Chelsea Rathburn is the author of two poetry collections, The Shifting Line and the forthcoming A Raft of Grief (Autumn House Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Atlantic, The New England Review, and many other journals. The recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she lives in Decatur, Ga., with her husband, the poet James May, and their daughter.

On Libations:

“When it comes to cocktails, I love to put myself in the hands of an excellent bartender (most often my husband, who’s currently experimenting with homemade shrubs and bitters). My favorite, though, is the Last Word, a Prohibition-era cocktail that’s an unlikely blend of gin, green chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and lime juice, served up.”

Chelsea Rathburn

The Mother of Beauty, Etc.

                                    —Pittsburgh, Pa.

Last spring, we walked the woods where Jim grew up

his woods was how he thought, and thinks, of them,

the one-lane gravel road, the curves of the creek

beside it, the old tree in the clearing,

the dead tree whose hollow trunk swells with bees.

(You’ll see that this is no pastoral, but

I can’t help think of my own childhood,

when I’d imagine the rock in our front yard—

some landscaper’s cast-off—was a boulder

and teeter there, ten inches off the ground.)

We walked to the main road to see what had changed

and found that nothing had—the leaves’ green ache

against the black branches, the wet rocks,

some animal’s tracks, all as we remembered.

Jim found where his sister had pushed him in

the frozen creek, and told me old stories

again. Isn’t it true that moving past pain

is sometimes a matter of paying close attention?

On our way back, we stopped to kiss, and one

of us—but which?—saw the white shape watching.

It was a skull, a few feet from the body

of the deer. Love let us look in silence.

Up close, the ribcage like the chapel made

from a child’s upturned hands, open and calling.

Bones the color of an Easter egg steeped in tea.

No one had seen the corpse when it was whole,

and any other walk, another day,

we would have missed it. Instead, we’d stopped and kissed.

It was a month before we were to marry.

We held each other, studying the bones.

Photo by Seth Long