Naomi Guttman's second book, Wet Apples, Wet Blood, will be published in the Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series of McGill-Queen's University Press in the spring of 2007: online catalog.

At the publisher's request, her chapbook selection published in Spring/Summer 2005 has been downsized in October, 2006.

For more poetry in this issue
Naomi Guttman

Naomi Guttman

from Wet Apples, White Blood


Subrosa, amoroso, single shiver of my flesh
restless shadow, flicker spirit, silhouette caught in a flash.

Tough muscle, tender echo, tissue goblin, holy ghost
little skiff in brackish waters, tethered to the braided mast.

Hieroglyph homunculus, a percolating pulse of flame
ambiguous circumfluous, I do not even know your name.

Horses thunder, trains à banjo, throbbing bone and humming thrum
mysterious celebrity, you're coming home, you're coming home.


Three shifts, each with its strangers.
I fling for sleep on the slippery cot
and wake each time the door opens

to a new language: they take vitals, give meds.
In his tent the anxious sleeper trips alarms
that bring white masks.

Trained for emergency, they strive to mix
kindness with method, chanting a cheery singsong
as they check tubes, change fluids and sheets.

I try not to mind the rupture
of people doing their jobs, laborious care.
Each meal time, two trays: for him mush

toast and Jello. For me some soothing
institutional meal I always swallow,
down to the rice pudding. The nursing mother

gets her own tray. But his food stays untouched.
He sleeps unevenly while I zip around channels—
sad Albanians bunched in makeshift

mountain tents, Anna in Siam: her lilac satin
skirts splash across the screen as she waltzes
with the king. She hopes to sway him, make him

see, even slaves, even wives, have rights.
But he fulfills his Darwinian destiny: one hundred
and six children and five on the way. He sings

his facts of life: A girl is like a blossom,
with honey for just one man; but a man
is like a honey bee who gathers where he can.

Because the baby sleeps hours
in his damp cocoon, I pump my milk
for his sake and for mine. Cold comfort

of the plastic flange hugs my brown nipple,
the machine's susurration another sterile wind.
Once I had a tabby who sang to me

from the back of his throat for sixteen years.
How we kept company. Each month
I made his food, freezing small portions

as for a child. His vocabulary of moods
expressed itself in postures—hat, bun, snake—
and games he taught us. When he stopped eating

I kept him going for weeks, feeding fluid
with a needle under the loose skin of his neck, until one night
I came home to shit, vomit all over the rugs.

We found him sleeping in a corner, a little heap
of soiled fur. He could barely stand.
We made our pact then. The next day

sitting in the vet's lot, holding the still-warm body
wrapped in a torn towel, we cried a little over
what we'd donemurder, replaying

over and over that final insufficient cry—cry
of the poisoned moment, edge of the dark dawn.
Wearing the plucky, white-gloved mouse

on his tie, the specialist visits, gingers
possibilities: cystic, tuber—
a list of osis. He counsels biopsy.

Without a specimen, he says, we'll never really know.
Ambition can be good, I think, but not
this. I'd rather trust in prayer,

though I do not pray. A bishop comes, the envoy of a friend:
I hold the baby while he prays for us:
“Our father,” he chants, voice hushed and grainy

above the gusting oxygen, “Hallowed be thy name.”
It's the prayer of Earth, Heaven, Trespass, Bread, Evil—important
nouns all. Faith in this life or the next, scholars are equivocal,

though they recognize its Jewish roots—praise,
petition, yearning. Who knows but words
could heal? He ends by rubbing three small crosses

on the baby's forehead, one on his chest, “forever and ever,
Amen.” Omeyn. Om. O, O and O, then flies to catch a plane,
leaving a prescription of psalms: 16, 46, 91

and the reassurance that sickness brings us
closer to God. I, the godless one, but never clever
enough, do I seek wings for shelter, fortress, tower,

sign of signs? I who have always been fearful
but should not fear, who always feel death near
and will surely die, I thank the gods, my stars,

my lucky luck that we are here, not slaves in Egypt
or Siam, not carrying babies—even sick ones
over mountain tops in the shivering spring sun.

May winds keep me,
                                   take my breath away.


Naomi Guttman was born and raised in Montreal, Canada, where her book, Reasons for Winter, (Brick Books, 1991), won the A.M. Klein Award for Poetry and was short listed for The League of Canadian Poets' Pat Lowther Memorial Award. She has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts (2000) and the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts (2002) as well as an Artist's Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts (2001). Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Southern Poetry Review, Connecticut Review, The Marlboro Review, The Malahat Review, The Emily Dickinson Awards Anthology, Rattapallax, River Styx, and Sad Little Breathings & Other Acts of Ventriloquism, edited by Heather McHugh (PublishingOnline, 2001). She teaches English and creative writing at Hamilton College in central New York. Her second book, Wet Apples, Wet Blood will be published in the Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series of McGill-Queen's University Press in the spring of 2007: McGill-Queen's University Press