I wrote this while thinking about the great horned owl that lived on my roof as a child, how much more tinfoil-hat-separatist I get as I get older (aren't you supposed to chill out?), and poetry drama. I wrote this during AWP, when I felt deeply alone but very glad to not be in that clusterfuck, right after a difficult text, quite rapidly on my phone on the train right after it went underground, and while walking to work (super-windy) and on my lunch break (still-windy).
I was thinking, also, about Human Planet, the only nature show I like because it is people doing crazy things (kids that see better underwater! men pounding on the river with sticks to test if the ice is thick enough!) instead of lions fucking (meh), and how the dances/burial rites/feasts always go back to an archetypal arrangement of symbols, regardless of "tribe."
It was one of those struck-by-lightning-Zeus poems I think we're all always hoping for and I rarely get.
The bizarre invented spacing in the middle is, of course, the product of many revisions later. It's something about splits between people, a train, a river, distance--the realization I wasn't going to Minneapolis because (long story short) I'd have to deal with a dead friend. I felt useful that day.
Before the River Burned, But After it Ran Backwards
If they ask after my
after my whereabouts you tell them
even teeth can grow wings
with enough scum. It’s cruel
isn’t it? How the cornfield from
above is a city, a graveyard,
an orchard, fingers holding mum
air. I’m swooping over y’all & not
gonna land for a bit,
for a horse, for a penny
gumming the root
of my tongue. There’s a bad
star I was born under & three promises
I was born above: Iced laugh
that slit her throat. Iced night
that swallowed stars whole. Iced girls
who shoot at water with
their fists will break
like chalk, not honeyed
bread. There’s not much I’m good at.
But I’m long done trying to be.
I know where the pollen’s blown.
Born with cornsilk between chipped
teeth. Our kind ain’t killed off
quite yet. I hold my fear’s head
under the lake & hold the hand
of a smoke plume & hold bees under
my tongue. If you question
whether you’ll stop over
behind the jacarandas in that thicket tonight,
that means you will. That means
there’s no side door
that don’t have a draft. That means
there’s no way out of your dad’s
lake. Every second a phone stops
ringing right before someone picks it up.
I lie between my teeth
all day & later lie
in the thicket with my friend.
My friend she spills
lamplight through her hands
like a photograph of snow.
My friend she has nine
fingers and three theories
for how the world will end.
The one where girls are swimming under
the ice & at the same time above it
pouring pitchers of milk for tables thick
with men. There’s the one where we have to
put the horses down each Christmas behind
that burned-out strip mall, & every day’s
Christmas. The one that’s only
a cave at the center of the globe with a butter-knife
stuck in the center of cracked teeth,
an empty stomach like a fist
fooling itself full with fingers
& nobody makes promises
no more. That one’s my favorite.
That’s the story I follow home.
Nina Puro’s work can be found in Guernica, H_ngm_n, the PEN Poetry Series, and other places. A member of the Belladonna* Collaborative; the author of chapbooks forthcoming from Argos Books and dancing girl press; and the recipient of a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony, Nina cries and works in Brooklyn.