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The emotions go somewhere. Like water, they find
their own depth and go somewhere.
The salmon-smudged sunset unravels December
as Saturn comes in to make judgments,
name debts. Sadness not anger
erects the soft fence around everything.
Inside the soft fence are razors embedded,
and love does not know what to do
in the churchyard. She waves at the traffic,
that’s all; and the traffic is one long tough
sinew, a cobra bewitched by digestion,
a thigh that remembers each hand
that has stroked it, though none
of those hands is around anymore.
Though none of those hands is around
anymore, one can still see them
waving, descending like birds, wings
spread out to caress. The apples of
so many eyes falling into broad barrels
with frostmetal staves; kisses belying
the fear at the core that the love
will not last. The churchyard protected
by razor blades whispers its vespers
to sleepers whose sinews stretch
fitfully in their aloneness. It whispers
to wave those hands down from the sky.
The children spread their toes and gulp
in the magic with fluttering eyes.
I gulped down the fluttering magic, our lies
with their blue intonations, tragic salt angles
of elbow and crotch, the marzipan whites
of the fingernails, eyes. And bewitched by
digestion, I writhed through the musky tall grasses
and moaned to find something I’d lost.
Love waves against traffic; that’s all
in the past, she proclaims through the fumes
and the sunset-tinged mist. Halogen eyes
pick their way through the deepening dark.
It is mild for December. The mulch still has flavor
and I still digest, writhe to leave you behind
and to try to adjust to aloneness. The red peels
are kisses, the stems are our bodies at sunset.
Our kisses, our bodies twine into the sunset
that bleeds away into the deepening dark.
A scalloping pattern of salmon until the blue
intonations are gutted with black. Little heart,
little baby—the swaddling clothes are embedded
with razors. Trust like a stable abandoned
the day after Christmas—a rental some truck
must pick up, ersatz Bethlehem star
losing luster in daylight. Snow will cover
the shape of our two bodies perfectly fitting
together. My fingers turn inward; the rays
they would send out get stuck in the knuckles.
The apples are well in the ground by December.
Their task is to somehow remember.
Their task is to somehow remember
the trees that produced and then shed
them. I can remember the sound
of your breathing, the soft of your ear
melting into my mouth, can remember
your hand on the arch of my spine
and the way love climbed over
the soft fence, the hard fence
to meet us where traffic seemed,
suddenly, to stop. That was lovely.
The dirt that sifts through cannot mute
the dank apples unraveling. Frost
cannot strangle their screaming.
I put my hand on your hand, like this—
like this hand on your hand as we slept,
like this hand on your arm as it held me.
We were two people falling down
into each other; we dug into each other,
the dirt of each other, the drug
of each other, the lock and the key
of each other. And love was the mother
nobody quite gets in this world; it made us
both children no longer regretting this world
and lovely—the traffic just stopped
and the stable was full of the blue
mother cradling her child. The livestock
they’d rented so docile. The steam of their breath
was suspended in floodlights, unending.
In unending floodlights, suspended,
the courthouse stood knowing its morning
would come. It was chalkwhite,
unflinching with right
and with wrong. Love of justice
and love are not ever the same. So
the baby turns into the monarch
and heart into brain, and the body
is led like the livestock up onto a ramp
that’s not steep though it makes
all the difference from danger to safety.
Again, I choose safety, the core of the moon
breaking down in my fist, as I listlessly look
for a place to dispose it. My love,
the emotions go somewhere, they find—
From Nobody’s Jackknife. Copyright 2018 Ellen McGrath Smith. Published by West End Press. Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author.