A Prayer

You mustn’t think her out of line
she’s a starving thing
only ever fed by her own, desperate hand
so when you ushered her in and sat her
at a table no less
with a plate and fork and knife
and taught her how to cut along the flesh
and to chew slow
she could hardly fathom it
with a fire in the hearth too—!
you’re mad to think she would leave the same way she had come
or at all.

“And what do you have for breakfast normally, sir?
I hear around here they serve cheese in small balls;
I have never seen such a thing.”

Well, of course she means to spend the night.
Is that not why you’ve lit the fire
so she could make herself small beside it and thaw her fears?
You do mean to thaw her fears, do you not?
To let her rest against your lap and shiver out the spirits
while you whisper and kiss the hollow beneath her ear
until
at last no longer possessed
she is taken by sleep?

Surely you must have known!

Dear God…
I pray for both your hearts.

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Green Window

Mary in the dark room
with the green window
and the ceiling that sprinkles warm rain
dances like a lonely demon
gasping and sighing
writhing against a phantom frame.

Expelling All Risk

Do not eat fruit until it is washed
until you’ve run it under the designated faucet
and the water comes down
ringing against the sink like silver coins
expelling all risk

Do not laugh in the street
the rupture will make your bra snap
and out you’ll pour—
when it’s done
we will blame you
because there will be no one else

Do not have sex with a black man
our nation would fall
and we’d all sit solemn
lips against prayer beads
waiting for the bed springs to stop groaning
and mark the hour of our extinction

Do not go to London
it will kill you within a fortnight
if not knifed on your first train ride
then pissed by your first night
in hysterics at the priest’s joke
who is now cleansing the inside of your mouth with his tongue
rotating like a microwave
TV dinner
cling film in technicolor

and, I beg you
for everyone’s sake

Do not stray
from the picnic table
your uncles will have to spread out to look for you
and your mother will stagger
confounded
calling the name we once gave you
the name you once used to answer.

Reliability

War has been rationalized
and yet
she dares not eat red cuts of meat
sticky, slow-cooking sauces
potatoes with the peels cut off
soft buns with glazed crusts
hot cheeses
pulling and pulling
lest she remind her body of luxury

she is yet to toss the ration stamp
stashed in her purse
along with the green bills
and the orange ones
and the blues
even the bomb shelter—
the basement, she means
is regularly stocked and the beams
checked for reliability

war has been rationalized
and yet
at night
with her feet not quite on the bed
and her eyes fixed on that point beyond the window
where the hill dips into shadow
and the grass shivers in the breeze
like the fringe of a child
nestled in the warm bosom of sleep
she feels somehow
a dark mass spinning
like propellers
tenderly slicing.

 

Speak

Oh, angel
you are sick
see now, your luminescence
tremors

you are sick, angel
she told you so
our god with breasts
who held us like a mother
‘in the war for faith, the victorious surrender—
strip your armor.’

oh, angel
you are shedding
you gnawed at your wings
remains of skeleton in your teeth

‘why don’t you floss?’

oh, angel
your mouth will rot
‘speak,’ she said
‘the way to not fear blood is to bleed’
give her your wrist

her knife is simple
and her hand gentle
she’ll count down
so you know
and ‘knowing is better’

this is better.

The Other Life

The last soul leaves—
I stretch my rigor mortis and force
through the Earth
shoveling and clawing

the dawn is confused by itself
and the worms recoil from
my heat

I move

through the graves with careful steps
because I am trained from
the other life
to be wary of
the temperaments of dead things

there’s a hill where I sit and wait
as dawn pieces its fragments
I kill a stray worm
with the heel of my palm
and smear my guilt in the grass

in the West
there is a creak of a watery door
and wind stirs ash into a gentle storm
a muting snow
it covers the hillside
and blankets the graves
the dawn has a revelation

I resume.

Mirror

The more twisted the dream
the more cautious the light
creeps in
through the window
like a curious creature
watching you slap your bangs
as you fight them like a blackness

it comes up beside your bed
and nudges you
in gentle concern
you stroke it and assure it

it’s just the summer heat
playing its mirror tricks again

and the light nuzzles you
cause it knows
the fear of reflection
and the shame
most.