In those days, there was a woman in our circle
who was known, not only for her beauty,
but for taking off all her clothes and singing opera.
And sure enough, as the night wore on and the stars
emerged to stare at their reflections on the sea,
and everyone had drunk a little wine,
she began to disrobe, loose her great bosom,
and the tender belly, pale in the moonlight,
the Viking hips, and to let her torn raiment
fall to the sand as we looked up from the flames.
And then a voice lifted into the dark, high and clear
as a flock of blackbirds. And everything was very still,
the way the congregation quiets when the priest
prays over the incense, and the smoke wafts
up into the rafters. I wanted to be that free
inside the body, the doors of pleasure
opening, one after the next, an arpeggio
climbing the ladder of sky. And all the while
she was singing and wading into the water
until it rose up to her waist and then lapped
at the underside of her breasts, and the aria
drifted over us, her soprano spare and sharp
in the night air. And even though I was young,
somehow, in that moment, I heard it,
the song inside the song, and I knew then
that this was not the hymn of promise
but the body’s bright wailing against its limits.
A bird caught in a cathedral—the way it tries
to escape by throwing itself, again and again,
against the stained glass.
On TV, someone is selling the idea of buying by way of a happy family by way of a cleaning product. I want—, I say. Then your mouth on my mouth. Your mouth on my belly. And then. I was never good at being a girl. All those hands made dirty work. Once, my grandmother scooped the Tennessee soil, put it in my mouth. It tasted true. I wanted more. In my steepled city steeped in song, I pitied that christian god his labor. He made marrow and astonishment of us. We made bludgeon of him, bland bread of his son. My neighbor used to be a missionary. Now he spends days painting a bird pecking at the eyeballs of a dead girl. In the painting, you can only see the bird. See how the artist probes the light so the feathers shimmer. Beautiful, the TV mother says to each guest as the house burns down. She sashays through the parlor, stopping to nibble on a stuffed mushroom, dab sweat from the brow of a dignitary. Everything is a metaphor until the body abuts it. Even then. Metaphor with blood. Metaphor with teeth. Metaphor with epinephrine. I name each blow desire. Look how your hand revises my form. Extraordinary ability. Prodigal child. You leave and take your weather with you. I take your language to polish my wound, but rarely do I dare to mean anything at all. A poem is evidence of nothing. You cannot prosecute with a poem. I thought your violence made me good. I thought your desire made me beautiful though the signs chirping wanted all had your face. Maybe you’ve named me innocent after living so long in my mouth. I, for one, always fall in love with the person holding the pen. What will you bring me when I tell you what I’ve done? Lobster, slant of light, doilied petition, blond girl playing scales on the violin? Oh, I will reach right through her. I will extract her best music.