What They Found In the Diving Bell

The first time I saw my mother, she'd been dead 
fourteen years and came as a ghost in the mirror, 

plucking the hair beneath her arms, and humming 
a bossa nova. She lotioned her chapped heels 

and padded her bra as if she were alive in the old way. 
She said I was born with my cord wrapped 

around my neck like a rosary, and she knew God, 
the doomed father of her days, wanted us both. 

Before midnight she plaited my hair, hemmed my skirt, 
sang lullabies she'd learned on the other side of the flood. 

She lifted her dress to show her bones shedding light 
on a stillborn fetus accidentally raptured into her ribs. 

She said she'd choose her death again, obey any pain 
heaven gave her. Years ago she watched a man ride 

a diving bell to the bottom of the Amazon to face 
the mysteries God had placed there. The chain broke, 

and they pulled him to the surface smiling, stiff, refusing 
to open his fists. They broke and unpeeled his fingers. 

No one wept or fought to hold it. She covered her eyes 
so she wouldn't see what God, in his innocence, had done.

More by Traci Brimhall

Our Bodies Break Light

We crawl through the tall grass and idle light,

our chests against the earth so we can hear the river


underground. Our backs carry rotting wood and books

that hold no stories of damnation or miracles.


One day as we listen for water, we find a beekeeper—

one eye pearled by a cataract, the other cut out by his own hand


so he might know both types of blindness. When we stand

in front of him, he says we are prisms breaking light into color—


our right shoulders red, our left hips a wavering indigo.

His apiaries are empty except for dead queens, and he sits


on his quiet boxes humming as he licks honey from the bodies

of drones. He tells me he smelled my southern skin for miles,


says the graveyard is full of dead prophets. To you, he presents

his arms, tattooed with songs slave catchers whistle


as they unleash the dogs. He lets you see the burns on his chest

from the time he set fire to boats and pushed them out to sea.


You ask why no one believes in madness anymore,

and he tells you stars need a darkness to see themselves by.


When you ask about resurrection, he says, How can you doubt?

and shows you a deer licking salt from a lynched man's palm.

The Last Known Sighting of the Mapinguari

Before she died, my mother told me
I’d make the monster that would kill me,
so I knew this was someone else’s death
creeping into my field, butchering my cow.
I recognized its lone eye and two mouths.
Perhaps it mistook the lowing for the call
of its own kind. I didn’t mind the heifer—
she’d been sick for weeks, her death a mercy—
but her calf circled, refusing to leave even
as the creature pulled out its mother’s tongue,
fed one of its mouths and moaned from the other.
The intestines glowed dully in the moonlight.
The calf bawled. The disappointed mapinguari
sat, thousands of worms rising out of the split
heart it held, testing the strange night air.
I’ve outlived all the miracles that came for me.
My mother was wrong and not wrong,
like the calf who approached the monster
and licked the blood from its fingers.

Rapture: Lucus

Posters for the missing kapok tree appear on streetlights
offering a reward for its safe return. I hate to spoil it,

but the end of every biography is death. The end of a city
in the rainforest is a legend and a lost expedition. The end

of mythology is forgetfulness, placing gifts in the hole
where the worshipped tree should be. But my memory

lengthens with each ending. I know where to find the lost
mines of Muribeca and how to cross the Pacific on a raft

made of balsa. I know the tree wasn’t stolen. She woke from
her stillness some equatorial summer evening by a dream

of being chased by an amorous faun, which was a memory,
which reminded her that in another form she had legs

and didn’t need the anxious worship of people who thought
her body was a message. She is happier than the poem tattooed

on her back says she is, but sadder than the finches nesting
in her hair believe her to be. I am more or less content to be

near her in October storms, though I can’t stop thinking that
with the right love or humility or present of silk barrettes

and licorice she might become a myth again in my arms, ardent
wordless, needing someone to bear her away from the flood.