Poetry: Spoils

I wrote this poem a few years ago when I was thinking about someone I used to love. I was also thinking about women and men in myths and in reality.


Spoils

Genesis describes the Garden of Eden’s forbidden object
not as an apple but as a p’ri, a Hebrew word for fruit.

Was it a tart cherry she twisted from the twig, or a pear?

I reach for a grape, pluck it from a cluster still on the vine,
and consider my potential sin.

and consider my potential sin. I used to love a man who
rarely said he loved me in return. The word love, he said,
will spoil you.

will spoil you. My mind turns on the word spoil and its
implications as I remember that man hovering above me
in a motel room,

in a motel room, one hand anchored near my head,
the other poised to punch me square in the face.

I said, Don’t hit me. He said, I love you, then put his fist
through the nearest wall.

through the nearest wall. Spoil means more than
damage and plunder. Material dredged up from
the earth is called the spoil.

the earth is called the spoil. This makes Persephone
a spoil extracted from Hades after her brief affair
with a pomegranate.

with a pomegranate. The term also means having
an eager desire. As in, Hades spoiled for Persephone,
her skin as smooth as a plum.

her skin as smooth as a plum. As in, Adam so spoiled
for a woman that he offered a rib for her flesh to girdle.

It’s OK, I said, you didn’t actually do it.

It’s OK, I said, you didn’t actually do it. As we spoiled
to salvage what we could that night, we role-played
the story of creation, pairing fruit and seed.

the story of creation, pairing fruit and seed. The Latin
for apple and evil are mālum and malum, respectively.
This is how apple displaced p’ri in the Bible.

This is how apple displaced p’ri in the Bible. Translators
saw the chance to shift from story to signifier, which
naturally led to what was signified.

naturally led to what was signified. In the move from myth
to meaning, the apple was implicated, but so was the raised hand.

Poetry: Diptych

This poem is based on a story I read about a cow. I later learned the story was not true, but the poem is not without truth. It shifts between the cow story and the human story — my story.


Diptych

………………………………..Long grass beyond the shorn field.

Closet walls sworn to secrecy.

………………………………..Air between each blade conveys
………………………………..the news of what’s been hidden.
………………………………..Pitch of bright blood, quiver of fear.

Bi-fold doors with no real core,
only a honeycomb network
of plywood between each panel.

………………………………..After having twins, the cow takes one
………………………………..to the farmer, disguises the other as landscape.

My mother hid me from my molester
the only way she could. I sat as still as stone.

………………………………..Each night, a different moon sinks beneath the earth’s floor.

Muffled air collected in my throat like bee pollen.

………………………………..The cow sneaks off to feed her calf.
………………………………..She shows up to the milking line empty.

My mother watched him back down the drive
before telling me it was safe.

………………………………..The calf is taken away. The cow noses
………………………………..rocks, logs, anything force might bring to life.

When he stopped coming by, the world
opened and closed like a pasture gate, swinging.

Poetry: Drowned

In my last essay, I mentioned the manmade reservoir in my home state. This ghazal is about that lake and what lies beneath it.


Drowned

When the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Red River
between Texas and Oklahoma, four towns drowned.

Schools, houses, churches and gardens held their breath
beneath thirty feet of water before they drowned.

The cemeteries, the marked and unmarked graves, all drowned.
The dead shifted with the silt, where daily they drowned.

The grave marker of infant Johnny Parks was exposed in a drought.
When the water level finally rose, his memory was drowned.

I swam in that lake for years, unaware of the towns below me
being etched by water and microbes long after they drowned.

Some visitors tell stories of bones floating up like driftwood.
A man claims to have found a skull. He assumed its owner had drowned.

Poetry: Deliver Me

I’m not sure how to introduce this poem, so I won’t, except to say it contains a great deal of suffering. My partner and I went to Wyandotte County Lake today and saw thousands of migrating snow geese. Suffering gave way to beauty, until I remembered how difficult migration is. Many birds won’t make it. Life is not easy. Deliver me.


Deliver Me

Deliver me from the insects that have consumed
my brain and left frass in its place.
………………………………………….Deliver me
from the sea louse attached to the base of my tongue.

Deliver me from the samurai beetle, the death’s head
hawk moth, the heike crab, the human-faced carp,
and the skull-back spider.
……………………………….Deliver me from the duck embryo

boiled alive and eaten in its egg.
………………………………………Deliver me
from the marmot cooked in its skin with hot stones
arranged inside its carcass.
…………………………………Deliver me from auks

laid inside the hollowed-out body of a seal.
Deliver me from the rocks placed on the seal’s
body. Deliver me from the months in which the auks

are stored in this manner. Deliver me from the day
the seal is uncovered. Deliver me from the minutes
in which the auks are pulled out one by one

and eaten raw.
………………….Deliver me from ash, salt, quicklime,
rice hulls, and clay.
………………………Deliver me from the sheep-head
that my head has become.
………………………………..Deliver me from the tentacle

in my throat.
……………….Deliver me from the tuna’s eyes,
which have replaced my own, and from my eyes,
which float in brine.
………………………..Deliver me from the cow’s feet,

from her head, and from her stomach.
……………………………………………….Deliver me
from the durian fruit and from its kidney-shaped
segments of flesh.
……………………..Deliver me from the fish filleted

while alive and served to guests with a beating heart.
Deliver me from pork blood, from milk, from rye flour,
from dark molasses, from onion, from butter.

Deliver me from pale, plated cockscombs.
…………………………………………………..Deliver me
from the occipital bone, the parietal bones, the frontal
bone, the temporal bones, the sphenoid bone,

the ethmoid bone. Deliver me from the bones
of the cranium and mass the cranium contains.
Deliver me from the singing penis, the bifurcated

penis, the four-headed penis, the clasping penis,
the dueling penis, the y-shaped penis, the spiral penis,
the giant penis, the detachable penis, the pseudo-penis,

the barbed penis, the surprise penis, the slapping penis,
and the penis that regrows before each mating season,
sometimes even harder than the year before.

Deliver me from words — alluvial, bromine, burr, callus,
capsule, coccyx, cud, plasma, pollen, scud, sequin, spore,
stone.
………Deliver me from binomial naming.
………………………………………………….Deliver me

from brain signals that tell me to run fast and hard
and away, always away.
…………………………….Deliver me from my body fat,
which is already being called home by gravity, the way

a dollop of lard slides down an upright spoon.
Deliver me from an overdose of organ-destroying
skunk cabbage, from a plateful of toxic buttercups,

from the topical burn of the giant hogweed,
from the blood disturbance caused by a tongue-tip
worth of death camus. Deliver me from angel trumpets

fashioned into biological weapons. Deliver me
from the spiked canes of Himalayan blackberry,
from the stinging Gympie-Gympie tree,

from the neurotoxic tree nettle, from spur laurel’s
biocides, and from Red Tide algae that stills
the lungs.
…………..Deliver me from the Fibonacci sequence

of my fingers, which allows my hand to curl into a fist.
Deliver me from wild horses turned into horse meat,
from intestines behind the processing plant that meander

like dunes. Deliver me from the carnation reds
and off-whites of the fresh entrails and the rubies
of those dumped the previous day. Deliver me

from the need to catalog days by color until
there is no more color, only shades of brown
in the cooling air. Deliver me from the hay laid

over ceca and intestines, over colons and rectums.
Deliver me from the heart of the animal, from the head
that stares into the distance.
…………………………………..Deliver me from electrodes

and optical coils, from the cage and the restraining chair.
Deliver me from brain-mapping, sterilization,
dissection, and genetic profiling. Deliver me

from available space and profit margins.
From the dry casks of Yucca Mountain.
From the love I still feel for my own body

in the long shadows of evening light.
Deliver me from any or all of these.
…………………………………………..Deliver me
from nothing.
………………..Open the door and deliver me.

Poetry: Death by Scaphism

When I was driving to and from an area lake today, I saw many instances of death. A dead puppy by the highway. A dead raccoon next to a country road. A funeral procession that appeared out of nowhere while I was standing in a field watching meadowlarks. Death isn’t easy, ever. “Death by Scaphism” deals with a particular type of death, namely the suffering inflicted by a particularly cruel form of execution. It is both literal and figurative in that it describes a way of dying while also serving as a metaphor for the ways we suffer while still living. This poem first appeared in FRiGG.


Death by Scaphism

To lie bound inside a boat. To have milk and honey
forced into the mouth until insects arrive to feed
on the sweet feces. To have milk and honey poured
over the body. To feel each rolling along the skin —
one like rain, the other like sap — before both
settle on the underside where flesh meets wood.
To have the eyes and ears doused, the genitals
and the anus. To be covered over with a second boat,
the two lashed together. To be set afloat in
a shallow pool. To be left with hands, feet,
and face exposed to the sun, everything between
in perpetual darkness. To be stung. To be bitten.
To become a home for insects. To feel the face
and the ass brim with maggots. To birth a colony
of flies and their descendants. To feel muscle
and fat, organs and excrement, infuse the boat’s
hull. To be fed and doused and set afloat for days
on end. To have no end. To lose track of days.
To forget the offense. To rise above the water,
the body and the boats. To look down on ruin.

Poetry: Same Souvenirs

About a month ago, I challenged a friend to write a poem whose letters contained no ascenders or descenders. I started fiddling with the same prompt, and this is what I came up with. What did I have in mind? Something about the memories and mementos we keep from our intimate relationships. Just as memory requires mental paring, mementos facilitate the omission of information surrounding the object itself. Such editing can either smooth or sharpen the relationship’s edges — or both.

The poem’s pruned vocabulary seems to fit the theme, or perhaps I gravitated to the theme because of the poem’s pruned vocabulary. After I wrote it, I realized two ascenders had made their way past me. I’ll leave them for now. I am nothing without my mistakes.


same souvenirs

snow     rain                        acorn     scoria
a raven we measure        over a ravine
weavers                                we weave camera-hours

maroon our vows             aversion     a version
or a veneer                          we are our own severance
romance mews                  i am a voice in a minor sea

see me                                   o oar     o caracara
commence us                     come mince us
a sore view                          convince me we are

won                                        one in our     scare
cesium woman                  iron man
remorse code                     i avow

i am no verse                    as rain is     no
monsoon                            worms are
as numinous                     as a cosmos

veer or revere                  or worse     waver
snow     rain                      snow     rain
same     same                   same     same

Poetry: Birdwatching in the Flint Hills

I wrote this poem yesterday after visiting the Flint Hills in Kansas. I went to watch birds. I suppose the title told you most of that, making this introduction largely unnecessary. What I really want to say is don’t give up. The future is waiting, with its soil and stone and grass — and its small but exquisite animals, one of which is you.


Birdwatching in the Flint Hills

Across the street from a limestone ranch house
at the edge of the tallgrass prairie, a northern harrier

spreads her wings like two rugs being shaken out
before being rolled away for the winter.

She flies just above a shorn field, hunting
with her ears. Mice can’t help but rustle

among the stalks. Clouds block the light
and cold becomes colder. This morning,

we turned our clocks back one hour
then drove two to be here. It’s the closest

we’ll get to time travel, sixty coveted minutes
in which everything can be forgiven because

nothing happens. The harrier dives and emerges
with empty talons. Behind us, the house’s

mansard roof flashes like a courting prairie chicken.
Below, grasses clutch loess soil in strong winds.

The bird has lost her prey. The day has slipped
from its lead. The sky is already starting to bleed.

Poetry: Machine Logic

I’ve been writing elsewhere about the body today, so I thought I’d share this poem which challenges the notion that we are not of the flesh but somehow apart from it.


Machine Logic

They say we are not the containers we live in,
that our meat and nerves are only tools we use,

parts of a machine that moves when we think
move and remains still when we think still.

They say we are the owner and owned in one,
the mind giving orders that the body takes.

What then of the fear that rises from muddy
hocks before the pig nears the stunning
and bleeding room.

…………………………….Slaughterhouses
are designed to shield animals from what’s
around the corner, yet their bodies tell them

to scream long before the hanging area
comes into view.

………………………..What machine gives
such warning, perceiving before the mind
registers the danger the body is in.

What hoof awaits the order to run
before its final and failed attempt to run.

Poetry: Bitches

Trauma can start at a young age. For me, it was interlaced with living in a girl’s body and what I learned, early on, that meant. This poem first appeared in Chiron Review.


Bitches

The first wouldn’t stay. The second got carsick.
The third launched herself through the screen door
because she loved my father so much that she never

wanted to be away from him. That one left a gash
in the screening the size of a Doberman because
that’s what she was. The seam exposed our trailer

to mosquitoes and bottle flies, a summer buzzing
with ruin. My father couldn’t stand rescue dogs
like that — twitchy miscreants, second-hand shits.

He’d wait until we hit the road to offer truckers
the latest in his line of broken canines. Breaker
I-9. Free to anyone willing to come and get her
.

On the highway shoulder, men arrived one by one,
wearing lumberjack shirts and ball caps, carrying packs
of reds and Coors cans nestled inside jewel-toned

rest stop cozies. Roughly, they sized up the reject dog
while leering at me on the sly. With a grin, they’d offer
to take either of my father’s bitches off his hands.

Poetry: Rock Paper Knife

I wrote this poem two years ago at the height of an extended period of trauma. It’s the last one I would write for some time. Glass appears in this poem, just as it did in the last one I shared. There’s something unique about glass that makes it a vehicle for telling my story of trauma. It comes to be under extreme conditions, just as extreme conditions shape trauma survivors. (As an aside, the part about glass organizing its atoms in response to the sun was informed by this story.)


Rock Paper Knife

If it is true that glass can spontaneously
organize its atoms in response to the sun
to become more adept at surviving heat,
then your hand must have reinforced

my throat and your threats must have
tightened my tympanic membranes.
Now I am at least as strong as a sheet
of glass exposed to ultraviolet rays.

When I shatter, it will not be you who
broke me. It will simply be time to stop
orchestrating particles, to unsing my body’s
song. I will surrender these building blocks

so they can toughen in response to other
insults. As rock learns to breathe through
paper’s blanket, as paper folds to evade
knife, as knife slings light to blind rock.