Self Portrait as She Wolf
You sheer away from the warm,
spurn the communal dream.
Beyond the shelter of pine and fir
you lope across open ground
where cold scalds your lungs,
feel a soft-nosed bullet’s kiss,
lick the salt wound clean,
almost drown in a starry bog,
but break through its dark mirror,
meet your reflection
in a boutique window on a city street
among mannequins in ersatz furs,
the last of your kind,
or the first.
Only look back once,
for a silhouette, a hungry scent.
There is still time to re-trace your spoor,
answer the tribal howl. Your throat opens
on one long, swooped syllable,
almost a word.
The Woman Who Toasted the Owl
Who can describe this? Who?
Who, driven mad by night-feeds,
talons tensed, struck her tormentor?
Whose unlullabied child grew wide-eyed,
called to the dark in owl-song?
Who flew from mother to murder,
spurred by a blizzard of questions —
Who could not bear it?
Who haunted the owl,
abandoned her child in deepwoods
to fend with the birds? Who?
Whose feather-trail leads from cradle
to beamed barn owl-roost?
Who scorched her prey on a fire,
spun its neck through all points of the compass?
The breast on a toast-fork
run through and through— whose?
Whose cradle lies nursery-rhymed
under shattered treetops,
nest wrenched from rock-a-bye roots?
Who toasted the owl,
became what she’d eaten?
Who is the raptor?
Tender Loving Care
The child meant for summer, they say, came early in April,
light as a poppy, breaths that were barely breaths
fluttered his day-lily lungs,
speedwell-veined eyelids shut to a future
of TLC only prescribed on his chart.
Rumours flew round our small town that the mother
shed never a tear, but her breasts wept
when his fingerbuds opened, boneless as blossoms.
She read the plea in his palm, fixed
a soft pillow for his head.
They say she came back once, after her sentence,
begged the baker to water his Easter-dyed chicks.
A pigeon racer at a loft near the graveyard
said someone the spit of her spat on a stone
and scrubbed off the moss.
There’s talk here of pink-and-blue chicks sipping water
from a hubcap in a window of broken glass,
they say someone’s seen an empty coop and a stranger,
and a flock of opal wings swooping over a grave.
Some say the devil exists; some say angels.
A million crawling things run spiderwise
inside her skin, her skeleton is glass,
she needs another hit, and fast,
her skin is needle-tracked, she works
the street for heroin to stop the spiderlings,
she does a punter in a dash against a fence
and scores a thirty-second rush,
glass splinters in her veins fuse
into a waterfall of raindrops,
magic light spills from her fingertips,
she’s blissed out, dreaming weightless while
the good brown horse outruns her dream,
she’s goofing now, slumped outside a church,
between her knees a paper cup she holds out
like a sacred heart to passers-by,
small change spills through her fingertips
but not enough, another stranger in a car
earns her more dreams, she sucks her tongue
for spit to swallow fear, swears
on the Sacred Heart that she’ll get clean,
then mugs the punter with a syringe,
again the spiderlings criss-cross her skin
and crawl inside her arm-tracks,
two blow-jobs on her knees to get a high,
she cooks the gear, a bag of china white,
loads up a syringe, smacks a vein, ties off
and hits; her hopes are answered with amen,
the dragon’s knocked brown sugar girl
off her horse, the fall has sucked out
all her breath, her eyes are pinned,
she feels no crawly things, she has no skin,
her bones are glass, her heartbeats trickle
from her fingertips like raindrops when
the rain’s about to stop…
Epiphany in Jamaica Plain
I’m filling a notebook with firsts:
my first cardinal, chipmunk, chickadee,
first turtles in the wild, ranged like stones
on a half-submerged tree in Jamaica Pond,
basking to warm up winter blood.
I welcome this summering,
sip iced coffee under the awning
on the second-floor terrace, sweating
after my trek from the T at Stony Brook
where I had sidestepped an old Dominicano,
scribbled ‘Mrs Baez Serves Coffee
on the Third Floor’ to look up later.
Alert for following footsteps,
I scurried past Latinas calling Cuidado!
to kids jostling on a rodadero.
Back home on my dappled terrace,
I write an uneasy note: no white people
until Sheridan Street. Around me,
neighbourhood gardens are lilacking,
chickadees flit through the leaves,
cars slow for the white-lettered HUMP
on the street. A six-litre SUV stops,
revs, circles the block, stops below.
It’s all judder and engine roar.
The Latino beat that throbs
from its wound-down windows
startles the cardinals, spurs squirrels to leap
impossible gaps. I jolt from my reverie,
afraid. Afraid as I was this morning,
the sole white face in that T-car
on the Orange line; alarmed
by the old man’s offer to talk;
wary of the young Dominicano peacocking
in his SUV. And it comes to me
like a voice underwater: this fear
is race-coloured. I have sleepwalked
my whole life, thinking myself untainted.
Note: ‘Mrs Baez Serves Coffee on the Third Floor’ by Martín Estrada is carved on a stone at Stoney Brook T-Station near Jamaica Plain, Boston, USA.
Self Portrait in the Convex Bulge of a Hare’s Eye
My first word for Hare was cailleach,
witch or crone, slack-skinned
hag with blade-edged bones.
I met her again today
where seven hare-sisters grazed
a scrawny field at Renvyle,
face to face inhaled her lepus breath,
gazed through my shadow-face
cupped in her glass-dark eye.
‘Which is my animal shade?’ I asked
the coven of leathern-ears.
Each licked her cloven lip and chanted,
‘I’, ‘I’, and ‘I’. Hare with sea-salt tongue
rolled the dark bulge of her eye,
answered, ‘All of us, all of us here;
we show no map of your journey, we
are you when you get there’.
I grabbed at scut and slippery ear,
begged her to tell more
but rain rolled in from Boffin,
plump drops slicked her fur,
she twitched a salt-crusted whisker,
slipped into Otherwhere
like a white horse in ceo draíochta,
left me straddling a barbed wire fence
with two handfuls of loose belly-skin
and a jagged gash in my thigh.
note: ceo draíochta: (Gaeilge) magic mist, fairy fog.