*Image: “Pregnancy Dance” by Sandeep Kumar Mishra, digital image
The wordless marker fell over years back,
but they know where to look, bending through
tensile wire, the blue spray of flashlights
guiding their drunk steps. No one brings
the same story with them—a traveling family
with a coughing child—such and such long ago—
a grandfather’s story. Kiowa? Cheyenne?
Maybe just poor and sick, left the mound
on a farmer’s pasture, gone in the night,
taking his name with them—most people
tell it as if the child was a boy, but no one
knows for sure. They shovel earth till the
brown bones offer themselves up from
a dirty canvas sack. They arrange the jumble
at their feet like kindergarten macaroni art,
raise the skull over their faces, dance some
high school bullshit understanding of a
“savage ritual,” their laughter hot with bourbon.
But the ghost is a no-show, and what
hicktown youth would call innocent fun
morphs into nude reality. Shroud quiet,
the dirtpatched, criminal children of
prairie noir return distressed charnel rebis
to earth, lug their shaggy gray fuzz back
to Indiahoma Road. Wild hogs bay and hack
the distance awake. Sage thrashers sing
their mesquite indictment, a whistle like wind
through a small, hollow clavicle.
Fertility statuette thighs cover the table,
blunt end, stocking feet, cross-sectioned
uterus expels a leather baby mid-writhe,
chamois skin, taw lashes for afterbirth,
ruddy liquors and dyed water channeling
through the sump to the puckered mouth
of delivery, a final bid for the maternal secret,
to dissect and decipher the arcane cabala of
conception, humbugging rumors of eldritch
phenomena—rabbit miscarriages, mouth lochia—
flensing the fissured alchemy: God and woman
earth and man, scrying cruciform cuttlefish bones,
conjoining the O & E in fœtus, mansplaining
midwifery, but can it last?—this eidolon of
conception, another ghost escaping the male
grasp like a dryad’s kiss, a good old witch hunt,
repelling women from its uncanny automata,
cold simulacrum mocking sacrosanct burden,
too close to their late Thomas Harringtons
and Joseph Jeffersons, victims in the age of
black magic germ, from cough to the rude loll
of the packthread dummy, ossified in memorial
daguerreotypes, mouths slung open, silent clucks,
eyes opaque as chicken feathers.
The shoreline heaves.
Pick a soak-darkened branch
from a scurfy curd of tidewrack. Scrape wet red sand from marlstone
grooves, feel the embedded ostraca of shell.
Few treasures tonight: one fish skeleton—brittle spurs, ship’s futtock unfurling,
prowling reptile skull—a scarred claddagh still leashed
to a black leather loop. Maybe a mother’s gift.
Assign mothers a lofty ideal: old lake-brine witches, mermaids-turned-
manatees, still charming sailors from boats with shape
and tongue, rocking gar-scale
earrings, Jenny Hanivers snarling from their living room
walls. But mama’s Tracker and its swiped keys will do for a lovegift, or love
itself. RV revelers down the spillway coyote call with sour,
metallic Keystone breath. You think of where you’ve been,
where you will not return. People, not nature, dug Lawtonka
from the tallgrass plains—no matter;
watch the gull skirt the grooved wet with predation’s
aerobic strike, shed your sandals,
cross the beach’s dank damp finger,
wade to the waist in mud-dark cool,
pantomime the pool of creation, all of aquatic history condensed
into the murky cosm of home. Reflect a gray silhouette,
aureoled by dusk, scatter it with contouring fingers
across the soft mirror’s skin.
Soft & ornate, a rare spotlight for the letter Z,
etymology unknown. We invite it into our hot throats
and it steeps our minds in rosewater pink. From there,
it is almost predictable. Laughter breaks the ice
of honesty, and we make pacts we are sure to break,
leering wetly to hide our uncertainties.
Around midnight, we venture out in staggers,
crawl into an abandoned nursing home, find an office
with sets of car keys piled on a table. Dementia in absentia.
The witch hours pass with our prowling local
neighborhoods, ghostly with steam from our laughing
and drinking. We aim the keychains and
press their buttons, but no alarms beep back.
At some point we realize we’re missing the bottle.
It won’t come running to our giggling calls.
We fill the scratches left by the stencil,
suburbia’s aimless posterboys reinventing ourselves
as love’s ageless troubadours, daring in the safety of ruin,
heroic where the fighting has already happened,
the great events come and gone. This is why the young
dress in old clothing—easier to be the figure in the sepia photo
than to tack up the next uniform of progress.
Comfort means the dusty box: stuffed drawers under the Singer,
a grave in a dry field. The more holes in our secondhand
corduroy pants, the more we can pretend to have made them.
We end up passed out on your backyard deck or mine,
dew-sweating and marl-mouthed, relieving the night
of these shadows we wear as ourselves.