“THERE’S NO THROUGH TRAIL” —HAN-SHAN, TRANSLATED BY GARY SNYDER
/ Eight Poems

Eight Poems

by Liz Robbins

Listen to the WFDD’s interview with Liz Robbins.

The Bomb Responds to Ted Kaczynski

If I am a pocket of metal scrap 
and wire, of silence and black holes, 
you are the pointed thing clipped 
inside, scribbling notes of crows 
and nails. I am your public heart 
in disguise, your chaotic beard. 
Here, in the Montana woods,
we sleep homeless in a cabin made
of dead trees, cornered by the living. 
Sunlight cracks through walls, tiny
mouths. We exist outside blueprints, 
below and beyond the visible night 
sky. But my life has an arc, here
where you keep handling my 
innermost parts, the hard spine of
your sense moving us back and 
toward your utmost want: to be left 
unfeeling in salt, soil, and lime. 
If I am not a siren, not a black-
eyed muse, then I am your child, 
I am the thin-skinned pride you 
use, and you will have us now 
blow softly apart.

Snake Milker

In dreams, the snake mouth opens and
the violet-blue death 

delphinium blooms. I go without gloves
to anticipate

the viper’s movements. In his early life, 
he belly-crawled

the bones of the earth. He unhinged and 
swallowed whole, 

left his own skin wholly. I envy the ruthless
eating, the unconscious

molt. Venom’s gold: the darker, the more 
potent.

I must lose myself to hold the head, induce
him to bite

down on the latex membrane snapped on 
a vial. Between 

milkings, I count the terrible-dark days 
when I taught

at a school, mysterious pipes clanking in 
the winter-day 

basement. Red alarms pulled. Students 
shortcutting classes

and papers, attracted instead to the harder
tests, the growing

awareness of bigger terrors, like one of 
their own

in a hall with a gun, internal and deadly:
there is only

ever one dream, escape, how Jericho  
would gaze 

out the window at his car. I love those
kids still,

more than the thought of summers, when
I could dry out

the damp of constantly hearing myself 
teach, the blue 

flower blooming outward of endless tiny 
failures. How

many did I help free? Here, among reptiles 
caged within 

their own papery skins, beneath long-light 
fluorescence, 

I admit my offenses. I list them in penance, 
confession a release, 

even when it goes unheard.

Knife Thrower’s Assistant

He scored the world record, outlining
my tiny body with eight steel hatchets
thrown in thirty seconds. But it’s not
the scariest thing I’ve done. Miles away,
I watch our show’s spotlight cut a wide
swath in the black sky, while gold birds
bang my ribs. My doodles fast strokes 
with a thick pen, my lunch raw fish. 
I love the clouds’ rush to mask the sun, 
just before a storm. Take my picture, 
quick, buy us shots of coconut rum. 
Show me your bullet collection, and 
I’ll tell you about Pompeii, whole people
in seconds gone to ash. I stay up late 
till I’m at sleep’s edge, then dive in bed
like a jumper from a bridge. In both 
pockets, scratch-offs. Tickets from 
the dog races Friday night. I don’t believe
in God, I confess. But I got married last 
May, my hair strung with violets. Never
had my body been so tender, as I swept 
down the long blank dress.

Fifteen

First job, salad girl at a fish restaurant. I made
          the sides—caesar, house, mixed greens.
Little cups of dressing. Each night, two hundred
          bowls. I’d come in early to slice up old
bread, coat it in paprika and garlic for croutons:
          the chefs, baking them in giant ovens. 
Eyeing us girls in the walk-in smelling of shrimp, 
          dirty ice, antiseptics. I wore green tees
with the logo, small jeans, sneakers, small socks.
          Small plates, small greens, small hours, 
small tips. The Eagles CD again and again. 
          The fantasy we sold: a sunny trip to 
the sea, the patrons never working. Beach sandals, 
          floppy hats. But the wait staff were
jittery, powdering the stalls. Only ever temporary. 
          The chefs, broke kings, mute, eyes flashing. 
Scarred hands, always moving. Sweet mango sliced
          in half. All the big fish made small. 
Beheaded, deboned, but lightly, almost sweetly.

aura: sylvia plath

sound of a projector ratcheting, her mind, 
till the morning thinking drew blood: connection
to pain, a warning [stop]–everywhere the stoplight
color, lifeblood that binds us, but she won’t
cease till she’s easily seen: red making us eat
faster, the exams rising like mercury, 
the only color for a sports car, for a fast girl, 
the scarlet lettering, swatches of black peeping
through: shoes, boots, Nazi marks, 
mouthfuls of blood gone dark, but mostly red: 
hair, heart, walls hot to touch, lead 
sinkers, the chin indent, the devil here: no pairing
the pink sweater pearled pony up sorority tailed
good mother girl with the gypsy the songs shrieked– 
how to bring up the strip? pink smeared with
black tease, what made the engine see
red, forced explosion, a hook, a wound, 
a tongue, an eye, an animal terrible: 
Munch’s Scream, and she heard the sea
moving within the dug vampire grave, 
scarred red tulips hell-delivered: the cold 
white hands never exposure-brown spotted, 
crimson drawbridge raised, the ice
tail of a comet finally gazed after sunset

Medium Security Prison

The orange jumpsuit works to make us all
          the same, but I’ve always viewed myself 
                    as lesser than those around me. Next door,

Alisha stuck her man with a ten-inch blade
          when she heard he’d played blackjack 
                    with their savings. Maybe what I did isn’t

so bad, but as it’s mine, it feels worse.
          The morning sun casts a shadow of bars
                    across our faces. In some ways, life is easier

here. Our choices, gone—but it’s hard to 
          decide, to choose to be loving day by day,
                    step by step. I work the laundry, where it’s good

and hot, folding sheets like old dreams
          into small, ignorable piles. I have too much 
                    time, but recalling wrongs serves to deter. 

Those outside regret all day, without the small 
          release punishment brings. The smell of bleach
                    is persuasive, but a lie. Nothing ever comes 

completely clean. That’s what binds us: 
          recognizing in each other the dirt, so we’ll
                    keep trying to scrub out our own.

Arithmetic Mean

A school bus full of kids skids off a sleet highway
and never will we forget the smell of green vinyl
seats marked with graffiti. No one, not even the rain,
has such small hands! Nor washes clean memories
of the bloodyard, the plus and minus bullies. Two kids
break through windows, and nothing will make them
average. Love refuses to reduce, which is why, in a 
fistfight, the memory of love never loses to the actual. 
The night sky glitters with a million busted lips. A 
million channels via satellite, the eternal gone blurry–

Slipknot

I am always tying up / and then deciding
to depart your mantra for Conversation
French class the Piggly Wiggly cashier
job me though I wrote the soprano for 
our off-key murder ballad syrupy thick
in the land of no snow high notes overlaid
with tobacco my preference ascetic a cot
in a white-walled room with books all 
those lines for clues how to leash the dog
myself my doctor nightly wine
You making love the fantastic from pages
I was not myself peeking in a keyhole a 
vanity I suppose Bonnie and Clyde 
a gun’s retort to make you moan a kind
of Deep South hoodoo inviting one 
another into private blood storms where
we saw nothing but eternal voices sang 
You joined them is why I can’t forget
the spooling hours how I was readily
untied pulling you in the one free end

Cold Mountain Review is published once a year in the Department of English at Appalachian State University. Support from Appalachian’s Office of Academic Affairs and College of Arts and Sciences enables CMR’s learning and publications program. The views and opinions expressed in CMR do not necessarily reflect those of university trustees, administration, faculty, students, or staff.