Poseidon was easier than most. He calls himself a god, but he fell beneath my fingers with more shaking than any mortal. He wept when my robe fell from my shoulders. I made him bend his back for me, listened to his screams break like waves. We defiled that temple the way it should be defiled, screaming and bucking our way from corner to corner. The bitch goddess probably got a real kick out of that. I'm sure I'll be hearing from her. She'll give me nightmares for a week or so; that I can handle. Or she'll turn the water in my well into blood; I'll scream when I see it, and that will be that. Maybe my first child will be born with the head of a fish. I'm not even sure it was worth it, Poseidon pounding away at me, a madman, losing his immortal mind because of the way my copper skin swells in moonlight. Now my arms smoke and itch. Hard scales cover my wrists like armour. C'mon Athena, he was only another lay, and not a particularly good one at that, even though he can spit steam from his fingers. Won't touch him again. Promise. And we didn't mean to drop to our knees in your temple, but our bodies were so hot and misaligned. It's not every day a gal gets to sample a god, you know that. Why are you being so rough on me? I feel my eyes twisting, the lids crusting over and boiling, the pupils glowing red with heat. Athena, woman to woman, could you have resisted him? Would you have been able to wait for the proper place, the right moment, to jump those immortal bones? Now my feet are tangled with hair, my ears are gone. My back is curving and my lips have grown numb. My garden boy just shattered at my feet. Dammit, Athena, take away my father's gold. Send me away to live with lepers. Give me a pimple or two. But my face. To have men never again be able to gaze at my face, growing stupid in anticipation of that first touch, how can any woman live like that? How will I be able to watch their warm bodies turn to rock when their only sin was desiring me? All they want is to see me sweat. They only want to touch my face and run their fingers through my . . . my hair is it moving?
Practice Standing Unleashed and Clean
Upon their arrival in America, more than twelve million immigrants were processed through the Ellis Island Immigration Center. Those who had traveled in second or third class were immediately given a thirty-second health inspection to determine if they were fit to enter their new country. A chalk checkmark on their clothing signaled a health problem and meant a stay in the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital, where they either recovered or, if deemed incurable, were kept until they could be sent back home. Even if just one family member was sick, that person’s entire family was turned away.
Hide the awkward jolt of jawline, the fluttering eye, that wide
brazen slash of boat-burned skin. Count each breath in order
to pacify the bloodless roiling just beneath the rib, to squelch
the mushrooming boom of tumor. Give fever another name.
I open my mouth, just to moan, but instead cluttered nouns,
so unAmerican, spew from my throat and become steam
in the room. That heat ripples through the meandering queue
of souls and someone who was once my uncle grows dizzy
with not looking at me. I am asked to temporarily unbutton
the clawing children from my heavy skirt, to pull the rough
linen blouse over my head and through my thick salted hair.
A last shelter thuds hard, pools around my feet on the floor.
I traveled with a whole chattering country’s restless mass
weakening my shoulders. But I offer it as both yesterday
and muscle. I come to you America, scrubbed almost clean,
but infected with memory and the bellow of broiling spices
in a long-ago kitchen. I come with a sickness insistent upon
root in my body, a sickness that may just be a frantic twist
from one life’s air to another. I ask for nothing but a home
with windows of circled arms, for a warm that overwhelms
the tangled sounds that say my name. I ask for the beaten
woman with her torch uplifted to find me here and loose
my new face of venom and virus. I have practiced standing
unleashed and clean. I have practiced the words I know.
So I pray this new country receive me, stark naked now,
forearms chapped raw, although I am ill in underneath ways.
I know that I am freakish, wildly fragrant, curious land. I stink
of seawater and the oversea moonwash I conjured to restart
and restart my migrant heart. All I can be is here, stretched
between solace and surrender, terrified of the dusty mark
that identifies me as poison in every one of the wrong ways.
I could perish here on the edge of everything. Or the chalk
mark could be a wing on my breastbone, unleashing me
in the direction of light. Someone will help me find my clothes
and brush the salt from my hair. I am marked perfect, and
I hear the word heal in a voice I thought I brought from home.