Nina Puro

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.