Share This Poem: “Litany of Missing Earrings,” by Amy Sailer.

Pushcart-nominated and just right to address post-holiday melancholia …

of longing, a little signification, incomplete

& therefore impermanent …”

Presenting an outstanding poem from our summer 2018 “Small Things, Partial Cures” issue. You can enjoy Amy’s litany as a broadside by dragging it to your desktop, or simply scroll down to read it in plain text.

Litany of Missing Earrings

Sterling bud & dripping seed pearls & lavender

under an oculus & Bakelite

& rhinestone & verte chinoiserie littering

my vanity ask for a poem

useless now for anything

besides translation, for the lingua franca

of jewelry: tiger’s eye, turquoise, lace filigree,

earrings whose spouses refuse

to be found, each one a little note

of longing, a little signification, incomplete

& therefore impermanent — but I don’t want

to catalogue decay

when what I meant is a glutton’s hymn,

a hedonist’s reliquary, my life’s

earrings strung like votive from the linden trees —

like this miniature

Venus of Willendorf, clustered breasts & thighs

that droop like foxglove. Or this —

a topaz stud, the orphan of a gift

for my eighteenth birthday.

How language & jewelry delight

& indict me — I who would write

with an eye loupe’s lavish specificity:

think the prosthetist’s brush

as it replicates the cuticle’s white crescent,

or the glass eye’s aureole

of hazel in green, in a scale so compressed

still-life, self-portrait, & abstraction meet.

How Whistler painted sex as a white collage

in his Symphony, his mistress Joanna posed

in a long, lace dress, fabric cloistered

around her necks & wrists, more virginal

than a bridal gown, as though for a Confirmation.

In contrast to what is white

in convention — lace, ivory, porcelain,

virginity, innocence — what is not

is beneath her feet: the polar bear skin rug, black lips

unfurled in a snarl, fur urinous.

Of course her skin recalls snow, but also bitten apple flesh

& her hair down her shoulder,

like blood across the bathtub’s marble rim.

Yes, Whistler reminds us white is

stench & sweat & pubic bone, & art’s abbreviations

for women are more bestial & ruinous —

so how else would I describe copper’s aging

but as a verdigris bruise? Amber to its insect inclusions

as a glass grave? Pearl as a shroud

to a sand grain?


Amy Sailer’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Quarterly West, The Collapsar, andMeridian. Formerly the coordinator of the Poets in Print reading series in Kalamazoo, Michigan, she is now on the staff of Quarterly West.

An interdisciplinary magazine of nonfiction narratives and artwork.

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