Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Elizabeth Kirschner: Because the Sky is a Thousand Soft Hurts

Who can deny us the milk witch, monk’s head, piss-a-bed, we who have been old for so many years, we who are just Donny and Sarah, as we claw over earth, unfurling flowers, knit so close we walk as one, infest as one.

      And what evidence otherwise? Tell me. We wanted this. Wanted this.

      We who are unashamed of what sprouts wild, what breaks and bleeds, bleeds red, bleeds white—like worms wriggling up from the earth while our swollen heads unlock from the landscape.

      Never forget how easily we love what survives to be loved. Our dusty roosters, their cramped cries, a bas relief.

      “Donny,” I call out, “let’s get that trellis up.”

      He pokes it into the ground, an A frame, there where the plants are spreading, each part like a part of our own bodies, sacrosanct, edible.

      While these leaves, these leaves, feverish with bees, leer, scrape like a fingernail down my skin and the ways I can be hurt, so faraway in myself, already going missing, already bored by pain, smiling green as a seedling, gleaming in the silence I’ve gathered in this brief enactment of darkness.

      Terrifying as it is, forever is a solid, as is the dark fugue of foreboding, which like the flood that begins and mounts and streams and cheats and even seems to grow in rain that falls, but loses itself in the corn husks and the understory until it is thinner than disquiet.

     Which breaks us off as we pick apricots, whose flesh gets caught under our nails and dates, like an aunt’s head.

      Our hands are sticky and an emptiness fills us—this is the hardest scene when I think the whole sad thing has to end.

     In the failing light we walk out of the garden where the ropy zucchinis are hard as mannequins and now we share a bed in the garish light, against the yellow wall, in the cold which smells like burnt sugar. 

     This is the moment when my body rebels—it would gladly escape, like rats from a sinking ship, or try to vanish, descending, slow as a diver.

     I have come here many times, gone many times—who isn’t bruised around the edges, peaches poured into the truck bed and here I am, kissing Donny, like a nervous cat, squirming, until I’m every story of a woman, or a country, or a clean house where everyone knows her place.

      Because the sky is a thousand soft hurts, his eyes go feral—I don’t skirt his battering, not now, not ever. Needles knit my lower back while every sound sours.

     Suddenly, it’s the middle of the night and suddenly, this is something I’ll tell no one: how I, sober as a banker, cut my husband into segments, the knife poised, a ballerina. At which point, I grew old.

      And so I sit among the garden weeds, pulling them from the roots without touching the wild trillium, then tie knots in the daffodil stalks, watching the firs scatter their birds, the tree itself, under which I buried him, now and no more, but the green woods, these darken, oceanic and deep.

      All this as I remember the house I lived in one summer with a widower, his wife’s fabric samples left draped over the arm of an unfinished chair, how I could feel her eyes in my own when I tried to choose between them, as if the sun in the alcove hadn’t faded them, the dust and his arms worn as worms.

     The sky stark as the first sheet laid down after they took her body. And this is the hardest scene—how the bones beneath Donny’s eyes were shattered, like mussels brined in cold china. 

Elizabeth Kirschner has published five volumes of poetry including My Life as a Doll published by Autumn House Press. She lives in Kittery Point, Maine.

One comment on “Elizabeth Kirschner: Because the Sky is a Thousand Soft Hurts

  1. Leo
    June 15, 2020

    Read several times; the word choices keep pulling you in…very relatable. Just order one of her books!


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