Poem of the Week | September 20, 2021
“Nightblooming Cereus” Alicia Mountain
This week’s Poem of the Week is “Nightblooming Cereus” by Alicia Mountain!
Alicia Mountain is the author of High Ground Coward (Iowa, 2018), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. Her chapbook, Thin Fire, was published by BOAAT Press. Her work has appeared in American Poetry Review, The Nation, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Guernica, Pleiades, and The Georgia Review. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana and a PhD from the University of Denver. She was the 2020-2021 Artist in Residence at the University of Central Oklahoma. Mountain’s second collection, Four in Hand, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in early 2023. She is a lesbian poet and writer based in New York City where she teaches at the Writer’s Foundry MFA program at St. Joseph’s College and at Columbia University.
In bed I said, I never do this
on a first date.
Started the night with:
how should I say your name,
travel for work and no siblings,
university and wanting a dog,
two drinks at a pub full of men.
I paid for a car to get me there.
I took pleasure in the bartender
asking, sisters? To be alike
with someone beautiful.
Tried on each other’s glasses
and still looked like ourselves.
In bed you said, Americans
can be so prude —
which is true, even though
I trust quickly. At the bar
the macho peripheral pool game
got loud with light beer. You
leaned in to say you have seen
so many ways to be alive
and it still hasn’t cheapened it.
You have taken on so many
languages, you can wear
each like a shirt and hang it,
mostly clean, in the closet
at the end of the night. In the middle
of coming out stories, a guy
came over and used the corner
of our table to roll a joint —
didn’t speak to us.
I moved my hand to your thigh
and kept it there.
In bed in the morning, I sounded out
my name and it sounded very little
like myself. In the morning
you said there is a saying we have
for the one-night stand —
‘a sunrise dream.’ After kissing,
I rode the bus home.
I stashed the shiny coin
of an imagined life in my pocket.
I showered alone, like always
and was not lonely.
There is a kind of human love
that runs its whole course quick,
like the green luna moth
whose life lasts only a week,
who has no mouthparts and no need.
Like the dama de noche cactus
flowering once a year, one full night
before dawn-wilt, a sudden white bloom
spread open for a moon or the deep empty sky.
Anthologies are full of poems about infinite, limitless, interminable love. Love forever. Love until death. And even then, love from the afterlife or the next life. This poem isn’t about that. I wrote “Nightblooming Cereus” in praise of the one-night stand — one of life’s great joys. I wrote this poem before the Covid-19 pandemic, but revised it during a period in which one-night stands were not a viable option. This isn’t a love poem about a lover so much as it is a memorial to the confluence of desire, recklessness, willingness, safety, pleasure, uncertainty, and self-assurance. For a long time, I’ve been hung up on the many lives I could (but will not) live. “Nightblooming Cereus” reminds me that the fantasy of the unlived life is an abiding treasure in and of itself.
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