Laura Bylenok

Day 30

Self-Portrait as Sexagesimal Fragment

Reproach, nowhere. Face of the clock
counts to three like a mother. Slowly,

cells knit new cells deep in the hardware
before REM cycles down.

There is no reason to startle awake.
Look, I ask myself, because I’m awake.

I’m ripping the seams out of a pair of jeans.
The pockets come off, a little blue,

with pilled cotton in the edges. It’s something
to do, to skin a system to its mesoderm.

Just saying hi like a body is something
I’ve forgotten. It feels good,

like a hypercube, to hold the unfolded pattern
of my own legs, compliant in my lap.


Look. I’m a visitor here. The clock
isn’t a mother and won’t stop me

from placing on the table the lowball glass
cut with my initials I inherited

to prevent it from leaving its wet white ring
on the wood. The clock keeps counting

past three and doesn’t stop or even startle
when I slip my hands into a knot

to stop myself threading through the fabric
the night has draped like a face

over my face, to hold it, and the clock
folds its hands but isn’t a mother

no matter how much I want to hear her
tell me it’s not too late to stop


—and her hands like needles sew little loops
in the shroud of space-time that I

have tried to take apart for so long, years,
pulling where the seams are permeable

as a dream, and for a moment it’s dismantled
in the fabric on my lap, just a pair of jeans

that don’t fit, nothing mysterious or individual
spliced into the cloth, and I don’t have to look

to know how late it is when the clock begins
to wring its hands as if someone were expected,

circling without touching an interstitial center,
something unoiled, separate as a child,

and fretting it until it’s better to stay up,
resigned in orbit, until morning.

Laura Bylenok is the author of Warp (2015), winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, and a/0 (2014). Her poetry appears in Crazyhorse, Ninth Letter, Pleiades, and Guernica, among others. She is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.