Mother, I have destroyed you. Forgive me as I am
destroyed. The submarine of you, mother, has, underwater,
shipped me off, has fired on me, is nuclear. Mother,
the gold tooth of me is stolen, the frayed cord of me
is broken, the scored record of me is frozen, the scratched
recording of me is full. Fire on my self pulled from
a pile of the wreckage, fire on my plumage-self
planned in advance. And decorated for the homecoming
and sheltered by the colors and the blending in with ending
and the touch of a Cyclops to the backs of wool. Clinging
to the belly of the sheep, I come home. Mother, my blood
is the blood sum of you and my father. I have no choice. I need
your rules. And now the tides come in and, like driftwood, I
drift, and like summits I rest and like the Eucharist I am blessed,
and like the lost reflection I am lit from below by what
appears to be light. I say my name and it ignites. I say my name
and it tires like a rower on a stolen ship or lags like
a haggard sail. I lost my veil, I lost my bed, I lost what I thought
had been said to you to make you understand. You, the shape
eating waterfowl with bare hands. Mother, your grand chandelier
of lies has so many eyes it sees like a spider or a fly in every
direction; it decides, goes for miles. What opens before you
is my smile. Empty as a room. Empty as a foot. Empty as a ruse.
Empty as a lung. Empty as a tongue that has not said. Empty
as a vein that has not bled. What am I, mother, but the undead
walking the way you want me to walk, the way you want me to
talk, up from the grave at your command. The zombie I am, covered
in soot. Soon I swoon and faint and fall. But that is not all. I am
the spoon you cook. I am the food you concoct. I am the line
you lost with the hook at the end, meant to sink into a mouth.
My cheek is set, my wretch is good, I am not what wooed you. I am
no good. This I know. I had to sew myself shut. For years, I was
the rut in the good old road. Do not trust the old, do not trust
the new, there is nothing to do and nothing can be done.
The two were one, now they are two. I was born, I was new,
then I spoke, I was no good, I was me, I had flaws countless and
contagious as disease, not the least of which grew. I was me, I was
mine, I was not yours. I could not be you. Mother, you took from me
the drought and gave it meaning, you smacked the pout right off
my feeling, you kept stars lit on the ceiling so you could navigate
out from my room. It was noon when the sun set in you. I felt
the earth cool. I felt the fires lit so those of us who survived
could go on living. I felt the beasts arrive when night was confirmed.
You killed us off. You felt you’d earned it, the right to make us
into what fears and what crouches and what grows cold. I could not
grow older. I could not mature. I was sure there was nothing
left. What I felt in the end was the blow of yours
sent across the miles to find me where I lay spent
and desert-like in the heat. Keep me here. I serve
your needs. The edges of me, mother. I cannot be
until you let me recover. I cannot run to the subset
of another. You are too wise, you know what the constant light
means, you know what grows where and how to twist it
when the darkness meets it so that it can moss over and meld
into a growth that will melt it down. You fungi plus silk,
the lurch of me is trying to unlearn all the confusions of you.
Mother, mother, quite contrary, how does your deadliness
grow? With a tooth and a rack and a craw and a sack
and all the daughters caught in their rows.

More by Jennifer Militello

Conspiracy to Commit Larceny: A Recipe

Take the man you think you love and his
fabulous lips. Take him from one place
to the next. Let him drive your car. Let him
drive it through the mood-crazed woods
until it overheats. Let the nights feed
from your eyes as you look at him. Do
not turn on the heat. Do not spill
the flavored oils of the heart. Do not
eat from the palm of your hand
a fluid ounce of what you may need.
Do something illegal. You only have to be
there when they bring the contraband in.
You only have to leave yourself behind.
The stars know. The police will prowl
your neighborhood until the plate number
matches and the car checks out.
When they bring you in, you
must remove your shoes and belt.
You must pretend there was no felony.
Then you must confess. Add your past,
a pinch of the rage you feel, and how
you sit until your father bursts in
and asks whether you have been arrested.
Add a mother who tells you she is
ashamed. An expensive lawyer. The way
you remember the taste of his kiss and
how real he was and how he would
drive dark roads at high speeds through
the back woods with the headlights off.
Remember what the stars see. And how
once it is over the lawyer will send
a letter saying he said you knew nothing,
saying he tried to keep you out of it,
though the police said he had given
you up as they made you say his name.

Ode to Love

Place its toothpicked pit in water, watch the grist
of its insides grow. Witness its populous bloom,

honeycombed with rough. Its cobblestones grip
the heart in its mitt, a closed fist thickened

and gritty as silt. The swamp of the plumb beat
adamant as weeds. The dish of which is salted

by complexities or cries. It is a house in which
we cannot live, the quiver on the arrow

we cannot launch. It grows late over Nevada
as we watch. Strikes its gullies: we grow burnt

as a moth. Mimics a sleep of archives and
the small lies all forget. Mimics all laughter

broken by the time it leaves the mouth.
With its moving parts, its chimes, its gleam,

it muddies our archways, lying low, gives off
noise and steam; its mechanics clear the fence.

It must be wooed. Must be quieted. Hush. It must
be soothed. Has a snag. Has a bleed. A drape.

Flaps awkwardly, at its edges, a heron. At
its center, a wide bottom perfect with fish.
 

Lineage Is Its Own Religion

I was an apostle to the group of you, strangers
who had known me since I was born. I ate
of your flesh. I drank of your blood. Sipped
the elixir of your moods. Put the remainders
in the tabernacle, wiped the goblet clean with
a cloth. The crosses branded into the wafers
were your voices branded onto my heart.
I heard you live forever. I heard you rise.
The bones of you yield to the memory of flesh,
and we count our blessings and also bless.
We are bright in anticipation of death,
we are living like fissures and set against waste,
and the taste is bitter, left in our mouths.
I am dying, I am dead, lord of the losses, lord
of the faith. I take each breath and my chest
expands. Now I stand knee deep in the muck
unable to move, and if I dip my hands in,
they will fill with bracken and all the thickness
of each formless face, kicking up stones,
until you are gone, mythic lisp the lips
shape. One day, you vanish like a flash.
Confessions in a dark room. Firmaments to read
and spin like dice. I genuflect twice at the edge
of your pews. I kiss the book for you. This is what
the word of family can do. Sit at the round table.
Break bread. In the beginning, the loveless
made the world and saw that it was good.