2 Poems | Hilary Varner

On Writing Vows

I would never tell you why I collect
on slow treks to your usual stashes
under the bed behind the hanging quilt,
beside your desk’s grease stains,
and in the form of carefully balanced piles atop the curio

the dishes that you leave, nor would I
sum up for any invited, seated crowd,
why my fingers, filigreed,
swirl water over the blue plates you like
for their unusual flatness, and I

because they are part of the real
and only pottery set we own,
making me feel like a little wife without my breaking
that flatness against the cabinets at the thought.
I do still shiver at such frozen displays,

yet what swirls around the spring trees’ pink
full flowers is made of the same things
I knew when I looked up from reading palms
at that party and saw you across the room
seeing me. Tonight, with the shadow

of this hard, grey monument I used to worship
before us, I find me wanting
only to lay the edges of these heavy plates
on each others’ backs
with great care, as you tell of your day

and your ocean-colored eyes show their shine.
From time to time I watch my hands,
adorned only with the silver ring
I bought myself, lean these dishes
over the clean and slowly soaking towel,

as if this were all nothing,
or the only thing,
until I look up to see just your eyes
talking, and my arms
looking so suddenly separate from myself

that I round the counter to grip your dark
warm head against my chest and bent face
for what I will never solemnly intone
in satin heels. But maybe in wool socks, on this rag rug,
I can whisper what I let me breathe:

your unwashed hair, you
letting me learn you like this,
and the way the shy, warm flowers inside my head
seem to wave their own, bright heads
to remind me I can stand,

since I met you, their heart color.



From beyond the pine boughs
I think, Is she, poised too still, thinking

about her cigarette (its hand turned out
to allow the white paper its ash

like both are in this together forever
and the hand has been holding,
and the paper has been burning,
so long each could burn or hold in its sleep),

or is she thinking about her unmoving hand,
her inhale,
or what her mouth holds?—

until a wisp, and then a forced rush,
roll such smoke up this fir tree between us

it’s as if she contained an endless invisible air stream
she slowly pushes out of and with her mouth
after the skyward-circling gray

without watching, just staring straight ahead,
and all I can think
is, Maybe she is thinking about her face,
which perhaps she has watched
(the way I watch it now)

grow old, its creases creasing her thickened skin
and themselves (because the two are separate things)
even further beyond repair,

for her tightly o’d, wrinkled mouth
slides carefully, like a silent vowel, or a door
closed quickly until the last moment
and then slowly, until it gives an almost imperceptible click,
back to its thin, but sure, resting place.

It is only then I know
she has stopped exhaling. But I am still thinking
about her thoughts, like: are they of great profundity
or bottomless despair? I mean,
isn’t it hurting her

to live alone, to rent and smoke at her age
with nothing to do late weekday mornings but stand
on her white plywood balcony,
crackling for a moment like a struggling torch
only to let the light dim and crumble
past the peeling two-by-fours beneath her feet
between inhales,
her face tilted up to the mid-autumn sky–
isn’t she thinking about that? And then
I want to feel what she is feeling,
across the space, across the tree and silence,

but I feel only silence, until I feel the silence
coming toward me, into me,
like it wanted to stay there,
in my chest especially,

and I want my neighbor to stay on her small white porch,
while the gray smoke fades into the gray tree
tall against the blue and gold morning
and her head turns slightly to her right hand
flexing to meet her mouth with its fire.

Hilary Varner received a B.A. from Vassar College and her MFA in Poetry from
Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers. She currently tutors test
prep but spends her days taking care of her three-year-old and
six-year-old, both of whom she considers to be her best poems although
they often keep her from the literal page.


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