I listen through labor
to stories of flesh and stone,
the petrified apostles of her words.
My mother pilots memories
with her voice. She says sea
and it sounds like a river.
She speaks oceans into my ear.
I am a divot in the bed
still supple from her telling,
my spine curving like a harbor
around my core. Her whole world
amniotic. She is defined by liquid,
so I am rendered in rain.
Mother sweats my pores.
My veins ride the current she gave me.
Women are designed to receive.
She says damn but I hear a swelling.
A cupping of hands
palming water into reservoir.
I am a daughter that sieves,
rolls over and spills my tides onto the sheets
while mother is oaring, oaring circles on my back.
Piloting now with fingers, steering us
toward the river’s end. She says estuary
and I taste salt mixing with spring.
My mouth brines the pillowcase.
My belly banks the life lifted
from between my knees.
Her umbilicus, is the lifeline
blood-knotting our way home.
is a race toward softness,
her voice spinning into chrysalis. Listen
to the moth-silk shine of it.
She will emerge with language damp and flaccid,
cheeks where echoes embed.
Open throated & vowelled—
sounds to fit her mouth like a cup to the sides of water.
Her voice is the empty space of borders
lost between lip and memory.
What word for this,
when whispering is the language of sex
is the tone of modesty? A closed perimeter
heard as invitation.
Waiting for His Body
(After the call I remember
that kicking a garbage can sounded so hollow
that I bludgeoned it with firewood
that my bare hands felt primal on the timber
that the splinters were a distraction
that I didn’t tweeze them—because
that little loss would have been too much
starting the journey so late
that all the motels were full
that the hours dominoed into dawn
that his face was clinging to his skull
that he died twice one morning
that he survived some more
that the worst version of himself returned
and arriving at truths no one speaks.)
that my happiness is not soured by his suffering
that his behavior is not the illness
that abuse is his mother tongue
that five years of sobriety gave me a father
that was only a façade
that I will miss the persona more than the man
(I will tell you.)
that I admit to impatience when I’m alone
that I still think about him digging the dog’s grave
that he lowered him to the bottom before pulling the trigger
that my ears rang—that relief outweighed anticipation
that delay is a type of denial
that morning he did die
and twice his body did not know.
Raised to Serve
My hunger betrays me,
taught to live by air
and teethe on father’s rib.
It’s impolite to take from a platter,
to covet the meat on offer.
Livestock are watered and fed
until their slaughter. Each year
we raise a cow for the freezer.
Coax it to the fencerow
with a fist full of hay.
Tonight, I’m served
vegetables across the table.
The difference between
my plate and its trough
is their intentions.
I eat green beans by half inches.
Live the art of delay and when asked,
I say I am well.
Let them plumb what should be mine to close.
A well becomes a burden
if it begins to thirst.
Fight, Flight & Freeze
My lips part
with the sound of leaves
slipping loose from dew.
Autumn strips the shine from my tongue,
billows it on the path ahead. We are walking
through my ghost
I tell you
about snakes the color of forest floor
threading our garden to the earth.
How I screamed. How mother ran,
drove her shovel down—
tongue still flicking
from its severed head.
I dreamed of dad
headless at the table,
ladling soup down his neck—
my hand on his shoulder
bracing against the blackness of the hole.
How I screamed. How mother ran,
peeling sheets from my sweat.
Today the garden is still.
Bitter air has driven snakes into their dens,
and shivers from my core.
Will you lift a maple leaf to the light?
Cast red sun upon my skin
while my body
begs for fire?
Lorrie Ness is an emerging poet from the United States. Her work has been published in Palette Poetry, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Rust + Moth, Typishly, FRiGG, and others. She was nominated for a Best of the Net Award by Sky Island Journal in 2019.