Poem with a Penny Underneath

Madeleine Wattenberg

You were told copper turns the kiss blue,
so you put in a cent and crank the handle.
Our home is a floral mirage in a cement
glacier and our hydrangeas always grow
red. When you moved here from a distant
garden, you expected to see an iteration
of yourself on each city surface. Instead,
you watch the flowers redden and tell me
a theory about planting a penny to turn
the blooms indigo. I preferred to wander
the thin lines of city sidewalks in search
of an end that could open itself. Cities
move, if always toward failure. Two-faced,
you call me, when I return, as though
I’ve made a pretense of our life together.
I walk by your pile of dirt, copper singing
in its new grave. My face flushes and you
look down. The city buds silver in spring.
This continual want of what’s on the other
side, it’s like a penny in the sheets, isn’t it—
a bruise in the shape of a president’s head.
The flower head will never burn blue.
I know this as myth—the work of an ocean
over a useless treasure.

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Madeleine Wattenberg is the author of I/O (University of Arkansas Press 2021). Her work appears in journals such as Salamander Magazine, The Rumpus, Puerto del Sol, sixth finch, Guernica, and Best New Poets. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati and serves as Associate Editor for the Cincinnati Review.

“Wattenberg’s poems sparkle with stunningly inventive images. I/O is a book of expansive power and enviable craft.”
—Billy Collins, from the preface

“Treading territory between myth and self, science and the imagination, eyesight and insight, Madeleine Wattenberg’s irresistible debut makes harmony of many worlds. The poems of I/O echo, shape-shift, and experiment. It is as if these poems truly were a passage from one place to another: ‘A pocketknife rattles in the washing machine. / Spring hasn’t yet broken through.’ These poems are tender and thrilling. Without a doubt, I will turn to I/O again and again.”
—Sally Keith, author of River House

“In I/O we are asked to consider along with the poet how an act of violence can be understood and transformed into art. In her search for a valid answer, Wattenberg looks through the microscopes and telescopes of science as well as the lens of myth. The scientific and mythic are not alternate, either/or ways of viewing the world but rather layered, both/and ways of coming to know. So these moving, intelligent poems argue—and enact—in dazzling images and varied musicks. I/O is as complex as it is engagingly accessible. The more I read and think about this astounding book the better it gets.”
—Jennifer Atkinson, author of The Thinking Eye

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