My Mother Knows Names

My mother knows the names of things;

The trees and their birds

The snakes that eat their eggs.

She knows the common names

The white pine, the goldfinch,

The black rat snake.

She knows the latin

The Pinus strobus, the Corduelis corduelis

Pantherophis obsoletus.

Words that sound slanted

Come out italicized

Into the open air.

I can see them leaning

On her breath on cold nights

When she identifies strigaformes

Who call their names to her

Across silent valleys.

Strix Varia

She says and replies

With a call of her own

A wild guttural sound, deep in her throat

Not the name we gave the owl

But the name the owl gave himself.

And lo, The Owl replies.

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The Sum of Parts

As the long harvest slips into the season of want
Will you bare your throat for the wolf
howling in the cold beyond your door?
Will you allow your blood to warm her,
allow your flesh to nourish her?
Will you lie quiet…
as she takes you into her body,
every atom of you becoming
a part of her?

How long will it take
for her to break your ribs,
to chew the muscle in your breast?
How long will it take
for her teeth to crack your skull,
pierce your pearly brain with fierce intention?
How long will it take
for her to break you into your purest pieces,
to lay your bones bare,
then crack them open to partake
of the red marrow?

The fat of you will line her lean ribs
warm her in the depths of winter.
The energy of you will fill her limbs,
and she will run, hunt, and brawl.
And when spring thaws the rivers,
She will whelp a litter of pups,
each one containing
a piece of you.

Ancient tradition holds
that when you consume a beast
you take in its power, its essence.
What will she gain from you?

Her head will not fill with your songs
and ancient stories whispered in the dark.
Those will be lost,
as will the knowledge, the formulas,
the recipes.

Perhaps she will gain nothing more…
Than your slight precognizance,
your eldritch dreams of the stars,
and a faint stirring
at the smell of mint.

As the long harvest draws to a close
and the lean months steal in with
bitter breath,
when the sun turns from its child,
when the wind bites,
and the rivers fall silent with ice…
will you bare your throat to the wolf?

The Mountains

Sometimes, I think I see the mountains breathe,

though I know it is a trick of the mist,

undulating under the full moon.

And I know that it is just

the capacity of the human mind

for pattern recognition,

and the mountains are not truly

curved like a woman’s hip,

her chest and face.

There are not goddesses,

sleeping in stone, sleeping under green,

but sometimes…

well, the eyes play tricks.

 

Eyes

Eyes

There are eyes in the shadows

Gold and filled with black moons,

Black like an eclipse

With the sun radiating behind them.

These are not eyes you see;

These are eyes you feel.

Oh Lord have mercy,

For I fear the shadow of death.

 

It begins as an incessant drip in the back of your mind,

Like a leaky faucet

Drip

Something’s wrong

Drip

Something’s watching.

It builds into a stream of cold water

That runs goose bumps down your spine

 

It builds, it builds

Till Egypt’s cursed ocean is pounding in your head,

Your heart pounds, rushing

Blood to your head,

Like red waves against

A cliff in a storm.

 

You try to hear past the blood,

Senses straining for sounds

You fear to hear,

Fear not to hear.

The padded footfall behind,

The creak of a limb above.

 

 

You do not hear any sound.

You do not see any shadow

Slinking between trees.

You do not smell any primal musk.

But the back of your neck pricks

And your spine,

Your spine can feel those eyes.

 

Don’t run, your momma said

Just stand tall, make yourself big.

But the dark trees deny your proud stance,

So you walk with shoulders hunched

As if expecting

A blow from above.

 

Don’t run, your papa said.

But each muscle is tight

Like a bow, ready to fling you forward.

Your heart churns like a steam engine,

Ready to supply your legs with blood

Oh Lord

Holding myself back

Is the hardest thing I ever done.

 

Cause you can’t outrun a cat, no son,

That big cat gonna run you down.

Spring Fever

I am spring fever’s bitch.

I am wrapped around her middle finger

which she has raised in defiance

of structure and order.

I cannot stop her

from spitting in the face

of all my responsibilities.

When I sit down to work,

She bangs pots and pans in my head

and I can hear the sun calling me out.

She wants me to burn

in the sun

till my shoulders and cheeks are

permanently flushed.

It’s like a hickey

signifying her possession.

“She’s mine,”

Echoes the sun.

 

Home

I remember wandering the green world in my spring time, black dog at my heels. I watched for the changing phases of the moon, dancing in the variant lights… I remember sitting on hill tops in the cold, my breath steaming before me. A blanket beneath me and another wrapped around my shoulders, I watched for shooting stars, meteors lancing quickly, thin streams of light that existed instantaneously. I waded in rivers under the summer moon, full and fat in the scattered, wind tattered clouds. I rode horses under that moon, disappearing in the fog drenched valleys.

I remember lying on the slopes, cheek to the ground, trying to feel the earth turn and hearing the far off rumble of hoof beats. The grasses grew tall on those slopes and burned gold in the summer. If you lay in them and looked up, the world vanished, reduced to a small patch of blue sky and the ends of the grass, as tall as trees, waving against the blue. They turned russet in the fall, like the hide of one of the horses, like apple cider, like my hair when the evening sun lights it up.

I sat in the roots of ancient beeches in the slanting rays of the setting sun. I talked to it and it whispered to me. I watched the leaves turn from green to beaten gold in the winter, the only color in the gray forest.

I remember running wild over hillsides and watching the passing shadows of hawks against the sun. I remember calling to owls at dusk, and hearing their sonorous replies in the gloom. The tree in the backyard would come alive with birds on spring mornings and sing. There were hummingbirds at the feeder out the window over the sink. Their backs glimmered with green scales, their throats burned red.

I remember storms in spring. The green of new leaves would burn against the blue gray of clouds. I remember that color, and how it shook my heart. The thunder shook me, startled me. I wanted to dance in the rain, but was scared of the lightning. The lightning lanced across the sky, unfolding like cracks in a broken mirror. In summer, heat lightning would turn the clouds pink on the horizon at night, silent but present. If you put your ear to the ground, you could hear the far off rumble, but maybe that was the horses on the other pasture.

I remember snakes. Their backs were black and starred with scars, their bellies checkerboards. Their musk was foul, putrid. I remember holding one, feeling its muscles curl across my arms, watching the tongue dart in and out, fast and delicate. I remember seeing them dart through the undergrowth, startled by my approach. I was never scared of them.

I remember the afternoon light shining gold through green leaves, blinding me. The clouds were gold and crimson, pink and vibrant. I read them, read stories in their shapes as they went from gold to blue in the fading light. As dusk crept in, mist pooled in the lower pastures and bats darted in the gloom. Sometimes I saw shapes in the mist.

And the creek, the creek was the epicenter around which all life turned. It was a great nerve cutting through the pastures and woods, and all existence was controlled by its caprice. The creek cut our property in half, snaking its way between our pastures, marked by the trees and bushes that grew up on either side. At times it would rain, and fill our lower pastures with brown roiling water. I remember waking to rain on the roof in the night and knowing a flood was coming. Each flood changed the creek. It flattened bushes and made new sand banks. Over the years the creek cut deeper into the bank, toppling trees into the water.

I remember walking across these fallen logs in fall and winter, when the water was too cold to wade. One foot in front of the other on the slippery bark. Walking slowly, looking down at the water.

We would spend our summers in the creek, when we were young enough that the water came to our chests. We swam and waded, explored the banks, made castles from mud. We rode our pony into the swimming hole and jumped off his back. We made boats from leaves and sent them off upon the waves, following their journey eagerly. We (did I mention I had a sister?) made our kingdoms along its banks.

I remember walking in the water at night under a full moon, my flowing skirt buoyed up around me. I would walk slowly so I wouldn’t make a sound.

There were lots of stars then. The Milky Way was a burning brand in the sky. I remember picking out Orion by his belt, and Scorpio by his tail. The tail came over the ridge in the summer, chasing Orion, but never the full behemoth scorpion. I would sometimes go weeks without looking up, and when I finally did, I would be overwhelmed, my mind ringing like a bell, a single glittering crescendo.

I remember spring rains, watching the storm clouds come, listening the thunder rumble closer. And then, when it was close, roaring loud enough to make the glass in the cupboards shiver. The lights would flicker and sometimes go out. We would light lamps and play yutnori by the dim light, until the storm died enough for us to sleep.

I would listen to the rain on the roof, pattering or drumming, and I knew that it was swelling the creek, churning it with brown mud. It was rising, this docile creature that snaked through our land. It was bursting free of its banks and growing fat and greedy as it filled our lower pastures. Earlier that day we had rushed through the rain and the thunder to chase the sheep to higher ground. They were now huddled steaming in Quonset huts and I was curled in my bed, but I would remember the urgency of it, clapping hands and yelling, running in the wet, shouting flustered directions to each other over the patter of rain on our stiff hoods and the rolling of thunder growing closer. Despite all, I enjoyed those moments. I would lie in bed and listen to the rain and pray it wouldn’t stop. I wanted it to fill the pastures and swamp the bridges til we couldn’t go to school or our parents to work.

And sometimes I would wake late and be flustered until my mother informed me that the weather radio had sung of my school’s cancellation. I would run to the deck and stare out at the water. Every time I saw that roiling brown lake licking the edges of the hill we lived on, a part of me believed it was the apocalypse. A part of me wanted it to be.

Tunnel

Every time I make this journey, it seems shorter. The first time I took the interstate from my home in Tennessee, it seemed worlds away. I felt that I had been in the car so long I had become a part of the sweat stained seats, that I too now smelled like cigarette smoke and the remains of the many cleaning chemicals that had attempted to eradicate it. Each time I make this journey, however, I loose a sense of distinction. My two lives seem too close now. Even the mountains between me and home are no longer an opposing barrier, but rather a scenic drive, a slight inconvenience. This time as I drive back to school, it’s raining. It’s not the clean refreshing rain of spring that swells the creek and stains the tips of trees green. This rain is malignant as it hovers over us, following us on our road east, choked with smog and acid. This rain sticks to the back of my neck as I run into the gas station to buy a pack of gum to keep me alert down the winding road of the gorge. I listen to the radio out of Knoxville as I drive, listen until there is nothing but static. After that I change stations frequently, looking for the rock and roll that I like to drive to. I find myself hyperaware of sounds as I drive. There are so many rhythms. The windshield wipers are working double time, the squeaky one sounds like someone mock crying as it slides across the glass. The fan in my car is on, roaring away the mist that attempts to cloud the windshield. The radio sings a fuzzy Kansas song. I can hear my breathing, exaggerated sighs that unwillingly rise from deep in my gut. A mountain looms up ahead. I turn on my headlights as the tunnel draws near. Suddenly the mountain is on top of me, the rain is gone, the windshield wipers sweep away nothing. The song continues for a moment then fades into static. The song seems intimidated by the weight of the mountain on top of it. It’s suddenly dark and silent. I think I’m holding my breath. I can feel the weight of it, all rock and trees. In that silent hum, I feel a sense of expectancy, like the moment the light goes dim in a theater and the crowd hushes as one, focusing on the one column of light on a darkened stage. But there’s something more to it than that. There’s a tightening in my chest, a weight in my gut. There’s an eldritch timbre in the air. I feel like the world grew silent in order that something else might speak, some awful voice rumbling from the depths, whispering things that I must not hear. I am penetrated by my own smallness relative to the mountain above, the ancient earth around me. And then I see dull sunlight tainted by rain before me. The radio starts up and now Credence Clearwater Revival is singing about a bad moon against a rolling southern rock beat. I let out a long breath and turn it up.