peanut or cashew?
I feel carnelian when we’re hand in hand,

Listening to Perahia play Chopin.
The stars all turn cerulean on cue.
I don’t care if the universe is tan:
I feel carnelian as you take my hand.

— Lucille Lang Day

From The Curvature of Blue,
first published in Blue Unicorn

Red Shoes

My mother sits in the living room,
wearing her red shoes.
“Call 911,” she says.
“I’m too weak to move.
And be sure to bring my red purse
to the hospital.  It matches my red shoes.”

“Is your mom okay?”
the neighbors ask. “We saw
the ambulance take her away.
She smiled at us, waved
like she was off for a cruise.
She looked so cute in her red shoes.”

In intensive care she asks,
“What did they do with my red shoes?
Lucy, look in that cabinet
and under the bed.
They were in a bag with my clothes.
I don’t want to lose my red shoes.”

Mom, I’d like to take you for a walk
in your red shoes. We could stroll
down Piedmont Avenue,
but you have something better to do.
You’re already dancing
beyond the moon, in your red shoes.

Lucille Lang Day

From Wild One, first published
in The Hudson Review

I Always Knew It

I knew it at four when I ran for the creek
every chance I got
and my uncle called me “the wild Indian”
as I slid down the bank,
then leapt from stone to stone
to reach the other side.
I knew it when my parents threatened
to give me back to the Indians
if I didn’t behave.
I didn’t care. I wanted
to meet the Indians.
I knew it as I rooted for them
in all the old Westerns
and lamented when they lost
and were cast as the bad guys
again and again. I knew it
when my Native American studies
teacher said, “I think you’re an Indian,”
and when my aunt told my mother,
“Tell her the truth. Tell her
what she wants to hear.”
I knew it at twenty-three
as I stood at a dusty crossroad
on the Rosebud Reservation.
It was stamped on my mother’s
high cheekbones and woven
in her dark hair. It was clear
as the difference between
flat redwood needles
and the scales of a giant sequoia,
clear as the difference
between the musical
chirps of Wilson’s warbler
and the soft, hoarse whistle
of Brewer’s blackbird. I could feel
the People of the First Light stirring
inside me with each contraction
of actin and myosin fibers
in all my muscles, with each
nerve impulse as sodium
rushed into my neurons
and potassium rushed out.
I knew it all along. I knew it
before I could prove it
with a DNA test, long before
I’d heard of Wampanoags. I always
knew it. By the stick-like body
of the tule bluet, the silence
of the lynx chasing rabbits for food,
the silvery needles of Sitka
spruce, and the yodel-like
laugh of the common loon,
I knew it was true.

Lucille Lang Day

Honorable Mention,
2006 Ethnographic Poetry Contest.
First published in
Anthropology and Humanism,
University of California Press