Pagan

On your knees at her sepulcher,
mouth your hail marys from memory
thank the names of matriarchs pressed together between lips
thank you mary, thank you sarah
rebecca thank you thank leah you thank rachel thank
thank thank you for skin like sin and
hips like sin and
mouth
holy holy holy
like sin
thank you sin.

Press yours psalms in the palms of her hands
like confession and
devour her like a eucharist like
a sacrifice like meat body blood wine and bread
a feast for shadows pressed into holy atoms between bodies
she is a little death like a growing tree or a belly-rumble landslide,
a vengeful old testament god or a merciful new one—
either way, she will bring rapture soft or hard around your eyes

at first there was darkness
and then everything came alive in her name
and stars exploded and terraformed gods and
landmasses and mountains in the swell of her hips.

she is ocean, she is stone. and she is savior and damnation
but never angel—
don’t call her angel. Don’t
degrade her like that.

On your knees, accolyte,
altar boy, priest,
moan your liturgy against her belly
confess what you know and she will
erase and redraw the stars in your image,
stories and all.

Krang

to my mother

You told me I was angry until I believed you.
Words packed in my mouth
like a crowded movie theater
cut by the scream of a fire alarm
and the sharp accusation of countless lights.

You throw accusations, sharp, after you’ve run out of plates and
it doesn’t matter if I’m seven or lying because
everyone is scrambling and clawing for the exit but
like a nightmare, the door
only opens inward and it’s pressed shut
by all of these scared hands
alive and looking for a doorknob.

The bone-cracking truth is I’ve
always been (looking for and) scared of the way you
take away your hands.
I’ve laid every stone of my life
around the circle where you
dropped me into existence.

When I find myself running in circles
around my mind,
straight razor in one hand, the past in the other,
I imagine your pelvis cracked like an egg
as I clawed my way out of you.

I must’ve been a bad movie monster—
claw-handed, yolk and white scrambled violently.
Cronenberg (A word not to use, because you don’t know it).
I wonder if it was a relief to be emptied of me
at least until reality was handed back to you (damp-skinned, maybe asleep)
As a cloth-faced doctor sewed you back together below the waist,
fingers alive inside of you.

You and I will never talk about the women or men
I’ve slept with, my fingers alive below other waists, or the way I’ve
lapped up quiet hours of damp skin and the smell of secret places
like a hungry dog, or the way I
lead out all those words, single file, not panicking,
out of the burning movie theater and into unsuspecting other bodies,
where, I hope, they will neither grow nor fester.
If they must emerge, broken eggs, clawing hands,
then I hope they at least have the decency to be dead.
Mostly I hope they burn up before they can break any bones or ruin any names.
That no one needs to be sewn back together in their wake.

Sometimes I wonder about that doctor who
sewed you up. Such a violent, merciless thing to do.
What did he think about the blood, sticky and warm on his hands and
did he pretend not to hear it when you said that I wasn’t
who you thought I would be or
if guilt ever weighed on him for what he resigned you to or
for the angry daughter he packed into your life.

First published in Pulp Literature, Issue 16, Second-Place Winner in the Magpie Award for Poetry.

Historia

La historia me absolverá
—Fidel Castro

Try again. This time, think of me as a large and badly-shaped beast. My legs are too short to carry me over the kind of distances you demand. If I travel forward, it is on my hands, my claws dismantling dry earth, kicking up dust and grass, my small legs like quotation marks turning the air behind me.

(Pay attention. If you still love me after this then you are more a fool than I ever took you for.)

Your teeth were white against my skin and your fingers tasted like salt and lemons. I slipped words like something bad into your drink. I said, IF I CAN KEEP YOU BY BRINGING DOWN THESE WALLS, THEN I WILL DISMANTLE THIS CASTLE BRICK BY BRICK, MY HANDS RAW AND CEASELESS AND HUNGRY FOR YOURS. I said, THERE IS DAMNATION IN YOUR SMILE AND I AM DOOMED ALREADY.

(I can’t stop this on my own. I’m going to need you to be selfish for me this time.)

But that wasn’t fair. I know this is the kind of role-reversal you can’t stand: Me, the queen of selfishness, asking you to do the hard part, asking you to put up the chairs and turn off the lights on your way out.  Me, talking to you about damnation and ruined buildings. You once told me that I’d ruin everything for a poem. You accused me of hoarding experiences against my belly, guarding words like jealous stones.

(ME OR THE STORIES, you said)

I stood there with hands like dead bodies and dirt under my nails. WHY CAN’T YOU ASK FOR SOMETHING EASY, I said, only I don’t know if I actually said it or if I’ve lived in this fight for so long that I’ve changed the words. LOOK AT THE DIRT UNDER MY NAILS. THIS IS FOR YOU. ISN’T IT ENOUGH? and ISN’T IT ENOUGH?

(ME OR THE STORIES, you said)

I was always going to pick the stories and we both know it. You were never as beautiful as I wrote you out to be. I kept shades of you like old photographs. The ones with hard backs and unforgiving eyes. I think I once told you they were my great-grandparents and they would have loved you but I picked them up at a flea market in Ohio and they probably wouldn’t have. Look at all these stories. I’m getting ahead of myself.

(I made up how you smelled and tasted and I put you in my mouth and made you into a miracle.)

ME OR THE STORIES, you said. It was a Wednesday. It was raining. The mosquitos were a nightmare, but you were too angry to notice and too in love to say goodnight and go inside, so I lifted my hands and my eyes and I kissed you rough and wet against the side of the car. You tasted like pennies and mint and if I didn’t have love trapped between my arms then, I’ve never had it at all.

(I would have kissed you until the sun went out if it would have kept my wicked mouth from talking.)

I don’t remember what I said, but what I meant was DON’T GIVE ME THIS CHANCE. It makes a better story if I say I’m choosing you, even if it’s just the story I’m after. But you didn’t listen, or maybe you couldn’t hear over the rain. Anyway your eyes were flashlights in the dark and your thin moon nails were truth against my skin and then I stopped thinking about anything other than the greed I pretended was there.

(You’ve spent all this time crying about all the things you thought you took from me.)

But you never took anything. You aren’t the bad guy here. I am. I’m a beast with poems pressed against my belly and even though you aren’t a song, I’m going to say that you’re a song. Even though I’ve been standing on my hands, I’m going to say the dirt under my nails is from bringing down these walls for you. Even though your belly was hollow like a drum, I’m going to cry about your selfishness.

(I’m not going to let you go inside. I’ll keep you out here even though the bugs are bad. No one’s going anywhere until I decide how this story ends.)