To build an altar you need the familiar territory of a dry riverbed and the shadow of a nuclear power plant. You need the roar of a siren on the air, the highway in the distance, the skull of a kingfisher and the footprints of someone you don’t love anymore. You need a stone from a hand that killed in a war far from home, knucklebones that know the fractals of a willow branch and all the sounds of breaking. You need the smells of honeysuckle, salt, and gunpowder, a piece of iron if you’re superstitious. You need the oil slick iridescence of a cockroach wing and a lock of your mother’s hair. You need the cornerstone of a place that makes you feel safe, even if that place isn’t really a place but a scrap of paper or the empty air. You need a poem written by someone you haven’t met yet.

morning, we woke up

and you performed

another extraordinary miracle:

wings split

the paper thin skin

taped across your shoulder blades,

your wet spine

glistened through jauntily

angled prisms thatched

to your ribcage

with flayed nerves

and slippery veins,

as you flew around the room

you said: “No. That’s not how

it happened.”

I woke up alone.

What is your real name? I hate being called wife, without a name. I think you do too.

How do you feel with a mouth full of salt instead of the languid, tamarind language of your city? The city that sings to you and you the only one who hears her.

What does she sound like? Soprano or alto? Silk or broken windows? Do the cries of the market slide down her throat like tamarind or salt?

Does the gutter water taste like gutter or peppermint schnapps?

I think I could live married to my city as the queen or live lost and alone with no one but my city to comfort me.

When you died, when your city died, you were looking at each other.

What was that like?

(Photo Credit: Sodom’s destruction; Lot and daughters escapes. Dom von Monreale, Sizilien)

Have you ever held blood in your hands even though you aren’t a phlebotomist or other blood enthusiast?

Your words moved me to make more words and the office skylight exploded, red and blue butterflies poured out of your throat.

But when I finally met you and told you about the miracle you worked

you weren’t impressed,

like you’d heard it all before and butterflies are just cockroaches with wings—which is kind of redundant, not like the words that poured out of your soul and when I say kind of I mean really in a redundant way that something is really really painful.

Or stupid.

Like (insert something stupid here) and not like the words that poured out of your soul like Plath’s arterial spray (or ejaculate—just in case the metaphor got lost there is was, over there) and I am wasting your precious time talking to you about words when there is so much grading and preening in the academic mirror (masturbating) to be done.

I can’t quite believe your kind of soul has a mouth that has never lapped up blood from the altar of words.