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By Rae Armantrout

1


“must represent the governess   

for, of course, the creature itself   

could not inspire such terror.”


staring at me fixedly, no   

trace of recognition.


“when the window opened of its own accord.   

In the big walnut tree

were six or seven wolves …


strained attention. They were white.”   


(The fear of cloudy skies.)


like strangers! After five years


Misgiving. Misdoubt.


2


(The fear that one is dreaming.)


The moon was shining, suddenly   

everything around me appeared   

(The fear of)

unfamiliar.


Wild vista

inside or near the home.


(Dread of bearing a monster.)


If I failed to overlook the torn cushions,


three teapots side by side,   

strewn towels, socks, papers—


both foreign and stale.   


3


when I saw the frame was rotten,   

crumbling away from the glass,

in spots, in other places still attached   

with huge globs of putty.


The doctor forced me to repeat the word.   


Chimera. Cold feet.


scared and unreal looking at buildings.   

The thin Victorians with scaly paint,   

their flimsy backporches linked

by skeletal stairways.


4


After five years


(The fear that you are not at home.)


I was sitting in the alcove where I never sit   

when I noticed a single eye,


crudely drawn in pencil,   

in a corner near the floor.


The paint was blistering—

beneath it I saw white.


5


Sparrows settle on the sagging wires.   


(Fear of sights not turned to words.)


Horrific. Grisly.   

“Rumplestiltskin!”


Not my expression.


Not my net of veins   

beneath thin skin.


(A morbid dread of throbbing.)   


Of its own accord


Rae Armantrout, “Xenophobia” from Veil: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2001 by Rae Armantrout. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Veil: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)

Poet Bio

Rae Armantrout, one of the founding members of the West Coast group of Language poets, stands apart from other Language poets in her lyrical voice and her commitment to the interior and the domestic. Her short-lined poems are often concerned with dismantling conventions of memory, pop culture, science, and mothering, and these unsparing interrogations are often streaked with wit.

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