/ photo: Hannah Cornfield
On TV, someone is selling the idea of buying
by way of a happy family by way of a cleaning product.
I want—, I say. Then your mouth
on my mouth. Your mouth on my belly. And then.
I was never good at being a girl. All those hands
made dirty work. Once, my grandmother
scooped the Tennessee soil, put it in my mouth.
It tasted true. I wanted more. In my steepled city
steeped in song, I pitied that christian god
his labor. He made marrow and astonishment
of us. We made bludgeon of him, bland bread of his son.
My neighbor used to be a missionary. Now he spends days
painting a bird pecking at the eyeballs of a dead girl.
In the painting, you can only see the bird. See how
the artist probes the lightso the feathers shimmer. Beautiful,
the TV mother says to each guest as the house
burns down. She sashays through the parlor,
stopping to nibble on a stuffed mushroom,
dab sweat from the brow of a dignitary. Everything
is a metaphor until the body abuts it. Even then.
Metaphor with blood. Metaphor with teeth.
Metaphor withe pinephrine. I name each blow
desire. Look how your hand revises
my form. Extraordinary ability. Prodigal child. You leave
and take your weather with you. I take your language
to polish my wound, but rarely do I dare
to mean anything at all. A poem is evidence
of nothing. You cannot prosecute with a poem.
I thought your violence made me good. I thought
your desire made me beautiful though the signs
chirping wanted all had your face. Maybe you’ve named
me innocent after living so long in my mouth.
I, for one, always fall in love with the person holding
the pen. What will you bring me when I tell you
what I’ve done? Lobster, slant of light, doilied petition,
blond girl playing scales on the violin?
Oh, I will reach right through her. I will extract her best music.
Claire Schwartz is the author of Bound (Button Poetry, 2018). She is a PhD candidate in African American studies, American studies, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Yale University, and lives in New Haven, Connecticut. Her writing has appeared in The Believer, The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Virginia Quarterly Review. With Kaveh Akbar and Sarah Kay, she writes a weekly column for the Paris Review called “Poetry RX.” She is currently a PhD Candidate in African American Studies, American Studies, and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Yale. In spring 2019, she will be a Visiting Assistant Professor in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Wesleyan University.
The poem first appeared at Poets.org.