You couldn’t be sure it was the right house.
Your body’s print gouged into the mattress
face down wasn’t there now
in the house
maybe never that narrow—
Envelope of ashy shingles—
dashboard cracked by young sons’ rocks and glass
like candy they’d lick from pavement and spit
cop cars mating bumper to bumper—
crossed palm pressing the whore’s head—
the cop’s fingers prying her lawful jaw—
the cop pretending to take her to jail.
If you knew for sure it was the right house—
refrigerator’s urine dribble—
table studded with old pears—
mountains’ iron shadow whistling—
You mopped and wrung
every night a visitor trapped in his own face
his burned hands healed without naming
He wasn’t a doctor—
claimed no specialty.
You fried bologna sandwiches and swallowed
a plastic balloon and rushed first light
and got pregnant again
one lonely fuck upright and holy
front windows glued tight with sweaters
zippers and buttons and pointed seeds
the apple tree bloomed—
madness drained from the stars—
a dildo under the pillow—
You were the wife
wife wife and the baby
baby baby vowed to be born
crossed off the calendar
neither sidewalk nor boardwalk
not the packet of pins
tacking a curtain to the locked window.
Not attar of bad bacon nor pinch in pocket
trickling a drop into flannel lining so it warmed
the poor split rock and the earth and took root
for a new tree—
to bathe the baby—
feed the kitty—
tip the mailman—
to paint a landscape
framed in bullet casings—
Do not forget this house
little family of frail hope—
Do not forget the panes
where if you scrubbed a hole in the soot
a dream popped out of a rusted barrel
and unfurled a bloody rag.
I Could Tell From Your Fingernails You’d Stopped Listening
I was still young enough to slide my shoesoles to squeal the white line
parting the asphalt like a comb. But I was old enough to bury
my mittens up to their tight necks. I’d seen it before. A palm, a thumb,
the phone wringing its hands, a pocket on fire. What had I promised
the future to get myself into this fix? I lost a hammer and nails out here.
If you find a wood handle, hit me. If you find a wire,
spin me back together, don’t waste time. I felt fortunate when I spread
like a tree, also when I was military, balanced on rocky ground.
I remembered the bursting wastebaskets and where it all disappeared,
where, if you looked close, the dirt reminded you of sponge cake.
I meditated and glimpsed dresser drawers stuffed full, not bedbugs,
nor the potent stars poised to slurp them up, but the pangs
I’d lavished on relatives so long I wanted some for my collection of jars.
I took the podium on squeaky wheels. Tipped it to my chest like a lover.
Rejected advances greased with lanolin. Crossed off calendar days,
totted checkbooks, shoved nipples into satisfied mouths,
learned to ride a bicycle, pinched the leather leaves to get a sense
of their dialectical response. I saw myself silhouetted
against a face hewn of tongue and nostril, a face telling off time.
I became the locus of inquiry, all kinds probing my questions.
The very bricks raised their hands against my claims. But you have to,
they insisted. I looked upon my own feet and knew if they’d grown
onto bones, I’d’ve put a stop to the slithering. If nobody knew
what to look for, I couldn’t explain. Always the same dilemma,
like the moon opening its mouth to spit forth another moon, a set of dog tags,
or a pickup truck speeding down a dirt road and a passenger chucking cans
at a photo of someone you once loved and his uncertain pose pretending
a force it couldn’t suggest even to the weakest, the besotted, freshly dead.
LISA LEWIS's books include The Unbeliever (Brittingham Prize), Silent Treatment (National Poetry Series), Vivisect, (New Issues Press), and Burned House with Swimming Pool (American Poetry Journal Prize, Dream Horse Press). New work appears or is forthcoming in Tampa Review, Carolina Quarterly, Guernica, Sugar House Reader, and American Literary Review. She directs the creative writing program at Oklahoma State University and serves as poetry editor for the Cimarron Review.