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Circling the Same


Fig. 1



empty sullen has its goal get
something out of everything
a demon after all
would shake a baby like a rattle
to try and comprehend the joy it brings

sea to dust now lined with cracking veins
and to dust all relation I have had to anything
there is speech.

but there it is
after all
light can flutter on
the inside of
closed eyelids

long lost drawing ever near
shining flashlight in the wood

to be so small and to have covered so much ground
defines every single being ever
who clutching its own guts
dared to travel this way ‘round



o happy childhood
for I did not know
that all my life approached
that old sit down that had been had
so many times
so many beasts in that same brine

how could she ever think
that this cup would not be mine

what we had
what did we have
as transparent now as air
as easy and as casual and as
natural as a yawn
as every day as anything
I found her there but gone
my hand felt for my heart
as if to turn the thing back on

that which she had wiped away
with a mother’s furtive hand
had written its name back
on every surface everywhere
leaning forward through the walls
its halos of fiery hair
its red breath melting the paint
that went rolling down like peels
royal purple at its heels

how easy it had been for it to hide
heartless so no worry
of a beating from inside
while I slept it had swept in
calmly to prepare its feast
sitting down at what had always been its place
at the head of our family table
in the centre of our safe and sacred house

I awoke to find my mother there
smoking at the window
a bright green apple
shoved deep inside her mouth

just like that
she’d been made gone

in what
as a child I had reduced
to a simple ray of light
did I not see the storm within
of countless particles in flight
ditto did I not see in her
the simple beast
she always was despite
elaborate fantasies

an animal—a jungle—and a reign
a wild one who had managed
to convince me she was tame
and that she and I were chosen
two of life’s beloved pets
instead of just two more
among the countless hunted game


Fig. 2



which way to throw
the fork the spear
to hunt and catch again
the half no longer here

the changing ground beneath its run
I can see through its eyes
as if the world were turning mad
while it stood helpless by
it runs
it doesn’t know it runs
and it doesn’t know why

from where does push like this come
what force is it that makes it run
from what source does it draw such strength
no bounty brought by happiness
stroked only ever by the hand of fear
fed ever only bitter loneliness

running for the edge
and I am close behind
to put me back together
carcass heart and mind
and turn around to promise you
I never crossed the line



let the words never said
slide from you

and when they
hit the floor
pull your tongue back in

as the ocean
pulls itself into itself

what it touched
sparer than it was

I will undo
my creation
pull up every

the dirt
in which
I placed them

sea leaves
bits of glass

small and
each holding
a voice inside
whispering a memory
one crystalline


Fig. 3



I have been looking
at the wrong thing

on your old street
by your old building

its just that nothing seems that off
the rocks at the park’s edge are all in line
but not me

look down
see these hands of mine



flowers bubble up from black water
wordless message from one
to another

so Mr. Moon
can chuckle
like a drunk
fucking uncle
I don’t need his light
to find my way

mama gave me
lunch money
where my heart
used to be

a lucky little penny
skipping like a pebble
back and forth between my ribs

so fast it feels
like hundreds
loving souls are
tossing in

giving all
my wishes back
even one I threw into
the deepest
water black

griever wait
long enough and
the facts of life will change

those you could not cross without
carry you over your edge

to the flower green
and sprawling
fields of your first day


Fig. 4



my great
silent majority
sit at a kind of
Mt. Olympus
looking down on me
with benign interest
it’s all the same to them
they know the end



Beginning: the curtain rises on a lovely maiden
foolish weak and white beneath her mother’s wide wing
large as an elephant leaf that won’t even let the shade in

all the world is lush as if it too were just a maiden
long and flowing like the train of joy’s own wedding dress
and this merry pair of little flower girls attending
as if they were chosen by the bride of happiness

Demeter and Persephone let’s call them
then their story we shall rearrange
it is Demeter who Hades has stolen
leaving poor Persephone alone without the power
to kill or create one small leaf or one pathetic flower
the seasons cease their change

summer clasps the honey and the bee in a clenched palm
fall does not fall in fact will not come down at all
winter will not offer more than
one shrug of cold shoulder
and spring ever forgiving
will not even whisper one kind thing
the world according to Persephone
is a world ending

all of life come walking from behind
stone still trees
all of life lie down around sweet Persephone

even he the flash of red all the Athenas
had hunted
at long last captured
in the late night breeze
majestic he steps forward from within
his foreign wide wild
wishing only to meet death inside
the arms of his child

father’s face against your collarbone is a strange place
father’s breathing gone beneath your own
wrap his arms around you
carry him—do not bury him
step over the dead and kick the bones
wear him as your armor
death has spared your life and yours alone
Hades came for you in the same way that the myth ends
Persephone—this new world is his
You are born again


Fig. 5



to the tune of a nursery rhyme
there is a thing I had
I can’t recall
it comes to me
a moment here
and gone

a time when
time was all

the smallest things
they will remind me
of a time
that must have been
that I miss yet
cannot name

I set the five toys of my pocket
up in line
upon the plastic skull
of the horse
on which I ride
to say to me
the words of one
face of dreams
and drawings done
crumbling spine
from which I come

there is a thing
I had I can’t recall
It comes to me
a moment here
and gone
a time when
time was it all

the smallest things
they will remind me
of a time that must have been
that will never come again and
yet will always come again

and I may never ever know
but I will always always go
cutting right up through the earth
with half the thing they call a soul
as dangerous
as if I had come from a gun
I will destroy the very thing
that makes me run
I grow I go
knowing at once
and then at once
not knowing

around always I go



it comes to years
there’s always been
a hidden choice
year and year

tiny feet crossed on the floor
watching cartoons
toast, and eggs, and cheese and juice and cheerios
and this sense of a next room

to thirty years
from then
and had I known it
in those days

that it was I who stood beyond
stirring that hair upon her head
wanting the child to turn
instead of what it was
she always did
it comes to years

cut up in swaths
like the ribbons at her head
cut up
in swaths paths roads and crossed
until the world was re-embossed

sitting there
standing here lost
is only years


Fig. 6



the thing about pain is
with a little
bit of practice
the one you always wanted
god or you
or some fusion of the two
does come

a critical mass
a fleet of pain is like
stained glass

it makes a window worthy
of cathedrals
to look out on
all the world as if it were

a kingdom
you had won



the architect builds a thing in you
and makes you small enough to live inside
it pulls you
by your feet
now pass all that once had been
your cheek against the street
skin left on the ground
a veil of blood

the architect is
a gift that is hard to accept

for a time you are a bug
that cannot right herself
lying on your back
arms moving in sad circles

for a while it is like learning breathing underwater
impossible beginning
a self un-recognizable to you
is wearing your skin
is thinking in your head

until at once you realize
that when they left the body
you must have gone with them

and you just fooled yourself
you had already won

you never even fought
you didn’t walk
the centerline
the structure’s spine

you only traced it
like an outline of chalk

when the architect comes back
you will grow sick

the architect comes
first the soul takes
then the body takes
then the funeral takes
left you

you won’t know where you are
this can go on for years
the memories are

my lord her face the smell
in the collar of her coat and he
a hundred tales off the top of his head
the knee sock on his leg that was ever falling down

mother father—you ran the earth and time
the weather an expression of your face

great people are larger than the planet and its whims
great parents are like gods
great deaths are architects
of being small or large

Figure 1, 3, and 5. Photograph by Mirabelle Marden
Figure 2, 4, and 6. Photograph by Andrea Longacre-White

Alexandra Butler is the author of Walking the Night Road. A memoir about losing her parents in her twenties. She has written for the New York Times and the Times Literary Supplement. She is also the author of the poem collection Circling the Same, published with OHWOW gallery in 2014. Her Character Sketches led to the making of Ivy Holland directed by Matt Lenski and produced by Tribeca Film Festival. Alexandra holds a Master of Social Work from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn with her family.

© Alexandra Butler, two excerpts taken from each chapter of Circling the Same, 2014.