Overcast mornings in August
sleeping in only our underwear, backs
to the windows. No bodies in our beds
just my father’s tee shirt
stuck fast to my skin with sweat,
a hole in the collar. I see the feet
at opposite ends of the hallway,
mussed with the hypnagogia between.
The glass in the bathroom bears light
but darkens the two-dimensional
planes of my cheeks and mouth
with a blunted affectation. I woke
wet with my own piss, when the baby
started in on one of her colic fits.
“Shut the baby up,” I am saying.
Beads of urine trickle down
my pink, bony thighs.
The woman at the end of the hall
is a mother unknown, hair
blonde and straight. When she looks
over her shoulder, surprised to
see me, I feel faint and lean
my head against the wall.
She returns to her room, to
the sun’s lactation, the furniture
concealed in milk and shine. Out of frame
I hear her singing, see the movement
of an elbow, a curled hand, the flat
of a mirror, brushing the flames
from her hair. “Shut up. Shut up.
Shut the baby up.”
The fevers of childhood
compound into a single flame,
snaking up the arms of the gas stove
on an indeterminate afternoon. The virus
hollows my stomach, but distends
my fingers and mouth, stuffs me
with cotton, like a poor child’s doll.
My tongue is heavy. It slips under
the baleful eyes of a ticking clock
and into the flame atop the stove.
The sun is sulfur, after the milk has all
dried up, the baby starved inside
its cradle, and now this salivating
muscle, vulcanized by the
yellow light and the heat beneath
My words stiffen into seers stones.
Even the milk-man wants a taste. I fold
my clumsy hands over my lips.
There are no futures in me. I am
saving myself for a past life.
Blood pools in my ears in tandem
with the kettle’s whistle.
In every room there is the sound
of a television playing
in some other room. Quiet diatribes,
digitized evangelists selling sermons.
Somebody’s parents screaming, “I hate you, I hate you.”
Soft-core porn for the divine.
I ice my knuckles in the kitchen sink,
wrapped up in bloody paper towels.
The baby’s bones are kept in
a dusty cigar box in the basement. Her ghost
grew into a fine woman, after all,
blonde and soft. Nobody’s daughter,
everybody’s sister. Older than me
in a single year, but still we
call her Baby.
She has taken up witchcraft, sweats
red hexes over the dead field mice
she collects behind the barn,
All conscious hours are waiting rooms.
We live in doctors’ offices and paralegal
buildings, auto body shops
rich with the foul of instant coffee
and daytime talk shows playing low,
with the noises of drill bits grinding
in the background. That is not
a life, not a dream.
Here, my Baby, the witch
flicks a cigarette into the withered
rose bush next to the back door
and informs me that it is time for
my mid-morning exorcism.
The kettle first. I drop an oxycontin
into my cup while she prepares
black bible verses
by the light of the bay window.
My tea goes cold, sitting unattended
on the counter. The clock strikes,
and she rubs a splash of bourbon
between my eyes, stuffs flowers
into my mouth in the cavity where my tongue
used to be. “The night is becoming
a mare, with a sable coat,
a lame leg. We must put him down.”
Like the hand that rocks
the cradle, the smoke ripples
through the open kitchen door.
The flames rise to lick the windowpane.
Roses that were dead breathe again
in the inferno. The bush is
burning. “What do you see
in the smoke,” she asks me.
“Does it speak to you?”
I strain to hear through the background
radiation, the blood
gurgling in my ears, as if choking.
The bush speaks. It says,
“Shut the baby up.”