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Goddesses and doormats
h [electronic resource] /
by Elizabeth Kicak.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
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Thesis (M.F.A.)--University of South Florida, 2010.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
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ABSTRACT: The following is a collection of original poetry written over a span of two years while attending the University of South Florida. The poetry is divided into three numbered sections, marking the major thematic divisions. Preceding the poetry is a critical introduction to the work which outlines the author's developing thematic ideology.
Advisor: Jay Hopler, M.F.A.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Goddesses and Doormats by Elizabeth Kicak A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Jay Hopler, M.F.A Ira Sukrungruang, M.F.A Kimberly Johnson, Ph.D. Date of Approval: May 7, 2010 Keywords: poetry, poetics, feminism, feminist, creative writing Copyright 2010, Elizabeth Kicak
Â“There are only two types of womenÂ—goddesses and doormats.Â” Â—Pablo Picasso With fierce love and thanks to my family a nd friends and, in particular, to the women in my lifeÂ—all of whom are goddesses.
Acknowledgements Grateful thanks is gi ven to the editors of The New York Quarterly in which the following poems, in alternative versions, first app eared: Â“Panic Attack at 2:17pmÂ” and Â“Love Anatomy.Â”
i Table of Contents Abstract iii Introduction 1 Section One 4 Spellbound 4 Eve and the Devil Shake; He Snaps Her Hand Off at the Wrist 5 Girl Eaten by a Tree 6 An Eloquent Drowning 7 Veneration 8 The Island of Stability 9 The Great Flood 11 Slaves to the Tide 12 Hit and Run 14 Deal Breaker 15 Cauterization 16 Panic Attack at 2:17pm 17 Section Two 19 Recurring 19 To Move a Man 21 How To 22 Love Anatomy 24 Spring Cleaning 25 House Edge 26 An Egg Scrambled 27 Heritage of the Un-Daughter 28 Arachnophobia 30 Recipe for the Devourable 31 Ode to the Dandelion 32 Destiny, Florida 33 Upon Declaring a Poem Unsalvageable 34 Hibernacle 35 Section Three 36 Genesis 36 Trespassing 38 Midnight Diagnostics 39 Walking With the Orbweaver 40 If Only I Could Swallow Light 42
ii GravityÂ’s Fatigue 43 Sunken Gardens 44 DemeterÂ’s Kitchen 45 Militant Joy 46 Since the End Must Come Let It Come 47
iii Goddesses and Doormats Elizabeth Kicak ABSTRACT The following is a collection of original poetry written over a span of two years while attending the University of South Fl orida. The poetry is divided into three numbered sections, marking the major thema tic divisions. Precedi ng the poetry is a critical introduction to the work which outlines the authorÂ’s developing thematic ideology.
1 Goddesses and Doormats is a collection of poetry written to fulfill the Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of South Florida. In addition to seemingly endless revisions to the poems, I invested a great deal of time selecting an appropriate epigraph. When I came across the lin e Â“There are only two t ypes of womenÂ—goddesses and doormats,Â” by Pablo Picasso, I recognized a concise statement that reflects many of the oppositional sentiments reflected in my poe try. In fact, the two extremes Picasso establishes in this statement pair well with the contradictory depi ction of women in my work. If there is a pattern in this collecti on, it is surely the nature and treatment of the female. She is suppressed and destroyed; she is also the ultimate creator and source of renewal. It is a group of poems that descri bes the many ways women are silenced as well as their restorative influence and divine power. The opening poem, Â“Spellbound,Â” describes th e lost magicianÂ’s assistant. She has disappeared and may be in peril, but her ab sence causes no concern. She is physically and metaphorically absent, without voice or agen cy. The collection contains a number of poems where the female subject is either physically or emoti onally silenced and, oftentimes, experiences both simultaneously. The more I wrote, the more I became fascinated with the silencing of women th rough their physical dest ruction. Women are dismembered, drowned, eaten, hit by cars, and suffocated in my poetry. Animals and flowers are anthropomorphized a nd almost always cast as females. Bodies are broken by nature, machines, other people, and the supern atural. In poems where the female is under attack she does not resistÂ—not with any real conviction or drive. There is a resignation and silent surrender to her de struction no matter how strong th e inner turmoil or panic.
2 While the middle section of the thesis continues the themes of the first segment, it also begins to address the tr aditional roles of the woman as lover/wife and mother. Again, there is a dichotomic relationship between th e female identity and the roles ascribed to her. Here the reader will find the rare poems where men die, but their deaths do not lead to any sort of fulfillment for the female s ubjects; in fact, they often lead to further confusion and distress. In addition to navi gating the space between men and women, this section begins to look at the dynamics of motherhood. Without doubt, these were the most difficult poems to write and the ones that are the most self revealing. When I looked at the first draft of the collection I was confused by my own heavy use of fertility imagery (especially eggs) and abortion referenc es I recognized my own words but did not understand where the sentiment was originati ng from. It was not until I compiled the poems for the final segment of the thesis th at I understood the impulse for many of the fertility poems. The final section of the book examines the healing and restorative power of the mother and, as soon as I understood this theme in the third section, I understood one of the underlying tensions in the sec ond. The fertility poems provide the space for grieving the child I have not ye t, but always assumed, I would have at this point in my life. I was reminded of Robert FrostÂ’s famous quote: Â“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader .Â” Sometimes an egg is just an egg. In this case, it was a symbol for a struggle I didnÂ’t know I was fighting until it was on paper. The third section elevates the female because of her role as the creator, even to the point of rewriting Genesis with a goddess. If th e destruction of the male fails to revive the voiceless female in section two, then her re storation must come in the final section
3 through some other means. Since the preceding poems reveal that this restoration will not come through having children, it is wo menÂ—sisters, mothers, deities, natureÂ—who shoulder much of the responsibility. Here the female subject finds sense of self through her raltionships to the natural world a nd the women who populate it. Sisterhood and daughterhood are especially prev alent in the final poems. Th e women at the end of the collection have outgrown their earlier selv es; these are no longer women who will acquiesce to a violent drowning. Th e final two poems, in particul ar, reflect this change. In Â“Militant Joy,Â” the speaker instructs the reader to gather and save the light so that on dark days it can be Â“broken into,/devou red in dark lapses until,/from sugar, we are sick.Â” In the final poem, Â“Since the End Must Come Le t it Come,Â” the speaker enjoys a morning so perfect, she would welcome it as Judgment Day. Ultimately, this collection of poems progresses from the silent and easily broken female to one of creative power. Both the Â“doormatÂ” and the Â“goddessÂ” have purpose. However, the most powerful and dynamic woman may be those who have passed between both realms. While PicassoÂ’s quote suggests an either /or opposition, this collection of poetry explores the complex pr ogression and overlap of these two categories as well as the revelations and self-understanding that is gained in the journey.
4 Section One SPELLBOUND He whips off the sheet with a flourish and the audience is horrified. No applause, no cheering, maybe a gasp. A mother shields her son's eyes so he cannot see the horror of the empty box. They knew he was all smoke and mirrors but his tricks should have conjured something. Where is the magic in revealing a case without a smiling, talented assistant? What is special about turn ing nothing into nothing? A man in the audience clears his throat. The lights come upÂ—no one cares where she is only where she isn't. Busy demanding their refunds, furious that theyÂ’ve been tricked, no one considers that she might be lost, her ears stuffed with quarters, sawed in half and handcuffed, buried under white rabbit s and silk scarves. She was supposed to be sparkling inside a glass like a lightning bug thatÂ’s nearly out of air.
5 EVE AND THE DEVIL SHAK E; HE SNAPS HER HAND OFF AT THE WRIST. Forget the fruitÂ—haunt the whole tree. Wait until sheÂ’s sun-weary, reclining in shade from branches exhausted by cascading apples. SheÂ’s been warned, of course, to steer clear of apples. To stay alert for sly serpents. Resist the hiss of teeth breaking a pple skin, driving into sugared pulp. Dodge the demon looping through the gard en on scaled belly. Thank God for Eve! Lilith would have never fallen for a manÂ’s hands growing out of the tree. How delicate the bones in her wristÂ—how easily she splinters. How her mangled stub of arm disgusts Adam. Rotting woman made of his bone spoiled by the promise of touching the divine. He will keep vigil, worship at the treeÂ’s base, water the roots with the blood of lambs slaughtered as sacrifice for a reperfected woman. He will reach up to reclaim what is his. EveÂ’s hand will rip AdamÂ’s from his arm. How could theyÂ—disfigured, hideousÂ—bear EdenÂ’s beauty having desecrated the sacred soil? Slither away, hide beyond the garden walls but the children will be born unflawed.
6 GIRL EATEN BY A TREE Mark Ryden: Oil on Canvas, 2006 So sweet! Like peach nectar. Even her bobby socks tasted like candy. Strolling among whispery pines, larkspur and honey-scented clover. A trio of skipping girls never suspected that innocuous alcove in the oak, where robins fought to lay their eggs, would soon be stuffed with one of them. He was ravenousÂ—starving, rooted in place. He never hesitated to wrap his branches around her slight waist and shovel her in his open mouth. She flailed and kicked but he ate her headfirst so the screaming was brief. Her golden ringlets tickled the top of his throat. He gagged and almost spit her out but then he got a taste of the candied flesh. His bark breaking into her bodyÂ—the joy of the feast surpassing his best epicurean dreams. Her shoulders, still in their blue silk frock, slid down with ease. Each pearl button of her dress gliding over his tongue. The slight puff of her belly, her syrupy hips and thighsÂ—thighs soaked in peach nectar, soaked in maple sap! At last, he is completely full. Drowsy and contentÂ—no t the least bit sorry. Her doe-eyed, porcelain fr iends stagger away with the buckles from her maryjanes.
7 AN ELOQUENT DROWNING What astounded me the most was her certainty that she would be rescued. No fear or flailing. Just big blue eyes submersed and wide open. The pool a diaphanous prism tossing white sunshine ripples dancing across the cement floor. Sparkling webs of light waltzing beneath the surface and her open-wide eyes. Fearless. Never doubting strong arms would scoop her up before her last bubble. Perfect faith in her lungs and the strength of his handsÂ— she never considered dying. Content in her knowledge she danced at the bottom with the sun rippling through the water. A sunken angel dancing in a pool of light.
8 VENERATION We shared a cigarette and a nectarine and now I am stricken with anguish in the bones. I canÂ’t pray for reliefÂ—I have earned this hurt but I can hate not praying. I knew the fruit was rotten, ate it anyway with my eyes closed, envisioning something sweet. I used to believe I wouldnÂ’t ache this muchÂ—wouldnÂ’t curl into the couch, wrapped in my favorite sweatshirt from a college that rejected me, waiting until IÂ’m less tender, still devoted to those that do not want me.
9 THE ISLAND OF STABILITY 1. I have not written for weeks because all I want to do is write about frantic shadows and, my God, the clichs are exhausting. 2. I canÂ’t remember ever feeling so heavy. Not bigÂ—very, very tiny but impossibly dense. Heavy as lead. NoÂ—heavier. 3. I have done the most vile thing to you. Told the worst lie. 4. Is there anything heavier than lead? 5. That night, rain pinged against the window and your leaden arms draped over my bare back. I was so smallÂ—so heavy. Sinking through sheets, into the mattress. I couldnÂ’t get out from under your arms so I whispered the only words I thought might make you move. It may have been more humane to shoot you. 6. The heaviest elements are all artificialÂ— man-made and highly unstable. Named for the men who created them: Lawrencium Seaborgium Or, perhaps, for future ambitions: Einsteinium Nobelium
10 They slam elements together to spawn a heavier atom. It lives a microsecond or two, before dying of spontaneous fissionÂ—the nucleus splits into two, more stable pieces. Boys, some things donÂ’t want to be fused, no matter how fascinating the decay chain is. Scientists speculate about a field where spontaneous fission is no longer a threatÂ— where man-made atoms exist for years. They call it the Island of StabilityÂ—strictly theoretical of course. Stability always is. 7. Lead is used in pencils and bullets. Previously popular in paint but it poisons through the skin, damaging the nervous system, causing weakness in the hands and fingers. Long-term exposure leading to infertility. 8. What could be more clich than tired lovers lying and breaking apart? There is even rain and tangled sheets. Thank God there were no candles or dripping wax. No wine. No roses or I might have had to shoot myself. 9. Okay, technically itÂ’s not in pencils but IÂ’m telling the truth about everything else.
11 THE GREAT FLOOD Either Jesus was a liar, or war is never necessary. Â—Ben Salmon Glasses of viscid milk lining the table. A body strapped down, tipped up. Hands driving a metal funnel past cracked lips, teeth chipping like tiles, steel settling at the base of the throatÂ— the last bastion before invasion. Milk pouring down, wet cement watering the shrunken stomach. The dam breachedÂ— Oh, how the body will flood!
12 SLAVES TO THE TIDE 1. ThereÂ’s a certain kind of fr eedom in having no choice. 2. I walk and watch a tiny birdÂ— a sparrow in the gale beating her wings against the wind in a stubborn fight to fly north while being corralled south. Stubborn little bird fighting a force too big for fragile feathers. Why not try and be like the hawk? The hawk who does not fight but simply spreads its wings, rides the currents, arcing and looping through pockets of warm air. 3. I walk and find a jellyfish washed ashore, rolling in the receding tide too weak to pull hers elf back to sea. Though she looks harmless she has never been more eager, more hungry for a strike. Passersby think sheÂ’s dead, kick sand in her face. But what satisfaction is there in stinging the sand? All she needs is something to underestimate her resolve, get too close. How violently she will lash out this last time! 4. I walk as the waves pull back revealing sand scatte red with tiny clams
13 like a snapped strand of beads. Ivory shells with tiger stripes, violets, rippled greens and grays. They scramble, stick ou t their pale feet, shimmy down into the sand. Frantic digging, wiggling to submerge in earth before the next wave crashes stripping the sand away. At once there are hundreds dancing on the shore. At once they are buried, leaving nothing but a blanket of pinpricks in wet sand. They have no choice but to follow the rhythm of the water. They dig and are unburied. Dig and are unburied.
14 HIT AND RUN The day before ThanksgivingÂ— her mother dressing a turkey. Maybe changing the sheets, buying her daughterÂ’s favorite foods when they called. My email from Campus Affairs: Â“We regret to inform youÂ” and a student number. I ran my finger down the roster searching for the student I would be crossing out. So clinicalÂ—a press release from the sheriffÂ’s office: Not using a crosswalk. Taken to a hospital where she later died. She was never Â“a valued member of our college community,Â” until the Dean was interviewed by the local paper. My skin was hot. How criminalÂ— skipping all the violence. How insufficient a phrase: hit and run. I imagine it was loudÂ—the echoing thud of her body rolling over the hood. Her blood stippled the windshield in a hushed spatter. Bones splintered, pushed through her skin. Skull split as she fanned out across the pavement.
15 DEAL BREAKER My hair falls around us, a stage curtain. I abandon his mouth to tie back the mess. His voice hot as he breaths, Â“Leave it down.Â” Hands on my wrists. A curl brushes my upper lip. A tongue sweeps it into my mouth. How I hated the taste of myself! Perfumed and bitter. I swipe stands from my mouth and, damp with saliva, with sweat, they stick to my face. His fingers thread through the hair at the nape of my neck. A scream uncurls, rushes up my throat. A full body post-hair-cut itch crashes down until all I can focus on is not slamming the heel of my palm into his nose, blinding him with blood, with pain rippling over his faceÂ— at least one of us would get to scream. His hands around my wrists. He asks, Â“Why are you laughing?Â”
16 CAUTERIZATION I canÂ’t remember when that thorn pierced my foot. My skin has grown over the wound. Every step stabs, toenails discolor, blood pools into spiderweb bruises. Hot skin stinks like rancid buttermilk, like rotten plums in vinegar. Gangrene is nothing to gamble withÂ— I could lose my leg but I could lose more. ItÂ’s in the blood and spreading fast. IÂ’m hobbled, a gimp who badly needs a crutch.
17 PANIC ATTACK AT 2:17PM These cockroaches. These cockroaches are scurrying Under your skin. Thousands of legs Antennae making you Tremble and Twitch and itch. They are everywhere. Scuttling around in Your stomach. Swarming in your ears. Rushing down your legs so fast Even your toes itch and You scratch the surface until it bleeds. Your mouth fills with copper dust Sticking to the tongue and choking Out calm air. Try swallowing the powder But the throat rebelsÂ—constricts. Esophagus squeezing until the lungs contract Flooding with adrenalin oxide. Shriveled, raisin lungs make space In the chest cavity for the rapidly Thu-thumping heart. Arterial muscles Swell with the beat. Soon this Pulsing grenade will consume All space and explode. You are trapped with this Time bomb in your chest choking Down air that singes the lungs and Cooking from the inside out. Heat Rushes the face, melting skin, exposing Cheekbones and eye sockets. You are trapped and smoldering. ItÂ’s just you and the cockroaches now. You will all incinerate in this
18 Serotonin drought. ItÂ’s contagiousÂ— Even the bugs are panicking.
19 Section Two RECURRING Silver blades twirl, spin calm lake to murky foam. I never fight the pull, never scream until dark lake camouflages blood while I toss and tu rn under propeller blades. Cloudy, black water rushes my throat. Watereddown plasma sloshes in my lungs. Giant scalpels spin, smack against my face, propelling me deeper under the surface of the foam frosted lake. Even though my mouth floods with blood I still keep silent. Scream! some part cries but what good will a scream do now? Hungry fish cut through the water, ravenous for gourmet vitreousÂ—gems in bland blood spilling out as I twist like a sheet in the spin cycle of a washing machine full of foam, full of knives. Fish re joicing at propellers snapping fingers like carrot sticks. Propellers slicing and shredding. I am too drained to scream. Moonlight hits the surfac e, sparkling through foam bubbles. How beautiful to look up from under the water! A surface-world backlit in silver, stilling the mindÂ’s panicked spin. Bubbles like diamondsÂ—like candlelight in blood streaked locks where skittish minnows wait to nip at bloodrare skin, darting into th e hair cloud when propellers smack against my teeth like playing cards spinning in bicycle spokes. Maybe I should try to screamÂ— just once, but I swallow teeth and wa sh them down with crimson water. Back to staring at the surface while famished fish foam
20 at the mouth for a meal softening in a foam marinade. They fight for prime scraps, for bloody morsels of muscle. Ravaging a corpse with waterlogged bones dissolving under propeller blades like ice cubes in a ble nder. One halfhearted scream bubbling to the surface riding the spin of the current. ThereÂ’s never a struggle. Nothing to propel a fight for air. Foam infused water fills a blood-less body. One token scream, once IÂ’m deep enough no one can hear as I sink in a slow spin.
21 TO MOVE A MAN The first time I knew I loved you was the night I planned exactly how I would kill you. Investigated alibis. Found holes (such holes, you canÂ’t believe!) But I was calmÂ—played it cool. I guessed your weight, your height, the number of black plastic garbage bags (three) to move a man. Rehearsed my cry in the mirror: Â“How tragic! A romantic bath, the CD playerÂ—he loved to set the mood with musicÂ…Â” So smooth I nearly believed my own reflection. I hum, run the tub full of bubbles, lay the stereo on edge. Candlelight, wineÂ—almost too perfect. But I never planned on you and your tearful remorse, your guilt-ridden confession. I listen, twirling the cord. You beg. I consider. You cry, swear never again. We embrace. I forgive. But I keep the garbage bags.
22 HOW TO Blood wonÂ’t wash out of handspun wool. It can only be persuaded from the carpet with cold water, a few drops of detergent, hysterical scrubbing. Fifteen years sheÂ’d been cleaning their fallen hair from around that shower drain. She bends down with a ha ndful of paper towels wiping up the hair and bone and blood. She chips bits of dried brain from th e shower tiles with her fingernails. His suicide note should have been more practical. It was his last chance to teach her little things: How to change the filters in the air conditioner. How to fix the loose handle on the guest bath toilet. Who should walk his daughters down the aisle. The name of the kid who mows the lawn. Their days for garbage pickup. He should have explained how to turn on the irrigation system. What words of advice to give his son the day his first child is born. How to jimmy the front door when it sticks from the cold.
23 Why he chose her fatherÂ’s gun to disbrain himself that April. How to prune efflowered azaleas. How to balance the chlorine levels in the pool. How to live with widowÂ’s guilt.
24 LOVE ANATOMY Â“The nerve cells, upon being excited by the pr oper stimulus, transmit an action potential down their axons.Â” The light dims purple while a thumb brushes an eyelash from my cheek. Make a wish. You have the magic to make my stomach elevator between my heart and toes. Â“When the signal reaches the axon terminal bundle it interacts w ith synaptic knobsÂ—Â” Kisses skip behind my ear, fusing saliva and skin, as a voice (yours? mine?) whispers you are electric. Â“Â—stimulating an influx of calcium through voltage-gated Ca2+ gates, triggering exocytosis of some of the vesicles.Â” God! This sweet ache. I have dissolved into your paper cup dream catcher. We have contaminated each other.
25 SPRING CLEANING To peel the skin off that foot! Pressed against cold tiles under blazing waterÂ—never hot enough. Scrubbing until each cell burns. Scouring the skin buys some time but the foot is neither forgetful nor clean. Saturate the stains with bleach. Blood, solvent lurching between toes. How does the skin not dissolve? So much soap, scorching water, alcohol-drenched cotton methodically tracing, tracing and retracing. Disinfecting each wrinkle, swabbing between toes, under nails. How does one small hole cause such mess? Peel the footÂ—swipe sterile cotton back and forth and back across the arch. Round the heel. Toes still twisting with memory, knowing they are never quite spotless.
26 HOUSE EDGE My father took me to Las Vegas the summer I turned twenty-one. Thre e-story curtains of strung crystals shimmered light across the casino floor. Â“Nev er put anything on the table youÂ’re not willing to lose,Â” he told me. Du ring the day he worked a tradeshow at the convention center while I walked an Ansel Ad ams exhibit, strolled among jellyfish tanks, ate a caprese and pancetta salad and dr ank white wine at a caf overlooking multiterraced botanical gardens under a Chihuly glass ceiling. I watched a woman who looked like she couldnÂ’t afford to lose, hit on sixteen with the dealer showing six, and wondered if her father taught her anything. Our first night we played for hours on our original hundred while a leathery slip of a woman in a purple sequin dress with a smokerÂ’s cough watched our table balancing a sleepy toddler on one boney hi p. Â“Some women just arenÂ’t meant to have children,Â” I said once she walked away. He didnÂ’t respond. The next morning I saw a woman pull her second bet back at a Let It Ride ta ble and applauded her father for teaching her to recognize when sh eÂ’s beat but maybe she didnÂ’t learn this lesson from her father. She didnÂ’t pay attent ion and now sheÂ’s drowning ten dollars at a timeÂ—I just assume everyone listened when their father taught them when to fold.
27 AN EGG SCRAMBLED I awoke with egg-frying ambition, a primal instinct to make a divine something from a henÂ’s humble stone. The edges will bubble, opaquing in sizzling butter. A golden center warming, desperate to burst beyond its delicate membrane. It will quiver, just a moment, on the spatula before splishing into the pan. Perfect crisp edges will hug tender white folds. How I will swell with the joy of transforming that cold egg on a hot slab of frying pan. But today I canÂ’t even make it to the flip. Shell gnawed through the guard walls surrounding the yolky heart. Shards scalpeling through the egg sac. It all bleeds together, a marbled mess snapping in the angry pan. What choice is there but to scramble the poor thing?
28 HERITAGE OF THE UN-DAUGHTER 1. I fan the fronds of sugar palms across the floor leading to my bedroom. I burn camphor leaves, drink warm milk spiced with cinnamon, sprinkle nutmeg on the windowsills. 2. ItÂ’s not just for counter-s pells of courseÂ—cinnamon. It is the secret to your great-grandmotherÂ’s meringue. Her magic, my heritage to share with you. Swollen knuckles make her fingers list to the right. She holds up an egg. Now is not the time to be gentle. Her crooked hand sharply smacks the egg on the counter corner. She passes yolk back and forth between shell halves, the white dripping into the waiting metal bowl. She spoons in sugar and I want to know how to tell when itÂ’s perfect. She points at the fluff pin-wheeling out from the nexus of the mixing bowl. You do it wrong for a long time. Then you learn. 3. I keep sage handy just in case you find a seal less airtight than I thought because, somewhere, you learned the art of being sneaky. 4. I canÂ’t watch her scraping down the sides of the bowl with her spatula. 5. I must still be casting the spells wrong.
29 Your fingers and toes, grey and restless, honeycomb across my ceiling in predawn hours. Sweat breaks on my foreheadÂ— youÂ’ve found a way inside again so itÂ’s another night of half-dreaming about eggs, and metal bowls, scraping spatulas, sugar and spices, and the spell I canÂ’t uncast.
30 ARACHNOPHOBIA She says they are like Â“golden monarch butterfliesÂ” when the cocoons in her throat burst. My eyes water at the thought of coughing up the insects nesting near my trachea. Spiders! They are not butterflies but spidersÂ—venom-less, common, brown kitchen spooks that do not flutter-float away in a cloud of sparkling wings but scuttle, scurry along baseboards, hiding in the shadows for fear of the light. A plagueÂ—swat at them with newspapers. Turn on every light, watch them twitch before stompingÂ— that tiny crunch they make underfoot is the best they have to offer.
31 RECIPE FOR THE DEVOURABLE Blot the body. Gently towel it down. Check the glassiness of the eyesÂ—clarity is key. Rock the blade, sever the head. How easy to debone her when she canÂ’t stare back. Hook into the gills, pull the spine up through the skin. Bones delicate like fiberglass threads. Spill the smell of saltwater from some far-off sea. Slip your blade between skin muscle, piling scales near the body. Scales like a sequined skirt pooled beside a bed. Now cleaved, pink and glistening in open air. Blot her body gently. Towel it down, feeling the weak resistance of meat without bonesÂ— how easily it submits without its spine. It is ready to be consumed. Raw, urgent hungerÂ—lick the salty blood from your fingers. You no longer need to starve.
32 ODE TO THE DANDELION Who would want you, weedÂ— common and ugly? Bastard flower with stubborn roots, garish golden head, pollen staining everything you brush against. Scourge of the pristine lawn! You are the plague of summer gardens. Feral seeds shamelessly tarnishing tilled beds of imported roses meant for crystal vases on hall tables and mantles. You, unruly weed, are only tolerated, so embedded in the soil it is too exhausting to purge the ground.
33 DESTINY, FLORIDA What could the grazi ng cattle be eating? Nothing but roadside spiky scrub brush. Fire lines hoed into the ground. Burned grass, parched skeletons of leafless trees. A billboard reminding me a baby's heart beats eighteen days after conception. In Nebraska, these would be fru itful fields of ripened wheat but here, just miles of death gone to seed. An old tire, tethered to a fence, with the words "Jesus Saves" painted around the rim. Surely the cows are starving.
34 UPON DECLARING A POEM UNSALVAGEABLE What if they are like eggs? A predetermined pile stitched inside before my birth. Scarce though they are, I have abandoned oneÂ— words made by made of my body, I have surrendered one to the abyss, declared her irredeemable, primordially flawed, de stined to shrivel, to rot on the vine like fruit unharvested.
35 HIBERNACLE How could anything live after being buried under so much dark freeze? I crave my mother's faith, her trust that something can revive after being frozen in cold earth. But even after the thaw, how does anything exist in the ground that can cultivate bulbs planted before chill cemented the soil? How does she sustain belief in things long-shrouded in frost?
36 Section Three GENESIS Eyes closed, she spun the stars into earth. Cradled soil in her palm. Whispered, "Awake. It is time to create a paradise." Earth awake, alive, sprouted her first thought. She thought: white. She thought: sun rising out of a field of white. She thought: calm breath. Lilies! The earth gave her lilies. She lifted the dirt to her lips, "Thank you for white with rising sun and calm breath." She thought: joy. She thought: crisp, hissing joy and the earth gave her lemonsÂ—a tree ornamented with lemons. Her delight was a burst of swaying red. Earth gave her poppies. Glowing with giddy poppy-love, earth gave her daisies, gave her kiwi, gave her cocoa plants, red grapes, cumquats. Earth gave and gave and gave her every imaginable delight. Eyes closed, she spun the stars into earth and sprouted heaven in her palm.
37 TRESPASSING My sisters and I flop into the sea of floral comforters scented with furnace dust and our fatherÂ’s cigarettes. We bury our faces, smothering our giggles. Oh, the b ack closet corner! Home to everything silk and lace and glitter. We jam small feet into glamorous heels we never see her wear. Behind her draping fabrics hides a cardboard treasure chest. One of us pops the flapsÂ—inside we find baby teeth. Photos of me n: some our father, some not. A plaster handprint none of us remember making. Two unlabeled cassette tapes. A dirty white t-shirt wrapped around a black bible. SheÂ’s coming, Rachel whispers. We duck behind her wedding dress and winter coats. Holding our breaths hiding behi nd ivory lace and grey wool as she opens the door, rus tles the clothes and sings Where have my little girls gone?
38 MIDNIGHT DIAGNOSTICS IÂ’m up again in the middle of the night turning on all the lights, staring at walls. Photos of my sister transformingÂ— becoming like those of other long-dead relatives haunting my living room. I can hardly stand to photograph her anymoreÂ—like the picture itself is to blame. Delinquent blood and marrow! No, berating the pictures is easier than cursing her body. Tonight it was a black and white from last spring: Samantha and I in the garden behind my auntÂ’s house, arms looped around each other, sunglasses and toothy grins. This could be the one we look at someday, say: we should have known. She and Rachel and I dancing at a wedding, skirts spinning, heads tossed back in laughterÂ— her bones already growing drowsy. The first Sunday she was light enough for Rachel to piggyback her lanky frame around the house. A week before her first surgery the three of us in lawn chairs, Fourth of July and fireworks. Skin shined with Florida heat. Any moment someone might take the one I will find crammed in a dusty drawer some distant Saturday afternoon. Her last Christmas.
39 Her last trip to the beach. Her last birthday. We do this with our deadÂ—flip through photos of the their lasts. Bodies displaying signs that are only clear in hindsight, on film, in frames. We were blind then and now we have timelines, photographs.
40 WALKING WITH THE ORBWEAVER The wooden planks of the boardwalk push up into the soles of my bare feet. The wood is worn smoothÂ—the only inconsistency the seam where one board meets another. I havenÂ’t talked to my sister in weeks. Plank after plank they lead me out into a tunnel of oak and Spanish moss. I never knew how many spiders called the rivershore home. In the afternoon rain thei r webs appear sewn with strands of tiny Christmas lights, stretching like hammocks between branches, swaying in the pale breeze. There is a venomous-looking spider perched in the center of a tire-sized web. Her legs and back are streaked with red and white. DonÂ’t ask me how I know itÂ’s a sheÂ—I just do. The boards are cool, damp from the rain and slick where yellowed leaves have fallen. Bright molds grow between the slivers in the wood. IÂ’m dying to know what kind of spider that is. I really should call my sister. Rain is falling harder as I follow the wooden walkway threading through the woods. The sound of raindrops striking leaves, dripping down, and sp lashing into the waiting lake is the most comforting noise IÂ’ve ever heard. IÂ’m in deep enough that itÂ’s just me and the birds and the water. I wonder what the doctor decided. A pair of ibis pulls worms from between the mangroveÂ’s tangled legs. Mangroves look like such team playersÂ— as if ten or fifteen saplings were all vying for the same bit of earth and finally reached dtente, closing ranks and fusing into one another.
41 She once told me, Â“Being human is not for sissies.Â” Suddenly I am glad for the sturdiness of the boardwalk. The solid planks still pushing up into my feet. I lean against the rail and stare down into this dark water insu lated by the leafy blanket creeping across its surface. When a fallen tree obstructs its growth, the blanket splits, wraps around the obst acle, knits itself back together. An enormous great blue heron pr unes her feathers to free them of the rain. She runs he r beak up and under one wing then the other. Droplets umbrella off and splash into the lake. She is balanced on a fallen log thatÂ’s quilted with tender algae ridding herself of the afternoonÂ’s shower s even as the sky darkens again. Two days from now I will know the spider is called a Spotted Orbweaver.
42 IF ONLY I COULD SWALLOW LIGHT like a snake swallows a bird: slowly deliberately. Every muscle focused. The body becoming one long throat gulping through an unhinged mouth pulsing it down into the belly. Once swollen and glowing I could stretch out on a warm rock idle and illuminated.
43 GRAVITYÂ’S FATIGUE She is a chaos wrangler. accountable for galactic symmetry, for keeping electrons in their fields. For holding SaturnÂ’s impul sive rings in check. JupiterÂ’s moons are disorderly toddlers aching to dart to and fro. It is so heavyÂ—this burden of order. Imposing structure on the tides exhausts her. Comets challenge he r every request and the gamma rays are always pulling at the leash. She midwives nebulas, k eeps the cosmic string from becoming a tangled ball of thread. Quasars pulse with hungry energy just waiting for their chance to gobble up unsuspecting quarks. If only she could let them go. Just a second of rest: a planck or two. But constellation mergers can be so messy and she hates the cleanup. The matter must be quarantined from the antimatter until the moment is just right. Energy never lasts long in a vacuum.
44 SUNKEN GARDENS 1. The air there is thick, slicked with dew. Newly unfurled palm fronds curl calmly upwards. Ponds stocked with spotted koi sparkle alongside cr acked stone paths, past a lone thorn-th ick bougainvillea, an orange jasmine homesick for IndiaÂ—wind in the branches scarce. 2. Pairs of flamingoes idling and bees buzzing wildly in flame-throated orchids. Blossom-bloated branches growing so high they're wired to posts designed to keep afloat those flower-heavy heads. 3. Manicured beds of Brazi lian Red Cloak throw broken shadows on oak tree trunks and a million pink honeysuckle blooms. Trestles wrapped in well-groomed marbled ivy muscling into any place with room for roots. 4. A breeze rustles low bushes flirting in the dirt, pushing up glossy skirts of leaves tossed across a thousand treesÂ— all leaning towards the same sun.
45 DEMETERÂ’S KITCHEN My mother spun sugar flowers on the head of a pastry nail. A plump bag of frosting in one hand, the nail twirling slowly in the other. Peruvian roses materializing before my eyes. Her garden grew from nothing but sugar, water, and drops of color with names like Champagne Spiced Pumpkin Desert Plum. She dusted tier after tier with African violets. Transforming empty kitchen into thriving nursery. Tables sprouting wild daisies Singapore or chids Casablanca lilies fashioned from gum paste. I held my breath and stared deep under the spell of her fragile forget-me-nots periwi nkle clusters of lilac all cultivated by her handsÂ— hands that hold the secrets of creation.
46 MILITANT JOY Taste the light t odayÂ—sunshine crisp on the tongue. Feast on this militant joy marching forward, striking down everything standing against the cause. Gather glass jars, tight lids to catch and save itÂ— canned strawberries in December to be broken into, devoured in dark lapses until, from sugar, we are sick.
47 SINCE THE END MUST COME LET IT COME When the peaches are perfect. A vase of tulips with still-sleepy stems, a tired kitchen table, sprinklers sputte ring, ratcheting across a drowsy lawn. The tender scent of coffee drifting towards the sofa, carried by the slight breeze stumbling through the curtains. My dog sighs, nudges his head into my lap. So content he does not strain to lick the dripping peach juice sliding down my hand. I rest my palm on his head. Since the end must come let it come like this.