Open Letter to Geoffrey Zakarian
Geoffrey, sometimes I think I wear my sadness like caul fat.
Like how a fetal pig never asks to be dressed
in formaldehyde but still suckles a scalpel anyway.
Like how when I was seven, a dharmapala shucked the house
next-door & scrambled a rattlesnake with a shotgun—
a mercy killing, my mother said, & when the scent of slaughter
evacuated the air & the SUVs limped down
the mountain again, all the neighborhood kids slithered
into the creek behind the cul-de-sac
& whimpered between memory & bullet shell,
our knock-kneed legs tangled into its bough.
I guess my sadness is like that, too—an unscried thing.
Geoffrey, am I making any sense? People tell me I talk
empty, like a glass animal at the spine of a menagerie.
But I guess that doesn’t make sense, either.
What I mean to say is that today I watched Iron Chef America
as I split open my hip with a kitchen knife.
I was looking at your silver hair as I did it,
or maybe your hands, kneading a slab of veal
or some other butchered thing.
After, the incision sutured by a cotton ball
& unicorn Band-aid, I mounted
my father’s old seven-gear bike & halved
the air with it, skirted through the neighborhood
in a kind of oblation. You should have seen me:
I had a thousand arms & a thousand eyes,
I wore a paper gown that caught fire when anyone glimpsed it.
All the while my thoughts clotted like the day
a neighbor-boy was hushed into a riptide: the stillness of after—
tear gas & shattered windows cleared after a riot.
Am I still making sense? Tell me, Geoffrey—
do pieces of ourselves snag on the oak trees as we leave?
I don’t expect you to have the answer.
I’m just trying to find the right size for the afterbirth
that cuffs me, this melancholia I swaddle across my back,
this newborn calf. But it’s April now, Geoffrey,
& that was ten years ago—my hair is shorter, & I count
my sixty-two scars to remind myself of the day, the lungs—
& now, everyone stays home to scratch out their heads.
The dharmapala has moved away,
the shotgun hung up in the hall like a hide;
& I still wrap my sadness around me, flare it
like a birth certificate, tell it please, please,
never leave me—I don’t know how to live in this world
without you. For Geoffrey, in my mouth there is a storm
petrel that does not flee.
Requiem for a Bad Year
By this I mean nothing more
than that one July, I vomited
a bird of prey on the bathroom floor.
I’ll call it a hawk, but it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that I embalmed
this hawk in lukewarm bathwater—
or poached, rather, as one might soften
a body in white wine & thyme.
& that in April I had learned to skin animals.
The scalpel poised at the cat’s neck as tender
as one might christen a boy with rosewater
or smoke a gnarl of sage
in an open, spirit-heavied house.
Around me, the voice always seemed to come before
the thrashing—& behind, a Madonna that said:
It’s better when it’s nothing more than muscle & sinew.
It’s always easiest when it doesn’t look so much like something you’d hold.
In its first cut, the body does nothing but still
& it becomes more like taking off a dress than an organ.
& after the cleaning the wild, dreamed things
curl next to you, wearing long,
shining coats you cannot remove.
But in its embalming the hawk spins,
its yellow feet taloning the air,
as one might spin & traipse in prayer.
I call this moment intimacy more than anything.
Or sarcasm. & the hawk splits the water
when I try to steady it.
I want to be clean, I tell it.
Around us, the bath hums mercurial,
& the hawk’s pupil darkens, too, as if to say,
haven’t we given ourselves to a day without speech?
I tell it anyway that one July
I tried to end my life.
Well, I mean I laid in the bath
with a knife steadied at my wrist,
infusing salts & lavender into my bone broth.
But instead, I ducked my face under the water
& squealed until my lungs transmuted
to a colony of swarming ants:
body into insect, marrow into habitation.
The hawk, being a hawk, stiffens in the murk,
recoils as a dead thing still starts at the touch.
I remind it that once
I drank half a bottle of eye-makeup remover.
Called myself Venus out of mammoth’s tusk,
lovely out of limestone. Then, too,
I laid on the floor—held my head for hours—
a taste of saline tightening my mouth
whenever I tried to speak.
But I don’t remember the more important things.
If the lights had gone out.
If golden firecrackers pocketed the air.
If, after that night, people I had never met before
were calling me beautiful
as they raised triumphant Solo cups to their lips.
Certainly not the hawk
as I poach it summers later.
Or maybe especially the hawk.
I tell it, I say these things only to be more honest.
By now, the feathers have begun to wick away
& dissolve into the spume, & beneath them
the flesh has glossed into calla lilies.
Please—do these things make me evil?
The hawk’s great, gleaming eye closes in response.
So I step into the basin
& lower myself into the water,
palm poised at its chin,
for aren’t I a Madonna, too?
Yes—I have only ever wanted
to be gentle in my killing.