Navel Song; Biblio-Love Songs; Mahler over Marietta

Lydia McDermott

Navel Song


In her womb she held a snake, coiled and resting,

rattle-tail twitching at that moment

in dreams when snakes fall.


She held her navel.


In her womb she held a poem, a secret poem

with sharp edges like metal

that grew and grew inside her.

In her womb she held a dead thing, weighing

her down.

In her womb she held a gun, just in case.

In her womb she held a book of history forgotten,

history untold, history never

to resurface.

In her womb she held a snake writhing upward.


She held her navel

and breathed deeply.         


In her womb she held a child that wiggled

and tickled inside her.

In her womb she held a sun, cauterizing

the night, burning bright.

In her womb she held seven wonders and seven

evils, constantly fighting.

In her womb she held a world, spinning

and breaking inside her.

In her womb she held a snake, coiling around

her, squeezing tight.


She held her navel

and caressed.


In her womb she held her father, shrunken

and smiling, poking her belly

with the tip of his pipe.

In her womb she held her lover, curled up

with no place to put his penis.

In her womb she held a phantom, angry and red,

In her womb she held your fear, dark and empty.

In her womb she held a snake, hissing

up her spine.


She touched her hand to her navel

and laughed.



Biblio-Love Songs.




Gypsy bibiomaniacs, when we travel,            

we fill the hatchback with books

that we may need

at any moment.


(I take my father’s den with me wherever I go.)


I wonder if anyone peered into our car

and thought, “Those two are about to get married

in Vegas.” Could they tell afterward, when the pressure

of being your dream girl had settled

into my neck?




In Seattle, Amy said scotch tastes like cobwebs.

Drinking cobwebs could strangle you

from the inside with sticky thread, until you are just

a hard candy shell.


Brittle happens three years after grief

when you meet your future husband and want

to tell him he reminds you of your father

who was murdered by cobwebs,

but you have trouble swallowing.




I wipe my shoes on the coarse coconut mat

we dragged up three flights only to find

it doesn’t fit the entryway. It sits shedding,

jammed between our peacoats and boots.


I dream of sofas more than a person should.


Our apartment is empty

but our built-in book shelves

are overflowing, an endlessly erupting

volcano of potential teasing us

with its steam. You need this too,


though you never met my father,

never sat on the gold carpet, in orange

light, searching the shelves,

title after title,       

dogear after dogear,

for some inexplicable insight,

a light into his storied mind.



Mahler over Marietta


The main picture he had in mind when he composed this was that of
a little procession of animals mourning the death of a beloved hunter”—Derek Lim


The third movement of Mahler’s first symphony

begins as the car rounds the bend

at the bottom of a particularly large foothill:

an eerie funereal Frére Jacques. The town rises up

out of the dense sleet, the sky near

black, sleek and solid behind the little glowing

golden city of Marietta.


The third movement of Mahler’s first symphony,

striking among the regular ups and downs of major

chords, Frére Jacques in a minor key. It’s difficult

to recognize at first. I can almost see,


between the dilapidated Victorian homes snugly

fitted together, Mahler’s imagined woodland

procession twisting down from the same tree

covered foothills I am descending now:


A double-bass solo over a single tympani leads

chipmunks in mourning, followed by the rabbits,

heads bowed, pheasants circling above, ducks

and geese in solemn Vs, and laid tactfully across

the backs of two pall-bearing bucks, faces

appropriately austere, is the bright orange-vested

hunter, eyes closed, face still, gun

across his chest. Why do they mourn, Gustav?


And then the orchestra joins in the childish tune,

a moment of sun breaking

through the black hills, across the hunter’s face,

an orange glow brightening his cheeks, radiating

to encompass Marietta, Ohio—

a mute and burning god.





Lydia McDermott lives, writes, and teaches in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in Washington State. Her critical and creative work has appeared in a variety of venues and platforms.

"Each of these poems were years in the making, in part because I never feel done with a piece of writing, and in part because poems sometimes need to be left alone to stew for a while. “Navel Song” first came to me after a bout of reading Joy Harjo. I wanted to try a voice of incantation, and some version of this poem is what came out. I worked quite a bit on each image until I felt it held together as one poem. “Biblio-Love Songs” probably took the most time of these three. It began as three (or maybe four) separate, longer poems. The more I read them, the more I pared them down. The more I pared them down, the more I felt they belonged to each other. So they became one three-part poem that expresses a kind of central thread in my life, connecting my birth family to my chosen family. “Mahler over Marietta” is the easiest to explain, and actually did not take long to write. I just needed time to feel it was ready to go out on its own in the world. I was tickled by the backstory of Mahler’s First Symphony, and I was actually listening to the third movement once while driving down a steep hill on State Route 550, from Appalachian foothills, into Marietta. I just love the idea of woodland creatures mourning a hunter. To me this expresses something deeply human about our relationship to whatever we consider the divine."