The Drowned Light

The Spirit of Bridget Bishop

Swastika

Cow Tipping Near Indian Creek

Kindergarten Portrait of My Mother

Botticelli's Venus Tries to Forget



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

SWASTIKA
 

Like a trick
you crawled up Hitlerís sleeve,
a crooked cross with bent arms,
two cursed Sís twisted together
like a black strand of DNA.

You look like a mistake,
like two Y's joined at the hip,
the mutant offspring of an Ló
a sad, disfigured letter from some
genetically-engineered alphabet
gone terribly wrong.

I watch you wave from a flag
like a finish line
fluttering at the end of a race.

 
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BOTTICELLIíS VENUS TRIES TO FORGET
 

O' Botticelli, do not speak
of that dreadful day in Cypress
when you stroked the green air
and my charcoal silhouette blushed.
Or of the black sky, how it swallowed
white flecks of geese.

I want to forget how I posed for you
in the jaws of a scallop shell
while roses fell like rain.
That night, how I stood under falling stars
while the nymph beside me grew yellow eyes
and my hair turned to rust.

Oí, my love, try to understand,
it is not easy for me.
For you will never know the waves like I,
how they wormed their way onto the shoreó
the stench of salt that clung to the air.
Nor can you fathom the utter regret
of being blown into a sinful world
by Zephyr's sour breath.
 
 

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COW TIPPING NEAR INDIAN CREEK

Drunk on beer and cheap whiskey
we stumble from our pickups
into the cold black air, follow
the yellow glow of headlights
through blue clouds of fog,
over chain-linked fences, thickets

of barbed wire, past junked tractors,
rusted chicken coops, toward
a weedy bank where moccasins glide
across a cracked black mirror of water
and empty beer cans drift
against the ripple of stars.

Once there, we stand together
in the blue light, content
for a moment to watch them,
balanced gloriously in sleep,
moonlight tracing the black
continents on their backs,
their breath rising like spirits.

The sweet smell of manure
ripens in the air around us
as we step into the soft mud
to shove them,
asleep and unknowing,
into the freezing darkness.
 

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THE SPIRIT OF BRIDGET BISHOP

Bridget Bishop was the first person convicted of witchcraft
in Salem. Suspicion initially arose after someone claimed to
have seen her spirit in the rafters of the Putnam barn.
She was executed by hanging on June 10, 1692.
                       --Life and Times of Bridget Bishop
 

I was born in the dark
corner of a barn, conceived
in a drop of sheep's milk,
squeezed into this bitter world
by a farmer's callused hand.
Most mornings I rise like steam
from the muscled backs of horses.

Most mornings I rise like steam
from the muscled backs of horses.
In the afternoon I'm dust
settling on floorboards,
a twitch in a goatís neck.

All day I drift in the dusty
light of the hayloft,
forever in a blue halo of flies,
high above the cows
with their agnostic eyes
and the heretical black map
of their backs, the pigs
shinning like pink buddhas.
 
Itís only a matter of time
before my voice scurries
along the rafters of the barn,
before gossip flutters
in the branches of trees
and the word witch ripens
in townspeople's mouths.
 
 

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THE DROWNED LIGHT
 

Pinned beneath the dark rust of their voices
she lies flat on her back in the dry dirt.
Above her, a blood-shot sky,
blackbirds slurred against a wall of pine.

In the still air men smoke cigarettes,
loosen their belts. They watch her pink blouse
open like the petals of an azalea,
watch bruises bloom beneath her skin.
Trees sway in the glint of their rifles.
Their sweaty hands grope the air.

When they're done they leave her half-dressed
in the drowned light of the lake.
An orange sun ripples as their murky shadows
limp across the water.
 

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KINDERGARTEN PORTRAIT OF MY MOTHER AT MARDI GRAS
 

She looks rather pathetic, really,
leaning against the black air,
the three mangled fingers of her left hand
clutching a yellow purse,
her right arm raised over her head
as if to shield herself
from the silver shower of stars
raining down upon her.

Her mouth is a crack
growing beneath her nose.
Two dimples open like holes
in her cheeks. A pink ear
dangles from her chin.

Looking at it now, it's clear.
But who could have possibly know then
the dark shades of meaning
lurking in the shadow of her face,
the quiet relevance of the pearl necklace
swimming around her neck,
the orange birds drifting above her
like question marks?

Or that twenty years later
it would all make sense-
the way her eyes roll toward the sky,
the way my father stands behind her
in the crowd, arms waving
in the wind, as if he's slowly drowning
in the black sea of faces.
 

 
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