Rorschach

When it’s the father,
it’s because the answer was yes.
Sometimes a full-bodied yes,
but the eyes alone are enough:
the offending organs awash
in this obscene baptism.

More often, though, it’s just a man,
and the answer was no.
The answer was always no.
Or, first there was the yes,
but gradually, it became no.
There seems to be no minimum
nor maximum amount of time
to exempt us from a man’s outrage.
All it takes is a single glance,
a word.

In either case, it’s because I refused
to be subordinate to their desires,
to their notions of honor.
Sixty cents for a bottle that can inflict
immeasurable damage:
claiming skin, fat, muscle, bone.
Blindness is frequently the goal,
but rarely death.

You know how on TV they blur out the faces
for people who wish to remain anonymous?
That’s what I look like now,
even after the reconstructive surgeries.
(It’s never just one.)

For the high crimes of yes and no,
for the treason of a look,
I am sentenced to life in this body:
corroded and throbbing, features stolen,
mired in limitation.

My identity had to be erased
so that it would never be independent
of his.
In time, even I forget
what I used to look like.
It seems that nothing existed
before this revulsion,
this pity,
this scorn.

The point was to destroy.
He had to break himself loose
from the hold I allegedly had over him.
To destroy that part of himself.

My face is a testament.
My face is a mirror.
My face is a Rorschach.
What you see in me now
has very little to do with me
and everything to do with you.

With my blinded eyes,
all I see now
is what is true
and unerasable.

Evacuation

Writing this from a Mississippi hotel room
out of the path of the storm.
85 a parking lot, thousands of evacuees
funneled into a single northbound route,
lined with barren gas pumps and
boarded-up windows;
outside Mobile, another gridlock,
and then,
the sweet relief of hills,
the pecan orchards.

Tiny Effigies

Fort Walton Mound, FL

I only just learned this mound was here, taking up
less than half a block of busy street lined
with tourist shops and crosswalks, hidden deep
in the shade of live oaks and cabbage palm.
Not at all like the immense earthworks I’ve learned of
in art history classes: ten stories tall, situated over
thousands of acres, platformed and terraced,
or else molded into shapes of great beasts and men,
whose full aspects are visible only to the gods.
This one is a comparatively humble twelve feet,
flat-topped, reduced by time, long abandoned even
when Confederate soldiers made their camp on its apex,
the better to watch for enemy ships.
It was they who dug the bones, recognized
fellow soldiers by their shattered ribcages, the holes
in their skulls; ancient nut and oyster shells
sucked clean by ravenous mouths. Surely they noticed
how little changes in the life-and-death instruments
as they shucked their own meager dinners with a Bowie knife.
Once, a chief or high priest would’ve lived
on top of this mound. What must it have been,
to make your home upon the death knoll? Was it he
who carved the tiny effigies found at the site,
sculpted in the same clay that holds the bodies?
The museum plaques tell so little, though
the artifacts themselves chatter loud their individuality:
distinct head shapes, smiles, beards, pierced ears,
topknots, even masks. Yet how this place teems with tiny life:
mockingbirds and squirrels, scrub lizards,
all building nests, the carpenter ants erecting
their own hills in the green light, where the red buckeye
weeps hard tears.

Sunday

The eve of the work week,
and we must prepare
for the time ahead,
for the time that
is not our own.
These ablutions,
how they consume,
these puttering Sunday afternoons,
when the house smells richly
of your cooking and baking bread
while I do laundry:
unfolding the drying rack,
running to and fro with the basket,
cats circling my ankles.
The air steams with boiling pots
and hot water cycles.
After dinner,
you fall asleep early,
your head in my lap.
This would be our moment,
captured in amber
or a snowglobe,
sparkled flakes falling around us
as I look down at you,
your eyelashes dark in the lamplight,
your hands, still dusted with flour,
curled beneath your cheek.

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