“When I was beautiful”

Averill Curdy
Selected by Ange Mlinko

“When I was beautiful” is a line from Mahmoud Darwish; Averill Curdy elopes with it. No, really: “Wedding guests / feasting like wasps / on soft-skinned fruits and sweetened wines, / even as a noise / more appallingly intimate / than thunder shocks some foreign air / into tiers of voile.” The play on vale of tears, veil of smoke and dust rising from, probably, a pancaked apartment building in the Middle East—all this is lovely compression, but it doesn’t even hint at the compression of the whole, which packs into two pages (what I imagine to be) the speaker’s life flashing before her eyes—“when I was beautiful,” i.e., alive.

—Ange Mlinko

When I was beautiful

I was forgiven my raucous laughter.
                                                            Wedding guests
                                feasting like wasps
on soft-skinned fruits and sweetened wines,
                even as a noise
                                                    more appallingly intimate
than thunder shocks some foreign air
into tiers of voile.
                                                    Leaves shuddering from trees;
                the body harrowed of will.
                                                                                                    My sister
was safe when I was beautiful.
                                                          I wore departure,
a jet’s contrail, the initiate’s reserve, a veil
                            of salt sowed over enemy orchards.

Danger drew me because I was beautiful.
                                                                I thought everyone heard
the voices I could, calling my name. The dead
                                                    needed me.
I’ve been so busy. So beautiful was I
                                                    my dress was the desert
where the ghost of moisture prowls
                            the rooftop sleepers, where dawn is kissed
                                               without heat and cities gleam
like pearls.
                                                    Jealous morning. Who stole
my dreams. Which took from me
                                                                old men and families
                            strolling that unfamiliar promenade
as I calculated velocities,
                            angles, routes
                                                                                                    of escape, while
the truck drove into us exploding.
                            I believed all the experts, who said
that in her own dreams
                                                    the dreamer couldn’t die.
Put away the pictures—they never show the face
in the mirror. The sun was in my eyes
                                            when I was beautiful.


Song & Error by Averill Curdy

Barnes and Noble



Averill Curdy was born in the Pacific Northwest, where she worked as an arts administrator and in the software industry. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rona Jaffe Foundation, among others, and her poems have appeared widely in both the United States and England. She lives in Chicago and teaches at Northwestern University.

Ange Mlinko was born in Philadelphia in 1969. Educated at St. John’s College and Brown University, she has spent most of her adult life in New York, and has also lived in Ifrane, Morocco, and Beirut, Lebanon. Mlinko’s previous books include Matinées, Starred Wire, and Shoulder Season. She has received the Poetry Foundation’s Randall Jarrell Award in Criticism and currently teaches in the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two children.

Read all of our Poetry Month coverage here