Poem of the Week | March 23, 2015

This week we offer a new poem by Amber Galeo. Galeo is a writer and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. She received an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University, where she received the Ruth Bennett Prize in Poetry and a Phillip Guston fellowship. She also holds an MA in Human Rights from Columbia University, and has worked in development for The Academy of American Poets, The LGBT Community Center, Women’s League for Peace and Freedom, and The Audre Lorde Project. She is currently an editor at sherights.com and more of her work can be found at ambergaleo.com.
Author’s note:

This poem is a “dark one in a minor key,” my musical Dad might say. Nothing escapes the jet-black subjective experience of losing someone dear to us, and this poem explores the dubiety of life in the face of death.
Claire Clairmont, stepsister to Mary Shelley and Lord Byron’s lover, once called poets “creators and destroyers that preside over the images of birth and death” and I think that polarity is explicit here. What to say of verve when death sleeps right beside it? How does anything grow while everything decays below? Why is this coffin burgundy, and why all the comically gratuitous polish before it lowers into an earth assembled with dirt?
In my life, I’ve held onto physical details in the face of pain. ‘Gloria’ is the weathering of those details, and a tribute to a riddle of a woman.




Strong-seamed and body-bound
we cannot pretend Gloria isn’t birdboned
or frail-lipped, that her veins aren’t dried ravines,


brittle straws of orange peel curling
in a sour beggary of empty flute.
I scan the room for others dead or dying,


do this often: survey for hollow
hope chest or looming bedchamber
among the living, death cheeked to jowl


waiting on a last scurry of verve.
The brushed steel of many walkers chills
me beyond the hope of wool. Below


the burgundy coffin downy-peach
petals drop like limp foes, and can we
blame them, the pressure of survival a thin


inquest I anchor to a towering
pine. Death knell is the fairest thing
toning the choir for days. Six overdressed


pallbearers in gray hang their heads,
escort the atrophy like soldiers of a sunken
salute. In the dark, there are only your bruises


and mine. And in her dark, the purple is opaque.
What to call this a wake when we are anything but
a ceremony, some sad epigones, the new predicament.