She has black dirt on her face.
The ruins of a garden plucked
for winter stain her hands.
She has scratched that greenery free
and bathed in the empty
soil, praying for next year’s harvest
with touches of bare arms and thighs.
She rubs the flesh of the earth,
places stones in her mouth
careful of her teeth
though she knows
this is ritual.
Her tongue rolls in the grit,
hips turn the ground like a spade.
She says, “I will starve myself for the gods
so I can grow poison in the spring.”
Photo Credits: wormwood, Prosperina (1870) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Poverty sits in the center
of her cage, claws scratch
the barren concrete.
Her tail twitches pensively.
Her eyes are the moldy green
of a half starved cat
and her teeth are as crooked
as the banker’s. Feathers
rustle down her spine,
vibrant spears in the humid air in
like stray sparks of anti-matter.
She moves toward the bars and
like a wolf, lays her ears back
against her bald skull.
She does not growl.
She does not hiss.
She purrs with profound contentment.
It is the contentment of continual existence
in a cage. Or on a deserted beach.
Or with a grand audience. Or
meager laughter. With
a simple calculation she nods her head
in my direction and I want to eat her.
They carried the baby bird wrapped in a yellow, flowered handkerchief. Its eyes bulged behind their closed lids and its prickly down barely covered the stubs of its wings. The wrinkly peach flesh was damp with perspiration and plant juice. It choked and twitched feebly, beak broken open.
“We’re going to operate now,” said the little girl in the red corduroy dress. Her glossy, black shoes were scuffed and muddy and her little white tights had been ripped by the holly bush. There were no lights in the attic but the mother had given them three candles with the stipulation that Make Believe was not allowed to knock the candles over and burn the house down.
The two girls scooted past boxes and trash bags filled with grown up things and tiny baby things from times they could not remember. They were like bright fishes, easily distracted by strange colors and strange noises. They crawled on three child’s paws: two dirty knees apiece, one dirty hand apiece, tipped with chewed nails.
“On the operating table,” said the little girl in the red dress. She snatched the handkerchief from her companion and slammed it down on one of the boxes.
“Scalpel!” she cried.
Her companion picked up the handkerchief and lifted it to her nose. There was something there that reminded her of earthworms and pill bugs, like the juice that dripped from the knife to the kitchen floor, like the scolding she received when she stayed out in the sandbox past lunchtime. She reached into the pocked of her blue shorts and held out a sprig of holly.
She is an open jewelry box
singing, a wasp flutter
harmonizes with sibilance
against the garishness
of that tree’s
TOUCH ME AND DIE!
One eye is the fractured blue of an
abalone shell, the other cormorant
shine stopped dead,
wings helpless against her temple.
The alabaster lid of her skin
splits like a poached egg,
bold entrails drip gracefully and
she takes the apple,
doesn’t care a corpse cannot eat.
Photo Source: Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art, Memphis TN
Begin when our mothers call us daughters the devil. Lone shadows skitter across the wall between bookcases and all the things that should have been thrown out, including you; the detritus of corners and cobwebs, boxes piled high with canned food, laundry, years of newspapers and unpaid bills.
Begin when our mothers call us daughters the devil as you evade sharp corners and the door that opens and closes; the border between madness and our small, fractured sanctuaries. Belong to the small bed, the belongings scattered around the small bed, the junk we will denounce when we want to grow up like desperate things, when we say we will never be like our mothers.
Begin when every gift, every meal, every scrap of clothing exists in their individual moments as the opposite of a slap in the face. Take the gifts with a smile and the moment her back is turned, run like hell. Answer the phone with an offering of innocence, eyes down. Maybe she won’t bite. Sleep as if nothing is wrong, sleep as if you are in the safest place in the world and then try to remember how to breathe.
Make believe, when our mothers call us daughters the devil, eventually rain will fall from the mouth of the full moon into the eyelets of our bedroom windows and fill the cloven prism.