Maybe it’s Emphysema, a shiny black jewel of
humming like a clump of bees in my chest.
Perhaps a tumor crawling in the crook of my armpit,
a blood clot opening like a tiny red flower in my
Maybe it’s too early to show up on an X-ray,
a kind of cancerous seed planted deep
in my intestine, something like Leukemia’s ghost
haunting my hollow bones.
The doctor says I’m fine.
But even now, deep in the dark holes of my eyes
I can feel the cataracts spinning their silver webs.
Even now, in the bony cage of my lungs
I can feel the heart attack’s prologue,
the opening words of some prolific pain
like a bird stabbing its incessant beak
into the ripe red meat of my heart.
Ode to Gumbo
after Sue Owen
Born from flour anointed with oil,
from a roux dark and mean as a horse’s breath,
you remind me of some strange, mystical stew
spawned from a muddy version of Macbeth.
Only someone’s replaced the spells with spices,
the witches with a Cajun chef.
Maybe you’re a recipe torn from Satan’s
a kind of dumb-downed devil’s brew
where evil stirs its wicked spoon
in a swampy sacrificial hue.
Maybe God damned the okra that thickens
your soup, the muddy bones that haunt your stew.
Maybe this is why, when we smell the cayenne,
we’re struck dumb as a moth.
Maybe this is why everything that crawls or flies
seems to find its way into your swampy broth.
A Retired Voodoo Priestess Dreams of Revenge
from The Psych Ward in Charity Hospital
Only three days and already I loathe this place,
this milk-white morgue, this smiling slaughterhouse,
where girls in straitjackets grow fat on pills,
floating on pale clouds of Clozapine,
sad white angels with their wings lopped off,
their eyes blind as stones rattling in a gris gris
I’ve had it with these nurses, with their dull
white smocks and their hypodermic needles,
the smiling orderlies with black holes for eyes,
their veins pumped fat with steroids,
psychiatrists with the same filthy grins,
talking through their pink Pepto-Bismol mouths.
Do they know that with one pinch of cayenne
I could turn their liver into a hornet’s nest,
make roaches scurry through their black veins?
That with one single strand of horse’s hair
I could squeeze the breath from their fat pink necks,
stop the clock from ticking in their chest?
Do they see me in the cold dull afternoon
sewing bloodroot into dolls, drawing X’s in
Do they know that while I stand in line for meds
I'm working a mean batch of spells in my head?
That at night I keep a crow’s foot in my pocket,
hidden like a white pill under my tongue?
Snow White, to the Prince
after Susan Thomas
Truth is, my life was no fairytale,
that afternoon, I lay, a smiling corpse
under a glass sky, a rotten apple
lodged in my throat like a black lump
of cancer, your sloppy kiss dying on my lips.
Did you really believe a kiss could cure
the poison galloping through my veins,
as you stood there, with your ugly white horse,
the voices of dwarfs buzzing like flies
in the apple-scented air?
I wish you could see me now,
how I take to the sky, a witch
without a broom, an empty black silhouette
with stars for teeth, spooking deer
into briar patches, swallowing the shadows of trees.
I wish I could slip into my beautiful white flesh,
just once, my pretty white feet stuffed into black
my poisoned-breath fogging up the smiling mirror.
If only you could see the light pouring from my skin.
If only you could hear the songs my bones sing.
Fear of Weather
Once a favorite conversation piece,
now something more like a disease.
A weathervane sings, a wind chime clangs.
It’s December, only a slight silver breeze,
but already I’m imagining the tangled
metal of cars, birds falling from the trees.
My therapist says fear is normal,
that it’s simply a matter of degrees,
the brain has an internal mechanism,
she says, a switch that flicks on and off with ease.
I imagine a kind of silver machine
in my brain, humming like a hive of bees,
fear hopping from synapse to synapse
like some sort of electric, Post-modern flea.
Each day I swallow my grief like a pill,
ignore my therapist’s advice, my wife’s
I wait for the sky to fall, longing for the days
when wind was only wind, trees only trees.
Kindergarten Portrait of My Mother at Mardi
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 known 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.