child’s touch

on the weekend after her brother’s twenty-
first birthday, junebug finds herself
in the backseat of her mother’s car, a baby
buckled into a car seat next to her.
in another story, junebug might tell you
that only her brother’s name on this child’s birth
certificate has roped him into the family, his
blood lines following some other DNA trail.
she might tell you, too, that for his twenty-first
birthday, junebug’s brother did visit the liquor
store for a bottle of jack daniels–to use
as an ingredient in a marinade; or that, when she
breathed, our father hurt me, he wrapped her
in burly arms & believed.
but this is not a poem about her brother–not
exactly–but the son he chose to love, the child
next to junebug in the backseat who is poking
his fingers into her mouth.  she allows
her teeth to rest on the soft pudge wrapping his
bones; he laughs & pushes them in further.
then she spits them out & hides her face behind
the thick arm of his car seat, watching
his chubby, bright face with one tired eye.
he smiles, his mouth full of tiny teeth, & touches
her hair.  she lowers her head, exposing to him
the part in her hair, & his fingers snake
through the soft strawberry curls, curious
& slow, unlike the way he pets animals
in hard pats with his whole hand.  she waits
for him to gather fistfuls, to tug & yank, but
he doesn’t.  for the rest of the ride home,
he draws out her hair easy & slow.
junebug rests her head.  she closes
her eyes.

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the story in the soil

i.
tell me the dream where i am
the princess draped in royal
crowns, purple robes, & peacock plumes,
where you emerge from the water pulling
the body of a child drowned in the backwash
of the king’s appetite; the dream
where i give up, as fairytales taught
me to: voice, long & braided hair,
the smallest toe on my left foot
to fit into a shoe–& you come
for me, like those stories promised
you would: through briars & wounding
all beasts in defense of the honor
i had lost, even when i did not
know, yet, that it had been consumed
or by whom.

ii.
with practice, the king learns
to play her body, to tease out
murmurs & pleasure responses.
at night he thinks of his mother,
who died when he was eight, & her body
in a wooden box, the way she laid,
straight & stiff, with her eyes closed
as they lowered her into the ground
& he felt terror, his breath bare
wisps.  his body went limp then,
like a rabbit snared, its body
limp between a fox’s teeth, its heart still
beating quick.  his daughter becomes
like that, too, the terror leaving
her as his hands move across her
body.  lying awake at night, he
imagines himself buried beneath
the earth, his shame heavy stones
weighing his pockets.  he wonders
if she imagines her own burial,
too, & then he forgets.  he puts
the terror in a box & leaves it
in a hole he’s shoveled in the backyard.
each day he glances at the mound
of dirt where the grass cannot grow back
fast enough.

iii.
it’s always the same: you find me
in the tower, my bed surrounded by beetles
& snakes.  i am wholesome, pure,
a reedy, unmoving wisp of a thing.  yes, it’s always
the same–the dream, the fever, the girl
i never become cowering in the center
of a big, dark bed, her head floating
above my body like a balloon on a string.
then i am the snakes, the beetles, a witch
slicing apples by the window where the king
dreams my body into crumb cakes, plum
tarts, & fruit trees.  i want to know:
in your dreams, what shapes do i take?
how many of your desires do i fill?
my body heavy, dark, & as full of whispers
as soil after the rain.

iv.
you kiss me slowly, your tongue
a snail slipping into my mouth full
of salt.  as your hips poke
into my thighs & the beast
in your flesh wakens, i vacate my body,
my hummingbird heart suffocated below
a down pillow.  i dream my body
into the knife in the witch’s
hand.  her fingers close in a fist
around me, & then we are running
through the garden, crushing fruit
with our running toes, to the king
who is waiting–no, he is sleeping,
or maybe he is dreaming.  i peel
into his flesh, his blood apple-
red, his breaths loud as persimmons
as they drop from the trees.

v.
the witch who is not me concocts
a potion & whispers spells, remembering
the way her thoughts sweep into a vacuum
as many kings’ body moved against her, into
the the dirt & earthworms of her body
that whisper secrets when it rains.
wide awake, she sees phantoms of each king,
their naked bodies & slow tongues, & again
she drowns, again & again, with the child
drowning still.

vi.
my body is a crumb cake to be cut
into polite thin slices, scooped
onto a spoon, & slid into the hot,
wet cave of your mouth.  it is
light, sugar-sweet, & buttery,
stuffed with raspberries & lemon
zest.  do not think of the growing
roundness of your belly, the hardening
of your arteries.  just consume,
your tongue a knife, your body
an insatiable beast.

vii.
the witch is not a witch.  she is
a reed drifting across a pond, a cricket
deep inside the grass, fifty pounds
of grapes bled into wine.
this time, the witch does not
wear kinky hair, dark
robes, or a long & crooked nose.
when i ask the color of her magic,
she dissolves into the trees.
she is an apple, a storybook of names,
or maybe she is the flashlight you carried
as you waded into the water, or the mermaid
with dark hair you saw there.  maybe she is
the child floating in the belly
of the pond who, each time you dive
into the wreck, cannot be found.

vii.
in my dreams, i am naked
& hiding in a wardrobe closet,
crowded by ermine, minx, & rabbit
furs, my lungs two flat
balloons.  i cannot go on
this way, cannot stand in the wreck
any longer, so i throw my body out
the window as the witch conjures
the rain.  i pray to be struck
dead by lightning, & when my prayers are
not answered, i smear fistfuls
of thick, sticky-wet dirt onto my body.
i lie in the soil, my breasts two
anthills, my thighs fallen
tree logs, my belly a burlap
bag full of bones.  inside, the child
twitches, like a muttly dog,
in her sleep.  she pushes.  she pushes
through: the dirt, the garden rotting
with persimmons, the carcass
of the beast we have been carrying,
like a moldy plum tart wrapped
in wax paper inside our pocket,
for years.  the child wakes,
remembers.  she cannot
be denied.

viii.
dress me in feathers & fur, a crown
of garnets, lilac stone, & amethyst.
i am awake & exhausted, no longer
dreaming.  bury the king in the backyard
below the witch’s apple tree, then rock me
to sleep with the whispers my body can
no longer keep.  cover my body in the earth from
which i came; drown me in cupfuls of water
from the pond.  let your body be still,
your hands soft as persimmon fruit.
tomorrow, in a week, in six months
or twelve–after i have rested–i will take
the child’s hand.  we will walk
into the garden with a shovel & a knife
to dig up the box our father buried there.
when we learn our names, we will etch them
into the bark of the witch’s apple tree.
& if it begins to rain, i will cover
the child with my peacock plumes, & together
we will listen to the stories of the soil
stirring in our skin.