Woodcut Poem

When I see woodcuts, my skin recognizes
            the tacky, reluctant belief
that grooves in soft pulp
once drank eagerly,
                        gutters rough-hewn
            by a blistering grip on the knife.
Some ink as deep as aged wine:
wax and smashed berries
paint somebody’s solitude. Umbilical
            transfer, those bumps
of translucence, the paper’s blind mouths.
                                          When I see woodcuts
an oak door dies, sighs
            in its jambs; I see a sky that is
of spring lambs and tincture
            of gold spelling capital       C
over chateaux and convents
culverts and cottages; corridors,
torches stuck into iron sconces. Then earth
            moves and C bleeds and
winter with candlelit skulls. Or a cloud
                                is a moth
that is eating
away.     This is how, the old printmakers say,
we hold on:
                      with this angular texture and trace,
                      with these broadsides that take on
the weight of
            the bodies that made them.
                      I’ll never be able to offer myself
            like a tray, not to lovers or children
or God.       Not that way.


Ellen McGrath Smith teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and in the Carlow University Madwomen in the Attic program. Her writing has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Los Angeles Review, and other journals and anthologies. Books include Scatter, Feed (Seven Kitchens 2014) and Nobody's Jackknife (West End Press).