The Last Kingdom

Jennifer Foerster

Three days before the hurricane
a woman in white is hauling milk.

The beach wails.
She is swinging her pail.

I am sleeping in a tent of car parts, quilts
when the woman passes through the heavy felt door.

If your dream were to wash over the village, she says.
We listen—seagulls resisting the shore.

Hermit crabs scuttle under tin.
The children hitch their sails in.

Later that night from the compound walls
I see her hitchhiking the stars’ tar road—

black dress, black boots, black bonnet,
a moon-faced baby in a basket.

*

                    Thus, alone, I have conceived.

A tent dweller moved to the earth’s edge,
I bathe in acidic waves.

Everyone in the village
watches at the cliff the tidal wave
breach, roll across the sky.

They are feasting on cold
fried chicken, champagne—
I have no dancing dress for the picnic.

The king dozes in his gravelly castle.
The band plays its tired refrain.

Men, drunk on loosened wind
raise their cups to mechanical dolphins
tearing through the sheet-metal sea.

In the shadow of petrels’
snowy specters, drifting monuments
crash and calve.

But I, as water under wind does,
I tear my hair,
scalp the sand—

the sun, eclipsed by dark contractions
turns its disc to night—

fish like bright coins
flip from my hand.

*

                    Waking, I find I am alone in the kingdom.

The moon lays upon me
its phosphorescent veil.

The floating world—luciferous:
bleached coral coliseum,
a mermaid’s molten gown—

she turns her widening wheels,
spills her pail of glacial milk.

I could almost swim forever
to her beat of frozen bells.

But a sheet of water
doesn’t travel with the wave.

And the morning like a tender body
slides out of silt:

I press against its damp
rough surface, an ear.

More by Jennifer Foerster

Relic

An atlas
on the underside of my dream.

My half-shut eyelid—
a black wing.

I dipped sharp quills
in the night’s mouth—

moths swarmed
from my throat.

I pulled a feather blanket
over my skeleton
and woke—

a map of America
flapping in the dark.

Once I dreamt
of inheriting this—

my mother
who still follows crows
through the field,

my sister’s small hand
tucked inside hers,

me on her breast
in a burial quilt.

Flight

As a child I tossed
all my imaginary friends
out the window of a fast moving train
because I wanted to feel my fist
break open as I freed them,
as each of their bodies
whipped against the siding,
their insides: snow
dispersing into wind,
their little heads rolling
across the yellow plains.

Because I believed they would return.
But none have since.
Not even the ones I didn’t love.

Leaving Tulsa

for Cosetta

Once there were coyotes, cardinals
in the cedar. You could cure amnesia
with the trees of our back-forty. Once
I drowned in a monsoon of frogs—
Grandma said it was a good thing, a promise
for a good crop. Grandma’s perfect tomatoes.
Squash. She taught us to shuck corn, laughing,
never spoke about her childhood
or the faces in gingerbread tins
stacked in the closet.

She was covered in a quilt, the Creek way.
But I don’t know this kind of burial:
vanishing toads, thinning pecan groves,
peach trees choked by palms.
New neighbors tossing clipped grass
over our fence line, griping to the city
of our overgrown fields.

Grandma fell in love with a truck driver,
grew watermelons by the pond
on our Indian allotment,
took us fishing for dragonflies.
When the bulldozers came
with their documents from the city
and a truckload of pipelines,
her shotgun was already loaded.

Under the bent chestnut, the well
where Cosetta’s husband
hid his whiskey—buried beneath roots
her bundle of beads. They tell
the story of our family.
Cosetta’s land
flattened to a parking lot.

Grandma potted a cedar sapling
I could take on the road for luck.
She used the bark for heart lesions
doctors couldn’t explain.
To her they were maps, traces of home,
the Milky Way, where she’s going, she said.

After the funeral
I stowed her jewelry in the ground,
promised to return when the rivers rose.

On the grassy plain behind the house
one buffalo remains.

Along the highway’s gravel pits
sunflowers stand in dense rows.
Telephone poles crook into the layered sky.
A crow’s beak broken by a windmill’s blade.
It is then I understand my grandmother:
When they see open land
they only know to take it.

I understand how to walk among hay bales
looking for turtle shells.
How to sing over the groan of the county road
widening to four lanes.
I understand how to keep from looking up:
small planes trail overhead
as I kneel in the Johnson grass
combing away footprints.

Up here, parallel to the median
with a vista of mesas’ weavings,
the sky a belt of blue and white beadwork,
I see our hundred and sixty acres
stamped on God’s forsaken country,
a roof blown off a shed,
beams bent like matchsticks,
a drove of white cows
making their home
in a derailed train car.