Inheritance Cistern Sweet Dominion

They had their lightning thrones they had
their cages. They had their lamb pens and lamb
ties not just for lambs but for their own. As soon
as I understood the name of my skin sack
I was handed the chain. Was told by virtue
of my snow-lit skin I was Courtier
of the Chain. And could be Lord Chancellor
if I played my cards right. Dominion. We worked
the word over and over. We practiced with butterscotch
and Jolly Ranchers in the gold Honda. In the mile-long
yellow chariot that ferried us to the Coliseum.
So sweet. No need to bite down for the whole world
to hear you. No need to work your jaws
like an animal. To make yourself into an animal.

But also. Useful to think like an animal. To know
what that smelled like. That fear. My little skin
sack and really such a weakling who wept
over the stupidest things. Particularly
when waiting for the long yellow chariot.
I want to go home. To where? That was the rub.
No more home for me. If there ever was one.
I pitied myself. Little skin sack with the young wolves
circling in their gladiator suits. Heart refusing
to harden. But. The taste of hatred::

the sweet promise of that possible release.
In the annals of my light scroll when and if the
Light takes me back, it will be impossible to deny.
After the kicks and taunts. After hours eating
Salisbury steak over the toilet in the girls’
restroom. After the turnaway the plague
game, bottles of piss and spit thrown from passing
chariots as I made my way to the fairgrounds
on foot? They made a wager and let a lamb sack out
before me. And battered it. And battered it.
But all the while looking at me. Who laughed
along with them. My relief inexhaustible

as my desolation the next day when, having
shown myself to lamb and wolf entirely,
I was given my true calling. Which was exile
from every realm.

More by Gabrielle Calvocoressi

A Word From the Fat Lady

It isn't how we look up close
so much as in dreams.

Our giant is not so tall,
our lizard boy merely flaunts

crusty skin- not his fault 
they keep him in a crate

and bathe him maybe once a week.
When folks scream or clutch their hair

and poke at us and glare and speak
of how we slithered up from Hell,

it is themselves they see:
the preacher with the farmer's girls

(his bulging eyes, their chicken legs)
or the mother lurching towards the sink,

a baby quivering in her gnarled 
hands. Horror is the company

you keep when shades are drawn.
Evil does not reside in cages.

Graves We Filled Before the Fire

Some lose children in lonelier ways:
tetanus, hard falls, stubborn fevers

that soak the bedclothes five nights running.
Our two boys went out to skate, broke

through the ice like battleships, came back
to us in canvas bags: curled

fossils held fast in ancient stone,
four hands reaching. Then two

sad beds wide enough for planting
wheat or summer-squash but filled

with boys, a barren crop. Our lives
stripped clean as oxen bones.

Rocket Fantastic [excerpt]

He's really beautiful. When he's standing in the trees like that and thinks nobody sees him. He's like a stag. Which sounds silly but he is. The way the light shines on him. The way it bounces off his hair like spray from the sprinkler. And he doesn't know it right then. Because he's looking somewhere else. Maybe up at a bird. I was standing a few feet away and turned back because I heard him whistling when he thought I wasn't listening. He wasn't thinking of me. He was looking at a bird who was sitting in the tree and looking back at him. If his shirt was off he'd have been dappled golden in the sun coming through the leaves. He didn't notice me watching him without his shirt on. He was standing in the forest and the sun was coming through the trees and covering him so he glowed. I knew he'd be warm if I walked up and touched him. And probably not mad. He's like something in a movie or like a book we'd read in summer by the pool. He didn't see me looking because he was so peaceful staring at the bird.

Related Poems

Meanwhile the elephants

have retired now that the circus
has closed, to their watercolors
& bowling leagues, their tusk-dug
rose gardens, their record collections,
their calligraphy—
                             say one has
begun a letter to you, peacock feather
gripped in the beautiful gray coils
of its trunk, & she dips it in the inkwell
& begins
              darling, I have my dead &
I have let them go
,

as the elephants walk thirty kilometers
to find the house of their keeper
who died last night, to keep a vigil,
an honor guard of fifteen-thousand-pound
bodies, they wait all night,

as she continues, the past is always
vanishing if we are good or careful
,

as the elephants nurse their young,
wrap their trunks when they greet each other,
trumpet when they hear Miles’s Kind of Blue,

what is eternity but the shadows
of everyone who has ever fallen
,

the languages of the dead are never more
than a breath away, darling
,

as the elephants are drawn & painted
by da Vinci, by Max Ernst,
are reincarnated as Buddha,

our mouths are incapable,
white violets cover the earth
,

remember the gates of Rome, linger
near pianos, near the bones & tusks of their own,

the greatest of the shadows are passing
from the earth, there was never a city brighter
than a burn pile of tusks
.

Dove, Interrupted

Don’t do that when you are dead like this, I said,
Arguably still squabbling about the word inarguably.
I haunt Versailles, poring through the markets of the medieval.
Mostly meat to be sold there; mutton hangs
Like laundry pinkened on its line.
            And gold!—a chalice with a cure for living in it.
We step over the skirt of an Elizabeth.
Red grapes, a delicacy, each peeled for us—
The vestments of a miniature priest, disrobed.
A sister is an old world sparrow placed in a satin shoe.
The weakling’s saddle is worn down from just too much sad attitude.
No one wants to face the “opaque reality” of herself.
                                                                 For the life of me.
I was made American. You must consider this.
Whatever suffering is insufferable is punishable by perishable.
In Vienne, the rabbit Maurice is at home in the family cage.
I ache for him, his boredom and his solitude.
On suffering and animals, inarguably, they do.
                                                    I miss your heart, my heart.

Ode to Anger

Soak in a hot bath;
arrange my futuristic hair,
then, the futon & the cushioned tatami.
Cut orchids, cut fruit.
Set the table for plenty,
(but there is only one of me).
And here you come—
a cricket’s dance in the woods—
in a fog-colored zoot suit.
Your eyes are red & bleary.
I am practicing good purity.
I do not get angry.

But here comes my father with the tiger’s claw.
He paces and frets; I get no rest.
The caged animal must be released.

Here comes my mother with the serpent’s touch.
I know the dim mak: the touch of death,
I know the softness of the temples,
the groin, the heart.

Here come my sisters with the lizard’s tongue
to expel the secret in a moment’s hiss.
But they are slow on their haunches.
I shall strike first.

The weir-basket was a snare;
the fish within were dying.
You promised me fresh fish.
You promised unconditional love and providence.

Here comes my brother with the ox’s heart
to explain the world in a plum’s pit.
He is not your kind.
You don’t understand his plight;
nor does he your fomenting silence.

Tiger’s claw, serpent’s touch, lizard’s tongue, ox’s heart.
The caged animal is released.
I believe in the touch of life.
I shall keep my secret always.
Although you have lost your way,
you have never forsaken me.
you have been whole.
you have been good.