Back to Issue Thirteen.

MARIE CURIE

BY TYLER MILLS

 

When our baskets filled, I would step
                         off the boat and balance in my palm
an apple finer than the others—cold
                         skin that cracked under my teeth.
There was one dream: nationalism,

                         the exposed nerves of beet roots
tangled in bullock carts
                         moving slowly toward the factory chimney
choughing its thing at the sky.
                         Some sentences escape me.

I take the sun and I throw it.
                         I remember the stoop-shouldered men
tracking equations the professor’s fingers
                         tapped across the chalkboard.
I take the sun and I throw it

                         in an attic like a servant’s room
warmed by a skylight
                         topping a middle-class house. No heat,
no water—but a kitchen chair
                         and petroleum lamp that I covered

with my two-penny shade. I would wash
                         my dress in a pail and mend its hem.
When I wanted a treat,
                         I would walk through the Latin Quarter
to the creamery and eat two eggs.

                         When I came back to myself, I would ask
why I fainted, my stomach
                         round with radishes and cherries.
In this atmosphere of wrinkled linen,
                         I would wait for the poplar leaves— 

my window shut tight to their branches.
                         I would dress myself in navy
for him, my blouse with robin egg stripes.
                         My husband’s jacket boxed his arms
in a cut ten-years old. We owned two bicycles.

                         We celebrated up the boulevard Saint-Michel,
watching the city pass us from the top of a bus,
                         our faces pinked by the sun.
And we lunched on bread and peaches,
                         slept in a room with faded wallpaper,

and slept through the night. He had no sense
                         of time: a few thousand pedal strokes,
then we arrived at a pond grown in with grass
                         where he gathered irises and water lilies
for me while I slept. Once, he dropped a frog,

                         light-bodied, that peed into my hand.
And in our little flat, I would peel parsnips
                         and onions for the noon meal.
When I woke with the autumn light,
                         I left for our shed

in my lab coat without a hat or a scarf.
                         I met the wagon usually loaded with coal
in the street that morning.
                         I touched the cloth of one sack & cut the strings
with a bread knife & opened its mouth

                         & put my hands deep
into the ore, the pitchblende mixed with pine needles
                         from Bohemia. It was like creating nothing
out of nothing, all summer
                         in the shed without cupboards: 

particles in glass tubes on shelves
                         we nailed into the wall,
bluish outlines glowing like what
                         we couldn’t describe.
I sat in the dark,

                         in the violet activity, and watched.
As a child, I would dig up mud
                         with the tines of a fork
and form the dirt into huts,
                         pushing windows in with my fingers.

There is an actor among us
                         that lives in the earth
and in the air. In the evening,
                         we would return exhausted,
our arms prickling in red veins:

                         our best disguise is an appearance.
I would sit barefoot on our front step,
                         scraping it with my shoe. 
I loosened sand from the toe.
                         I also wanted a child.

 

 

Tyler Mills is the author of Tongue Lyre (SIU Press, 2013), winner of the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, PoetryBoston ReviewThe BelieverGeorgia Review, and Blackbird, and her work has won magazine awards from Gulf Coast, Crab Orchard Review, and Third Coast. She is Assistant Professor of English at New Mexico Highlands University and Editor-in-Chief of The Account: A Journal of Poetry, Prose, and Thought. “Marie Curie” adapts language from Madame Curie, a biography by Eve Curie originally published in 1937 (Pocket Books first printing, 1946).