Author Archives: Bethany W Pope

Fun With Forms: Double Acrostic Heroic Sonnet Crowns

 

Ok, on to the sonnets.

 

Constructing a Double-Acrostic Heroic Sonnet Crown is easier than it sounds once you have deconstructed the process into a series of steps. We should begin with a definition of the form, I assume that if you are reading this you are familiar with the basics of sonnet-writing. A traditional Heroic Sonnet Crown is constructed of fifteen linked sonnets contributing to the same story or theme. Because I am a narrative writer I prefer to use the form to explore character and story in a way that leads the reader from point A to B in linear time. In a Heroic Crown fourteen of the sonnets are written in the traditional manner and the fifteenth is composed of the first lines of the previous fourteen sonnets laid out in order (hopefully in a way that leaves you with a coherent poem).

 

A Double-Acrostic Heroic Sonnet Crown follows the same pattern with the added embellishment of an acrostic that runs down both the left and right sides of the poem, a secret message which adds extra levels of challenge and depth for both the poet and the reader.

 

Once you have settled on this form, finding an appropriate subject to fill it with is another matter entirely. It is more difficult than one would think-though I will venture to suggest that extended narratives work best so long as you break the story down into 14 sections before beginning and save the fifteenth sonnet (comprised of the first lines of the previous fourteen poems) for a revelatory summary of events.

 

Usually when I am writing a DAHSC I begin with the fifteenth sonnet, the Jewel, and construct a 28 character acrostic that will provide the theme and enable the jewel to stand out like an amethyst in a pendant. Here is an example of the double-acrostic jewel that I wrote for a DAHSC that I am working on right now:

 

Summer in Kansas is slow dehydration. I

Undo the straps of leather sandals. There is grass

Mashed into the tired treads. The corpses of field

Mice dry. They panted to death on liquefied tarmac. The

Entire family fits in here, or seems to. A

Righteous man in a righteous church, my father cannot

Include the foulest child he spawned, grease-haired with

No ability to wash. She takes refuge in a

Kind memory that will not last. A girl, too thin,

Arms extended for the body of a child on the road.

No one notices the small, gold handcuffs.  The lad

Seems happy, innocent.  The rotten church you

Attempt to serve, the foul, the wounded who spread this

Suffering through a state that reeks like a dead rat.

 

There are a few things to notice here. I knew what the story was going to be when I began and since I had settled on the outcome I had a pretty good idea about the theme that I would follow. This enabled me to create the 28-letter stand-alone double acrostic ‘Summer in Kansas is Death and Dust.’ A hint- words like ‘love’ or ‘shove’ should be avoided since if they fall on the left side of the acrostic you will have to use the word ‘Shiv’ a lot since it is one of the only words in English that end in ‘V’. I found this out the hard way. Thankfully, there is usually use for a word meaning ‘knife’ in a poem about love. Using lined paper I blocked out the letters in two columns bracketing the paper so that it looked like this:

S                                                                                                          I

U                                                                                                         S

M                                                                                                         D

M                                                                                                         E
E                                                                                                          A
R                                                                                                          T
I                                                                                                           H
N                                                                                                         A
K                                                                                                         N
A                                                                                                         D
N                                                                                                         D
S                                                                                                          U
A                                                                                                         S
S                                                                                                          T

 

Once I had created the frame I could weave the story in around it, training it like a vine through a trellis. The most difficult part was creating a workable narrative that could also function as the beginning line in and of itself.

 

Once I have the story and the jewel I am ready to get started. It is much easier to frame the crown from start to finish at this point rather than tackling it one sonnet at a time, after all, you already have your map, you know where you are going. There isn’t any need to go groping in the dark. For the sake of brevity, I will give one example of a sonnet grown from a jewel.

 

This is the first sonnet in the DAHCS:

 

1.

 

Summer in Kansas is slow dehydration. I

Opened the garage door and met the bright burn.

My face felt like pork crackling, a tic, tic, tic,

Eerily like oil popping in a pot, which

Taught me the taste of my own sweat. A fat white grub,

Incandescent, dried to a curl in the driveway. You

Might not believe me, but I loved the feel of this fear,

Earthy as it was. These long walks served to burn

Some of my more metaphysical terrors

Entirely out of me. Returning after miles, I

Very strongly stank of adolescent hormones, of

Earthworms baked in a stone oven, my hair so oiled the

Rank sweat scalp-fluid stained my neck. Yes, this was a

Year of decomposition for me. Forced exhaustion. Fear.

 

As you can see, it shares a first line with the jewel. The second sonnet in the series begins, ‘Undo the straps of leather sandals. There is grass’ and the third, ‘Mashed into the tired treads, the corpses of field’. Because the first lines of these sonnets are already written your acrostics are limited and defined by the letters that appear every fourteen lines.

 

Since I knew that the first letter in my double-acrostic would have to be ‘S’ and the fifteenth ‘I’, I was able to construct a double acrostic that not only made sense, it moved the story forward. I chose, ‘Sometimes every inch burns, I fear’. This makes more narrative sense when connected to the third, fourth, and fifth acrostics, I assure you.

 

I constructed this frame in the same way that I made the last one, but with the first line already in place so that it looked like this:

 

Summer in Kansas is slow dehydration. I

O                                                                     N

M                                                                     C

E                                                                     H

T                                                                      B

I                                                                       U

M                                                                    R

E                                                                     N

S                                                                     S

E                                                                     I

V                                                                     F

E                                                                     E

R                                                                     A

Y                                                                     R

 

Keeping the story in mind, remembering my map, I filled it in. And then I did it thirteen more times after that.

 

If you feel like a challenge, you might try an ‘Emperor’s Crown’. This is a form constructed of three linked Acrostic Heroic Crowns (a single acrostic in this instance, running down the right side of the poems), an example of which is found in my second book Crown of Thorns, available HERE

Orphans

Orphans

Half a year in this shelter proved too much for me.
In times of great stress I learned to move inward,
into worlds that I created or borrowed from books.
My body ambulated as usual, untenanted,
doing whatever was expected of it
from milking cows to mathematical equations.

I spent a lot of my limited free time, then,
in undergrowth, conversing with the tree-roots
and breathing in the sour stench of cedar mulch.

Pain blurred to a smudge of smoke
in the distance and my eyes retreated
beyond the mask I learned to give them.

Tallon used my pain to prove her reality,
my blood to give tongue to her ghosts;
if she could force a reaction from me, weigh herself
in tears or bone-shards, it was for her an affirmation.
When I fed my heart in brain-generated green pastures,
my eyes staring through her, she did not exist.
We were nearly parasitic.

Towards the end I could vanish, leave my body
a sack that I watched from the shade of an invisible oak
that floated in the high left corner of our bedroom,
near the quilted paste-board celling,
behind her naked left shoulder.

Once I had gained the knack of it
she untranced me only once.
Weeping, her pert nose
spouting green, frustrated mucous,
she tore my fluid-slick body
from the bed and dragged it
by the freshly regrown hair
across the threshold to the toilet.

A boys room originally,
the walls were lined with urinals
that had since been transformed
into pots for young ferns.
She lifted the plants out
and lay my head into the bowl
which lipped around my neck
as comfortably as the sink in a hairdressers.

The stink of her urine
pulled me down from my perch.
There are few things as blinding
as an ammonia eye-wash.
I sputtered and choked,
with banshee-like shrieking.

When my eyes cleared enough
to make the room visible, I saw
that my dark twin was crying with me,
her relief and my agony were equally matched.

The place where Story is

The Place Where Story Is

I go down again, through the parting in the bracken,
A fox in a hole, past the tangled roots, the rotten,
Feeding bodies of skeleton mice,
The occasional skull, down where light
Shrinks to a pinpoint flicker against bedrock
And even the taproots have ceased their struggle
As cisterns. I go down beyond agate,
Past still forests of fossilised ferns where dragons
Lie in classical frieze and our oldest races
Run gape-mouthed to socketed dust.

I breathe air lain dormant for eons,
Taste the cool mineral scent on my tongue
Until my scrabbling fingers are frozen,
The nail-beds bloody, cuticles torn,
And I taste death in my lead-powdered mouth.
My shoulders scrape against the shrinking
Corridor of rock, blades worn free of their false sheath,
Protruding like the rotten wings of Hel
The daughter of Loki, she who ministers,
Guarding the passage between living and dead.

A sharp, hot pain.
The sound of air, escaping
From rib-punctured lung.
And still I move forward,
Lubricated by the loss of skin,
I shunt through the passage as a child
Bursts into what mortals call life,
Landing like an angel descending, enrobed in flame,
To the place I know, the steaming jungle
At the heart of the world.

It reminds me, every time I come,
Of the subterranean forest Grimm
Described in the Twelve Dancing Princesses;
It has the atmosphere of myth,
Unsurprising since the story
Is the fruit which grows
On these diamond-leaved trees.
You must be strong to gnaw
That scintillating pulp, though it will sustain you
Better than any surface-growing fruit.

The bark is silver, the thorns are gold,
The river, not Lethe, which runs through the fields
Is wine; the water tastes of the best
Dust-bloomed grapes,
The kind you see in Renaissance paintings
Among corpses of geese.
Each time the descent makes me thirsty, I take a small sip.
Not enough for the full effect, but a drop sufficient
To wash the bone dust
From my desiccated tongue.

The air is warm here, so close to the core,
The vines grow lush and thick as kudzu,
Their fruit are human skulls,
Suspended, gaping,
From their eye sockets.
And all around are wolves,
The ghosts of foxes,
Sparrows hanging from branches,
Dark-pelted seals calling from the streams
In the voices of selkies.

There are other people,
Occasionally, looking like I do,
Bloody and war-torn, horribly dazed,
Soldiers finally come home, after long struggle,
But only on leave. We all long to stay.
The residents keep their scattered
Houses a little further in, closer to the ruler
Of this place who lives in his mansion,
Filling, slowly, his many rooms
With resuscitated souls.

This is the edge-place, the land at the border
Where Hecate walks with her bowl and her dogs.
Sometimes we talk.
We have similar features,
Seen beneath her silken veil
In spite of her smooth skin, and
My torn and ragged hide, we have
Similar appetites and influences.
I drink from her ewer, silver and red,
Words are spoken, and her largest Dalmatian

Runs for me, nosing my crotch, resting
His blood-painted nails on my shoulders,
Lapping my cheeks for affection
And the taste of salt.
The treasures I gather here,
I cannot tell you, save only
In metaphor, the occasional hint –
But you can see them, look,
I bring them shining,
Heavier than you, to this vapid light.

I fell down for you, into the pit. It was for you,
For the sake of your salvation, that I clamored back
From the place that is my home. It was for you
That I took less of a drink than what my
Thirst wanted. It is for you that, when my body
Has rested, my lungs cleared, my skin grown
Thick and strong again, I shall plunge back
And leave, as coin of passage,
In Hecate’s bright bowl, a red throbbing piece
Of my own living heart.

Trying a new form..

Parakeet

Convinced by a book that the world was ending, expecting any day
to be blasted to bits by a hurtling meteorite- she never thought
of surviving- the girl stopped cleaning the cage that the little bird lived in
so that the white-and-green guano built up high towers. She filled
the food and water once, at the start of the story, but the pressure built
along with plot and by the time the great stone landed she was
slashed by daily whippings that blighted her buttocks and went
unnoticed by the world, covered as they were by coarse shorts.
After the first shock of impact, when the paycheck cleared, the sores
healed, and groceries were bought, the sky fell, then blanked. She saw
at once that the drinking trough was dry and lined with cuttlefish bone
dust shaved from the beak grinder. The dish was full of seed-husks,
and those beautiful green feathers she hung her little flying dreams on,
were still on the floor and fetid with muck.

A snippet from my take on Beowulf

Grendel

Fiercest foe, product of envy, a gut-fire flared
at the sight of treasures it sought but could never secure.
Music, wealth, gilt halls were agony
to the scaled creature, Cain’s child,
which lopped from its home in the mire of the mine.

The iron-latticed doors were nothing to Grendel.
Gold-edged copper hinges bent beneath claws.
In shadowy silence, he entered the court-hall,
the satchel of immutable dragon-hide flapped empty,
hungry for meat, beside his long thigh.

In the darkness his heart sought Hrothgar,
like calling like, as Cain called Abel to the kill-stone.

His terrible claw closed around a Geat’s tough side,
clamped down hard, splintering the bone-cage
of a mail-clad man who perished without a lone escaping cry.

Beowulf’s eyes were sharp in the darkness.
He sprung awake at the sound of splintering as shards
and gobbets gorged the throbbing throat of Grendel,
sinking flesh to the gullet that never felt fed.

The greatest of men slunk to the slick side
of the gibbering monster.
The strongest of Geats, mother-naked,
gripped the ravening claw with hands that were tough,
but terribly human.

He caught the claw in an armlock, drawing it back
so that the bones cracked, his thighs tight round the waist
of the thrashing tyrant that shuddered and thrust
around the hall against the hard hold of the man.

Locked together in struggle so great
that the mead-benches broke free from the floor,
scattering lamps, food scraps, lovely wrought platters
and the spent carpet of rushes flit their filth to the air.

Cain’s son, the shadow of Hrothgar,
shunted his own breaking body into the wall
in an effort to slake his enemies endless
thirst for combat or at the least leave the brains
of the Geat smeared on the oak beams,
scattering skull shards
at the talons that tipped his horned feet.
A fatty feast to fill his bowels.

But Beowulf held on, and his armed men were up now,
seeking to prod the pale bestial belly
with the etched blades of their swords,
spilling guts everywhere.

They could not strike clearly without risking their captain,
but their distraction served long enough
for the undaunted noble to strengthen his hold.

Beowulf sunk his bright beard between
the beasts broad shoulders, straining,
he focused his strength so that the room was filled
with a terrible shrieking, the sound of torn muscles
and air meeting the bright knob
which once fit into its matched socket of bone.

Blood shower, bone flecks, the red meat of the shoulder,
rained down on the man who clutched detached claw in his arms.
The Great Geat held his trophy up
as his triumph rang around the hall,
it was the treasure he was seeking.

Pouring blood, gore-socket weeping his life
into the dog-licked rushes, Grendel slunk out,
reeling, to die in his hole.

Blood of the soil…

 

Bone Loss

 

Lifting the old lady over the horse-style,

the large, steam-breathed Clydesdale warmed my hair

with nut-scented droplets that had circulated through lungs,

organs, the courses of his blood.

 

The woman looked large, tyre-like rounds

visible beneath her blue anorak.

Her trail-boots danced against frost-slicked bars

without gripping. I feared the hooves.

 

My great-grandmother suffered concussion at ninety

doing something much like this- mounting a gate

with no one to help her, hoisting the bucket

of fresh cream for the butter.

 

I come from a hard breed.

Decades of dairy had gone to her head,

and thank God, the steel shoe had only grazed her.

At her age she could bear another dent.

 

Now, the Norman church was beckoning.

My husband’s grandfather had not been buried yet,

but the stones called out for praying, for preparing the earth.

 

A small open cave, perfectly formed

for ill made music, human voices singing.

Frost mapped the autumnal offerings, first harvest

of Wiltshire preserved, made solid on the altar.

Leeks, apples, cheese.

 

Life is mythology. Saints lives and fairy tales agree

that even on the path seeking something important,

under pressure of time, in the fear of getting dirty

or made somehow unclean, priority goes

to assisting the elderly. There are

compensating blessings, even unseen.

 

My fingers sank into the fat of this old lady.

She had the loose texture of still-warm meringue,

as though there were nothing solid in her

but light white summer-clouds, sunlight

held into trousers by the tight weave of cloth.

 

I lifted her easily, offering her body,

still living, bone-free and numinous,

to the hoar frosted soil.

 

 


Bone Loss II

 

It seeped out, painless, in the hot bath.

The razor slipped and there it was; alive

in the hair-clotted water, a cloud of myself.

I thought of what had gone into it.

 

Meat, primarily, consumed by me

and completely digested. Within those rusting cells,

the bones of older forms.

 

My mother’s Nordic mitochondria-

no longer independent- bonded

to a chain whose links dangle charm-portraits

of everyone I’ve been.

 

So many branched streams

feeding the sea of myself,

unwinding again in this body-heat water.

 

My thoughts go back years to a circle of graves

my third cousin showed me,

petals round a core that sprung from his land

in the centre of the pasture he kept

to feed his horses.

 

Five graves in the centre, five brothers

laid out in lines with fading stone markers

surrounded by fence my cousin kept up

like his father before him, a whole chain

going back to the ancestor son

who inherited this land.

 

I sprung from the veins of one of the others.

Outside of the fence, unmarked mounds

sprung petal-like, radial, the humps of the mothers.

 

Dark skinned, though they thought themselves Christian.

No place for them in consecrated ground.

No names either, no matter how faded.

They gave them up when they wedded those men.

 

My cousin told me that tribal lawyers

had petitioned to reclaim what was left of them.

His lawyers, better paid, won.

 

He is largely a good man, part blind like all of us.

I think that he wanted to know some of his mother,

the core of her that remains to us, undigested,

though he couldn’t have said this.

 

I would have torn down the fence,

unearthed those fragments, male and female both,

wed and mingled them there in the centre

beneath a mound like a pomegranate.

 

I would have spilled blood on them,

the steam of my breathing.

It would be interesting to note

what springs from the seeds in that earth.

 

 

Dreams I have in fever…

Under: Vixen

The face of a fox, crafted from hardened leather,
dyed yellow and red, whiskers delicately painted.
It is surprisingly heavy, thick, vivid in my fingers.

The ribbon is brown silk, matching my hair.
Tied, it vanishes in waves and soft folds of darkness.

The sockets are perfect,
touching my flesh so that the eyes
I thought I owned reveal themselves
as borrowed passage, paid in blink, in REM,
to the other, real, world.

Sometimes a mask is more true
than the thing that it covers.
A match more appropriate
to the creature in the depths,
the pulse heard beneath
a hard crust of snow.

These eyes, this unvarnished hunger,
reminds me of buried things
both witnessed and read.

A vixen on the hunt,
flesh and blood steaming holes
in a white wash above the arctic circle.
Snow covers everything like gesso,
the canvas only ever seeming blank.

Her movements are fluid, more sure than the world.
Her wet nostrils twitch, somehow unfrozen,
to catch the living scent.

The narrative voice couldn’t tell me
why she aligns herself this way,
her body falling to crouch, teeth aimed-
every time- at magnetic North.

She feels the thrum of blood
beneath the snow-crust, a life
lived unseen to pluck from the earth.

Her lips twitch back in pleasure,
the shared grin of bitches.
In a flicker of an eyelid,
compressed tension relaxed,
she dives beneath the cover of the world.

A black hole, made like her children
with the heat, the force of her body,
stares up from the cold.

Abyss, dark and beautiful,
calling out to the nothingness of white.
The death wish, the plummet,
drawing me with her.

More time passes, filled
with the questions, the terror,
of waking before she emerges,
claws scraping, her fur smoking the air,

triumphant with her mouth full of blood
and the sacred matter of the unbroken heart.

Entitlement

In The Auction House- London

I came in with no means for buying-
false pretenses, possibly, but a hunger
to look that was unabashed and genuine.

I walked on a carpet more elaborate
than anything seen outside a museum.
Soft, so soft through my soles.
Thin Arabic deer giving milk to their foals
delicate, repetitive nurslings
run round a red field.

In the centre, tagged for bidding,
a gold ormolu desk two hundred years old.

Gilt angles play pillar to a top of leather
as old as my nation, still unbelievably soft.
My fingers thirsted for it
with something like lust,
imagining the poems.

I had not been planning to touch,
but my clothes, my presence here,
lent me the right to it.
I rifled the drawers.

On the centre of the desk
stood a stand of elephant ivory.
It was elaborately carved
in a white-mans idea of the tribal,
specially made for the thing
that nested atop it.

The thing was an egg,
the same familiar colour and shape
as the white hens eggs in my kitchen,
a full foot tall, half-inch of shell,
porous as orange skin, hard as slate,
cracked all over, rehinged in glue from 1701.

I knew what it was,
I had seen pictures in books.
The Elephant Bird, an eight foot tall,
mighty thighed monster.
An eater of men.

I saw a painting once,
head bald like a vultcher,
saurian eye, serrated jaw
that might be a beak
in the same way
that my eye-tooth is a tusk.

The picture I saw
featured a leaf-adorned native,
standing calm beside it,
whose head rose to the level
of the claw-ended wings.

Such a thing overlapped, once, with us.
Such a creature fed on our red flesh,
and we fed on it.

It would have been a noble act
to plunge your spear-tipped arm
into its bowels, blood to the elbow.

It would have been an honor to die
in the struggle, that unchickenlike beak
driven into your brain like an inescapable thought.

The last one was shot by a hunter
a few years before the glue
which patched this specimen
was cooked by a servant.

He had no idea what he had done.
He couldn’t have. He was a nobleman
with no concept of knighthood.

He saw a dragon that could be slayed
without sweating. He took aim
and fired.

Tomorrow, people whose banks say
that they are worth more than a small nation
will raise a paddle for this sliver of history.

They will bear their trophy home,
as if they had earned it.
Mount it high on a shelf.

They will imagine that they own it,
that they posses it, that they own
anything at all any more
than I own this body
or the thoughts that inhabit it.

They will have no idea
of what passed through our hands.
What treasures we lose
with the easiest motions.

Rabbits, rats, and toothless Welsh vets…

Rat

At three years old, near the end of his life,
my rat developed subdermal fatty tumors
the size of jellybeans scattered at intervals
beneath his glossy chestnut fur.

They slid around under his loose skin,
tenuously connected
to any tissue not themselves.
They caused him no pain.

The vet I brought him to was an old Welshman
with an upper jaw that was tooth-smooth
and blank gummed when I first knew him.

He tried to save the rabbit kitten
I found in a shrub, a scrap of pelt
and raw hard bones that died shivering.

I knew he was good when he flipped the blank-eyed,
still-breathing body over, spread the hind legs
and pointed towards the odd, human-like vagina.

‘Female.’ His hands were white-knuckled,
furred with clear hairs. ‘She’ll not last long.’

And then he nursed her
with milk from a dropper
to prove himself wrong.

Now I took my rat out from the gray pocket
of the cheap hoodie I wore above my liquid skirts.
I set him on the table and watched
him sniff cautiously around the metal edge,
his fastidious hands and small brain encompassing
the brave new world he found himself in
that smelled so strong of prey and predators.

The vet had found some teeth somewhere,
a loose plate, he sucked them with a sound
that was startlingly old-fashioned.
Discovering past flavors.

My rat ran right to him,
stepped into that wide, flat palm.
The old man palpated a tumor.
Slid the soft shape beneath the skin.

‘He’s three years old and near the end of it.’
The vet stroked where my pet most liked it,
instinct drawing the nail to the gleaming patch
between translucent pink ears.

‘I could take them out, but that would hurt
more than heal him. You’ve done well, Bach.
He’s run a good span.’

I felt like it was God speaking.
It felt like God. The judgment,
the longed for compliment.
Acceptance of past failures
washed in redemption.

My rat came, reluctantly,
back to my hand.

‘The next stage is less pleasant.
There will be ulcers. They will smell very bad,
swell up quite large, obstructing his movement.

‘When they dry and have thoroughly hardened
you will be able to ease his pain,
if you choose to, by opening a scratch
with a heated pin, piercing the core
of it, and drawing it out.’

The vet looked at me,
implacable slate-eyes impossibly warmed.

‘The spent pustule will smell terrible,
like spoiled cheese. It will have that consistency.
The drawing out will hurt him.
But afterwards there will be relief. For a time.’

A few weeks later the first wound formed
large beneath the pit of a bird-bone leg,
balking hands he needed as much as I needed
my own to scribble out verses.

I waited a few days. Pierced it.
My rat struggled, trusting me enough
to refrain from biting as I loosed the core.

It did smell terrible,
but the arm could move again,
for a time, freely.
I flushed the white knob down the toilet.

Afterwards he licked the blood from my fingers.
Added to his den a few shed strands of my hair.
For a while, he lived.

Animals.

Sex Without Love

My father built the green platform tree house
high in the parched straggle leafed oak.
A square Robin-Hood nest
with the live trunk in the centre,
supported by thick radial branches
that sprung from that heart.

I lay flat on my bare stomach,
tanning through leaves around the edge
of my briefs, my grass-colored swimsuit.
My brown hair spun and raveled with leaves,
narrow face buried in the bright skin of an orange,
cheeks sticky and clotted with pulp.

Across the aluminum chain link fence,
in the neighbors razor-burned yard
(they sliced the trees at the root for easier mowing)
between the blue wound
of the above-ground pool
and the feculent, fish crowded river,
a cluster of mongrels put on a show.

My chest was bare and cagey with ribs,
flat little-girl nipples still five years from breasts
kissed the splintery pine boards.
The left one, grooved like the slit of a flat-headed screw,
burned with an ant bite that raised
to a pustule and longed for scratching.

I slouched forward on arms
hard and gray at the elbows,
lost in the fight.

The bitch stood still and panting
in the packs hot centre,
a white pit-bull mix with strong teeth exposed.

Her vagina, blood-swelled, puffy
as lips padded with collagen,
or the site of a particularly vicious infection.
As the males writhed and bit each other,
pouncing, rolling, exposing their tender bellies
and bright red erections,
she whined and whined for satisfaction.

For me, the fighting was the best part.
The impersonal violence, the sudden blood.
The way gaps opened at the throats of the rivals,
ears, flopping, black, erect, tattered like silk
slicked over with water. The barks and the howls.

Even my Dalmatian wanted in on this hunger,
though he was neutered.
His empty scrotum hung like a slack cold purse
flapping behind his penis
which pushed like new lipstick
from its white fur coat.

He strained at the rope
which bound him to the orange tree.
I shouted reassurance at him.
‘Shut up, boy. It’s all right.
You’re not missing anything good.’
Like I knew anything at eleven years old.

The winner was mostly Rottweiler,
a great dark thing of muscle and force.
A good face, I thought.
Broad and dog-grinning with tan painted eyebrows.
His equipment much larger than my dog’s,
the color of raw steak, matching her cleft.

They were made for each other,
drawn together like halves of the same creature,
separated by force. They slotted in close,
sword into scabbard, hiding the wound.

The vanquished foes dispersed at the first thrust
and even my dog found the slack in his rope.

A flurry of motion, the black haunches jackhammering,
the white tail pulled awkwardly up,
four ears laid flat against two sleek skulls,
both mouths alternately peeled from teeth
and open for nipping at nape or taut neck.

I watched from my perch, easily bored
now that the thing which interested me
was over and past.

Afterwards both parties looked smaller,
a little ashamed of themselves, without satisfaction.
They couldn’t detach.

I discovered, much later, that his head
had swelled to arrow-point,
forming a plug to keep his sperm in and all others out.

He lifted his large paws from her ridged spine
and rotated sideways, round their point of intersection
until both their tails were pressed together,
jutting out towards the yard.

Crouched against each other’s backs,
genitals welded for hours,
they stood there between the river and the pool,
on the dead grass studded with dandelions,
Their hind legs shaking, waiting
for the infection to pass, the fever release them.

Lying on my hot boards I bit the skin
of a new orange, my mouth flooding with bitter oil
that gave way to sweetness.

My attention wandered, entirely taken
after a moment with a large bull anole lizard
perched on a high branch, expanding his scaled neck flag
the color of strawberries, his spine and tail ridged
with a fleshy crest that signified maturity.

I watched him signaling with pushups.
The female, small, brown, flagged,
Approached, hungry, across wood.

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