Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Madeleine Wattenberg





Ars Poetica as Horse Girl

I have a theory about girls who ride horses, he says. We watch a chestnut gelding trot the fence line and sweat. It’s a sign of too much imagination. Flies cling to its hips like red and black buttons. One works its jaw through my jeans and a blood drop worms out my skin. Hah. I do hold my keys like a clock’s hands and try to point to every hour at once, but you can’t see the thing when you’re always looking for a sign of it. I memorize the fence’s loose nails. I count the cracked planks. I lean momentarily against the angled post. Too much. It’s no matter of imagination, but of hoping to touch what’s already here. The horse pauses to rest its lips in the water trough. Ticks have burrowed at his tailbone. I pinch their bodies between overgrown fingernails and drop them into a bucket of diesel fuel. Their heads remain buried. Their mouths remain clenched with nowhere to go.


In This Weekend’s Myth

another body passes through
the night’s weakened threads,

another man looks back
to the last salt-encrusted line.

But there isn’t anything a man
can’t look at and isn’t this

the consequence? She chose.
Didn’t choose. Half-chose

her mother. So we have seasons.
Wherein that underworld I found

myself. Wherein that animal
I found myself. Wherein

that shifted syntax I found
a word with which to thread

the spindle and spin the line
to “gold.” Wherein that night,

shaped like a dog’s folded ear,
I hid soup jars under my star-

soaked cloak and danced until
they cried and became nothing

but flecks of glass enhanced
by expired light. Wherein

I sit hunched at the bathtub’s lip.
The dregs of my shaved hair

constellate across the porcelain.
I’m late to the party again.

It’s spectacular and lonely here.


Poem in Which the Trojan Horse Burns Blue

On the wine-darkened carpet, I’m waiting
for a new word that allows me to depart
from this room. Until then, I use other
makeshift horses. Like that ship-in-a-bottle
you crookedly glued. It wants to be tinder,
easily ignites. What left but to throw it
in the fireplace and watch the glass collapse.
The beauty of fire resides in its insistence
on leaving something behind. A shadow
or ash-fleck harbored in the lung. Heat.
I don’t wash my hair for ten straight years
and each day the oil drips down my back,
a just-in-case gasoline that I keep close by.
I’ll bring you to your knees by any means,
any pyre, any invocation to combustion.
I learn new forms for measuring the sea;
by sand grain, salt grain, driftwood or knot—
how many blushed pearls to launch a single
fist? I split my voice into a chorus to drive you
from your ship’s wood hull. Like fire, the sea
appears red or blue according to the length
of time that it has burned. When I utter our,
you mistake it for war. So we rebuild our ships,
face the terrible opposite shores of each other.

Madeleine Wattenberg’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Puerto del Sol, cream city review, sixth finch, DIAGRAM, Guernica, and Best New Poets. She regularly writes poetry reviews for The Bind and is a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati, where she also reads for the Cincinnati Review. More from this author →