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By Holly Day
We are watching someone pretending to die on TV, once again
your arm around my waist, hands beneath the blankets as if
seeing someone being repeatedly jabbed with an icepick was
the most romantic of events, of settings, a natural prelude to
mashing body parts together and staggering into bed. I lean into your shoulder
wait for that first, perfect kiss I know is coming, pray
that that stupid commercial with the hamster chanting Buddhist mantras
is about to come on, something, anything to disrupt the uncomfortable feeling
that I am getting turned on by watching someone get jabbed in the eye
with an icepick, and I’m too busy groping and fumbling to truly care.
Somewhere there are rats crammed into shoeboxes
wires strung into their perforated skulls, diodes set into their flesh
and they are real, they are not acting out their horrible, lingering deaths.
In the bathroom, jamming my diaphragm into place
I recite Buddhist mantras for those rats, the ones the hamster taught me
think about those rats in the shoeboxes, what they’d think about my impassive
viewing of a stranger getting stabbed over and over again with an icepick
wonder if they could distinguish between the special effects needed
to make the scene work, or the actual criminal, torturous act, I wonder
if I can tell the difference, what I should do.
The Flavor of the Sea
She bares only half of her history to him, spreads her hands wide
to hide the stories that should stay buried. There are screams
sandwiched between pages of sunlight, blood washed into wasted breath
parts of her that will always be stained with dirty fingerprints
will never wash clean.
She sets her pleasant thoughts carefully on the quilt before him, delicate as china
lets them unfold into bright, floppy paper flowers fancy enough
for displaying, half-opened, in jacket pockets at formal functions.
She can be good and pure for this one, she can,
ignore the whispers like needles
the panicked dreams of escape.
I pretend my house is an island, Louisiana before the white men came
surrounded by the emptiness of the ocean and virginal
in the ways of vapid conversation. The wind blows in the sound of trains rumbling by
sounds like voices coming through a baby monitor, strange hands
poised to smash through glass.
I am San Juan before the Spanish landed, far from
the boy next door and the thud of the dishwasher upstairs. I can almost see
all the way to Catalina Island through the glare of streetlights
the flocks of white-winged moths and storm clouds
heavy with portent. The ripple of galleon sails
distorts the horizon, damns me to admit
white men once continued long enough down the Mississippi to find my house
did not turn around at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico, were not dissuaded
by the piles of beer cans in my trash, the oil derricks tilted off-center in the bay
the lawn paved over to make a cracked basketball court.
The First Year Out
Numbers of gees flew overhead and you laughed at my excitement, our mutual relief
at the sight of the old farm still standing, the broken windmill, the outlying buildings.
They held a future we dreamed aloud--a vegetable garden,
flocks of chickens and turkeys, thick as clouds and eager for morning.
Your fingertips relieved the ache that settled into my shoulders
so many years before I’d lost count.
The ache set into new places, almost forgotten, for a little while longer
for a full season of wonder
as we made final promises against a sun that kept disappearing
as if into a great crack in a wall of reoccurring rainbows. You told me about the geese
that would land in the new pond and stay, the cows that were coming soon
spoke as if we had a real destination, a plan.
I am still holding onto that first day, descending over barren hills
borders between states disappearing into thin spiderwebs crisscrossing a map
sacred ash in a smoldering iron pot. I remember when you laid out
your theory of the sun-scorched, explained how we
were just like those clouds of birds that came to rest on the flat, golden plains around us
their feathers taunting us our slow, tired bondage to earth.
It all made so much sense back then.
We pick it out together, giggle uncontrollably over the pastel lining
the superfluous pillows sewn to the interior, deny
the shadow of cancer and fear that hides in the shadows
in the dark space between our palms when I take your hand.
I call you “Mom” more often now, forgo introducing you by first name
even to strangers. These last days, all I want
is for you to be my mother.
This seems a good enough place to bury your secrets
cushioned in unrealized dreams
of running away. This will be a place
where shouted orders aren’t expected to complete you
where cracked pots and conceptual pieces aren’t questioned on merit
where bluebirds come gift-wrapped
and sing only of self-preservation.
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