November 27, 2019KR OnlinePoetry

Memento Mori: Bell Jar with Suspended Child

I
A crow circles the dome. One endless wing
anchored, axis, in fresh-bloated ground.

The other, feather-tip, skims glass sky—that coil
of perpetuity, surfer’s thumb along barrel wave.

Here, my daughter is no more than simulated
landscape, spring-loaded copse woven of her

plucked hair. Love turned to thatch. Trembling palm
tree rooted into diorama of waft, wander. Quaint

surgery, the modelmaker’s hand.
                                                            I want to say no
to the bent note, the queasy calliope reeling from this

jar’s base. As if turned earth sings, as if a mother might
trade grief for the whine of a candy flute. Go on, dark

crow, drift—you, too, born of my ribs. Your span
whirls like the dancer’s foot in a music box. Always,

the wrong ones leave us.        Bird, inevitable bird, where
should you land

your arrowhead                       beak,
                                                                if not in me?

 

II
The quality is: days pass. Fork-colored fan blades
warp stuck air into a hymn. All warbles toward rot.

You salt what you can hold—lambchop, cartilage.
The brute snout that once sensed a hunter’s vague fear.

Over time—it could be centuries—toes web, widen
against sucking mud. Please stay dry. But the body,

sick brilliant machine, creeps, breeding the yeast
of strange fever, effusing into garden—the traitor.

Explosions of promiscuity: coral peonies, lady slipper,
gape-mouth jewelweed.
                                                                Where do I put the rage?

On the child’s bed, one doll has been stitched inside
another.            Women are meant to carry things to safety.

But here, scissors grind out a requiem: tooth-gnash of a girl
lost to brassy, desperate death. Only, the lonesome

death. Who needs a hand small as hers?—its ease,
its locomotive warmth? Remember, the spirit

hath fled.

 

             Every spot we touch on the living fossilizes
toward object.
                                       This is a stung, hollow song,

and the lungs that expel it—flabby, vestigial, like the heart
of a prey whose low branch has just been lifted.

 

III
For a woman’s bile to rise high enough, it takes years—
years to cure it, to a keen, to age the wild broken hawk

blood into wine, the musk to metal, aloneness a mineral
swelling her milk-marble eyes. Stiffening the chute of each

hair, smoothed, pinned back like a moth’s leg under glass.
Somewhere, a hand tugs the knots from inside her

ship’s bottle, hoisting toothpick masts to sail
for nowhere.
                         Shouldn’t we end on a shelf?

Shouldn’t the orb-weaver eat yesterday’s web?
Watch her climb the net of her own hunger

to snip filament, filament, anchor, swallowing
the whole fine, diaphanous delta, nautilus whorl,

line after line funneled into the pocket of a gland.
Just another mother gathering blankets from a bed.

The spider knows tonight she’ll knit again, reflex
unspooling the drab meal into muggy honeycomb,

measuring out the tessellations of a dragonfly’s sight,
and again tomorrow, taking in until the world’s ready

to take back, her form sliding along the same remade silk,
pendant on a chain.
                                     The faith of instinct. Instinct of faith.

 

IV
Bell ringing in an empty room

        Heavy curtain, heavy wind

Bell ringing in an empty room

        Under the stairs, mold in a vase

Bell ringing in an empty room

        Sky overcast, basin filmed with lather

Trembling bell, empty room

        Thank you for doing what I cannot do

Empty bell, trembling room

        Metronome, woodpeck, hammerfall

Empty bell, trembling, trembling

        room, ringing womb, rinsing

room of the body, the bell

        hollow, holy, tolling up, out like

horse hooves pealing through

        streets no one travels, but us

 

V
If he can’t fill me how will I be
whole? With the gape of me
bulbous, raw, the sap of a torn peach

trickling, how? How with every shiv
blunted, too dull to stab this pulsing
tenderness? Outside, bodies pass

in and out of each other. Barges
bump against a lock. In the dark
a man and a woman lie

on the quay, joining, unjoining,
gathering what they can, as if a small fire
has suddenly surged.

If he could, he would drink this river,
find the child at the bottom. Strangle the swan,
and wrap our hard love in its wings.

 

VI
It’s hard for the bat to understand the other limb
of this argument, so bent on survival. Listen to him
tell us: fur-necked hissing half-bear, half-cobra.
Like water, the man says, they get in everywhere.
But tonight you make no calls. You are vision, mercy.

Sounds of the bat’s drowning: iron dowel squealing
inside steel pipe, metal unfinished, unthreaded, crude.
Listen to the way the pillow’s down settles
under the weight of your body. How it streams
into the bat’s nose, flat as a crushed heart. Listen

to the nothing. To your blood doing its stupid work.
A ruined animal will drag itself miles, only to become
a desiccated hutch, burrow of maggots, coyote trough.
The opossum, pouch-heavy, will shelter in any cow’s husk,
and if rain hardens to sleet, will den in the rind of another

                                                                                       opossum.

Somewhere, there is a long hall, filled with jars of all sizes.

I will save you this end.

 

VII
It’s a hundred years later—three hundred, more
—and I’m stuck in the sad lattice of a foreign cemetery.
I’m lost. Stray dogs snort into the pink dusk, joining up
like magnets. Flags rooted in the yard start to blur beyond
stripe, day’s red wilts to russet.
                                                         I’ve looked for you
everywhere, the mausoleum’s stacked slabs, in cracks
spanning grimed glass like fragile rivers. In each globe
of glue dripped like dew on tomb flowers, clotting,
punctuating the arch sheen of petals that were never
petals at all. I’m listening here, for your paw-sized voice.
I ache for it. Me.                      Me, me. Because how else
should I tell you I can’t remember anymore
the scent of your new skin, still crusted with salt
of my body? My ancient body, its residue of a life
under water—hair so like mucousy kelp, strung
with cysts plump as beans, furious as a gland’s small mill.
How will you know to close the gate, to go? Leave me
here. The dogs grow hungry, as they should.
They know the way, they’ll bring me back to you.