I’m on my knees while Olive plaits my curls, a dozen candles flirting with the air in this small bedroom. Angie is leaning against the wall, pupils like eight balls, smiling at her fingertips. my mother called me last night or last week or last year she told me god came to her in a dream. The fridge is humming, inconsistent and Olive’s hands are quick. she told me that our dog ran away that my father cries in my room whenever he’s sober We shouldn’t be here, the sun dripping down the window, pyramids of light on Olive’s thighs. Someone patters in the other room, no choked sobs, no sacrifice for dewy mornings. Olive says my name soft and worn, like an old boot she isn’t sure fits. Angie knocks over a candle and her shirt catches on fire. For a moment, none of us move.
After Julia Faulkner who wrote a poem after Matthew Olzmann
A beginning of wolves chasing, nipping at our calves,
licking the blood from our ankles. Your sweaty hand in mine,
waiting for the doors to swing open in a French kitchen
like a movie scene, and the waiters to topple their platters
and spill red wine onto a heiress’ dress. A beginning
of stone bridges, of green-bellied crickets. We steal tubs
of ice cream and shaved chocolate,pull splinters from our palms
for weeks. Bears and squirrels and crows in the backyard,
pecking at the rows and rows of corn. Hiding in the wheat,
waiting for god like a dinner date, praying that dusk won’t find us
this deep in the mid-west. Later, it is Seattle or San Diego,
something slippery and wet on our tongues, ice cubes
made of Kool Aid or sugar water, mosquitoes forever
swarming my neck and your wrists, and we push down the seats
in the car and pull smooth marbles from our mouths
and say things like Cuisses de Grenouille and Blanquette de Veau,
imagining these things, dancing frog legs and blankets of
veal, creamy white sauce ribboned over like silk. A beginning
of toothpicks, of a thousand cut mouths, of silence canyon deep,
clouds of gold dust, burnt skin pink as lemonade.
I could never tell if you were smiling
or baring your teeth.
Huck, as a swallow. Water in Angie’s mouth, metal on Tom’s teeth. Bridge lights and soft, swallowed rivers. Huck, as a lake. Angie’s fingers pruned, peels an orange with her thumb. She eats the rind, and Huck chokes. Angie picks huckleberries in her backyard and doesn’t watch Tom shoot canaries and crows. Dusk like dry kisses in back sheds. Tom paints a fence red, offers Angie two apples and a pack of matches. Later, Huck strikes each one against his palm, and by dusk, they soothe burnt tongues with marmalade and river water. Angie writes lists: her mother’s bible, an open shed door, a rifle, a still brook, and a dozen dead birds, no blood, none at all.
She shaved the fox in the bathtub, water lavender-thick. Instead of bleeding hands, we bathed in riverbanks. Her hair slicked back, jaw almost unhinged. Instead of nose bleeds, we burned our palms. I skinned a redtail catfish. Leanne shaved the fox with our father’s razor. A poem in which my neck in not nicked, in which I can unbraid my hair. The pot as black as the soles of our feet, her eyes the color of wet sky. The fox quiet and pale in dizzy water. Leanne, red in green forest ground, red on the hare, red on the fox, red on the sleeping doe. Our baby teeth around her neck. I could never look away. Red, as in home. Red, as in something deeper than blood. Red, as in when the wolf knocked, we were quick: her fingers on the blade while I opened the door rabbit-throat wide.
A man plays tennis in an empty playground, spits black tobacco from black teeth, kisses black girls on black top with pink lips, white mouth. Squinting against orange sun, two girls chop off each other’s hair with rusty scissors, thumbs wet and bloody.
Lola, cheeks dry and flaky, waits for the bus. Lola, two tongues, no teeth, holds a frog skull in her palm.
Hair in a bun, she asks the man if she could play tennis too. Hair in a bun, she breaks the emergency box, hears no siren, only croaking. A nice man in a red suit sprays her with foam and her dress is burnt black, the croaking stops and her hair is cut, thumbs wet and bloody too.
Maybe gasoline in her white mouth, spaces between her no teeth. She wins the lottery twice in one day, buys a pair of scissors and scratches the dust out of her cheeks. Maybe carved a hand out of frog skull, swamp smear on blacktop. Maybe finch kisses with black boys in white suits, sky wet and bloody too.
I left our children on the sheets.
I rubbed them out of my panties with salt, cold water.
You are eating bar peanuts in the bathroom. The moment
before we give up, I imagine I am in Sicily, older, more beautiful
and we are at a cafe, smoking long pink cigarettes
and I have learned to roll my R’s and you don’t want
to try for children anymore. I had considered wire hangers.
You considered slapping me. We have forgotten the color
of roses. The sink leaks, your two hands never touching me,
washing the blood out of these sheets, making a mantra
out of this loss.
After the art series by Winnie Truong
Wax and butter on our hands. Knife handles jutting from our thighs. The sky, moonshine yellow. The widow’s home smells of bread but all of it is burnt. The pond distorting our faces in a way that made girls into women, boys into threats. We stared into the water, a Rorschach test, struggling to find something more than darkness. One morning, sky drenched in clouds and we could see to the bottom: found softball gloves, broken umbrellas, our fathers, a wheelchair, two hundred moths. Birds that look like doves but are not doves. At the surface, the town watched their daughters drown, mouths open to water in a way even we didn’t understand.
Try painting the walls of a bathroom with no brush, only buckets of water and your two hands. Try finding home in broken street lamps, the necks long, silver, lopped like a lamb reaching for grain. Our arms the color of a peeled orange. Our wrists shaking not from the cold. Pulling take out menus and empty bottles from dumpsters, sitting at W14 waiting for a train we know won’t come. Once, my sister and I broke into a house just by walking in. We slept in the master bedroom, tried on the wife’s French bathrobes. Leanne drenched herself in perfume, and I sang to the mirrors, my voice a sparrow with tar slicking her wings. There, we peeled apples with butter knives, our mouths no longer open wounds.
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