The dissipation of freshly harvested leeks, wilted,
in a crate on the floor in the kitchen the morning after
reminded me: you said you’d died what some had called a shamanic death.
Parting that evening, you said you’d write to me
Later I looked for the moment when you stopped being just another party guest,
pleasant enough but common, and started looking
like a minor miracle of dust and alcohol sweat, a heart
thin but determined, the soft body of the self
emerging from the primitive armor of a cicada shell–
I caught a whiff of the sweet promise that lies in resurrection, and the scent
of a courtship as brief as the living moment.
You said you’d spend winter in the warm womb of the city,
incubating the many children of your dreams,
or else on the farm, reading and snaring rabbits.
The heart, you said, cycles through shame and redemption, and the body goes along for the ride.
The margin of your own body had been eroded by neglect, then illness, then a care too-anxious,
so that you could not sit comfortably for more than a few minutes on a bare wooden chair.
Earlier that day, you’d admired from across the market:
the belly of a man–a glorious belly, so round and healthy.
You said you’d said so much
through the click and release of the hollow tymbal in your chest
and with your own hearing gone deaf
you sing, you sang.
The music that evening made me grateful,
and when I said: I have needed a new heartbreak
I heard in answer your knowing laughter,
a soul recognizing the dying self emerge in another.
Then you looked at me to find the moment
when I stepped forward, unfurling wings
where a hardshelled placeholder for a life had been.
In the room of love’s possibility there are acts of kindness:
you’d offered a cup of tea made of basil flowers,
and drowsy on my nest of cushions at a party,
I drank peppery fragrant heat like nectar.
You said you’d had dreams slide off the the back of your head
before you could pull yourself back from the falling edge
–as just now, you’d realized something but the words weren’t quite–
and I cautioned you not to tell but to keep it for your new life, valuable and quiet.
the lights that night reflected on your wide lenses
so that when you spoke I saw a constellation.
Your voice sifted like shadow and sunshine
while I was
reaching for a hold
to climb by, knowing in my climbing
this form I took would die.
How can I describe
such articulation in every joint,
the devotional drone of lonely songs
sunk in the thick air of late summer nights, when
the ripe world, spent, prepares to turn inward and die on the outside
How can I remember
limbs that loosen and multiply,
eyes bright as the moon watching what happens in the dark.
How can it be:
someone speaks a few words of that changing season
and already our thoughts turn toward metamorphosis and
the dark smell of of the earth above us.
there is always agency in it
we got in the car didn’t we, down to the one
though we cried ourselves scared the whole ride home
because he had to prove he was in control
with his friend formerly exiled sitting beside him
and you just as drunk and arguing
and the baby wailing next to you
as i, twelve, willed us unharmed down a long road
with my hands on the handle and against the window
as if to calm a startled animal.
It is the shame of country houses
that they could not stand against
the palmetto. At school, at church, in town
everyone pretended they kept house
tight enough to keep
the palmetto out,
and that was a lie–
those night buzz
ards dove from cabinet ledge
as my mother moved across linoleum,
always my father was quick
with the flyswatter used for these battles only.
I never saw him strike a fly, for he
could catch those cupped in the prayer of his hands.
When no one else was there to kill,
I crushed them, greasy packets of life,
and tried not to feel death’s rupture through my shoe.
With the bleached white insurance
of three paper towels quarantine between
their broken bodies and my killing fingers,
I carried a funeral wad to the trashcan
and buried it against all hope of return.
At night, the faintest feather on my face
or whisper of flight in my bedroom
was deep dread — I’d wake up
shaking mad, too fast to hold on to.
Those nights I could have killed with a thought;
and that is how I came to understand
the urge to exterminate.
As the daughter of a man of a people
driven from their homes by the children
and grandchildren of people who were driven
from their homes, I meet in my own heart
the nightmare fear that drives us to clean house