Switches

Dad knew which fuse box switch did what–
in this way, he chose for us the light and dark.
His hands blackened from cracking walnuts
over the years, hammering husks in the

night when the rest of us were sleeping,
loud whacks startling us temporarily awake then
drifting back into our own darknesses beneath familiar
stars. After his death, we found Dad’s walnuts

in barrels in the corner of his workshop alongside
spiders and memories we could not yet scrape.
My brother said, to honor him, we had to break
and eat each one, despite the bulk. That Dad lived

a rich life poor, that the taste might activate
memory’s accordion, careening us in and out
the past and present, turning life to death then life
again, discordant in its forlorn loudness.

 

(originally published in 3Elements Review, Spring 2018)

Root Canal

I.

the overhead light is a python shining into my eyes
this office is hissing: drills, rotors, a hanging
S at the end of a passing sentence.
they have taken so many x-rays
of my mouth these past few weeks

there the infected tooth stares back
in its gray and black graveyard,
deep in its flaw

II.

the doctor numbs me with needle
puts a cloth in my mouth, a cape
to make my face a superhero.
it’s an uncomfortable placebo
makes me think of super-strength
defense as she scythes the pulp out of me

III.

the doctor says god,
this is a pulp boulder

I have been looking toward heaven
digging and scraping many silent minutes

IV.

a drill

bats squeal and fly from the cave of my tooth

V.

the assistant tag-team switches for
a different assistant

the doctor says we’re finally getting somewhere

on the radio:
like a virgin. touched for the very first time

VI.

the scent of bone

or blood

or gum

or healing

VII.

the assistant says she visited the chickens last week
cute as dickens

I learn chickens have no bladders
and no bone marrow

and here I hold my urine

VIII.

the doctor tells me open wide
shoving cotton in my mouth

shout, shout, let it all out

IX.

they’re trying to figure out the actress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
the doctor holds a scalpel over my mouth
the name at the tip of her tongue

After an eternity I offer
Hahdrey Hehurn

I did my part

they’re proud
and there are no complications

 

(originally published in Off the Coast, Fall 2017)

Taboo

the gorge is endless & insatiable
there is a river, then many mouths
& there is your mother
in the next room cooking soup
& there is a mother
on screen bent over stovetop
with stepson rocking back
& forth into hunger
& now spoons clank
on plate before dinner
& your privacy settings–
a closed door
& now your father
home from work
& now the stepfather
makes his daughter behave
& your sister
walks in off the bus
& now the step-sister
removes the mushroom of her skirt
taking her brother by the name
of their familiar
revelation
which is all relative
to the mold of a home
all mildew & dust
spiderweb & tangle
& turn of doorknob
to walk years
through thin hallways
of broken light
fixtures & coughs
to sit in the dining room
all together & eat
years of steaming
garlic, basil, tomato,
salt

 

(originally published in The Cerurove, Fall 2017)

Marilyn Monroe

& part of her phrase of course is
if you can’t handle me at my worst
but there’s a left turn into darkness

no one wants to take &
the signal’s jammed so no one knows
the direction anywhere anymore

just a mirror of the night
reflecting night, a ninety
degree warming sadness glued

onto a body. one silhouette
low into evening, a heat repenting
unknown sin, a snake slithering

out from its hole into you

 

(originally published in Gyroscope Review, Fall 2017)

Maggie

After you invited me to your brother’s jazz
concert you said you liked me too much
and I couldn’t handle that, the thought

of our togethered trombone slide into an infinity
accompanied by spacetime’s deep sound.
I avoided you the only way I knew how:

my absence for your words a dangling CO2.
This, another failed online dating experience,
a week and (it was electric for a time) the zap

of each other in a cold January condo over and
over, a thousand volts then whole note rest,
a singed week’s limb removed by blizzard wind.

 

(originally published in Postcard Poems and Prose, 2017)

School Bus in the Blizzard (Supper Waits)

The chicken soup swirls with the ladle.
Garlic and pepper steam the kitchen.

Limp horseradish soaks
at the pot’s silver bottom.

White meat swims laps in the yellow broth.
Animals do fine without bones.

The clock strikes a new hour.
The oven timer goes off

(or does it). Outside,
snow blinds the world.

Shovels conceal pavement.
There is no good way home.

 

(originally published in Freshwater Literary Journal, Spring 2017)