Song of the Exiles

There never was a garden,
only a leaving:
miles and miles
of footprints in the dirt.

In the beginning—
the shattered sun, the wind,
and nothing left but our shadows
sifting through the dust behind us.

When we turned
we did not turn to salt.
When we turned
there was nothing behind us to burn

nothing to return to
though who could blame us for turning,
with only the long days ahead
tongues tripping in the dirt.

They said we didn’t belong.
They blamed us
for leaving the garden
which never was or would be.

Where could we go,
we who had come from nowhere
and hence could not
return?

Genesis

Like any mother I lived for my children. Bone of my bones, gave them my body as house, gave them my house as home. I was fruitful. I multiplied. Nothing was ever my own and I called this sacrifice, devotion. What I called them became their names. Some grew and some did not. Some were angry and some were not. Some murdered, some tended the flocks, some built boats to escape the flood. Some built towers into the sky. Some became pillars of salt. I fed them by the sweat of my brow. Some needed more than I could give them, though I saved only thorns and thistles for myself. God was a voice in the sky with no tree to burn. God was a shower of burning sulfur, a snake winding through the dirt. If I had a moment to spare, I might have bent to hear what he was saying.

Holiday

I spent the Christmas after your death hunched
above a puzzle; it had a thousand pieces,

the unmatched angles of a forest caught by early snow,
bright yellow leaves still clinging to their branches.

The photograph on the box was so clear
I could see each crack of rock, each leaf hung

above the brink of winter. The pieces lay scattered
about my dining room, a mess of white and yellow

waiting for me to set it right, so many thousands
of leaves, so much crumbling. Who could count?

Even a sister, even a wife of ten years
one day gets out of bed and puts on red

either because it’s Christmastime again
or because the black dresses sit unwashed in the laundry

and there’s nothing left to wear. I told myself
the leaves weren’t worth it. I told myself you were just

another falling. I did the laundry every day.
I never solved the puzzle.

The Woman Who Wanted a Child

For a short time I walked the earth as a woman, breathed in the scent of gardenias and gasoline,
made love to a man. We lived in a small house with a narrow staircase leading upwards into nothing;
the second floor was never built. I fed him fresh garlic and parsley from our garden, the smell rising
to the top of the staircase where we made love, knees and ribcages bumping against the ceiling. But
my throat grew dry, my feet stuck in the dust. At night, while he slept, I walked down to the marsh
where the birds gathered to dive for fish, the water wetting my waterless lips, the gentle rocking
soothing the aches in my feet, my arms. Please, I said to the white tern bringing her six little
hatchlings bits of fish guts, you a mother who has so many children, help me a mother who has
none.

The next morning, I woke up vomiting feathers. In a few months, my belly was round and full as a
blowfish and I felt the flutter against my ribcage. I walked down to the banks of the marsh, spread
my legs, and out she came, a pure royal tern, her white feathers beaded with blood. She was hungry
and I had nothing to give her; she would not take my milk. I waded out to find the mother bird on
the other side of the marsh. I cannot help you, she said, I have my own children to feed. So I turned
into a fish. My daughter dove, grasped me in her beak, and swallowed me whole. Now, I live within
her light body. We spend our days upon the high winds, bumping only against the sky. Now, I feed
her.