Monthly Archives: July 2012
Snug as a Gun
Relatively often, apropos of nothing,
the fact of my death launches itself
through my brain. A hard word-capsule
propels through the pinkish folds, moving
like a bullet through gelatinous liver,
parting the flesh of cerebral cortex
on its long journey to my brain-stem,
the blood-fed basal root where body joins soul.
I have to let it out, somehow,
allow it to pass, allow it some damage,
a bow-wave, anything to get through
this moment when facts are not made of words.
Death shoots from my mouth
while I’m chopping my salad.
Bad aim; it surfaces where my husband
can hear from his perch on the mind-colored couch.
Meant for me, it injures him;
morethan a little superfluous bleeding.
A trigger, compressed, compulsive,
launches towards his heart.
Nine-year-old shoulders pinned
by the spattered forepaws
of my Dalmatian, I submitted
to a cleaning. His cheese-scented
tongue alternately flicked and lingered
over cloth and skin, sluicing out
the crevices where flesh met flesh
and caught the tag ends of my stench.
He stripped away the human
with the teeth he had flattened
chewing rocks in the yard, nibbling
away the fallen hairs at my nape,
grooming my ears as his long-gone
ancestors would have primped
their pups after the wee babies
decimated the feast of regurgitated
deer-meat the wolves had spread
before the gaping mouth of their den.
It occurred to me that I
was something like Daniel;
at home with the inhuman.
Opening the seal at the bone-end
of a three-day fast, the sensible
priests expected mere ribbons.
They had not counted
between lion and God.
Daniel found himself in darkness,
wedged between two forces
each, in their own way, more real
than himself. In such times and places
there is no room for fear of death;
your path is laid for one or the other.
A sensible person would lie
with neither, and so freeze
in the dark.
From a distance, seen from
a little behind and above the left
shoulder, a priest could not tell
love and mauling apart.
When I was nine years old I spent
most Saturdays with my grandparents.
Talking with Nana in her open kitchen
as she rolled her lardy scone-like biscuits
out on the yellow pine-board island.
As they gilded themselves in her black
high oven, we sat on the wrought iron
porch couch looking out at the yard.
She sipped her coffee and gestured
at the small concrete pool, shaped
like a shell, that stood beneath
the spreading lemon-scented magnolia.
A small naked boy relieved himself
into the brackish water, his tiny concrete
penis stirring the raccoon scat left behind
their late-night ablutions. I will never
understand the Victorians.
My nana blew steam away from the cup
and said, in an afterthought, ‘Tonight
would be perfect, if I had some frogs.
I so love their music. It’s almost like singing.’
In the very early morning, before church,
while the sky was still dark and my grandfather
had already selected the roses he left every day
by the phone for his wife, we got into the car
and drove to Desoto. Three miles from the house,
a small mangrove park, the very place (a small
placard assured us) that the conquistadores
had landed, dragging their horses and armor
through thick clouds of mosquitoes, sky-clawing
roots, and endless rich-scented mud.
My grandfather walked three loops
around the boardwalk, scattering
hermit crabs that scuttled slowly away
from his feet. They were still so cold.
So were the frogs, or the several
I gathered. Fat and blinking, they barely
stirred their long legs as I shoved them
into my empty can of Maxwell’s coffee,
when I had enough, close packed but still
able to move relatively comfortably,
I closed the perforated plastic lid.
The dawn fully rose and we slid back
into the Buick, leather seats springy
against my bare legs. I was unused
to opulence, easily distracted, we talked
about Jacob and his love for a woman
he had to work hard for. Past the trees
that my grandfather shaped into topiary cones,
the car reseated itself into the garage. We went
in to breakfast. Grits I could not touch, sausages
I could, buttered toast, fried apples, last night’s
biscuits, a sole scrambled egg. A quick bath
downstairs, after which Nana ran her nose
down my left arm to ensure my use of soap.
I got dressed quickly, in yellow starched
so thoroughly by my foster-mother that it burned
against my skin like a Medea-made shirt. Back
in the car, rear seated this time; I fell asleep
on the drive. It took forty-minutes.
After the service, when the sun had baked
on the cars for three hours, I went home
with my father, crammed with my siblings
in the rear of his used two-door, sky-blue, Mitsubishi.
I fell asleep then, too, wedged between the back
of Dad’s chair and the burning hot wall.
I woke with a fever, spent two days curled
on the floor with my dogs, reverted to t-shirts
and short-pants. I vaguely knew that Nana had called,
I remember my dad speaking, apologizing,
he hung up the phone, laughing.
It was years before she mentioned it to me,
though the next time I drove with her
in her plush car I wondered about that
terrible smell. The frogs I gathered for her
had died in the trunk, doubly cooked
by the lid and their metal can. It was
three days before my grandfather found
them. They never did get rid of the smell.
Afterwards things progressed between
us in much the same way that they always had;
but Nana was a little more careful with
the things that she told me. She knew the limits
of my love. I had wanted, for a time,
to be a veterinarian; ignorant
of my tendency for mutilation.
Nana was very supportive when
my vocation came upon me,
and I turned my hand to this.
We are servants of the bloody goddess,
the one who emerged, drawn by hippocampus,
from the white froth, salt-scented
that edged the stinging sea.
We serve the goddess who was a gift,
dual edged, who rode in, balanced
on a skeletal clam, hovering on the
soft foam detritus of rotted fish
the last protein remnants
of drowned men. In Chaucer
she is standing, spine straight
on a bower of corpses who came
willingly, with their eyes open,
knowing what she was, underneath
all that soft, white flesh. They could smell
the dead-fish stench,
her perfume, wafting up from between
well-turned legs; see the flakes
of bone lodged in her waving hair,
and that smile, downturned,
so innocent, that hints at malice.
They ignored, as we do, all those
warning signs, the intuitions, megrims.
Is it any wonder that the symptoms
are the same? Our hearts, sped up
to bursting, rapid breathing,
sweaty palms, all of those embarrassing
fluids, and still, we call out for it,
ignoring the consequences,
ignoring the bones, our hands
outstretched and grasping,
hungry for a climax.
This is what I remember;
the sky was that unearthly shade
of blue, ground from a stone
and painted atop a field of gold leaf,
so that it seemed underlit with light.
The grass had not been mown yet,
each Augustine blade rose veined
from the earth. The stone house
seemed a natural thing, something
found, a mountain or mesa,
rather than planted, like the oaks
that framed it, spreading their arms.
It was one of those moments
when I could forget what I was.
It was Saturday, a week before
my fourteenth birthday. I had spent
the morning in the print-shop, casting
lead die for the press. Even back then
I loved working with words.
Returning for lunch, I heard
the shouts of the crew, the saw,
the edgers, ready to cut. Passing
the boiler shed I noted the door.
Open. I heard laughter.
I walked a little faster.
Josh was standing, blond and broad
shouldered, in the centre
of a loose adolescent circle.
The whip-cord edger head downward,
brushing his ankle like St. George’s blade.
He must have heard me coming,
turning to me with the loose smile
I have always fallen for, the one
my husband flashed many years later,
the day that we met. Josh waved
his friends aside, to let me in.
Against the grass, the sky,
the blood was vivid.
China-red, laid under with gold.
The kittens I had hidden
were partially flayed,
spines laid out like necklaces
on a carpet of fur.
The gray one that would not
take the breast was missing
part of its skull. I had fed it
with my fingers. I don’t know how,
but when it saw me its mouth opened.
Air bubbled from the gash
in its throat when it tried to cry.
Josh turned to me, smiling, so young
and healthy. I remember his smell.
Few people were kind. I tasted
the sno-cone he had bought me
behind the closed school,
so sweet and so cold.
The tips of my fingers tingled.
This is what I remember;
waking up some time later,
my right shoulder strained,
a gash on my jaw. Blood
dried on my face, an ache
in my neck, flecks of human
teeth embedded in the flesh
of my knuckles. I drew them out,
later, when I had almost forgotten
the shade of that sky.
The shade of his eyes.