(1)

obachan standing, bloody
hoe in hand, eyes wide and wet
with fear or victory, four foot
black rat snake, no danger
to anything human,
cut to pieces at her feet.

first time i am scared
of this woman who loves me,
glad the garden tools sleep
outside. i touch the snake’s
lonely head and obachan
snaps in a voice from a different
throat. this moment she is
a mother again, gone the smoothed
corners of age.

she realizes
her ridiculousness: this
unreasonable violence.
the death around her feet
like the start of a garden.

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going out with gusto

seven year old me said when i die
i want to go by tornado. scooped
up and whirled and whirled until
probably some fatal airborne collision
or the wind tired of me, dumped me
onto something sharp or hard or
just too far down. this was the best
i could imagine: some kind of glory,
gusto, pizzaz. maybe there’d be
a body maybe there wouldn’t.
the mystery felt good out loud.

i have considered other ways.
for a while it was getting smaller
until i winked out. one minute
we’re talking and maybe you
can see through me a little but
i am definitely there and the next:
air. surely it can’t be this lovely
but the imaginings were sweet.
this time it might have been closer
than the tornado but not much.

i spent a few months thinking
of keeping a tally on my hands
and a few days doing it. of what
it didn’t matter: maybe the cups
of coffee i drank or the number
of dogs i saw and then the number
of times i wanted to see a whole pack
of dogs all at once. that wishing
was the same as wishing for help
but i wouldn’t have believed it.

now mostly i’m boring. i try to forget
to fasten my seatbelt (though never
on the highway because somehow
that feels like too much). i chew
my fingers to bleeding and play
the overconfident pedestrian. i blink
comically slowly. it’s a silly charade
because it’s not. when i dream i dream
of tornadoes.

madison

this city is a quilt
of places i know.
it’s unavoidable: contact
with the familiar. each house
i’ve been is a reason
to leave. an ache. first
it’s Little Blue on Johnson
where my friends live
without me. i’ve eaten jam
and warmed biscuits here.
a stack of my bread baskets
sits on one counter and
they look like part of a stage
set. i go inside and can’t sit down.
i pass a house jack could have lived
but didn’t. i want to imagine
him inside but not expecting
me. sometimes it’s good
enough to know someone
is there. still playing
the guitar or slicing mushrooms
or smoking a cigarette or
next, it’s where i came,
once, after a date to let
a boy rub himself on my
legs or stomach or wherever
even though i didn’t really
want to. he grabbed
at the softness snuggled
around my waist and said
something about liking curvy
girls and then i liked him
even less. then, the place
a friend of a friend doesn’t live
anymore. people i love drank wine
on the porch and were happy.
it rained so we raced, bared bloody
feet through parking ramp
puddles screaming names
of those running screaming
my own name and not knowing
who it belonged to

the splitting

imagine the baby that doesn’t grow
inside me maybe fingernails maybe
a little nose a nub like mine or maybe
not. it’s all the same now, all

nothing. a small swelling / a silent
unspooling. imagine you have
coffee with a friend except she is also
you. imagine she leaves when you blink
except it’s while you are sleeping.
imagine you will never see her again
except there was never really a body
to see just bits and bits knitted together
like quilt turned rags. how can i make
this real. if my insides are such a hard place

to survive why am i here / can’t i leave
also. i love-ache her fist sized absence.
once i thought this might be too hard
what if i can’t do it what if my motherbone
splits unevenly who will get the wish
she must have heard me i guess she was
in here too. how gruesome this is no one
tells you, the hot stink of death in your ears
the taste rolling to a boil in your throat
and the worst is that i didn’t even

know it. i couldn’t feel her gone. i can’t
even return her to the dirt the earth can’t
reclaim anything it did or didn’t grow.
the pipes swallowed what would have
become a life / she is wet drowned
and rushing in pieces i try to pretend
will someday reach the ocean.

day 8

on the way home from work i clean
beneath my fingernails with my teeth.
i swallow whatever i find but don’t count
the calories. my left thumb yields something
salty. the right index is a bit of pastry
dough grown crunchy. someday i’ll unearth
a raw bit of sausage or egg and maybe it’ll
teach me. there are so many bad habits. mostly
i go easy on myself because it’s what i can do.
you have to start somewhere. you just have
to start.

a work poem

my boss at the bakery touches the inside of my arm
with a hot spatula and yelps for me. i am already a grid
of injury, it’s hard to tell which burn is new. i smear lavender
oil over half the limb just to be sure. slick and shining, i am stunning
over stove top: all grease and flecks of potato and now the smell
of herbs and grapeseed. i want him to think of me every time
he fries an egg. i imagine he is the kind of man
who buys organic vegetables but smokes cigarettes when he drinks.
it’s boring to be too self-preservationist. he refills my water glass
with coffee and pretends it’s an honest mistake. the only real gift
he has given me: a small wooden-handled stainless steel blade,
foldable and very sharp. practical. i keep it tucked in my winter
jacket pocket, practice opening it one-handed while walking.
the pocket hangs in strips of cut cloth against my side. immediately
after metal hits skin, it’s a welt like the backbone of an old cat.
twelve hours, the welt has melted down. just a streak of red. two days
and it is like a smashed earthworm on the skin. what a lovely
spot of ruin. i peel apples with the small knife while he cracks
eggs into hissing butter.

start of a poem/unfinished

in the dream it is you.
or at least it’s your voice
in a different mouth. or
at least it’s how you blink
hard when you’re thinking
on a different face.
at least it’s your fingers
laced onto different hands
but maybe not, because
in the dream you never
touched me. everything
is wrong when i ask
you questions, you give
me little bits back like
tastes of something terrible.
in the dream it is not me
because not me is yelling,
screaming even and me
doesn’t raise my voice.
she’s yelling what is
the matter with you why
would you do something
like that. i pretend i don’t
know what she’s yelling
about. in the dream it’s
different but only a little.
dreams are a cheap way
to talk about things that
weren’t but could have,
were almost. in the dream
she yells you into the shape
you deserve.