In the Beginning

In the beginning, there was your mouth:
soft rose, rose murmur, murmured breath, a warm

cardinal wind that drew my needle north.
Magnetic flux, the press of form to form. 

In the beginning, there was your mouth—
the trailhead, the pathhead faintly opened,

the canyon, river-carved, farther south,
and ahead: the field, the direction chosen.

In the beginning, there was your mouth,
a sky full of stars, raked or raking, clock-

wise or west, and in the close or mammoth 
matter, my heart’s red muscle, knocked and knocked.

In the beginning, there was your mouth,
And nothing since but what the earth bears out.

The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.

I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs

and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead

on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow

feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.

I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot

feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls

skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.

To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white

petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am

in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.


            after Mary Oliver

Here is the meat
and fat and bone
of the day. The smoke
too for the god of recognition.

A love offering,
where love is also
grief and mourning,
the business of waking
and moving in a body far
away from you,
sweet friend.

Where waking
and moving mean
crying or not crying,
but always breathing.

Mark how the light
bends through the dry
air, like breath,
at the end of the day.

Mark the chirbling of the bird
outside my window.

Mark the day we will see
one another again,
and what light there will be,
what song.

Gun Control

The gun—purchased legally
by our parents when I was ten,

shown to us, placed in our hands
that we might sense the weight, then placed

on a shelf any of us
could reach, though we did not, not yet—

pulled by our mother six years
later as I straddled her son’s

small body to stop his fists
from battering me—our mother,

misreading the scene, seeing
her youngest in danger, and me,

too large in her mind to be
handled any other way— our

mother holding the gun and
shaking the gun and crying, caught

in an act of betrayal,
not yet angry that I would run,

sock clad, to Sam’s Pitt Stop Fried
Chicken and Fish to tell Sam Pitt,

my boss from the last summer
to tell him with incredulity—

no, with something more naïve,
say, shock or hurt, that my mother

had just pulled a gun on me,
the good child, the obedient

child, and she, later, saying
she had no other choice

she had to save her boy,
the malt liquor on her breath,
the blue bull in her blood, remorse,

perhaps, in her voice as she
asked, without asking, for forgiveness,

the gun returned to the shelf.

Related Poems

Center of the World

The meek inherit nothing.
God in his tattered coat
this morning, a quiet tongue

in my ear, begging for alms,
cold hands reaching up my skirt.
Little lamb, paupered flock,

bless my black tea with tears.
I have shorn your golden
fleece, worn vast spools

of white lace, glittering jacquard,
gilded fig leaves, jeweled dust
on my skin. Cornsilk hair

in my hems. I have milked
the stout beast of what you call America;
and wear your men across my chest

like furs. Stick-pin fox and snow
blue chinchilla: They too came
to nibble at my door,

the soft pink tangles I trap
them in. Dear watchers in the shadows,
dear thick-thighed fiends. At ease,

please. Tell the hounds who undress
me with their eyes—I have nothing
to hide. I will spread myself

wide. Here, a flash of muscle. Here,
some blood in the hunt. Now the center
of the world: my incandescent cunt.

All hail the dark blooms of amaryllis
and the wild pink Damascus,
my sweet Aphrodite unfolding

in the kink. All hail hot jasmine
in the night; thick syrup
in your mouth, forked dagger

on my tongue. Legions at my heel.
Here at the world’s red mecca,
kneel. Here Eden, here Bethlehem,

here in the cradle of Thebes,
a towering sphinx roams the garden,
her wet dawn devouring.

from "genesis"

in the beginning the sound of holes, and the weight of treason and light paper streamers. and a hundredfold, and below; and the girls with thickening braids, wet paper maps, brought round at last to see the slick animal caught in the rain. and the deluge; and the dark; and the story past the window


and the window
and the stutter


and the thought was insubstantial, and stained; and the hands were limpid, and sought; and the children scattered in front of the wagon like increasing wind. and the pen that drew your name, and the one that would not; and a child with a small box of crayons, not yet opened; and the positioning of fingers and wrists


and my hand was a token of yours
and the trees, pulled backwards

A Tuesday Night

Sexy admires a good perforation:
the pickle jar’s shrink-wrap

that snaps open at the designated seam,
the salt cracker’s occasional miracle

of the crumbless break. The world is held
together with such commitments,

with agreements that build their undoing
into their architecture. Indeed, this world cleaves.

He looks at the outdated map on his wall, then
at the lovers on TV. Some science says atoms never touch. Yet

here they are, he thinks, two as an image of completeness.
The actors, their bodies, right there in the slack

of that sagging sofa. Their primetime lives
sewn together by thin threads of breath beginning to fray

in the flickering blue light.