Laura Bylenok

Ninth Letter is pleased to feature two poems from Laura Bylenok’s forthcoming poetry collection, Warp. Winner of the 2015 T.S. Eliot Prize, Warp will be published in September by Truman State University Press.




Primordial more I know I want,
its lack, its liar inside me

bends me back, slack, word-
less, less—a sigh, an egg

emptied of its curdled eye—
when what night grows is

carried off—and staggering
sun uncages its vermillion

thrushsong: before before
or after blushes bougainvillea

spilling upward, backward
to a balcony and I ignite—

—I want to burn unborn the night,
to till a field of black beaks

daggering in their nest,
nightingales burnt as soil

where I buried, I beetled
my seed in their song—

where more is incandescent,
nascent, twitching its cilia,

curled in my belly
like a wick in wax I can’t

gouge out—I say—I beg—
I laid and lied, I died—I spread

my legs—I bed the field,
I tilled it back and burned—

I burned—I left the garden
barren in my bed—




I meant to lose myself in the ruined coastal city.
The paving stones blushed
but they ushered me on.
It was getting late. Light fermented
like fruit fallen in the street
across from a churchyard and filled a vacant lot
with its single tree and grasses
shot across by barbed wire.
Wire grew like brambles there.
Grew like nerves in tendrils climbing up
a broken wheel. I have been made
to lose myself and I have crumbled
like a coast, its soil clumped in the roots
of this tree I have found
called the manchineel. And the stories
are good: men wanted to feast upon it.
Even Cortez tasted it and died
and his body became an asymptote
of wire buried in this land.
It tasted sweet and alkaloid,
clotted with salt broken by the rain.
I touched it with my tongue and I went mad.
I said I could die upon its alchemy.
Before the light will change, I plucked
fat blackberries from their wire of gold
and gathered them up in my skirt.
I said I died. I said I touched my body fall apart.



Laura Bylenok is from Seattle and holds degrees from the University of Washington and the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. Her chapbook a/0 was published by New Michigan Press in 2014, and her poetry can be found in Pleiades, North American Review, Guernica, Cimarron Review, and West Branch, among other journals. She is currently a Vice Presidential Fellow at the University of Utah, where she is pursuing a PhD in creative writing. She lives in Salt Lake City.