Ashley Toliver | Poetry


At night, I am Egyptian and you
are the last pharaoh. When the battle is
over I drag your body through cool
blue water. Your blood is diesel
on the surface, the birds dive in and out.
At the end of your arms the battering rams
are quiet. Underwater they dream
fence dreams, dream splintered wood.
The continent is still but all the shades
of gold remember you: poppy, stone,
stars and arches, certain roots and windows,
the whole earth in an early stretch of dusk,
mirror, fire, they shake, they shake.

Editor's Note: This is a poem of atmosphere. Not setting, place, or landscape, because there was never a space with pharaohs and diesel fuel. Images slip into each other with the chaos of war or a bedtime story a child tells — battering rams at the end of your arms, battering rams that are quiet, long-drowned. This is anxiety wound into grace.

Her words are most vivid when they settle on objects — “poppy, stone.” It feels as if you remember “stone,” but just because you just heard the vowel in “gold.” These objects have the depth of symbols because they seem like clues, and have the breadth of images because they’re really windows into only each other, even though “certain roots and windows” are suggested.

If her images slip between hopes and fears, her objects are the only way to feel them at once. Such is life inside a vision by someone whose anxiety is about to vanish at the end of the poem or to explode, which is suggestive enough. The words are so erotic that they never mention sex.
—Adam Plunkett

Ashley Toliver is a second-year MFA candidate in poetry at Brown.  She splits her time between Providence, Rhode Island and Portland, Oregon.

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