haibun for the burning girl
first, the sun an empty bulb above us, cracked open like a rotten baseboard. tell me that it’ll be okay without saying it outloud. it’s okay. okay(?). i think that somewhere st. mary’s stole my mom’s smile and hid it in the pews. i think that the green corn grew too much and they forgot to cut it down. okay(?). i think i forgot. what is america but a lifeboat with a hole in its side? but a ruptured field, dirt sifting through fingers? tell me that it’ll be okay. i stopped going to church in the spring but he told me that a woman’s body is owned by god. not her. never her. in the end, he said, what does it matter? the sun still burning on sixty watts, weeds still slipping through the pasture’s picket fence. like how i asked my grandpa why he used to plant trees on the farm in la fox (but now the land’s all trenched anyways). does it matter? we drove past yesterday and the road slit right through the hayfield. right there. uncle paul can speak fluent cezch but i can’t. i can’t but it doesn’t matter. he can tell you where we used to live and where prague sweeps down to the vltava like the moon swelling on the horizon. he can tell you what season is best in bohemia. he can’t tell you that it’s all okay.
grandpa always writes stories in twos and so second, the floor’s billowing beneath us, churning like michigan’s icy shoreline. sometimes i imagine falling through and never coming back up. do you? i can’t sleep through the night without hearing my mom’s voice and i wonder if it’ll ever change. will it? i’d like to move somewhere far away from lake michigan, far from the farm and across the atlantic. i’d like to take your hands in mine and burn ultraviolet in the empty august sun. i’d like to run far away from my body and swallow clouds like they’re dumplings. okay(?). in the end, what does it matter? grandpa took off from la fox the second the sky cracked open and hitchhiked to the yukon. he was nearly mauled by a moose at the border. in the end, his voice will still ring and in the end, i’ll still hear the boy from debate calling my body a target. my existence a sin. what are my hands but burnt-out lights? but a sun on slate wiped clean with clouds? (but limbs that never belonged to me? never to me.)
at the ends of the
earth i am burning. somewhere
i think it’s okay.
on fever dreams in june
do you remember when grandpa died? it was st. patty’s day and raining and the sixty-watt lightbulb above the bathroom sink was buzzing so much it looked like it was about to burst. do you remember when aunt julie sang at the funeral? the air tasted something like expired peppermints and baby powder but i think that everybody held their breath when the piano started to play. they must’ve.
for some reason i can never seem to run fast enough in my dreams. there’s always this burning in my calves. a dagger lodged in my thigh. and it’s kind of funny because it always feels like i’m going fifty down the interstate, weaving through all of the semi-trucks with their bloated headlights. it’s kind of funny because the fastest i’ve ever ran still feels slow when i’m dreaming. it’s kind of funny because i always end up dead in the end anyways.
did you know that uncle paul traced grandpa’s ancestors all the way back to the sixteenth century? they let him flip through the church archives in hrdlořezy, let him page through a book of names and births and deaths, let him hope he’d find one of his own. do you remember how you yelled at me when i told you i hated jaternice? how you said that if i wasn’t gonna eat it, who was gonna feed it to my kids? who was ever gonna eat liverwurst when you were gone? who was gonna remember we were even here? when i told you i didn’t want any kids you laughed.
in seventh grade they made me run at the conference championship for track. i didn’t tell them i didn’t like running races, that it made my head spin and my throat swell. i didn’t tell them that i hated the way they measured my worth in seconds. how fast? how fast? how fast? i quit after that year, threw my tennis shoes in a rubbermaid and shoved it behind the fold in the basement drywall. how fast? not fast enough.
if i ever met my ancestors i think i’d probably hate them. i think they’d probably hate me. i think they’d wonder where you went wrong, why you raised a girl with slipping faith, a girl who’d rather not marry a man, a girl who didn’t cry at her grandpa’s funeral. a girl who hears voices at night and wonders who’d miss her if she was gone.
ms. m asked me a couple weeks ago why i didn’t do cross country this year. she said she’d seen me running around the neighborhood, said it wasn’t that different, said i could get faster. i think i might’ve shrugged (i think that in that one second all of seventh grade came flooding back). i wish i would’ve told her that i only run for myself now. i only run to forget.
last night i woke up at 3 a.m choking on my spit. in the dream, everyone had czech accents and half-moon frowns (bohemia in a crowd of crossed arms and pursed lips). i was sprinting and blood was dripping down my legs in fat drops. the corn was laughing and the car-horns were honking and i could’ve sworn i saw grandpa. i can never run fast enough in my dreams and it kills me. everything i want to leave always catches up in the end.
spring / de nuevo
bloody moon swells over hill street & it’s red & red & red.
sky wilts like flayed pig skin & it’s red.
air rises thick & sweet & slippery & it’s red like hard candy.
peppermint stripes in cellophane.
a girl lives on cedar lane in the basin of a kettle stained scarlet.
the motorcycles spit & the corn crows cough & the streetlamps
always shake all scratched and yellow. grandma’s rose wallpaper is
peeling & april is a storm.
mosquitoes buzz in pools of honey on granite & cigarette smoke
curls from lakeside sewers. again & again & again the
sky glows red in the night & again the girl watches. listens. interstate
ripping through alleyways & december soup gone cold.
sun like a wailing baby. sun like a bloated cantaloupe, sun like
a quarter crushed under a rainboot, she says. not a metaphor anymore,
not some great big belly of some great big beast. just red.
she sees another girl in the storefront window in may & the
fat skin on her cheek billows raw. she bites her bruised
gums. purple & purple & purple. bush plane barrels overhead
& the city air stinks of salted braise & chicken broth.
the june fireflies are humming elegies in sticky rain. they tell
her it’s a sin & the girl is a ghost. teetering a line. here and there.
when you say one word over & over & over
again it looses its meaning.
so she shouts, she screams. redredredredredredredredredred.
dull red. bright red. red like candy. red like blood.
red like how they say it’s a sin. red like home.
red like how spring comes again & again & again (de nuevo, mi amor).
red like how everything goes back to where it comes from someday.
perhaps into the belly of some great big beast.
firstborn eats the sun like it's candy, a lemon drop between
her teeth, fat and yellow like a taxi cab. forty seconds down
hill street and the light is all broken up, twisting under pools
of gas [tulip petal blood]. she likes pale yellow like dumpling
clouds, yellow like the way the snow drips into puddles
and dribbles gold, the way the crows cough up an aria from
their throats and spit it out onto the sidewalk. yellow like the way
everyone turns and watches her sprint down the scarlet-stained
gravel as if there's glass wedged in her heels, as if she's running
from something that she doesn't quite know. perhaps a sunset.
night skies & black ice
The first time I saw Elsie she was skating on the moon.
Cold out here, I said to her. Snow’s all thick and wet like lard.
Elsie blinked. She stopped spinning; fell right there and cracked a crater in the ice.
“Yes,” she whispered, sopping wet and waterlogged, arms flapping, fluttering. “Yes,” she whispered, softer this time as she slid back onto the surface of the moon, and looked straight up at me.
The second time I saw Elsie the air was like cold tea. Too sweet, too brisk: so raw and crisp it was suffocating. She was walking to the schoolhouse, kicking rocks across the trail as she tugged on her loose curls. Though nearly a half a year had passed, her sweater was damp, her hair doused. Still sodden from falling through the moon, I suppose. Still soaked.
I spotted Suzy behind the salmonberry bush before she did -- all dumpling hands and pinched eyes. “Elsie,” she declared, and skittered out: a drupe in her mouth, pink on her teeth.
“Yes.” Silence, shuffling feet.
“Your Papa going to go fight in the war?”
“No ma’am. You know he can’t.”
“That’s right.” She smirked, yanked Elsie’s wet, wet braids. “I almost forgot he was a cripple.”
Elsie bit down on her tongue, winced as she tasted the sickly copper of her blood.
“Cripple,” Suzy said again, drawing the word over her lips, wiping her berry juice fingers on Elsie's sleeve. It trickled down in little red droplets, that juice, stained Elsie’s skin as Suzy turned around and dashed down the trail so fast that she must’ve sailed straight into the sun.
Elsie didn’t see me watching her from the quaking aspen’s trunk, didn’t see me contemplating the way it looked like Suzy was going to be swallowed by a star. Instead, she stood stock-still, eyes spilling little tears, hair like ink: deep and black and endless.
The belly of the beast, I said, pointing at Suzy as she sprinted toward the horizon, the sun.
She stopped, stared at me for a second, nodded. “The belly of the beast.”
I could’ve sworn she smiled.
when the endless night rises they come alive & its all in a haze. there are cars speeding down forty-one in swathes of fluorescent streetlights & stars so distant they barely even exist but still they’re gone. they say that somewhere someone’s mama is wondering where her baby boy is but it’s in another universe that she cares.
nobody knows where they go but everybody wishes they did. down main there’s a neon ice-cream shop with soft-serve that smells like curdled milk & waxed floors & grease. if it was all tangible they’d sit in those ripped crimson booths & rub their soles on the shiny tiles but nothing that they hold in their hands ever stays.
sometimes you can see them in the old church steeple clinging to the sky. the big city is a speck from thirteen-hundred feet but the suburbs are like the ocean: all blue & worn in the moon’s lust & stretching on for miles & miles. it’s on the broken roads that they dance; the paths of family supper clubs that smoke meat early sunday morning & buzz their electric signs in the night & the county trails that lie all matted & sticky & worn from layers & layers of rainboots.
when they were little they’d gather in the middle school parking lot & swing plastic bats at tennis balls & lick cherry popsicles. the bleachers were blocks of ice but they’d scale the steps in mittens & earmuffs & jump off the other side & scuff their knees. there are still spots of blood in the gravel but by now they’ve been buried under years of snow.
it seems that they’re all just trying to hold onto their memories but they’re slipping. they’re flying. & so in the night they run & so in the night the wonder & so in the night they all try to keep themselves from forgetting the way their streets smell, the way soft-serve tastes, the way it feels to fall in love & be some young & oblivious teenager.
& sometimes if you close your eyes you can hear them, all alive & whole for a second.
you drove through a broken millennium & disappeared
like a ghost you’re only ever halfway-here.
like a ghost you can never breathe.
& nobody seems to like the way you
press your lips together.
the way you wake up
they way you seem to like the
than the light.
like a ghost you’re stuck.
& nobody seems to like that
broken hell you’re drowning
in. this sort of empty why
like a ghost you’ve been forgotten
& nobody seems to notice.
they buried her in the concrete and slapped
a grave between two chevys. city
girl made of brick made of mold made
of shattered bottles and cracked floors.
they buried her in the concrete because
she wanted to feel the cars thunder above
her. she wanted to feel them roar. and roll. and
sputter and bellow and eat the earth.
when the moon glows white at night the
air is thick and heavy. like bread it
rises and like bread it is stagnant.
she had drowned every day in that air, drowned
like everybody else. drowned in so much
smoke and drowned in so much exhaust
and drowned in so much gas
that when they found her dead it was no
she’d already died a hundred times over.
the countryside used to be a wide green.
so green it hurt her eyes. so green it could’ve
swelled up and skimmed the sky, bursting
into a million little pieces. she never
wanted to die. but she knew that when the
green started to fade her breath would soon
the night before city girl made of brick
was buried between two chevys the stars
stopped shining. the air hitched. it was too
late but still everything stopped. it was too
late but still everybody thought. still they
wondered if what they’d done to the earth
was ever worth it. if everything they had
killed was going to kill them.
around the world and back again
she says she wants to be buried in the sea. that
she doesn’t care if the salt scrubs her skin
raw. if her head swells up to a balloon. she wonders
what it might be like to feel free, to float
on the surface of an endless
somewhere there’s a mother cradling a child and
the ocean’s in their eyes.
somewhere all the doors are pooling open and
the stars are right up close instead of broken and
cracked and dead.
somewhere there’s an ocean, she thinks.
if it takes death to bring her one she'd be
alright with that too.
Monday sees Mangoes in her Dreams.
Swollen, Ripe, Too-Many, Too-Much
she says. Sweet, Plump, Soft As Tar In The Summer,
she says. Mangoes, she says, Bloated Things;
Monday sees Mangoes in her Dreams.
She sees them when Ma plants the geraniums in July
& spades the earth. Skewers it. Spears it. Spills pools
of molten dirt and dribbles it over the flower box --
sweet juice, sticky juice. Mushy like overripe Mangoes.
Monday sees Mangoes in her Dreams.
They splatter her in her sleep & blister the stagnant air,
leech the cicadas songs with sap; drown them. The sterile
hills fill with fruit, sluice through Ma’s geraniums & twist
& turn & flood & jerk her awake. Awake, Awake.
Monday hides from The Mangoes.
Sometimes they writhe through the crevices in
her sneakers & she sees them in clear day -- brisk dawn.
Monday, they tell her, Don’t Run, We’re Just Same:
Left In The Sun Long Enough,
& We’ll Soften