from The Book of Questions: What Shapes Do You Take? by Jennifer K. Sweeney and L. I. Henley


I’m driving to preschool in the fog,
scrubbing the cast iron again, char under my nails,
and hear it whispering, how easily I shift
into the fitful shapes of duty, how the tinny bell
of need rings and I fold, preen, wipe, kneel.
It’s not unlike love this ease of forms
but the swiftness of abandonment—the ghost-body
fled into the forest—is the haunt.
I knew early on the way one comes into the first
bits of knowledge and knowledge is not a fact-tick
but a darker yes opening, knew most of my life
was shapes I made in response to others
and that my true shape I could only feel
when alone. I’d have liked to stay on that moon.
But someone made a shape of expectation
and I filled or a shape of desire and I poured
myself into it: a milk glass, a cracked vase,
an earth-rust creekbed. To be able to do for,
to accommodate, the quiet cult of pleasing:
I have only started getting over it.
The constant is that shape of perception;
in the woods when everyone’s run off,
and the Spanish moss, the cedar, lichen, pine—
breathe it in and rise to the surface,
an inward wave, those buried moths
of speech, that knowing that is real and at home again.
Feet on the downy trail. Yoked to a sudden
green—are you there?—the hum
when the shape is lifted from the shape
of the burden.


L. I. Henley is the author of Whole Night Through (What Books, forthcoming), Perugia Press Prizewinner Starshine Road, These Friends These Rooms, and two chapbooks. She lives in Joshua Tree, California, and teaches at Crafton Community College.

Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of Little Spells (New Issues Press, 2015), How to Live on Bread and Music, which received the James Laughlin Award, the Perugia Press Prize and a nomination for the Poets’ Prize, and Salt Memory. She lives in Redlands, California, and teaches at the University of Redlands.