There’s a bird spine in my tongue, dear –
you should know this — bristling from root
to tip. I think it wants to fly, or sing,
but it hurts me with its thrusting.
Or maybe it’s an eel spine, flat
on the cutting board, flapping is ribs
in the Protestant squeaks of my
dead mother’s tongue.
You can’t hear it but it deafens me.
Either way, a horse pulled a rock
from the Widow Murphy’s farm yesterday.
Did you hear? No? Of course all the men
helped, the sweat of themselves running
like tadpoles over sun rocks, pushing,
pushing so hard, I imagine they died
in a mountain of themselves afterward
and were glad for it. I know I would’ve.
What would you like for breakfast, Macree?
Slam whiskey? I’ll pour but don’t watch.
They’ve been slurred, these piano hands,
now old-woman graspy hands. Not one
muscle on a string-bone left, I’m afraid.
I’d play if I could. You used to like it,
but it’s hard playing with life being lived
when I see it and I do, whereas visiting
those tombs you despise on a Sunday
puts me in continuum, the black paper
of my birth certificate polished, ordained.
Here! look! For the first time I know who
my father was! That ragged little bastard
I adored with the precision of a corpse!
he fed me, clothed me, bought me shoes –
himself a poor man! Called me his twelve-cent
chicken painted til it weighed forty pounds
then plucked me and set me free. Two reasons
he had; slaughter horses to contain the wiggle
of my mother or smoke muscles to improve
the curse of life’s meaning. All our favorite
bills are due. I’d liked to have been a rich baby
fed butter and cream. Sin to admit, for it would be
eccentric of the innocent to admit their crimes.
I would still like to be a rich baby. Worse to admit.
I’ve been thinking about our future and the baby’s.
I’ve decided both should be yellow.
from Kind Surgery. ©2014.
I wonder about my Uncle Basil,
mother’s young brother who died
when all the pictures and streets
were black and just barely white
and even shoes were rare.
He hung around the Strand Movie Theater
smoking cigarettes in the dark,
damp places, I was told, once –
and that was all, that was all it took.
I wonder what he looked like,
what his death was like. I see a slung hat,
a grin — I cannot imagine death
my mother blamed her mother for:
kept him in dark rooms, she said,
no fresh air, no fruit.
As if that would appease the one
who punishes small-town boys
for loving the white and flickering
faces above and down alleys
and having fathers who uttered
the German grunt in 1941.
from The Wedding Tree ©2013
The Sky I Think is Up There
the cat doesn’t want
to be tossed off the bed
the ant doesn’t want
to be pissed down the sink
the dog doesn’t want
to be put to sleep
the radio doesn’t want
to be played
the mind doesn’t want
the intestines don’t want
the blood doesn’t want
to be red
the hand doesn’t want
the lip doesn’t want
the hat fails to fly off the naked lady and land upon
from Waiting for Better ©2014
The fact that she had killed twice before
never bothered me. In fact made me strong,
for I knew that if need be she would kill for me.
What is dust but the broken-off ends of this world
that we filter and hate as best we can
in order to see air, and be glad?
from Waiting for Better ©2014
The Soft Weep
With tongue touching nothing
the frenzy-coated alphabet
rattled from his mouth into
the soft weep of a thousand.
“I have only just footed this
ugly ascent’s torn otherness,”
he cried. “So muscle the wound
and hush, Cantata, nor wince
the socket packed!” O my father,
who art in pieces, who art in wax:
shoot your snakes into the coiling sun –
then drop your bow, and run.
by Matt Dennison
from Kind Surgery ©2014