The Cause of All My Suffering

My neighbor keeps a box of baby pigs
all winter in her kitchen. They are

motherless, always sleeping, sleepy
creatures of blood & fog, a vapor

of them wraps my house
in gauze, and the windows mist up

with their warm breath, their moist snores. They
watch her peel potatoes, boil

water from the floor, wearing
a steamy gown. She must be like

Demeter to them, but, like this weather
to me, this box of pigs

is the cause of all my suffering. They smell
of invalids, lotioned. Death is over there. When I

look toward my neighbor’s house, I see
trouble looking back

at me. Horrible life! Horrible town! I start
to dream their dreams. I dream

my muzzle’s pressed
desperately into the whiskered

belly of my dead mother. No
milk there. I dream

I slumber in a cardboard box
in a human kitchen, wishing, while

a woman I don’t love
mushes corn for me in a dish. In

every kitchen in the Midwest
there are goddesses & pigs, the sacred

contagion of pity, of giving, of loss. You can’t
escape the soft

bellies of your neighbors’ calm, the fuzzy
lullabies that drift

in cloudy piglets across their lawns. I dream
my neighbor cuts

one of them open, and stars fall out, and roll
across the floor. It frightens me. I pray

to God to give me
the ability to write

better poems than the poems of those
whom I despise. But

before spring comes, my neighbor’s
pigs die in her kitchen

one by one, and I
catch a glimpse of my own face

in the empty collection plate, looking
up at me, hungrily, one

Sunday—pink, and smudged—and ask it
Isn’t that enough?

More by Laura Kasischke

Kitchen Song

The white bowls in the orderly
cupboards filled with nothing.

The sound
of applause in running water.
All those who've drowned in oceans, all 
who've drowned in pools, in ponds, the small 
family together in the car hit head on. The pantry

full of lilies, the lobsters scratching to get out of the pot, and God

being pulled across the heavens
in a burning car.

The recipes
like confessions.
The confessions like songs.
The sun. The bomb. The white

bowls in the orderly
cupboards filled with blood. I wanted

something simple, and domestic. A kitchen song.

They were just driving along. Dad 
turned the radio off, and Mom 
turned it back on.

Near misses

The truck that swerved to miss the stroller in which I slept.
 
My mother turning from the laundry basket just in time to see me open 
  the third-story window to call to the cat.
 
In the car, on ice, something spinning and made of history snatched me
  back from the guardrail and set me down between two gentle trees.
  And that time I thought to look both ways on the one-way street.
 
And when the doorbell rang, and I didn’t answer, and just before I slipped
  one night into a drunken dream, I remembered to blow out the candle
  burning on the table beside me.
 
It's a miracle, I tell you, this middle-aged woman scanning the cans on
  the grocery store shelf. Hidden in the works of a mysterious clock are
  her many deaths, and yet the whole world is piled up before her on a
  banquet table again today. The timer, broken. The sunset smeared
  across the horizon in the girlish cursive of the ocean, Forever, For You.
 
And still she can offer only her body as proof:
 
The way it moves a little slower every day. And the cells, ticking away.
  A crow pecking at a sweater. The last hour waiting patiently on a tray
  for her somewhere in the future. The spoon slipping quietly into the
  beautiful soup.
 

The Pain

Like the human brain, which organizes
The swirls and shades of the bathroom tiles
Into faces, faces
With expressions
Of exhaustion, of disdain. The
Virgin Mary in the toast of course
But also the penance in the pain, and the way
My mother invented
Plums and tissue paper, while
My father invented the type of
Sudden kindness
That takes you by surprise
When you’ve expected to be chastised
And makes you cry


 

About this poem:
"The poem's impulse is the same as the poem's subject—a grappling, out of hope?—with the idea that there must be some way to integrate into one's life, if necessary, the experience of physical pain. If I can make out faces and objects every morning (if I stare long enough) at the bathroom tile—or so I was thinking—surely there would be a way to make meaning out of this pain?"

Laura Kasischke