This is Manifest

Kerri Webster

What I needed to survive was, currents
moving over my body.
Also, bourbon.
Saw a light through the trees:
serum? Lantern?
Baby, I said to the man kneeling
between my legs, there are kit foxes out there
and they hum when they learn a new thing
like ledges or stream-fording.
For years my soul was little more than an embassy.
I was lush, and then lush, and then more lush.
In all of my opening, who had I actually saved?
I was no one’s bodhisattva. And so
I removed my body from the systems.
Walked the hills by night.
My blisters filled with sticky fluid.
A swan made a freakishness of its neck.
I was a woman of such secret knowledge
as you may think mad.
I don’t know why, when we die,
all our skulls aren’t jeweled.
Sometimes I was so enamored of sky
I felt my milk might come in.

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Kerri  Webster

Kerri Webster is the author of three poetry collections: The Trailhead (Wesleyan University Press, 2018), Grand & Arsenal (University of Iowa Press, 2012), and We Do Not Eat Our Hearts Alone (University of Georgia Press, 2005). She teaches at Boise State University.

“I’m learning to allow for visions,” the primary speaker of The Trailhead announces, setting out through a landscape populated by swan-killers, war torturers, and kings. Much of the book takes place in the contemporary American West, and these poems reckon with the violence inherent in that place. A “conversion narrative” of sorts, the book examines the self as a “burned-over district,” individual and cultural pain as a crucible in which the book’s sibyls and spinsters are remade, transfigured. “Sacralization/is when things become holy, also/when vertebrae fuse,” the book tells us, pulling at the tensions between secular and sacred embodiment, exposing the essential difficulty of being a speaking woman. The collection arrives at a taut, gendered calling—a firm faith in the power and worth of the female voice—and a broader faith in poetry not as a vehicle of atonement or expiation, but as bulwark against our frailties and failings.

“There is such a force displayed in the poems in The Trailhead, one that writes on sexuality and power, meditating on larger concerns around ethics, from stories of spinsters, conversion, religion, righteous action, desire, wilderness and poetry. Webster’s poems flood their narratives with discomfort, and an unease that can’t be turned away from, taking stock of the climate and providing insight into the unexamined.”
— Rob McLennan, Rob McLennan’s Blog

“With impeccable grace and verve, Webster doubles down on a discomfiting stereotype, claiming it powerfully as a point of view. The book opens its concerns about sexuality and power into ecopoetic and larger ethical meditations.”
— Cathy Wagner, author of Nervous Device

“Kerri Webster has my favorite living ear. And certainly it’s still one of my favorites when compared to the ears of the dead. But you should read this book because the lines buoyed by the ear are so often perfect wonders. “The stranger carves a gold tunnel / through the gold book. The river faces up neon, glows and / glows. I set my glasses by the bed, walk the river path. / Show me the gold tunnel. Show me where the gold tunnel goes,” for example, seems to me as perfect a wonder as poetry allows. How could you not read a book with those lines in it?”
— Shane McCrae, author of In the Language of My Captor

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