I Heard a Fly Buzz…, by Stephanie Pressman

I Heard a Fly Buzz…
           Cento composed of single lines and phrases from poems
           in the Debut Collection of The Best American Poetry 1988
by Stephanie Pressman

Do you know that flies can distinguish color?
If you ask them where they first find the edges
of each other’s bodies, where everything
has its limit, including sorrow, where hell gradually
notches up toward paradise, where everyone I know
is drowning trying to escape some island. and what
were the family of four eating? what the cool
tomato cubes forming a rosette around this central olive
have to do with love and happiness? no one else will
ever listen so well.

What if I did not mention death to get started?
What if I was mute wood? Now I am dead I sing
that the blue is not the sky but a terrible sea
surrounded by a house we can not wholly retain in memory,
which doesn’t make sense to me—especially
with stories. The room’s a cradle, or an ark;
the simple contact with a wooden spoon, and the word
slides through my life like dimes. I’m always scared. Aren’t
I the one who held the box underwater, freeing
the one who had been animal? I reject purple
bathrooms with purple soap in them, sharp eyes
and index-finger landing pads. The streets are filled
with cryers crying to multitudes of kindled selves.

Don’t you see how necessary it is to be around
mute things as easy to pity as to fear, yet springing
in cracks, placed in planes—mental wards scratching
past the breaking point, muttered legless? Even
from this distance, the chasm is widening, the room
grows huge. I kiss your old and new wounds.
The idea of hunger, never enough; the calculations
of the engineers, to whom sunlight moves (a tiny
winged fiery tongue through the green window)
like rains on the other side of the heart: slash,
slash in the woods, legs chilled. Shifts and splinters.
Blood on the black brick. Mute, illicit girls cowering
under eaves.

I was asleep. And there I was, without an alibi, in the middle
of the softened reflection of a truck in a bakery window.
Suddenly I heard the car across the street call my name.

Getting lost was once adventure, twinkles of something
not normally shown, balancing books by lizard light,
grabbing an old man’s hat off. Brisk flesh. Beauty
and age strutting and shuffling, swimming to the highest
hunger. Mayonnaise in a refrigerator door, my cup
being on top of the other cup. Now harps are cold
and fingers numb, feet bandaged with the lint
of old sheets, my elbow like a piece of macaroni.
My parlor palm is dying, frond by yellowing frond.
To finish my figure, today must be a blank.

We must fix our compass,
from which, in time, unthinkably we rose.
I breathe to the immense stillness at my side;
you can see me here; I’m covered from head to toe
with deep root systems, darkness and lust,
a slashed melody of small shrugs, all by myself
to weep a tear of wood, the cold containment of the moon
an expanse human-faced flies are trying to cross.


A group I attend takes The Best American Poetry of the year, analyzes and uses poems to generate work. Early this year, because it was reprinted as an anniversary edition in 2018, we used the 1988 edition. We were underlining our favorite lines from each poem, and I decided to create a cento using most of the lines I had culled. This poem is the result. The two lines about flies (opening and closing), found in different poems in the anthology, begged me to use Emily Dickenson’s line as a title.

Stephanie Pressman earned an MA in English from San Jose State University, taught writing at community college, and became a graphic artist and owner of her own design and publishing business, Frog on the Moon. An active member of Poetry Center San Jose since its founding, she served as co-editor and layout artist of cæsura. She also co-edited americas review. Her work has appeared in many journals including Bridges, cæsura, CQ/California State Poetry Quarterly, and Montserrat Review. Her long poem Lovebirdman appears in an illustrated volume published in June, 2018 (available on Amazon).

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