Our hair is large. It contains multitudes
of pins and nits and bows. Our bodies are wrong but coherent.
Love is our mission,
the wedding, our modus operandi, our peep show and opera.
Once it’s over, our beauty’s spent.
The fiancée is not so much human as integer.
If the wedding’s in winter, with fur
sewed to the cuffs of all formal wear,
by spring the corset bones are exposed.
June’s the unlucky month.
All the county’s porcupines are intent
on puncturing the dream.
When the freezer shuts down, we lose
the side of beef, top of the cake and the bouquet.
For a minute there, everything looks
freshly killed or baked or picked.
We’re dizzied by the raw scent of tea roses.
Autumn’s when the bruises show.
Kicked by a horse, we’ve said for generations.
Same horse, dumb, unsaddled, glass-eyed, white,
with ludicrous fire flaring from the nostrils.
Weirdly, when our noses are broken and our houses
foreclosed, that’s when things get good.
We die on our Harleys, driving too fast on unnamed roads.
Our bodies fly backwards, nostalgic
for a past that never happened.
Our souls stay with the bike, moving
forward through cattails and day lilies.
We’re leery of books, the way they colonize
the imagination, and films, which infiltrate dreams,
though at times we’ll flock to movies with explosions,
for explosions clean out the carburetors of ourselves,
unless we’re pregnant, for movie explosions
have been known to cause miscarriages.
Those of us haunted by war
will sometimes turn to books to combat nightmares,
choosing, from the shelves of the old library,
the weightiest, the ones with a thousand pages,
as if the object of the book, held close, could replace
a dead comrade, and maybe it can, at least for the hours
and days it takes to mouth each word like a newborn
pig mouths the line of tits on its mother’s belly.
There’s that man again, a former soldier,
and once a soldier always a soldier, the one
with the terrible limp who slurs his words
into a new language, grotesque,
though we nod and furrow our brows in understanding,
for we do understand the intention beneath the words.
He’s reading War and Peace again, but this time
from back to front, and so he refers to it, in his mind,
as Peace and War. We can tell by his wry smile.
He’s known for his wry smile.
The rest of us prefer what lies below what is called art,
the source of art, the raw field and not the story of the field,
and love, even when it’s guttural,
especially when it’s guttural and married to suffering,
which we trust.
We’re told to read the Bible but the Bible is another book,
and halfway through Genesis we feel as if we’re back in school,
stuffed into our desks watching some teacher
murmur on endlessly about things that happened
far away from here,
when all we want is to be home wearing our muddy field boots,
sitting on an upended bucket, shelling peas.
Our memories are local, acute, and unrelenting.
Our hope is to quash them. Fields invite them,
and fog. So out of the brume that rises up
from snow in the spent vineyards comes a man
back from war, singing as he used to sing, such
large notes out of a small, skeptical mouth. Later
his liver swells up like he is with child. And drifting
out of the burned field, that couple who lived
by the train tracks, their house smelling of pitch
from the wooden ties, and of mutt, from the line-up
of terriers they used in their trained dog act,
which they displayed in shabby, off-brand
traveling circuses throughout the Midwest. Once
even Texas. Harry and Jessie. Some of us never
laid eyes on them and still we’re saddled with them.
Saddled, as if we’re the horse and memory the heavy
rider. We remember the hound whose smooth warm
head we never stroked, whose relentless howling
was quashed by a can of pork and beans thrown
from an upstairs window, who keeled over dead
and was buried by the gravedigger, as a favor,
to pay a debt of which the less is said the better,
Dan, the hound, who resurrected the next morning,
used his fat paws and thick, black toenails to dig
his way out of his own grave, whose sad bay persisted
for years, long past his actual death, and still persists.
It has become a burdensome song we hum
sometimes while nursing the sick or doing dishes.
We wear our hairdos long and tumbled back like vine pours weighty
down a chain-link fence. We go at times unwashed to craft
that warm green stink of algae-covered inland pond and grass-fed
cud. With the contents of one box and one can, we bake something
so sweet and gold you’ll want to marry the pan. In this way
we are alchemical. If it’s pretty, we taxidermy our kill.
Here, a bear bigger than a travel trailer. There, an unnested baby
swallow small enough for the apex of a teacake. When asked
directions, we reference the red chickens, though they scatter. Turn
right at the red chickens or left or if you see the red chickens you’ve
gone too far. We believe in the mortuary sciences and chip in
to charmingly lay out our dead in yellow silk as if they were lovely
and rich. At viewings, we talk about their mouths, how any moment
a word could come spilling out. Our decisions are poor, our work ethic
unfledged, our children are cockleburs in the far field, their branches,
terminal. In our midst, a woman who dances until her pudenda
is raw, which she announces from the top of the empty water tower.