THE DEATH SPIRAL
The [American bald eagles’]…cartwheel display or death spiral…is chief among their spectacular courtship rituals…The two soar up to high altitude, lock talons, and tumble and cartwheel toward Earth. They let go before reaching the ground—except when they don’t.
-Patricia Edmonds, National Geographic
Suppose that to marry is to defy death talon to talon,
to promise to learn together the art
of freefalling as mutual deference.
Suppose the law decrees your desire
unruly, your bodies sylphs
or outlaws, but call it sacrifice
or symbiosis, you will be one.
despite cartwheeling down
an updraft of air to the upsurging details
factory, tree, tree
car, car, car—),
you study only the pale
cream moons of her eyes
stricken below their hood,
cincture of her wingspan, wind-riffled,
& the muscly clutch
of her tendons sounding blood.
Suppose that just before pavement
hits your skulls, there is the ripening
of a moment, a toehold in grace,
when you both untangle,
roll out of your death dance,
& fall upwards, in thrall of sky,
backdrop of brambles, scrim of tree-
tops. Suppose catastrophe’s averted
for the moment, but always you’ll be
on the cusp of it. She, the thermals,
& the warming skies are all
you can be sure of. You’ll preen
on the moon if you must.
MEMORIES OF MYSEFL AS A GALAPAGOS MARINE IGUANA
I can almost remember my claws,
incurved like an eagle’s,
my dorsal scales and tail
like a lash, my prehistoric body
outfitted like medieval weaponry.
I didn’t have a name then for myself
or for the choke of boulders where I sunned.
I didn’t have a name then for sun:
sussuration of warmth at dawn
that grew louder each hour
until—by the thrumming
of my blood—
I felt the sun’s call in my muscles,
in my re-activated heart.
Each noon, pulsating fire
my body a darkening leather
(as practical a conductor as copper),
I set out past the tuff, sword-sharp,
and plunged off the cliff’s edge
to return through an invisible door
back to the sea.
I didn’t have a name then for sea:
thraw of wave and cutting chill
or for the hunger that urged me on
to seafloors carpeted with algae.
I grazed with fervor
then in anguish if I lingered
too long in the cold.
I can almost remember the return:
back past the waves tossing ice
splinters into my back,
and past the sharks that prowled
counterclockwise above, and back to scale
the sheer edge of the island.
I can go back and back and back,
and each time I pass through the thinnest thread
of a spider’s web; it is the twitch you trace
for an instant on my face.
You doubt me?
This is not dreamed up.
This is the glossary at the end of your first primer.
how many times have the worms,
browsing through leaves and broken-down bones,
ingested my cells?
I am alive, but so close to humus,
easy with the ancient process
of living, of dying.
We all have an instinct for expiring,
just as our bodies filter blood without a flinch
and the liver’s ablution is as perfect
as the brook
that runs bloodstream-
like through the forest.
When the time comes, call off
the endoscopes and probes:
like the theater of a thunderstorm,
a wild conga dance up the spine,
or like the smart athleticism
of some kinds of silence.
All I know for sure
is that I will be loaned out
to some other I.
-from The Death Spiral (Black Lawrence Press, 2020), selected by Fall 2022 Guest Editor, Michael Walsh
Sarah Giragosian is a poet and critic living in Schenectady, NY. She is the author of the poetry collections The Death Spiral and Queer Fish. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as The Offing, Ecotone, Tin House, Cosmonaut's Avenue and Denver Quarterly, among others. She teaches in the department of Writing and Critical Inquiry at the University at Albany-SUNY.