The River: My Mother’s Spider Veins
The river arrives from high heels, crossed legs, pregnancy.
Who knows? It’s dappling her thigh now in purple,
green reeds, and yellow mushrooms.
Bog turtle, salamander, pink river dolphin
gathered here in jars, exist in her along shallows
shaded by overgrown trees, the narrow hulls of boats nesting.
Some say my mother’s veins are drowned water
from the ice age, when the original stream was flooded over.
And if that’s true, her veins are less a map and more
a pattern of lightning strikes.
Once we were all in the estuary of her.
Once we were axolotl pressing our newfound hands
into the river bottom, pushing off.
previously published in New Plains Review
—after Richard Turere’s invention to protect livestock near the Kenyan savanna
We may never know what it’s like for a predator to enter our gate
and drag away the cow / We may never know / what it is like to be the predator
found in the grass / then dragged into town by the hind paws
hearing this is my territory / That is yours
Cows didn’t always live by the savanna / neither did the boy
who leads them to grasslands / who says / A lion for a cow
What does it matter / after both lie still in the yard / the lions
still coming / The boy builds the compromise
in a modified car battery / linked to lights running off solar
after so many shunned scarecrows / hung
dewy and limp / At night / torch bulbs flash for the lions
glinting off their eyes / glinting off the dull cows’ eyes
So the lions move toward zebra foals / The boy
enters in the morning with feed and draws the milk / We want to say
to ourselves Lion is a thief / is a drunk driving their car
into our tree / is a mortician / who steals corneas / But no
The lion / is a lion / was / will be a lion / We don’t know
what a lion is outside / the cage / the channel / the big cat rescue farm
How are we / outside the lion / Sometimes we’re just
straw stuffed in our old clothes / sometimes we move / Lion moves too
previously published in The Citron Review
Giants’ Faces Held in the Hills
Late morning we occupy the space of our shadows
escorted each week through the yard of small white stones,
of whale-blue buildings named Palo Verde, Cactus, Kennedy,
Roosevelt, and the two spruce trees called sentries.
Neither inmate nor correctional officer,
I am between their words and the invisible women
that occupy workshop with descriptions of their hair
like water from a dry spring. My co-instructor and I,
we are new statues. We are pinstriped cotton shirts
and blue pants. We are slender fish between the gates. We
are our family’s names beside students also fathers, also
husbands, also sons, also inmates in their orange reminders.
Here they say, we are not cyclopses. Thank you for not staring.
We talk about Bishop’s fish returning to the water
with its hooked gums, about Pound’s apparitions.
It seems this prison is also a world beneath worlds.
Its residents speak to the outside from booths beneath sentries.
On ceremony, some gather in the sweat lodge gated under sun.
And I see none of this until a morning when the yard
is clear of orange, when we look past our shadows and theirs.
At its finish, they say, drive safe. We exit the yard.
Exit sally port, returning our radios. Exit door and outer gate until
the desert is un-netted from barbs and chain link. Until next time,
we return to giants’ faces held in profile against the dark hills.
previously published in cream city review
You and I See the Animals
Lion summertime swallowed us up year after year.
We sisters picked neighbors’ apricots, peaches, nectarines.
We swung our legs—acrobats on ponies—from bike pedals to handlebars.
We puffed air into the nylon of our swimsuits
to make breasts like mermaids, the water holding them up.
That was when we started wearing swimsuits.
We were wetting our hair in front of our faces
then rolling the damp sheet of it back
to look like George Washingtons,
the hose twirling in the pool
until the last warm day had already passed,
the water too cold for you and for me.
We listened to longer books on our parents’ bed, illustrated Greek mythology.
How silly all those gods and grown-ups,
chasing the sun, opening boxes, looking back.
Each night, sister, you and I thought we could undo our looms,
It was easy to cut thread with scissors,
as easy as unlacing our fingers from one another.
Odysseus had built that olive tree bed, each bedpost a growing tree trunk.
But Penelope was alone, sleeping on the left or right side of the bed,
then spread out in the middle.
He was off on one of those promises again,
while we were sure the bed had grown enough to lift off the roof.
Inside became outside, so animals wandered in following moths following light.
We thought of lion summertime, speckled deer, antsy rabbits,
baboons, green parrots and crows sidestepping her bed’s branches,
invisible to the suitors, who only saw Penelope.
But the crows weren’t there for love, just olives, which they took
in the mornings like they do on our street, when olives fall purple and fat.
The crows stepping on split olives on bedcovers, made footprints all over.
This is the story you’re telling me in the attic of our garage.
I can feel the spotted fur of the leopard, the feathered necks of flamingoes.
We are all of those animals at once until
you’re bored waiting for love. You fly down the attic’s drop ladder,
leaving me in the rafters. You begin to sing, sister.
And then the story is over.
previously published in Poet Lore