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A train blasts a loud warning, rocking past
sooty little houses near the shipyards.
of a Canadian freighter ship
and the reedy bascule bridge.
L O W W W W W – H I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I
drowns out the familiar whine
of oar belts just
at the mouth
of the Black
The bridge, opening at the center, stops traffic.
The road stands in two vertical columns.
on their gills
ruins of the
remarks that we need
a decent pair of shoes – a junk heap
being no place for a pair of skinny kids in flimsy flip flops.
And don’t screw around that close to the river, because if you slip
the ship’s undertow will take you down, and you’ll never come back up.
We don’t listen, though – just watch the freighter slide
toward the lifting rail bridge, eyes glued
on the tracks, listening for more trains.
Somebody mistimed this, once.
We are drawn to the possibility of a more spectacular catastrophe.
The closet of my cousin’s childhood bedroom is a portal to the afterlife. In the back, behind the packed mass of old clothes and heaps of shoes, there is a small door that leads to the attic crawlspace. We used to hide there when we were little. Now, she slips in and out with deceased relatives and family pets. They wait at the top of the stairs for me, seemingly confined to the second floor.
My old loves are the only ones who ascend the stairs with me. We hold hands and are never scared. Sometimes I know nothing of my current life. Sometimes I confess to them. I am a mother, now. I love another and we can’t be together. Still, they hold my hand and we walk up the stairs. There is a black, amorphous mass in the northeast corner of the bedroom that only I can see. The spirits and boys ignore it. It terrifies me to my core.
Since the birth of my daughter, the attic dreams have been augmented with hospital night-terrors. IV ports failing, multiple botched epidural attempts. The doctors refuse to sew me back up after the C-section. They discharge me from the hospital, and I find myself sitting at the bottom of the stairs leading to my cousin’s room. My intestines keep slipping out, slapping lukewarm against my feet. I peer inside the wound, my blackened womb.
I gather my innards with the help of a boy I once kissed. He tells me we have to come up with a plan to sew me back together. He helps me up the stairs and opens the door to my cousin’s room. I ask him the unanswerable:
Am I a portal through which new souls come into being? Are we connected through crawlspaces to the before-and-afterlife? Can you see the black form standing in the corner?
I will ask my cousin tonight. I will tell her I am a mother now.
There is no word for Spring’s delay –
just torture until it arrives.
Wrapping ourselves in sheer dismay
March winds whistle through us like knives.
Hope does not do justice, either.
Nor bitter desperation.
We grasp each feeble ray of sun
seeking earnest supplication.
borne through waves of nausea
a heartbeat flutters onscreen
“there’s the little troublemaker”
the abdomen expands
to accommodate life
agony’s thumb edges
down the center
an unseen hunter
pares the womb
with the blade
of her electric knife
for my daughter
i do not yet know
how to write you
kicks at my ribs
i trust the words
will be born with you
my left palm
pinching the teal dot
of graphite lodged
beneath my love line
though the accident
was decades ago
what if it were not the liquor
but the shape of the glass that got you drunk?
if fine fluting transformed ordinary properties of water?
jesus christ, i whisper
high tension lines
beneath blue november skies
my high strung
high tension mind
how to meet the hat man
sleep fitfully on the sofa
your back to to door
plagued by dreams of moths
in a house of illness
sleep until his deep voice wakes you
and you cannot move.
“excuse me, ma’am?”
his tall frame curls into the corner
his neck cranes, hat scrapes the ceiling
no light reflects from his face or hands
featureless as a shadow
he watches though the night
and you cannot move.
“i’ll be right here if you need anything.”
when i was a skeleton
i had not the foresight
to fashion a skin for myself
from discarded trash and tarps
the ache whistled through my ribs
my bones dried in the winter air
withering once whitehot marrow
into frozen despair
cold medicine blues
the dogbody of midnight
on scraps of
during the great depression
we climb a rotten maple
we shimmy up a rope
i glide back to the ground
while you sway, unafraid
in an army flight jacket
a single living sliver
supporting your branch