By Katharyn Howd Machan


He hated me, Etinozama.
I was his angel, his harmony,
uplifting him to another world,
he said—until
that night our true words crossed
and he began to shout I wasn’t
clean enough for his touch.
I know now I should have stayed
on Eticniz, safe strong warm planet,
instead of risking striped hard rocks
angry hands can pick up, throw,
scar a daughter who left a mother
alone where three moons rise.


I killed him, Etinozama.
He came at me with sharp dark hard
burned with green and gray and green
and I threw it in his eyes, the salt,
and poured until the sack was empty
and he lay writhing, he lay choking
like a bitten dog, like a poisoned crow,
choking until his breath turned yellow
and he was gone from all of me.


Etisengam, I call upon you.
I beseech you, Etisengam, goddess
of the first dawn light, to show
my three hands the way to freedom,
my mouths the purest shape of prayer.
With Etinozama I never went
to your mountain ringed with pearl.
With Etinozama I stayed away
drinking blackness hot and thick.
Forgive me now, Etisengam, and I
will try to serve you. A soft cloth
for your palest pearls, a shell
that calls sweet lightning.


To the silent cave I have brought
a woven bag, a dangerous bag.
She who was once my mother
carried this bag across harsh seas
and I have never opened it;
I have only counted its threads.
Etisengam answered me and told me
my prayers matter. Only here
can I cut strong stitches
and reach down into fragrant shadows
to touch what I must know.


Without light, how can I find the jewel?
Without wind, how can I know the feather?
Without sand, how can my feet make patterns
that spell my secret name? Etinozama
used to sing me stories before his eyes
went sour. Etinozama found me when
I was lonely where bitter sea turned
sweet. Without love, how will I
know my belly? Without laughter, my tongue?


To sleep is to become a camel
with the seven humps we have learned
to long for: I will dream of rain
falling upward from firm ground, fruit
blossoms turning to small frail wings
and a poet with his three small
strings, fingering.


Who will wake me
when I am done running?
Who will press important
food to all my lips?
Etinozama would have
been my husband
if time hadn’t been time.
Etinozama, dead
enemy to all
I need to be.


Katharyn Howd Machan

Katharyn Howd Machan was born in Woodbury, Connecticut, in 1952. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and textbooks, including The Bedford Introduction to Literature. She has published 30 collections, most recently Belly Words: Poems of Dance (Split Oak Press, 2009) and When She’s Asked to Think of Colors (Palettes & Quills Press, 2009). A professor in the Department of Writing at Ithaca College since the late 1970s, her courses include Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. In 2002 she was named the first Poet Laureate of Tompkins County, New York.