Poetry: Kristina Marie Darling


My voice carries differently in such an empty room. Here, I can only stand at the window, mouthing words like desire and weaponry and accident. No matter how beautifully my lips form the O in Rome, I know he will keep walking.

An unacknowledged violence, a sea. When we first met, boarding a ferry at the end of summer, I had imagined each of the devotions differently. Now the lights in the harbor darken like a kiss just below the ear—

                                        Or, as they say in the provinces,

                                                    Bonjour tristesse

I speak his name and the coastline swerves left


Wrapped in swansdown and silk, I was becoming smaller and smaller in his hand. He was the impossibility of a shoreline. Who can remember how many times we’d tried before? I wanted to be that cut-glass city greeting him on the other coast. Frost-bitten, shivering, he moored the ship one last time. Above us, snow sealed the window in place. What waited beneath a patch of ice was its light.


Wait—I remember the old house clearly now. I mean, how our last meeting actually happened. He was standing near the doorframe, holding a copy of R’s Boat. I wanted so badly to tell him the truth. Of course, I could only speak about the book, reciting line after line because it seemed to please him.

I later imagined our exchange as a film, which took place in garden near Bordeaux. In every scene: a girl in a white dress, who couldn’t pronounce the word for messenger, let alone her husband’s name.

All night, after the door had closed behind me, I tried to tell him that the presence was making itself known. I started to draw a picture of the light as it struck the armoire:

                        ^        ^        ^

Of course, I couldn’t quite render that startling numbness at the back of my neck. What is the body but a ledger, the envelope onto which an address is eventually written.

I worry I don’t yet understand the nuances of sending gifts by post.


The midnight train was the first to leave. The color of my dress changed the contours of the landscape where the two of us would finally meet. He carried a map that showed women walking alone through the various corridors of the city. But this is what had happened before. We would travel to Melbourne, to Stockholm, to the edge of the snow in a tiny sled. Now the silver bells won’t stop ringing. And after: The silver bells won’t stop ringing. In the silence of that same corridor. In the light of the smallest glass button. My imperative, his imposition. Ruined paradise and ruined purgatory. Our furtive ceremony and an unworn wedding dress, also mentioned by Dante, who was convinced the woman he loved was his—


By now he must understand: anything seen through an arch is instantly picturesque. It’s not that the flowers are dead, per se. The lily still tilts her slender neck toward the open window, as though a gap in the plate glass was the Second Coming, or a doorway to the snow-covered hills beyond.

Which is to say, the architecture of the cathedral is twofold. First, the stone cleaves straight through with longing. A crowd drifts away from the square near the market, and likewise, time. He’s probably guessed I don’t understand his letters anymore. So I read ode after ode written a strange language, and after awhile, I experience myself as foreign. A lady at the Metro stop without gloves or a coat. Holding all the wrong subway tokens.

When I miss the train, will he still be posting letters?

(At night the trees fall into disarray. At night every aisle in the cathedral is burning and I find I can’t open my mouth to speak—)

kmdKristina Marie Darling is the author of twenty-seven books of poetry, most recently Ghost / Landscape (with John Gallaher; BlazeVox Books, 2016) and the forthcoming Dark Horse (C&R Press, 2017). Her awards include three residencies at Yaddo, where she has held the Martha Walsh Pulver Residency for a Poet, as well as a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, a Fundacion Valparaiso Fellowship, and three residencies at the American Academy in Rome. She is the recipient of grants from the Whiting Foundation and Harvard University’s Kittredge Fund. Her poems appear in New American Writing, The Harvard Review, The Mid-American Review, Poetry International, Passages North, Nimrod, and many other magazines. She has published essays in Agni, The Gettysburg Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Iowa Review, The Literary Review, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She is Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Quarterly, Associate Editor-in-Chief at Tupelo Press, and a contributing writer at Publishers Weekly.