Five Poems from Incarnadine


Mary Szybist's Incarnadine won the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry and was selected as Amazon's Best Book of Poetry in 2013 and a Top Five Poetry Book of 2013 from Publishers Weekly. To see what all the fuss is about, we present you with five gorgeous poems from the collection. Enjoy!



The Troubadours Etc.


Just for this evening, let’s not mock them.

Not their curtsies or cross-garters

or ever-recurring pepper trees in their gardens

promising, promising.


At least they had ideas about love.


All day we’ve driven past cornfields, past cows poking their heads

through metal contraptions to eat.

We’ve followed West 84, and what else?

Irrigation sprinklers fly past us, huge wooden spools in the fields,

lounging sheep, telephone wires,

yellowing flowering shrubs.


Before us, above us, the clouds swell, layers of them,

the violet underneath of clouds.

Every idea I have is nostalgia. Look up:

there is the sky that passenger pigeons darkened and filled—

darkened for days, eclipsing sun, eclipsing all other sound

with the thunder of their wings.

After a while, it must have seemed that they followed

not instinct or pattern but only

one another.


When they stopped, Audubon observed,

they broke the limbs of stout trees by the weight of the numbers.


And when we stop we’ll follow—what?

Our hearts?


The Puritans thought that we are granted the ability to love

only through miracle,

but the troubadours knew how to burn themselves through,

how to make themselves shrines to their own longing.

The spectacular was never behind them.


Think of days of those scarlet-breasted, blue-winged birds above you.

Think of me in the garden, humming

quietly to myself in my blue dress,

a blue darker than the sky above us, a blue dark enough for storms,

though cloudless.


At what point is something gone completely?

The last of the sunlight is disappearing

even as it swells—


Just for this evening, won’t you put me before you

until I’m far enough away you can

believe in me?


Then try, try to come closer—

my wonderful and less than.






Mary who mattered to me, gone or asleep

among fruits, spilled 


in ash, in dust, I did not 


leave you.  Even now I can’t keep from

composing you, limbs and blue cloak 


and soft hands.  I sleep to the sound 


of your name, I say there is no Mary 

except the word Mary, no trace 


on the dust of my pillowslip.  I only 


dream of your ankles brushed by dark violets,

of honeybees above you 


murmuring into a crown.  Antique queen, 


the night dreams on: here are the pears

I have washed for you, here the heavy-winged doves, 


asleep by the hyacinths.  Here I am, 


having bathed carefully in the syllables 

of your name, in the air and the sea of them, the sharp scent 


of their sea foam.  What is the matter with me?


Mary, what word, what dust 

can I look behind?  I carried you a long way 


into my mirror, believing you would carry me


back out.  Mary, I am still 

for you, I am still a numbness for you.




So-and-So Descending from the Bridge


It is so and so and not the dusty world

who drops.


It is their mother and not the dusty world

who drops them.


Why I imagine her so often 



as houseboats’ distant lights 

rise and fall on the far ripples—

I do not know.


I know that darkness.

Have stood on that bridge 

in the space between the streetlights

dizzy with looking down.


Maybe some darks are deep enough to swallow 

what we want them to.  


But you can’t have two worlds in your hands 

and choose emptiness.  


I think that she will never sleep as I sleep,

I who have no so and so to throw


or mourn or to let go.


But in that once— with no more

mine, mine, this little so, and that one—


she is what


out-nights me.


So close.  So-called


crazy little mother who does not jump. 




Annunciation Overheard from the Kitchen


I could hear them from the kitchen, speaking as if 

something important had happened.


I was washing the pears in cool water, cutting

the bruises from them.  

From my place at the sink, I could hear 


a jet buzz hazily overhead, a vacuum

start up next door, the click,

click between shots.


“Mary, step back from the camera.”


There was a softness to his voice 

but no fondness, no hurry in it.


There were faint sounds

like walnuts being dropped by crows onto the street,

almost a brush

of windchime from the porch—


Windows around me everywhere half-open—


My skin alive with the pitch.




Happy Ideas


I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool 

and watch it turn.



I had the happy idea to suspend some blue globes in the air 


and watch them pop.


I had the happy idea to put my little copper horse on the shelf so we could stare at each other all evening.


I had the happy idea to create a void in myself.


Then to call it natural.  


Then to call it supernatural.


I had the happy idea to wrap a blue scarf around my head and spin.


I had the happy idea that somewhere a child was being born who was nothing like Helen or Jesus except in the sense of changing everything.


I had the happy idea that someday I would find both pleasure and punishment, that I would know them and feel them,


and that, until I did, it would be almost as good to pretend.


I had the happy idea to call myself happy.


I had the happy idea that the dog digging a hole in the yard in the twilight had his nose deep in mold-life.


I had the happy idea that what I do not understand is more real than what I do, 


and then the happier idea to buckle myself


into two blue velvet shoes.  


I had the happy idea to polish the reflecting glass and say 


hello to my own blue soul.  Hello, blue soul.  Hello.


It was my happiest idea.