Adam's Ribs

Adam's Ribs is Terry's collection of Poems published in 2008 by Off The Grid Press.

"In these poems Adams stakes his claim to be the new American Adam, and his bona fides is an eye and ear that perceive and shape with the double perception of innocence and experience. Reading Adams’ poems is like riding with him on his Harley, “footpeg scraping sparks from the concrete….”

Grid Books Cover Text

Selected poems from Adam's Ribs

Adam's Ribs

I miss how Adam's rib made me longer,

how it protected my heart from the heels of angels.

I want it back inside me, and I want a new rib

from each woman who began each of my lives,

and another for each woman with whom I was a first

trauma, or joy.

These new bones will stretch me and lay me down

into the first and sufficient body of the snake,

in whose form and motion I will regain the soft sheathing

which has been exiled in women. My shape

will overwhelm the design of male,

the thrust of myself become

an advancing caress, a salient of gentleness, like the tip

of a root growing with a hiss — the syllable

prefixed to all humanness.

Rather than an intrusion, all my ribs in unison

would be my legs, loving the ground,

and my soul would slip easy and warm within.

The toil of all my days will love me again.

I will turn left and right, and left again in one

motion, finding my way through and among

the rocks, carrying nothing away.

My children will crawl upon the Earth

and nest on the Earth; will increase themselves

out of their skins and give their old masks to the Earth,

over and over while still alive.

We will swallow along our whole length

and be as pregnant with our meals as with our offspring—

we for whom there would be no more longing based

on shape or absence,

who could never make with hands a thing divided

or broken from life.

Breath, in The Sun, June 1994.

They told me when I awoke to this body

each breath will taste my blood

with the tongue of every creature that has lived,

and I said yes.

And the air I breathe will be torn by rocks

abraded by fans and bruised in the factories

of steel, and I said yes.

And they said the ants have a right to this breath

as much as I, and it erases their paths

as they walk and as easily,

it erases mine.

They said my breath will read me from inside

with its licking torch as if I were a cave,

and I said yes.

And the air will carry the breathless

patience of stone and the seething heat

of asphalt and scatter me from the memories

as flickeringly as footsteps,

and I said yes,

The air will stir the wet of my body

in the ocean of bodies, and in shared bodies

of hives and cities, and in the poisons,

and I said yes,

I will breathe air that has passed through the nail holes

punched by children into jar lids

to save the lives of fireflies, and I say yes.

I will breathe the force that blows windrows

in snow, and rubs waves in the sand,

strips topsoil from farmlands

and makes the cypress cringe from the sea.

Though it is sour with dreams and loud

with sickness it will run beside my heart

like a young girl beside a horse,

it will forgive my legs for running,

and chase my mind away

from its fear, and I say yes,

I will blow into whirlwinds in the breath

of my lover, and into sea storms I will fly to be healed,

and to the vastness inside clouds I will go

for rest, and I will wash out my tears

with the mist blown from white caps,

and disperse my venom in daggers of sunlight,

and I say yes,

I will torture my vision through

with the everlasting scanning of seabirds, yes,

I will breathe each layer from the horizon,

and hush my thoughts in the deepest calm of caves,

and ripple the slow, sunken rivers, like sleep,

then whistle through blow‑holes hidden in thickets

linking the underground to the sky.

I will whisper through the perforated coinage of sewer lids,

I will lie down in hot valleys with the breath

of vegetables, and I will say yes.

I will breathe a clear cloud of silk around my heart,

and wear a frayed scarf of fire,

I will breathe what determines the path

of falling feathers,

and blows the snow from the seared summits

of mountains. I will stay trapped

a thousand years in a tomb until a mouse will free me.

I will blow a cloud on the final mirror

of the dying, before the cistern of silence cracks,

and I will make a quick slate

for fingers shouting behind cold glass,

saying yes.

Pietà , in Poetry, September 1991

The son sits on the edge of the

bed; always the other is tucked in:

the mother who is going to die

that night refuses the son’s

goodnight kiss, thinking the cause

communicable. Thirty years later

the son is there again, suddenly

seeing his daughter as too beautiful

and vulnerable at fourteen

to kiss or touch in this place.

The one not kissed thinks she is bad

or he is angry, feels for no reason

she is dying, or he is dying

and won’t say.

The Touching, in Poetry, February, 1991

I did not pull away in time

for this to be a bump

and he did not react quickly enough

so we are stuck with my knee touching the tip

of his elbow.

I can’t think about anything else

and I can’t seem afraid or aware and he

must not pull away as if

he wanted to pull away

because I would wonder why.

I listen for the weather of the room, the rhythm

in the floor, the color in the iris

of the middle distance

to provide a distraction, so I can leave

with no reason,

as with no reason I came together

with my brother and

for fear stayed attached

until freed.

Antique Lace, in The Best Of Writers at Work, 1995

My stepdaughter called me into the musty back

of the antique clothes shop;

she had a lace bodice clamped to her sides

with her elbows, like a split cocoon.

She asked me to button her.

At that moment I thought this was

the exact limit, the tips of my fingers

almost touching her, the bodice gathering

her breasts tighter with each white button

I worked into its white loop.

Then she turned with her face level with mine,

her beauty there in her eyes, and said

next time her boyfriend would do that.

A month later she took me to dinner, reached

for my hand, dug her nails into the backs

of my fingers and told me

it had happened, and it was wonderful.

She knew I could not move.

She squeezed harder and said it hurt like fire,

like needles, and when I knew what she wanted,

when I closed my eyes, bowed my head

and turned half away, she said

it hurt just like that.

Linotype, in Ironwood, the final issue, Summer/Fall 1988

My copyboy guide walked me down the vibrating stairs,

and further down,

into the stomping shuffle-clatter of rolling presses

in the basement of the TIMES, where the words

of my father shook the earth, spewed sparks and oilrags,

in the inked hands of pressmen in railroad caps,

heaving at levers, shouting

with hand signals in the bedlam. Barrels of ink,

rolls of paper big enough to roll me right out;

the blurred belt of news careening, taut across rollers

like a demented, captive worm-bird;

the conveyor-stream, with every hundredth folded paper saluting.

This is where his words took on the strength of pounding metal,

the certainty of riveted bracing I-beams,

welded wheels, grinding truth

off the abrading paintless concrete floor.

His description of the world reeling, fork lifted out into the trucks

that huffed and lumbered off

into the dawn of Indianapolis alleys. The folded-out

photos of naked women wherever a wall was bare,

between pica charts riddled with ink-blood.

And looming above all of this in the heart of the pressroom,

the Linotype machine,

like a mountain of gasping typewriters and gut-shot jukeboxes,

whose inventor, they told me later, went insane;

and the operator dwarfed at his blazing keyboard

who turns half way toward me in his chair,

who bends way down to my ear

and screams through all of this “spell me your name!”

So then I screamed myself out,

letter by breathless letter into this ear with the hair

bristling out, and way around back of the machine,

a minute later, from the unimaginable tumble of precision arms,

pinions, vats of oil, flapping of shelves, and noise and heated air,

my name comes to me,

my name comes right out to me

wet and warm and shining with fame,


The Natural Arc

A graph of the equation of dread

on the x axis,

versus necessity on the y —

ant trail along a door sill

won’t go straight,

it bellies inward at all mysteries,

a post, or a corner,

like the drape of a spider web.

One straggler-ant

is always distracted with the job

of divination, or memory —

Did we miss anything over here?

Or here? The ant-stream goes

both directions always,

saying this time we are up to strawberries —

veer a little to the left,

wobble to the right, saying

let me feel what you remember,

and I will go the way

you came.

Praise for Adams Ribs

Terry Adams’s poems dazzle with their keen expressiveness and perfect lines. They do more than dazzle: they get inside you and stir the emotions by rendering his personal encounters with the living and the dying precisely, unsparingly, plainly, unmanipulatively...

—Phyllis Koestenbaum, author of Doris Day and Kitschy Melodies

In Adam’s Ribs, Terry Adams makes a not-so-subtle claim to be the new American Adam. I’d say wholeheartedly that he succeeds. His voice is both gritty and dreamy, and it gets in your ear surreptitiously like the jazz he writes so eloquently about.

Adams is a poet of blue states as well as red; of carburetors, condensers and rotors, as well as of menstruation; of the dug-out listening post outside Da Nang, as well as of the Rodin Garden. His Adamic power is perhaps most evident in “Linotype,” where he catalogues rolling presses, pressman in railroad caps, barrels of ink, rolls of paper, fork-lifted newspapers, and finally, a linotype of his own name, coming to him backwards “wet and warm and shining with fame.” May this distinguished first book shine with fame.

Ann Neelon, author of Easter Vigil

Adams has paid close attention to red-hot emotional moments frozen in time. His characters bump into one another or, more often, take leave of one another, and his narratives and incantations are charged with a wistfulness quite unique, given the current literary scene.

—James Reiss, author of Riff on Six: New and Selected Poems

Terry Adams has put together a fine collection, poems that etch themselves into our minds by virtue of their powerful and sometimes astonishing images, their often-risky subject matter, their angled approach, their tone of contemplation and yearning.

—Chitra Divakaruni, author of Mistress of Spices