In a Time of War

That was the period when our daughter
would come crying into our bedroom
whenever the grackles began mating on the roof.
It isn’t hurting them, my wife would say,

birds have tiny penises. Then two cats would
find their way into our bushes and start howling
like their skin was being peeled off. Oh, our daughter
with the endless tears. I brought my wife wine

every night for a week, hoping I’d arrange for us a son.
The cats aren’t killing each other, sweetness,
said my wife’s purple lips, it’s just that all male cats,
not just the wild ones, have barbs on their penises.

What what what, sobbed my daughter, is a penis?
A son, a son, a son, I thought, as I held my wife
at the hips, on the floor to avoid hitting
the wall with our bed; our daughter had cried herself

into unconsciousness, and maybe I was sure
she wouldn’t hear when I yelled my way farther
into my wife, my mouth still in a “son” shape.
Our daughter woke herself up with a howl

she didn’t know the reason for, and my wife
turned back at me with several reasons to scowl
texturing her red face. We were covered
when our daughter came in, tears and snot

curling her hair against her cheeks. It’s ok, lovely,
my wife said. I was just on the floor looking
for something and I was caught by a tiny barb.
I took it out, and now I’m going to go to sleep.

More by Hannah Gamble

All That Is Limitless

I usually wake up with acquisition
in mind.

I make myself the tallest pine;
I have more birds on me
than anybody!

The sun hits my head
first—it’s cooled a bit
by the time it gets to your head.

I thought I’d get the most

if all the good saw me first
and affably went there.

It was sound,
my lightning rod approach.

One oversight
was that when the bad was coming
it also saw me first,

and would match its force
to my height in a way
that, I’m sure, if I had a stutter
or a limp
would be lessened.

In any case,
it’s time to get lowly.

Put on a formless gown
and call it a shroud
for your vanity, a gold braid
o’er your forehead

or a word you have
to explain
to everyone at the table.

Even if it wasn’t vanity, but hunger.
Even if it was mostly enthusiasm
and affectionate regard. An invitation
to join (less like “participate”
and more like “become an actual part of,”
cutting a part off so it fits
more snugly with the other part.)

Now you have a bed.
Now you have a table.

If the wood is still living
we’ll make not furniture
but a living structure:
We can do what we call grafting.
This too requires a bit of cutting.

A dormant bud
can be cut and grafted,
as can a young shoot,
but in all cases
the point of vascular connection
can end up weak
due to the varying strengths
of the two formerly distinct tissues.

Once I blew my nose in a cafe
despite the number of approximate men
in beautiful sweaters and I knew
I’d become another thing.

Now when a block is sawed up
it is made into implements.

The finest sculptor carves
the least. In this way,
the block rests
within all that is limitless.