Poetry by Paige Lewis

"Untitled" by Janie Stamm / janiestamm.com



Because the Color Is Half the Taste

it’s a shame to eat blackberries in the dark,
but that’s exactly what I’m up to when a man

startles down the street screaming, The fourth
dimension is not time! He makes me feel stupid

and it’s hard to sleep knowing so little
about everything, so I enroll in a night class

where I learn the universe is an arrow
without end and it asks only one question:

How dare you? I recite it in bed, How dare 
you? How dare you? But still I can’t find sleep.

So I go out where winter is and roll 
around in the snow until a sharp rock 

meets the vulnerable plush of my belly. 
A little blood. Hunched over, I must look 

like I’m hiding something I don’t want to share. 
And I suppose that’s true—the sharp, 

the warm wet. The color is half the pain. Why 
would anyone else want to see? How dare they?



God Stops By

to show me how healthy He’s been. He’s
sleeping more. He built his own gym.

Mostly muscle now, He gives me the fat
off his steak. I eat because He offers, not

because I need—it’s hard to feel hungry
when everything in this world tastes small

and wrong, like rubber grapes or sun-boiled
eggs. When I was small, I was certain

that what was holy was mine—I caught
moths in the garden, pressed their wings

between my thickest book, and waited
for new moths to sprout up and out

of the pages. I ask God if He considers me
a cracked seed of grace. He says,

Yes, dear. I understand. It would be exhausting
to lead a life with careful consideration

for all things—stepping over anthills, saving
lizards from pools. I mean, if I was God enough

to be idolized, every statue would be a golden
depiction of me riding a goose-drawn chariot,

absentmindedly resting my shepherd’s scythe
an inch away from their curved white

throats. Before God leaves, He clears the table,
pats my head, and presses two messages into

my palms. In my left, You are the bridge.
In my right, You are the dust.




Normal Everyday Creatures

I’m going to show you some photos—
       extreme close-ups of normal, everyday
creatures. A patch of gray fur, half

a yellow eye. When you guess each creature
       right, you guess each creature into being.
Soon you’ll have enough to open a zoo,

and people will visit because it’s not every day
       they get to see everyday creatures in cages.
Oh, of course your zoo will have cages!

Otherwise you’ve just got world around you
       and who’s going to pay for that? Your father?
Actually, let’s not talk about fathers,

they are boring and offer clumsy advice
       on toothpick drawbridges, on soothing
saw-grass wounds, on wearing the same pair

of underwear four days straight like the Boy Scouts.
       I was never a Boy Scout, though I did dream
of pinewood derbies and being afraid

of the forest. I might ask you one day to go
       camping, and if you have the desire to dance.
Please, when we finish spinning, aim me toward

the river. Once, while jumping from stone
       to stone, I slipped into the river and scared
a snake from his underwater hiding place,

and though he did not wisp his tongue at me,
       though he made no rude remarks about
my bony feet or the house I was raised in, I

wanted to harm him. I was frightened—
       I thought I knew where everything belonged.
I do know the snake does not belong in these

photos. It is not an everyday creature. I can tell
       you this because this is my game—I’m allowed
to give hints. And if, for some reason, you don’t

belong in this space with me, getting fingerprints
       all over my glossy animals, then we’ll journey
until we find the world in which we both fit.

And when the path grows too dark to see even
       the bright parts of me, have faith in the sound
of my voice. I’m here. I’m still the one leading.


Paige Lewis is the author of Space Struck (Sarabande Books, 2019). Their poems have appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Georgia Review, Best New Poets 2017, and elsewhere. They currently teach at Purdue University and in the low-residency MFA program at Randolph College.