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Origin Story -- to, L My son stands at the morning kitchen, asks how were people created? He doesn’t want the answer, wants the silence that edges stumped questions. In our house, god is more furnace than architect. Yesterday, I bought a hatchet at the hardware store, for slim branches that are spidering low on our acre and all I can imagine is it slamming into my thigh. Metal, branch, bone. Soon there will be nubs and shoots, the cold hand of winter lifting. Soon we will have a pile split and stacked for another freeze. My son asks how was the first tree made? We trace its lineage around the edges—body of my guitar, books, desk where I write. Ghosts. From our window, grosbeaks and buntings tangle into flight. The hours count earlier now, because of the way they are lit. When my children are grown, will they look into the thicket of poems to find me? What splinters have I left that will redden and ache? As the body breaks, it is whole, -- to, M or so the silent Buddhists write when describing why children die beneath burning rubble made from war machines. I wish I was the father who fought harder for peace, who believed I too could trade collective pain for promises. Pilate withered when the chants of three hundred crazies called for Christ’s head. The night before, his wife witnessed a warning in a dream, and came to him crying Let the rabbi go. I go into grocery stores followed by ghosts. My father, once, in an empty aisle, looking for frozen cheesecake. My friend the next with holes in his head, mopping up spilled milk. M, why are the dead so demanding? Why, when Christ was nailed to die, did his mother watch the thorns woven, her son a slaughtered lamb? Listen: When I said boys have a storm inside, this itch that fills our teeth, I was sharing in secret. I meant we have mothers who gift us ghosts, our heads upon a trigger. We’re bred to die. We’re set upon a foreign field and asked to praise the blood. I explain absence to my husband, -- to, L there will be a day when I sit and write with fever—I mean fervor, and again, language betrays me, shanks the possibility of reaching another. Every specialist we’ve seen has said, in order to understand the ailment, you must first explain. My son refuses to leave the car while the other mothers honk in line, his hysterics rooted in feeling cold. I have shivers, he explains, which, in the foreign wiring of his brain, could mean hunger, or pain, or a tap of doubt that he is enough for this day. The weather— warm, his body armored in snow gear. I buckle him back in and try to remember the lyrics to a song he’s been humming for weeks now, the one I’ve been blurring to keep room in my head, for what, exactly, I don’t know. War. Fear. Fever. Maybe I loved the word melancholy too much while I grew him, maybe language is the one thing that allows me to carry the blame. I sing the words wrong, and wrong again. In his letters home from war my grandfather wrote about how under a ceiling of streaming ammunition, the soldiers played broken instruments, terribly. His fists unable to unfurl. Cold. Cold, -- to, M my son stands nude in the moonlit kitchen fevered by a dream and starts to scream his hands are burning boats, his mouth a mist of wasps. He’s been doing this lately. Waking when his eyes are shut and wandering out to greet what whispers calling him by name. The doctors say they start in the mind then move through the body, a virus eating its host. Began sometime when his mind was shaped, suspended in the womb. I want to sing a song that shatters his shaking, a psalm that sets him free. But where is the Lord? And why, when crying, he cannot surface, despite my desperate calls? He likens it to silence. Says daddy is a dying bird roosting on his tongue.
Megan Merchant (she/her) is the co-owner of www.shiversong.com and is the author of four full length collections. The latest, “Before the Fevered Snow” was released at the start of the pandemic with Stillhouse Press. Her most recent awards include a drawing of a mermaid from her son for being the World’s Best Mom and the Inaugural Michelle Boisseau Prize with Bear Review. You can find her work at meganmerchant.wix.com/poet
Luke Johnson lives on the California coast with his wife and three kids. His poems can be found at Kenyon Review, Narrative Magazine, Florida Review, Frontier, Thrush and elsewhere. His manuscript in progress was recently named a finalist for the Jake Adam York Prize, The Levis through Four Way Press, and The Vassar Miller Award.