Anita Olivia Koester



Constructing a single crown requires time.

Time is a road acrid with gasoline,
we travelled far to understand one thing:

Love has its own gravity.

Sometimes, to erect a home, one must dismantle
the dreams of our fathers, our mothers.

Make me an exile, remake me, screw the clay–
the artist never averts their eyes– or so Kurosawa said.

Seduction, like a work of art, begins with a shadow,
if only you’d seduce me in the daylight,

the entire bedroom is a sequence of shadows,

if only my crown was not made of plastic,
let’s face it, we were foolish to believe in

building kingdoms out of bedsheets.


Building kingdoms out of bedsheets,
a game I’ve played with others & failed,

& here again, failure not yet acid
on the tongue, only rain that pittles in joy

until it doesn’t relent & the soggy ground
becomes your resolve. I recognize the red of these curtains,
their velvet tongue, a set that never lasts past the season.

& these costumes, they’re patched together
from other plays, forget me, & the barrels of other woman

that have animated these robes of silk. It was the extras
that eloped. Hell, we never even heard them speak.

That pair of doors doesn’t even open.

Yet trash the props, sledgehammer the walls
& there’s still a stage, still a woman staring
                                                            shocked at her hands.


Let’s face it, we were foolish to believe in
fairytales, two girlish women sewing their pupils

to the moon, writing for alteration & metamorphosis,
playing the game where we erase legs & add fins.

Bathysmal, the way we smile & dive,
shaking our hips to reach the sunken letterpress.

& why not craft her a crown of algae, seaweed,
zostera. Marvelous, how angel fish crowd
her frantic copper coils as if they were coral.

French Angel fish pair until separated.
One day, my love, you will merge with other men
in this bogwater hippocampus, but for now

I’ll risk the witch hunt & the stone binding
if only to watch you glide beneath a shutter of light.


If only my crown was not made of plastic
like these washed-up mannequins, my mannequin’s

sisters, who’ve waited, thirty or so years, to be real.
Like Pinocchio they stare at me, emptily

from a field of crickets, motionless & aching.
Gold, is what I thought it was, or God, moon rock,

cathedral windows, tiger eye & rose quartz
& inside of the adorned hollow— a great altar of love.

When I slide my hand into the crack, the dark river
that runs the length of my faceless mannequin’s ribcage,

I think of Hepburn & the lion’s mouth
& I almost laugh out into the cavernous house.

& when I bathe her filthy abandoned body,
I only wash the outside, & leave the hollow to blacken.


The entire bedroom is a sequence of shadows,
a puppet show of our fears— a wolf lies at the foot of the bed

as if she was merely a dog,
across my chest a fawn has broken her neck,

on the single pillow, a child’s hand
forces a bunny rabbit to sniff along the shamed hill.

Outside amid the pine trees women are penciling fairytales
where princesses kill their debauched fathers to become queen.

& inside, you rest, then rub your hand on my chest
erasing the forgivable histories, inside
that inarticulate darkness is an amniotic warmth
& your rapacious beast is one familiar,
& all the sex we’ll never have is accumulating
into a rain cloud that breaks & washes nothing away.


If only you’d seduce me in the daylight,
in the plump apricot glaze of morning, the way I fantasize

of seducing you. The crown is finished.

Besides gold, it is amethyst & emerald: Mardi Gras colors.
At the Festival of Epiphany,
one slice of King’s Cake is coveted & avoided,

the plastic baby inside: both blessing & burden.

For that slice of fertile cake, I would send a string
of beads to you to place round my neck every morning

in an endless ritual of coronation.

Does she do that for you, your queen?
Don a crown only to remove it, give at the knees,
submerge your sail in her saliva

cry out for every muscle in your arsenal.


Seduction, like a work of art, begins with a shadow,
later the source object can be added.

The artist’s & the lover’s work
are best begun in a void, the center of an impact crater,

a bullet hole in our memory.

When the body is in shock, or love, a memory fuses,
but it can grow so dense it becomes a black hole.

Before you, Freud would say, there was my dead father,
but let me tell you about my ex-husband

& the bullet scar, a brand on his arm.
I tried not to rub it, but I wanted to rub

& rub & rub, until war made some kind of sense,
wasn’t just an abstraction of hunger,

or ring on my hand, or a man in my bed.


The artist never averts their eyes, or so Kurosawa said.

When I avert my eyes, the image remains,
like a still in a movie, a dam in a river,
its existence dependent on a larger apparatus.

Superimposed over everything
your lanky meridian arms stroke the curve of her

belly, her greenhouse. Mrs. Mrs. Mrs.

Even in a felled tree, an ecosystem emerges.

They say, all life on earth might have come
compact in a meteoroid. Mrs. Mrs. Mrs.

You & I feel more like spontaneous generation,
like the bubbling of some primordial soup,

a bath of slippery fertile mud
                                            to arise from naked
as country girls & boys spitting cherry pits in a field.

VII. Kurosawa’s Dream

Make me an exile, remake me, screw the clay,
screw the molds, make me out of snow,

here it falls unforgivingly, rebuilds the earth,
eventually the glacier will slide away or melt,

& the purest river you’ve ever tasted
                                                            will appear.
In Kurosawa’s Dreams
          men think they can scale a mountain:

but a storm comes, & their beards glass over
their breath labored     a sound distinctly     sexual,
survival is sexual     the men’s bodies

are linked by rope     when one collapses,
they all collapse     into the soft salt     of the snow.

After the collapse, a goddess gathers their breath.
It’s like that, I think, the kind of love we are gathering.


The dreams of our fathers, our mothers,
are our road maps, for better or for worse.

At dinner we discussed our upbringings,
the dark underbelly of our Midwestern homes.

Without touch, we prodded our vulnerable skin,
discussed fantasies next, the beaches of New Zealand,

like a million emptied hourglasses.
In the car, your proximity intoxicating, a vortex,

we could keep driving, turn north, a near endless
careening until snow blots out all sharp corners

& there is barely a shelter for miles.       X

The kind of place where they bludgeon the cartographer,
strangle the tax collector, poison the census taker,

the kind of place populated by exiles.


Sometimes, to erect a home, one must dismantle
another home, & yet, the ground here might give,
a sinkhole beneath the kitchen, a faultline

in the bedroom. I heard tornado season is coming.

For years Camille Claudel worked beside Rodin,
together they whittled emotions— devotion, ecstasy,

remorse— from the earth, & yet still,
he went home to Rose, whose plaster face I’ve studied
for years. Thought once, it was my face.

Like Rodin, I spent thirty years constructing
one pair of doors, thought they were epic & worthy,
that they opened not on hell, but on heaven,

though what is the difference anyway,
Camille will always end up locked away in a sanatorium.


Love has its own gravity.
& being I weighed less, with no home

stashed away in my pockets, I was pulled thing.
Sometimes I imagine myself, armed like Artemis

approaching your moat with tender speed
you’d have a kitchen coated in Italian marble

& a bowl of pomegranates delighting in the sun,
& there on the couch— wife wrapped in your arms,

& the children gathering around to ask— daddy, daddy
daddy, what is the formula for gravity,

is space truly empty? Can you ever
contain heat without it dissipating? Oh, daddy,

will we too, fall out of love? Perhaps with you.
& I’d turn away, pockets weighted with darts.


We travelled far to understand one thing:
sometimes a story must embrace failure.

Sometimes the players are merely players
for a night & the exits are stage left & stage right,
& yet feel this costume, the collapse of silk,

trimmed in the kind of velvet you don’t know
until you know, until it hushes your skin.

If you place this crown on your head,
my body will appear, naked & humbled, will know

your body as it hasn’t been known before.

Let us not be timid, hide beneath our layers
of false cloth for long. Some nun carved out a chance for us
in her prayers, wanted us to have

this ancient drama, our divine resurrection.


Time is a road acrid with gasoline,
& the night embraced us. Only a single car

shuttered by the whole walk, our first.
I hadn’t known then, you were married, it was when

I went to touch your face which I could hardly see
that you told me, & I stopped holding your arm

for where could it lead. We turned back.
A satellite named after your wife careened to earth,

it was then that the car passed, its lights
flooding over our bodies, as if we were criminals.

& we saw the possum staring upwards with curiosity,
distracted, there was curiously little blood,

just two fated eyes, not moving, as we circled
around it, chatting nervously over our rush of blood.


Constructing a single crown requires time.

A kingdom cannot be built in days,
nor a garden grown in minutes, but the earth
has its ways, & a flower easily trampled.

Even a crown can be disentangled without crime.
Watch me pull apart the feathers of gulls & mocking jays,
bits of moon rock, pyrite & crystal, for what’s it worth,

even love, if we must, can be dismantled.

The golden strands are unweaving, each scratch
I attach to you. The beds of my fingers bleed,
& when I go to touch myself, the overflow of need
becomes a poem punctuated with gold

flecks & fluid, a bright blot of blood, a stronghold,
a paper fort built for a child I’ll never have. Look, a match.

Anita Olivia Koester is a Chicago poet. She is the author of the chapbooks Marco Polo (Hermeneutic Chaos Press), Apples or Pomegranates (Porkbelly Press), and Arrow Songs, which won Paper Nautilus’ Vella Chapbook Contest. She is the poetry editor at Duende. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Vinyl, Tahoma Literary Review, HEArt, Rogue Agent, and elsewhere. Her poems have been nominated for Best New Poets and a Pushcart Prize and won the Jo-Anne Hirshfield Memorial Poetry Award, as well as the First Night Evanston Poetry Contest. She is the recipient of the Bread Loaf Returning Contributors Award and her writing has been supported by Vermont Studio Center, Art Farm, and SAFTA. Visit her online at

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