Direction

Fiction, Lupercalia

Take the splintered memory of your father beating you from between your mother’s clenched teeth. If you can still hear his voice, go west. You will come to a ditch cradling a dead cat. If his neck is twisted, proceed north. If his belly is split open like a rotten orange under a motorcycle wheel, go south; you will find the driver’s bloody bootprints scuffing the Black-Eyed-Susans. If you mix the pollen with loose-leaf tobacco and roll a cigarette, your doppelgänger in another universe will be gifted a front row seat to the next public execution. But that is not the direction you want to go. If you ignore me and walk towards the old Civil War battlefield marked with the city’s slapdash attempts at historical preservation, your old lovers, wherever they are, will turn pail as if a nurse has taken too much life force away from the abrasive latticework of a failed experimental procedure. You taste blood in your mouth. They will fall to the floor and you will not be there to kiss the languor from their eyelashes. If you don’t see a dead cat, continue west as if nothing is wrong. You will eventually come to a fork in the road. Or a river. And you must either cut off all your hair or throw your clothes into the Salvation Army donation bin that washed up on the riverbank with the rest of the hurricane detritus and proceed with your own body acting as a trembling neophyte’s compass pointing towards the sharpest point away. If fear clamps down on you so hard your ribs creak and snap against your heart, you can choose a different direction. You can run, screaming, back home or you can try to walk on water.

Little Girls

Fiction, Lupercalia

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.

How to Build a Nest

Lupercalia, Poetry

1. As a bird that has no hope.

Embrace the numbness in your hands, the writhing micro-fractures in your ribs as they grow into bright veins of quartz and agate, burst into winged fractals when no one is looking.

2. As a bird that thinks she has a lot of hope but really has none.

Choose the number of vertebrae you’d wish your favorite enemy to take out of your spine and treble it, if you are brave. That is the number of shiny things you must gather to attract a mate and keep yourself sane. Learn to make up the lines of poems you can’t remember. The dead won’t mind and the living are too preoccupied to care.

3. As a bird that has reached that powerful space beyond desperation.

Don’t be afraid to create with your teeth. Blind them with your claws, dive down their throats. This technique may not promise survival but in this way you can make beauty out of whoever tries to kill you.

Enemy

Lupercalia, Poetry

A monstrous smile

moves in the wildness;

you said: get the quick

victory. Take me on faith.

Lost people remember

the fire, the starlight,

the luminous morning moving

in the darkness.

You keep talking; you

Need me doing like I’m

told. I didn’t

really think of

the subway, music

like red fire, the world

looking like the enemy.

Found poem. Source: pages 89, 146-7 of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

First published in The Found Poetry Review (as Jessica Otto).

I Love You (2)

Lupercalia, Poetry

If I cross my middle finger

over my forefinger

I am wishing for luck.

If I cross my forefinger

over my middle finger

I don’t want them to hear us.

If I tap 2 fingers twice

against the door hinge

on the way to the kitchen, don’t

eat anything they give you.

If I touch my broken

right pinkie to my thumb

I am wishing to die.

If I put my hand

on your knee underneath

the table, I am trying

to choke hysteria.

If I tap 2 fingers twice

on my coffee cup,

the spider lilies are blooming again.

If you see me

punching the paisley wallpaper

over and over again,

I don’t want to talk about it.

If I brush my fingers

across my lips as I casually

adjust my glasses

I am begging you to be quiet.

If I hold my hand this way

the rain came in last night

and flooded my room.

If I hold my hand that way

they are still searching for

your body, the place

where they insist

you drowned.

If you run your fingers

across my knuckles and my

breath catches in my throat,

I love you.

I Love You (1)

Lupercalia, Poetry

The declaration

is so soft

no one notices and

when our breath catches

in our wine swollen throats

we wonder how

such debauchery

could have snuck in.

For my birthday

I asked for a 12

pack of toilet paper

and a sturdy pair of boots.

The first to fight

the ration shortage,

the second to fight

standing still.

For your birthday

the state of Virginia

banned oral sex

along with all the other

crimes

against

nature so I

sent you a picture

of me

pleasuring

the turkey blaster.

We still manage to see

fireworks even though

they are not

really fireworks.

In some distant

country not yet at war

with us the arches

of a cathedral crack.

I make an altar

out of pilfered bird

bones by the river

you will never see again.

Five tornadoes

touch down inside

the cradle

of a 10 mile radius.

We all raise

our arms

but we cannot

hear each other scream.