They called it a boo hag. It’s what Eva said was haunting her when I got her on the phone six years after I’d left Miskwa. I felt the same way every time I talked to her—nostalgic a little, but hurting with secret embarrassment—and it was always at some odd hour of the night when the city noises kept me up. I always found myself wanting to hear her talk about ghosts and demons. She was still living deep in the bog in her grandma’s old house, but she was no more Gullah than I was, and whiter than French bread. Still, the stories of the Gullah folk burrowed deep in her, and they were stuck in there just as firm as when she was four foot tall and barefooted.
Patsy Smith left Rochester, New York on a sunny Saturday morning intending to drive all the way to California. But after three and a half hours, crossing through an Indian reservation, she got lost. On a long, straight road, where there hadn’t been a route number for many miles, there was a sudden break in the forest and she saw a small building with cars and trucks parked in front. She turned in to ask directions.
Pulling the door open, she smelled beer. She saw men with their backs to her sitting at the end of a room on bar stools, and close by, a few small tables and chairs that were mostly empty.
Father Jed’s head was stuck in Lent. He said these words to himself as a kind of talisman. Otherwise, his head would have split in two. He sat on the chancel with Father Benedict, the assistant pastor, up on the priest’s seat. Why was he so torn up on the night of the Easter Vigil? It was the most joyous mass of the year. The choir, the drummers, the brass ensemble, the woodwind players, the readers: everyone had been preparing for this night since the doldrums after Epiphany. The church was dark, completely dark. It gave Father Jed a thrill to think of one of those perpetual latecomers stalled at the vestibule.
Let’s say Philadelphia’s a city constructed entirely of door knobs,
one great opening, one endless turning into something new.
Your voice is on the phone, love, is a rocks glass overflown
with whiskey and burning. Your thumbs slip from keypad
to six string, your thumbs are the teeth of wild city cats.
Doubt seems to be in.
The worry drill whirs
where the dote is.
Where the face was
a vacancy. And yet
the ear is occupied
waiting, for there are
other root canals, so you (mis)heard. No doubt the fire’s hunger whirls
After Louise Glück
Somewhere, my brother is traveling—
The right side of his head
a red-clawed tulip
swallowing the cold.
Sunshowers spit-shined the shark’s
tooth that gutted Kansas’ only diamondback.
You were just a puff adder feigning rattles—
scavenging rat droppings with field mice
in bales of switchgrass.
I want tallgrass.
I want a thunder god with flashes of ego—
You wake up in the future and realize that everyone has evolved. People now have the head of a blue jay and the body of a shiny machine that whirs softly as its insides spin. You see two bird heads that look like your parents, but, of course, that is not possible.
Something had to be done about the moles;
labyrinths stretched from the garden
down to the hollow. Give moles an inch
and they’ll burrow up to your door.
So we dug holes in their paths and filled
them with old coffee cans. Bleary eyed,
dirty noses raised, down in the can
they’d be covered in silt like coal-miners
Boy in a field understand The lame
Hearted go to him mouth filled
Broken He brings the horses
Of his grandfather His hands wheat
Heavy I have seen him Monster himself
With river-sickness and a girl His mother
Maybe as a girl It is hard to say
We rested on a blanket by the water
where I combed the sand and spoke your name gently
You slept but I was not tired and never have I studied
the fullness of a back not even of the dying
When Esther is pouting and knows I am bored with her
she asks if I am having one of my Days,
and I say What? meaning no, meaning yes
I am, and she says again and louder, “Are you having
one of your Days” and the word Days is like a string
of beads she pulls from her mouth,
a long accusatory sound (like feign or blame).