K STATE READING/ APRIL 2
These Are But the Outskirts of His Ways
I could kill you he said and I knew it was true
but I played for him upon my instrument
of longing a plastic kazoo nothing too
fancy and when I rode he rode right there
beside me Look up he said a canopy
of trees I saw a steel trap jaw on a loaded
spring triangular teeth each ten feet wide
at least I cried at this point flowers
wholly disinteresting I colored them anyway
five loops held together by a balled up center
I stood straight as a flower in the slap of the sun
The sun wore black sunglasses so I couldn’t
see his soul an advertisement
for tropical things vacations and juices
a spiky ball on a chain going slow like a lasso
around God’s head My song a jingle
rising like heat clinging to corners begging
God down begging one more time
around the block before dinner
High spring. The sounds at their
utmost registers. I am building
a language with my bike. Shame
makes the wheels go, shame
pumps its sick jet fuel.
I am flying over tiny hills with moats
of purple flowers. My fantasy
is evidence. My fantasy is a white skull
gleaming through a bed of mulch.
I let go of the handlebars and beat
my chest with shame’s gorilla fist
until the trees get in my way.
Nancy Drew before me, Nancy Drew
behind me, Nancy Drew on all
sides of me, Lord hear my prayer.
The Unicorn in Captivity
Cold metal bowl of rainwater,
rusted leash attached to a stake
in the ground, I am grateful for
anything. Hello, my name is
Grateful For Anything. Hello,
my name is Missouri. Rottweiler.
There was no fence. Still, I stood
at the edge of something, looking
out. There were no visible
wounds. Still, something bled
and I couldn’t tend to it.
There was no fence, there was
no leash. Still, I stood at the edge
of something, looking out.
There was no blood, it was just
the juice, dripping from the fruit—
from the dirty trees and burst
and marked me in jerks from above.
There will be simulated lightning
and a monologue of great sway,
a final admission of heartbreak.
There will be no stage. Denied that
too. I’ll hold a cardboard shield
covered in foil, thrust my elbow
outward with intent. It will be
a school night. There will be bleachers,
a modest audience, a concession
stand brimming with Twizzlers.
I will beg you to love me in a scary
public kind of way. Red stains
will start to show through my cloak.
I so love the world, I can't let go of it.
I keep putting my face in it—
the crease in a pop-up book.
I slobber on the dimensional, I lick
the rough bark of that tree.
Someone will lose an eye.
Someone will lose both eyes.
Mother Daughter Story
Because the harrowing
was over, we thought
we could fall in love again,
because the siren’s red light
grew so warm
when slid like paper through the closed blinds
(she had closed them out of instinct)
and the white flash
had a kind of magic to it, going away
from us, growing
quieter and quieter
that everything would be fine—
We thought we were fine,
our bodies untouched,
our heads still on
though he had told us
(Unless unless he said and said—)
Though we had made ourselves
and then even smaller
inside the room where we hunched
over our lives
on a windy plain)—
I held hers and she held mine
until we became the same
so the mother could never hold
the child again, they were just
one big blob
of flesh and meat, meat and fear
even in peace
as she moved through a room
to vacuum while I watched TV
it was like her hands were my hands, her feet
And then the season changed
and with it the trees
so it was like we were living
in an entirely different world
so there was hope, you see, and
we thought in this way
we could fall in love again,
face to perfect face.
My First Job
was at a chocolate shop dipping fruit into a vat
of liquid fudge a teenage witch
with scoliosis slumped beside
her giant cauldron and like a witch
I lied to children telling them
they had enough money in their twisted plastic baggies
of dirty dimes and greenish pennies
for two or three cookies when in truth
they could not afford even one
Growing up my rich aunt
once said to my mother Your kids act like
they’ve never seen an Oreo cookie
an insult from which my mother
never recovered the shame
of her children’s wild hunger
noted by another mother
My job before I was a mother
was at a chocolate shop and I was young
and all alone inside my hunger
like little Hansel in his dog cage
lots of milk lots of butter
Nothing else to do but eat
they couldn’t seem to make me stop
they even installed a video camera
but still I rose up from my swivel chair
behind the counter and I walked
slowly slowly toward my God
who loved to see me daily gorge
review the hours of grainy footage
loved his wayward daughter’s
solo pleasure her witchy logic
and his daughter’s daughter
getting fatter by the day.
Jelly for your bread and an
ostrich feather fan upon your
stinging face. Sing grace my tenor, turn your
eagle eye from my
primitive rage, the tenet that I
hate to break but broke.
Please. Plenty before and after will
eke a limbo stick for me
to master and I will master it—
enough to earn some love, to win the
race I do not want to race.
Modesty, your perfect face, it’s you
I bend for though I veer, I
strike my silver
helmet upon the devil’s
lip, ache and swing, rise and beg.
Employ my heart, its abundant meat. It
reeks for you. It does not fake.
Splendor in the Greenish Grasse
He grew up at the beach
watching the meth head ocean’s reckless clawing at its own
pocked face, wave after wave pounding
his already pounded head.
I grew up in a creek,
a former show dog, washing myself with my own tongue.
Betrayed for money. “No skill to see the Sunne”
and “verie moodie.” Early-mauled
by the devil’s bright claw
entering me repeatedly from above.
We escaped together at thirty-two and made love
for such a collection of hours it turned into a glory of days.
Rolling in the clover
behind the witch’s house
passing the poisoned apple
between our happy mouths.
Spitting the juice of Flintwoort out and laughing from our pits.
His lamb curls, the long vein
inside his long warm neck, filling itself—again, again—
And just like that
life came to me—me!—
with no claim
on this particular earth.
Behold, her beautiful dark black head.
All poems © My SECOND WORK, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2020