When I was very young
daddy shook me into the woods.
I was salt, soft on my feet,
good for trapping.
I was a darting bird, beak
stuffed with the guts
of small prey & thread
to sew the emptied carcass
back together, zippered
into a kingdom of scarecrows
My love, so many years later
I tried to spread those bones
again from my back.
Before they threw you
down the hole, I launched
a sparrow over barbed fence,
positioned it towards the yard.
But it flew back —
disappeared into sky.
I pile my vacation days
in a heap & bury.
Phone rings & I turn
the lock until it clicks.
Spread a thin blanket
in the tub & break the handle
let toilet water simmer
to a cauldron of filth.
On the sink, stacked:
30 cans beans
& 2 loaves
& sticky raisins
& single cup
& yellow legal pad
& 2 Bic pens
& books 2
I’d tick time.
every 3 days.
blisters to cold.
— drift into
a monster mind
of wicked dreams
strip to show the mirror
that the pockets
in my flesh are empty
pull back loose skin
visit the gap
where thought slips
kneel at the mouth
of that expanding cave
until the giant
its fur on end,
on my face,
I open the window daily for a single hour,
allow just a lick of light to lap my chin.
Beg the guard living inside me for another taste.
I want the light on my neck. Draw a line
with my pinky down my throat.
Please. Just for a second. The light.
I want it to suck me right here
so hard it leaves a mark. Breaks skin.
Talking is permitted,
but only to birds.
Singing is allowed,
if I dare to call out
to that distant bright face
& risk beckoning grief’s
humped back instead
when joy sees me
the other way.
Window masked, bulb
uncovered, a naked tumor
on the ceiling flickers out.
The past leaves fingerprints.
In the dark I am back in woods.
The foxes and lynx crawl
from the walls, their eyes rolling
over into glass. I am drowning
in a sea of pelts. I am ten again,
replacing the metal clamp
with my teeth and when their bodies
go limp, I grin red teeth.
Jellyhead swelling under
the cold metal ring, it’s a wolf
Poppa and the breath of praise
steamed out, curling on the canvas
of cold. We warmed our hands
on the woodstove and ate well.
The heads on my walls
became friends when I gave
each a human name.
Here in the city, the sounds of cats in the alley
turn to the screams of men. There are flames, they say.
If it’s not real then tell me why does the faucet drip
in morse code? The men’s backs burned raw.
Milk will soothe, they signal. All I have is water.
If patient, eventually the problem will unravel.
If a trap is set, eventually it will fill with flesh & fur.
It is my brother who sends the message.
Playing a dirty trick from the other side.
I talk into the shower drain & he answers back
through my mouth. He’s still loud & long winded.
We obsess about our childhood, laugh with fire
on our tongues, laugh with rock in our throats
about who hates us, who we hate. I keep calling out
for mom but she doesn’t answer. We spread beans
on bread and save her the best piece. I scrub
each crack in the floor five times over until they gleam.
She still won’t come. I'm trying, I yell! We eat beans
until we vomit. What about Dad, brother asks.
I slap myself & think I am slapping him.
— have not always washed my hands
after using the bathroom.
— lied about how many mouths have touched
my own, what diseases I've medicated away.
— ran into a railguard once while changing
the radio & pretended I was avoiding a dog
— when the insurance company asked,
Sobbing is an ugly,
The need oozing out of me.
I ask my brother to hold me,
but it’s too much, I know it
as soon as the words fly out.
He presses a translucent palm
through my flesh.
He swims down the sink.
I wanted to know, I did.
I walk the endless highway.
I pray for no dreams
when the gloved hands of night
wrap around my eyes & throat.
The doorknob is right there.
It’s right there. What is out there?
It is not a portal to the past. It is not the woods.
I hear paws scratching at the window, at the door.
An army of animals stand on their hind legs waiting.
That’s crazy talk. I laugh. The experiment is over.
Applause. Now I know. It's done.
All I to do is turn the knob.
I keep telling myself today.
For more information about this piece, see this issue's legend.
Caits Meissner is the author of the illustrated hybrid poetry book Let It Die Hungry (The Operating System, 2016). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York, where she currently teaches. Her background includes significant work in prisons, jails, and reentry.
1770 NY-73, Keene Valley, NY 12943
The Noon Mark diner had a huge wooden sign in the shape of an ice cream cone that marked the entry into Keene Valley, the town where I spent my summers in New York mountains. As a teenager, I chain smoked in the diner booths with young artists planning their escape from small town blues, and entertained the grumpy old waitresses stuck with bum hips. The smell still reminds me of young rebellion and freedom and dreaming. Now, as a 15 year New York City resident, I often dream of escaping back.