“Potpourri” by Liz N. Clift

Ekphrasis Challenge #3: Artist’s Choice


Untitled by James Bernal


Liz N. Clift


Once, summer meant my mother’s gardens, filled with vegetables, zinnias, faithful
four-o’clocks and the fat bodies of bumblebees wedging into snapdragons.
I could spend hours beneath plants, watching butterflies. The way their proboscis
unfurled and sucked nectar dry, their glitter wings and lilting flight into forever days.

I’d tease sun-warm cherry tomatoes from their plants, caress
their perfect globeness, lay them in a basket atop prickly cucumbers,
green beans, and sweet-smoky peppers with sunburnt sides.

Weeds strangled the vegetable garden first, then the flower garden and summer
days stopped being endless, and I swallowed secrets, let them eat me alive,
truth emerging only through the thin skin of my inner wrists, my ribs.

Years later, I’d steal blizzards and minutes and hours and blackout curtain
summer days in rooms with men who’d wind fingers through my hair
as I knelt between their legs, my palms pressing against their asses,
their thighs, tumbling precious gems dug from some dark earth.

And I loved this thing I wasn’t supposed to like, how I could erase
my body by focusing on theirs, the thrusts, sweat, scars, the way I could
silence questions with well-placed lips and hands.

And then there was the man who followed me West, into the land
of big skies and prairies quilted with paintbrush, poppies, patches of prickly pear.
Who helped me prepare my first adult garden, where nothing grew.

We jousted with uprooted mullein, and stripped lavender blossoms
in southern Oregon, and he traced my scars beneath a blanket
of cosmos without ever touching my skin, which burned with want
at the absence of his fingers, the universe balanced against cerulean sky.

Ekphrasis Challenge #3
Artist’s Choice Winner

[download audio]


Comment from the photographer, Gail Goepfert, on her selection: “The directions taken by each of the poems Tim sent amazed me. What can be done with blue sky and sulfur cosmos! They elicited a botanist reminiscing about a prom date, to Paolo & Francesca to building a cosmos of remainders, to a souvenir from South America and the memory it evoked of once lying on the ground to look up at these flowers as I did to take the photo. All caught me by surprise and wowed me. In the end, I kept returning to read Liz Clift’s poem, my choice for this challenge; it’s arresting. The tension between the rich garden details including the ‘fat bodies of bumblebees wedging into snapdragons’ and the narrator on her knees (‘how I could erase my body by focusing on theirs’) pulled me in. There was so much rawness, nakedness—raw imagery, raw emotion, rawness in wanting. The poet’s voice—exposed and honest. To imagine that orange flowers against her ‘cerulean sky’ prompted this poem!” (website)

Note: This poem has been published exclusively online as part of our quarterly Ekphrasis Challenge, in which we ask poets to respond to an image provided by our current issue’s cover artist. This spring, the image was a photograph by Gail Goepfert. We received 295 entries, and the artist and Rattle‘s editor each chose their favorite. Timothy Green’s choice will be posted next Saturday. For more information on the Ekphrasis Challenge visit its page. See other poets’ responses or post your own by joining our Facebook group.

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