Xenomancy

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They ran barefoot in the summertime
in packs like stray dogs, ragged and dirty,
and there were leaders and followers. Each fell into place
warrior and peacemaker, alike,
the way that young women do when left good and alone.
They hunted, too,
though, if asked, they couldn’t tell you just what.
No, it was in the motions; the movement was what mattered,
especially on the longest of the hottest days.
Beneath the brightly hot, the hours of sweating, breathless
they found cool, stale air inside the station,
safe inside a public darkness
since it was best for watching anyway.

There they pressed the backs of their thighs
against the splintered wood, felt their skin stick
to the layered shellac,
cringing. Like pews.
They sat and were audience, again, but not to god
for once, there were no cubbies for hymnals,
no blank envelopes tucked somewhere
for drawing  body parts,
for drawing their mocking laughter,
for catching old man and woman frowns.

No, inside the dark,
they broke apart. Individual again, solitary inside
but not entirely alone with their skin pressed thigh to thigh,
and that was good,
since they each watched ragged claws
peek from inside stiff sleeves when the man in white
adjusted his tie beside their rows,
when he tipped his stiff hat to passersby.
They spotted him fast, or Katy did, anyway,
shoving her elbows into sister-sides,
grunting concern and vigilant.

His suit was crisply white and looked like weddings,
like rich people’s summertime
and rituals on boats nobody used to fish;
it seemed to glow when the shadows fell darker, 
when the sun disappeared behind the trees
outside the dirty windows
.

Someone whispered that his suit turned his teeth yellow,
and it passed down the row.
The gold buttons at his middle
reflected light like signals, sparks—
they’d been polished in piss, someone added,
since that was supposed to make brass shine.
His crimson tie was pinned by an aurulent star,
five-pointed, and 
at its white diamond center
blinked a ruby eye. It pulsed,
throbbed like a heart in its watching. 
It shifted sometimes
in a jeweled socket, though you’d never
notice unless you stared hard, so someone said.
But they tried not to stare. They all, it seemed,
tried not to stare: fingernails needed inspection;
there was something on the floor.  

There were country children tucked
among the bigger bodies in the crowd that hustled by.
Side-eyed, they were stealing looks
at his big daddy hands, too,
but they were not as brave.
They tucked their cheeks behind knees,
got jostled and knocked-about.

The man in white daubed his forehead with a kerchief,
seemed oblivious to the chaos around, focused on the signs
above or something inside,
though they knew he saw. He stepped before the rows
and made a show of smoothing the front of his trousers
of lifting his nose like an old hound.

The girls in front, the leader-types, that set them off.
Jessie thumbed her nose the way she’d seen in movies,
in pure pantomime. Something about him made them stir
that way, and they stood
leveled their shoulders, clenched their hands.
They were small bulls, invisible to most, and he grinned
but never looked directly their way.

The man in white stepped outside
into the heavy air that smelled like 
creosote,
like kudzu beside the tracks, green,
like the paper mill stench, poison,
from five miles up the road.

Their heads turned again, like a pack,
and they followed him with their eyes
as he stepped, full, into the sun,
lowered himself to his haunches—
feet flat, like giving birth, there, between his thighs
and shot them back an over-the-shoulder grin. 

One of the girls, a shy girl,
one of the girls who always ran in-between
whispered later that she saw a shift, swore
that something grew cock-stiff
and rippled beneath his coat. She laughed,
said it just had to be sinister,
more sinister than his old thing, she giggled,
tucked there beneath the fabric behind:
a tail, vestigial, maybe, jerking like sex
with its red, knobby end;
maybe waxy ropes with little teeth,
grew about his middle.

It was hard to tell what was real, she said,
and it really didn’t matter
since there was nobody they could tell
that would believe them
anyway.

Katabasis

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The place smelled like rust,
from pipes overhead.
It was hell when you got that scent
up your nose, when the smell
settled in your mouth.

There were no locks on the door,
so anyone could enter, all.
Old paper boxes, clumped newspaper
grew mildew and something else,
something noisome
that clung to our hair
for days after.

Fungus grew, black and green,
in my lungs after a night
underground. It creeped, thrived.
It grew soft hyphae
that snaked through my veins,
rooted, and then threaded-out
through my pores
like hair
that I’d need to shave soon.

It was a nighttime place.
Our elbows touched nervous in the dark,
sharp on rough.
We whispered sleepy apologies.
Our skin was cold and sticky
beneath cheap cotton, polyester blends,
the thrown-together
bedclothes from the dollar store.

We hoped no one would
cut us out of them
before night’s end.
We wore clean underwear
and dressed for death, like always.

There was static on a battery radio
that  squelched some bad reception,
AM some tinny country twang
about whippoorwills and liquor.
Men and women.
Plastic flashlights twisted out dark;
the batteries inside were ancient and coated
with a greenish sheen.

The old women flapped their hands,
panicked. They talked,
but I listened to my heartbeat
like the sound outside
that was like a train, always like a train.
They said it sounded like a train.

It was a joke—depending
on how it was said, who said it.
It was stupid, repeated,
repeated until it had no meaning.
We had ridicule ready for ourselves
before anyone else had the chance.

My teeth ached during lightning flashes.
We counted thunder claps each storm.
Static felt like chewing tin foil,
while we waited for the rumble,
waited for the flashes
to charge the air to spark.

Each spring, the sky ripped-open
and sprouted dark, whipping tails.
We ran under the eerie calm,
inside the spinning air.
We squinted against the slap, the prickle
of sideways rain and licked our lips,
tasted the iron in what fell
and sought crowded shelter
from the killing storm.

Temenos

There’s a metallic buzz
under the nighttime sound,
the sundown hum—
the scratchy beating of wings,
like cross-legged sitting,
singing
into whirling metal blades.
It’s a static voice,
an electric device pressed hard
against a wounded, smokey throat
to crackle thoughts.

I shoo it from my ears
like flies
when it draws too near,
when I am alone
beneath the wet darkness. Especially then.

Some of them bob like spiders,
spin their webs—
almost invisible until they catch,
cling, and coat
your eyes and mouth,
leave you sputtering.
They hang between the trees
like small suicides
and sometimes catch a breeze
for a swing
but mostly net.

Some need like fathers:
distant but vigilant, selfish,
protective sometimes
if it serves them;
critical but stoic;
kind,
when it serves them;
they cherry-pick their food.
They pick their teeth with tiny bones
and smell like tobacco.
Some of them are blue and cold.
They purple our toes, chatter our teeth.
They season us with oneiric teases
but keep good distance, wise,
and only watching,
only watching
so they feel like Time.

Some are red and burn.
They set everything on fire
and take us back to black tar,
to dirt and simple need.
Warm seduction,
there is little of them left
either
at the end of things.
(Dark Matter
is warm not cold
on that plane.)

Some are fat as babies,
giants, hungry and propped-up
on hospital beds.
They wait for death
with their big thumbs
pressed on morphine triggers
when it’s not between their gums
or pressed inside to sex.

They catalog death, the ways we die.
The boring ways, the ways forgotten
and ignored, the absurd,
the pathetic.
When we’ve forgotten,
they take turns
turning pages.
They take turns.
And they always dream on paper.

FireShot Capture - In the Image of God_ John Comenius and _ - http___publicdomainreview.org_2014_0

John Comenius (Public Domain Review) 

 

Goddess of Open Mouths

 

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“I dig because I am hungry”
– Margaret Atwood, from Digging
(Selected Poems, 1965 – 1975)


I was nineteen
when I first saw the ocean.
My fingers locked with my lover’s
that night, and the wet grate of sand
on my feet
was a new satisfaction.

She was nervous.
I held her hand,
felt her thumb rub circles near my own,
and I knew
we wouldn’t last the year.

Ten ‘til midnight and falling clocks
ticked down from ninety-nine
to a new millennium.
It was supposed to mean something,
they said,

but there was no apocalypse at dawn:
we did not return to caves;
tails did not sprout from our asses,
nor gills from our throats;
we did not club one another
in the streets
for scraps of bloody meat
and clean water.

Around us, fish-reek and musk,
seaweed sex smelled
like the beginning of life,
not the end. And when the gold
and red spiders
finally lit the sky, nothing
had really changed at all.

When the world grew quiet
again, the distance faded gray,
and in the place of night sky
stood a green lady—
a mother colossus wading
towards shore.

Sea glass eyes, thick
blue bottle-bottoms
fused together in her big frog face.
They caught sparks of light
from the ashes of tiny sky fires.
She was monstrous
in her beauty, with shiny scales
like polished armor to seal her curves.

Her skull was oblong, fused
to her shoulders, it seemed,
in an interminable shrug.
Ruddy feelers, mouthy suckers
snaked gorgon around her head,
while others bore faces, tiny,
independent, blinking and staring,
asynchronous and laughing,
independent of the mother’s body,
of each other, as are we all.

She nursed starfish at her breasts.
They gripped and sucked, their little points twisting.
They gripped and sucked, like babies pulling milk.
So hungry. Hungry.

Something writhed
where her body met the water.
I thought of eels like a tree skirt,
of leather whip-cracks
cutting the air and skin
electric gifts, weeping
blood for drink in primal delivery.

Hundreds of vermicular bodies
spewed from her mouth.
They spilled into the waves as
new births joining
the thrashing spawn,
the sea water life, and she, I knew,
was endless.

My lover couldn’t see.

She couldn’t see her,
and my heart shattered.
I already knew
she’d not worshiped at the temple,
never turned herself
inside out with wet stinking fingers,
ripped her own throat raw
for the sake
of some small kindness,
for a chance to be filled.
But I’d hoped. I had still hoped.

I swallowed briny spit,
ever patient, and watched
for the great lady’s wave.
I mourned her retreat,
and promised to wait.

In the Fields, Growing Green

Take the biting creatures
netted from the brackish water
in the bay
and carry them, still writhing,
to the empty fields
where they’ll rot in the Sun.
Let them feed the earth if it’s hungry,
and what’s beneath (if it’s hungry),
and come again at daybreak to gather-up
the bones.

Smell the edges of decay
through the open windows, the curtains
tied back with silk sashes,
breeze-blowing:

what was half-salted
and thrived in that warm water,
in that living soup,
what fed the hungry lips
beneath the surface, angled teeth,
now oozes swampy green, then black,
then turns red dirt.

Take a walk
through those soppy fields
at daybreak, when droplets hang
from drooping leaves.
When steam rises
between the browning windrows,
remember that there is
something breathing there
just beneath your feet.

Take a walk again at sunset,
after the grass has cooled quite a bit.
See it sweat again soon, ready for night,
ready for the crickets
and sing-song cicadas,
ready for the things
that raise their quick little heads,
more confident come dark.
Wait for the sound of screeching owls
and throaty frog sex.

The holes are everywhere.
Watch your step.

They thrive on nothing, wanting;
they take whatever’s left behind.
See the holes too big for rodents,
far too big.
Watch, now, and be careful
not to turn your ankle
when you’re stepping so far down.