winter bites vulture-sharp,
picking the forest to a skeleton.
I weave among the ribs of paper birch
boning sky to the earth.
It is February
and the woods are hungry.
Foxes are swallowed inside their dens.
Snow is consuming
the thicket is still.
Squirrels are cradled in their nests.
They waste no time digging for caches of nuts
entombed below the icy crust.
I was not mindful of my greed,
of taking too much, as I squatted by the log
plucking the morels growing
from its base.
drives me through the cold,
deep into this ossuary. I owe a debt to the deer
that would have fattened on the mushrooms
I stopped to harvest.
my shoulder is sagging
beneath a burlap sack. I sling it on the stump,
spilling cracked corn, yellow as butter
on a white linen tabletop.
every midwest man furrows the earth,
lives on the yield of his seeds & struts
in flannel plumage — red as any warning.
mother said women are made to fit men. she meant
we were formed through impression.
horseshoes curving from hammer & heat.
always against the anvil. she meant
we were a sacrifice. to my father
daughters that marry well were a point of pride.
i can still hear him smack our mare’s rump.
prime fillies come from prime studs. he meant
i was born symmetrical to a man.
find a strong husband,
& your sons will be good workers. he meant
i needed someone to counteract my frailty.
(wo)man was a prefix— only meaningful when paired.
i came to know true power
the year a twister tilled our farm to open field.
my father surveyed the devastation, his whistle
a feeble imitation of its roar.
In a Dimly Lit Kitchen
She translates language through loss.
What others call sunrise, she names f | i | s | s | u | r |e
as dawn’s slow heat
melts night into s | h | a | d | o | w | s.
From her window she maps its parts.
below the shrubbery. between banks of snow.
Every landscape needs a cartographer. Patchwork
is a topography she understands.
Parted hair. Open cardigan. Mother & self.
Her lips seal the only parts truly made to split.
A little ceremony to spackle the
s | e | a | m | s.
She steeps in the dark kitchen alone.
Only a moonless night can know its full depth.
The Cost of Tongue
Her wedding ring
lay orphaned on the countertop.
I tried it on, flashed my hand.
“Grandma, what is marriage like?”
She girdled her words
till the margins said it all.
The squeak of dishrag on glass
her prosthetic voice—
“Was that you?”
Squalls of silence
hushed the drip of soapy water
as she lifted each glass naked against the light.
Her thumbnail scraped away a final spot.
“Why don’t you answer?”
She wiped her brow,
ring finger’s silhouette, wasp-waisted—
fifty years below bands of gold.
“Why don’t you speak?”
Skimmed the crystal drying on racks.
She wiped the foggy window
till the view was clear
as her voice.
“Transparency makes me weary.”
Gathering Magnolia Seeds
Magnolias bloom with ease.
Their saplings are not daughters.
Magnolias are not mothers.
Women ripping themselves into flowers
feel their flesh petal. To bear children
without a body, is to offer fruit.
Magnolias leave their birthing to the birds—
devouring the berries, bellies distending
with seeds that plummet to the ground.
We are harvesting before thrushes can descend.
All day plunging our thumbnails into husks,
digging for pits.
Acting as surrogate beaks and womb.
We are unfit parents offering seeds to the frost
so the cold will break their dormancy.
In silence we work.
The name for unmuttered words,
our own waxy coating waiting to split.
Crimson as sunrise. Piles form
with our dividing flesh from core.
We scatter discards beneath boughs.
Flocks pick through tailings for their meal.
With time an orchard will heal
Cradling our seeds in newspaper,
the pulp below our nails stinks of sacrifice,
stinks of plunder.
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. Read more of Lorrie here.