Winner of the 199 Marianne Moore Poetry Prize
"Muench has composed her book with the killer poet’s sense of timing, drama, and tenor. The Air Lost in Breathing is written in an unpretentious yet biting style. Terrible escapes and violent interruptions – it’s all here for the taking."
—Stephen Malkmus, Pavement
"Sass and flash, eros and sweet love – humanness – the awful fall into the heart that takes us down into our deep being – they’re all there in Simone Muench’s sharp and lovely book." —Charlie Smith, Judge
"In these poems of longing and deliverance, passion and plenitude, Muench’s considerable artistry resonates in the depths of the female. Her work compels both my engagement and my admiration. Hers is a feisty voice, insistent and prodigal, erotically grounded in the earthly body. May her art prosper."
"Simone Muench is a poet who celebrates her gift by sharing her vision with an unsuspecting world. Once we read her poems, we can never be the same because her work does not know boundaries, both ravishes and receives the power of being human, and takes us beyond the normal stage of contemporary writing. It is a joy and a devastatingly memorable experience to have these poems. Holding this book in your hands is only the first step."—Ray Gonzalez
You still won’t let me touch that part of you
where your upper arm is welded to your side
in a mass of melted tissue, but you allow me
the welts on your back, that I take
in my hands when the moon
shadows your skin with hills,
gullies and I spend hours rubbing as if I could
smooth the lines away, smooth
the mirror of your father from your face.
It remains in the broken
curve of your nose, your hazel eyes, and the color
of your back, the same pale as my palm: a body
should have scars, your father said as he criss-
crossed your back with his belt,
branches, steel wire. A back
should look like a hand, and he carved
grooves into you as if you were wood
or wax. Your back of bone,
your back like a tree circled by lightning,
the scent of evergreen and sweat
filling the thin ravine where your spine
pulls the two sides together like wings
and my fingers spread against your nape.
As I listen for the soft hiss of sleep,
the fine hair on your neck rises
then settles at my caress. A body
should burn, your father said as he poured
gasoline on you while you slept, your small
figure curled into a fist. What more
to say? Your back, my hand—that reads
this parchment of scars connecting us
in a calligraphy of grief and delicate flesh.
Letters From a Lover From Another Planet
Here, we listen with our tongues, mouths always
open. When his tongue searches the damp
cellar of my throat, he recalls
stories I’ve forgotten, recites the name
of every lover that’s ever kissed
the inside of my armpits. He knows
what I want and what I don’t
like about the way he reads the history
of my hair as if each strand
were a declarative sentence.
He tells me I’m too eager to please.
You must learn to take, to say "give me"
graciously. He likes what’s inside–
not soul, or metaphysical heart but the real
blood-chugging organ: its russet
muscularity; the way it blooms
bright as an anthurium beneath the white
trellis of ribs; its allegretto beat. The sweeping
of blood through ventricles is sexier
than breasts, he declares as he places his tongue
on my wrist, tells me to pay attention
to the vignettes of legs, the backsides
of knees, for each cell holds a story.
Open your mouth, he says. Leak
the letters of your name into my lungs,
the milkweed smell of your skeleton,
the bloodroot of you.
When We Breathe
Our breath is the color of absence,
sleet, the frozen pond behind a house
where catfish and water moccasins weave in
and out of the watery door of melting ice
like strands of hair, the delicate
husks of dead loves.
Clouds shift across the sky
in broken ice floes; sleet filters
through the silver pores of a screen door
with a wide gap where the wire frays—
a baseball thrown off course by a young boy
with wavy hair and a lopsided smile.
These are the entrances, exits
of our everyday lives where the boy
drowns, his forehead tapping against ice, while
a woman with white hair, unaware, chops
onions and a man lingers behind her, humming
a song that’s never had words.
Eating Olives in the House of Heartbroken Women
My sister leans against the stove, nibbling
olives. Like a Rossetti painting she is pure
mischief and melancholy. She is not me,
but she is part of me. She is everything,
and nothing. She is flesh,
and fault. Part solitude, part
social like an ocean with boats
bobbing on it. Her face so sad it breaks
plates, the floor littered with pits and tears.
We eat elitses, the sweet Crete varietal;
atalanti, purple-green and plump;
spanish olives stuffed with pimentos–dragon eyes
we call them. Small orbs tasting
of oceans and distance. Picking olives
on the Turkish countryside years ago
is the closest we’ve come to religion.
My sister is backlit from the open window
unaware of her loveliness. The only
sound, the chew of fruit.
Faith is in small things, she says
passing me the jar that smells
of creosote and roses.
Outside, the sky spirals in a pink
froth. Here we are. Her face.
My face. In this kitchen the light
has a sharpness that makes our eyes ache
as we watch the cat stalk a cardinal
across the yard. We are bone,
and break. There is a country
in my stomach as the sun
honeycombs through the screen.
In this house of heartbroken women,
two girls lean into the light, spitting pits,
learning the difference between sanctuary and salvation.
On Hearing My Father Pulled a Shotgun on My Grandparents During Thanksgiving Dinner
All my relatives seated: Louellyn and her new husband,
Aunt Nan and Laura May, Uncle Buddy passing
mashed potatoes, toasting God, good food, and the lack
of family deaths this year. Everyone flying, driving home
for that day when families convene and I laugh,
imagining my father strolling in,
uninvited, shotgun on hip, his red hair
tangled and cow-licked, beer-gut
protruding from the hem of his t-shirt, shooting
the turkey and everyone splattered
not with blood, but celery,
oyster stuffing, droplets of grease.
I have always held my father up
in one hand, everyone else in the other
as if on a set of scales
and my grandparents, my mother and I
sink while my father floats there
weightless and grinning. I refused to see
my father’s grief: a wife who divorced him, a daughter
who hates him, his liver dissolved, his angular
cheeks now pockets of flesh, veined
and sallow. I only saw
how the nights he didn’t come home
were a relief to us all. But for once, alone,
a thousand miles from the South and not
part of the argument, I think about my father
as a boy, rising at 4:30 to milk cows
before school, an ache in his stomach
from too little sleep and on days when he was too sick
to get out of bed, his father, my grandfather,
would jerk him up, belt in hand, and he
would trudge to the dairy with the crack
of a belt echoing in his ears.
A young boy with hair
shooting out in bright-red spirals, his body
wiry, pale as cream, perched
on a stool, waiting for the sun as his body
shook with anger, the sting of leather, the chill
of a southern dawn and the only heat
came from the cow’s moist noisy breath
as he squeezed her udders for milk, formed
clouds with his mouth in the dissipating dark.